Saturday, February 27, 2010

Michelle Obama's right to bare arms and other stylish questions. . .

A year ago, when we were all still getting comfortable with President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama’s personal style, there was quite a lot of journalistic clucking about Michelle Obama’s arms; that they were so strong and so often on display.

And this clucking came not just from narrowly focused fashionistas, but from the astutely focused pundit—and frequent NPR presence—David Brooks. His discomfort with Ms. Obama’s public display of biceps was ratted out by fellow New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in a Sunday column she titled "Should Michelle Cover Up?" Ms. Dowd and Mr. Brooks were on their way to the British Embassy . . .
In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her [Mrs. Obama's] amazing arms, he indicated it was time for her to cover up. “She’s made her point,” he said. “Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning.”

So what, exactly, was our initial problem with Ms. Obama’s naked arms? Could it have been that we, the American people, were being asked to cope with one style adjustment too many?

Barack Obama, as a candidate, had famously declared America wanted change. Obviously, we voters agreed with him, having had enough of being governed by sartorially conservative, rather prudish people. The Bush Tribe was nothing, if not predictable in their personal style. Remember Attorney General John Ashcroft draping the semi-nude statues in the Great Hall of Justice because he wasn’t comfortable being photographed with them?

First Lady Laura Bush dressed perfectly for her role as that administration’s head spouse -- no non-traditionally naked arms on display for her! Indeed, Mrs. Bush presented us with no fashion surprises of any kind. She understood First Ladies as institutions on two feet, not as fashion forward women who use clothes to give us some sense of who they are.

Of course, we didn't elect Michelle Obama, we elected her husband. And Barack Obama comes with a personal style as well; not so much in what he wears as in how he goes about doing business. We threw out a President who many thought shot from his hip (and was famously ill at ease listening to contrary opinions), for one who has positioned himself as a consensus builder, one who asks us all to be patient while he takes time to be well-informed himself and gives others time to become equally well-informed. President Barack Obama seems to really expect politicians to stop worrying about re-election long enough to actually accomplish things.

Dana Millbank, whom I think watched the entire Health Care Summit, has an interesting column in this morning's Washington Post, called "Obama needs to flex his political muscle," in which he contrasts Gordon Brown's and Bush II's political style (which he sees as bullying) with President Obama's more measured approach:
Here in America, however, we can only watch this [Gordon Brown's bullying] behavior with envy. Our president is not a bully; in fact, he is the victim of bullying. He is bullied by Republicans on health care. He is bullied by congressional Democrats on everything. He is bullied by his own Cabinet. Dick Cheney pauses in his bullying of Obama only for the occasional heart attack.
Admittedly, the allegations against Brown have only hastened his political decline, and there's no need for Obama to start kicking furniture and throwing BlackBerrys at people, as Brown stands accused of doing. Still, it wouldn't hurt for the occupant of the bully pulpit to show some force of will.
His predecessor got a narrowly divided Congress to pass his tax cuts, authorize the Iraq war and give him the Patriot Act, not through logic or eloquence but by bludgeoning, intimidating and threatening holdouts (remember Jim Jeffords or Max Cleland?). Lawmakers weren't swayed by George W. Bush's arguments; they feared retribution.
The problems that plague this country are terribly complex and terribly serious. It seems evident that "talking point" politics are unhelpful in addressing them, yet we Americans seem drastically uncomfortable with anything else. Obama's popularity numbers continue to plummet as he continues to try to work with the people who oppose his ideas, often (it seems) for purely political reasons. He began the year with a 50% approval rating down from 68% last March.

It's a given that we are all worried and all concerned about the country's future as well as our own. My question is what, exactly, do we want this President to do that he is not doing? Are we simply uncomfortable with Barack Obama's consensus-building style?  Do we really want government by political bullying?

Michelle Obama, by the way, has a 78% approval rating. Which means, I guess, that we have gotten quite comfortable with "Thunder and Lightning."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Calling all weird weather stories . . .

Too much snow?

This, from WMRA's Virginia Insight host, Tom Graham:
Hey Martha --
A friend who studied social psychology once told me, “If you want to get people to tell you stories about themselves, it’s best to prime the pump by first revealing one of your own.”

I don’t know if that always works. But on “Virginia Insight” this past Monday I decided to try it.

The topic was this winter’s crazy weather.

In addition to discussion with two weather scientist guests [Stan Ulanski from JMU and Jerry Stenger from UVa], I was hoping to get listeners calling in. I thought maybe we could encourage not only questions and comments about meteorology, but also revelations about any exceptional winter weather experiences anyone had had.

This past Monday was the first time I had ever publicly revealed the story below.

And again, this does not prove my psychologist friend was right. But we certainly were overloaded with calls this past Monday.

So many that we couldn’t get to them all.

I’m curious if … after this gets posted … well, if anyone who didn’t get their call in during Monday’s broadcast might feel encouraged to share a winter survival story here on the blog. Or anyone who wasn't listening, for that matter.

[By the way, anyone who missed Monday’s program can now access it online.  The show will also be re-broadcast this Sunday at 11am. ]

Okay, here’s my long secret weather story as revealed at the beginning of the February 22, 2010, “Virginia Insight.”

Some people make fun of talking about the weather … as if it’s the thing you do when you’ve got nothing else to say. But for others of us -- there are weather-related experiences so intense it seems like they will never completely leave our mind.
I still vividly remember the time, at the age of four, when I was allowed out in the front yard of our home near Buffalo to play in the snow.

We lived on a side street, no traffic, but the plow had recently come by and there was a huge mound of white stuff at the end of the driveway.

I was bundled up in galoshes and snowpants and snow jacket with attached mittens and of course very warm knitted hat pulled low over my ears. All in blue. So looking like a sea colored miniature Michelin man -- I waddled down to the end of the drive and climbed up that mountain of snow.

And then I began to sink.

The more I tried to escape. The faster I sank.

It was still snowing. I couldn’t see very far, so I knew nobody inside could see me. I was all alone outside, and as I found myself trapped up to my shoulders in snow, the thought that actually passed through my four-year-old mind was -- “nobody’s going to find me till summer time!”

But then, on this street where there was never any traffic, a dark-colored sedan drove up and stopped at the end of the drive. A man I’d never seen before got out, walked over, picked me up out of my snow mountain prison, set me down on the driveway, smiled at me, then got back in his car and drove away.

Okay, now it's your turn. What's your weird weather story?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is it naive to hope?

Confession time: Weeks ago, when today's televised Health Care Summit was announced, my heart lifted. I had visions of being able to watch our Congress working effectively with our president to make some progress on surmounting our arguably biggest challenge: affordable health care.

Listening to NPR and reading; reading today's NY Times, and The Washington Post, I'm, well, a bit more cautious in my expectations -- at least about today's event all by itself. The Post's Chris Cillizza's led into his front page story about the summit with this prognostication:
Today's event is more like a pro wrestling match than a heavyweight boxing match.
Oh dear. Pro wrestling. So scripted, so full of posturing, so not the behavior we need from our elected representatives in these troubled times.

And yet I do remain stubbornly hopeful about today's summit. Why? Because we will be watching.

Today's well-publicized, fully-accessible health care debate (C-SPAN, of course, but you can also preregister for a live feed to your computer or follow the aforementioned Mr.Cillizza on Twitter) forces our elected representatives to speak directly to us about what they think should be done about health care.  I remain hopeful because you and I know baloney when we hear it; we don't like it; we vote, and our elected representatives may actually be forced to think about that fact when they're talking today. Special interests may quietly throw a lot of money at politicians, but special interests still can't vote. At least not yet.

So watch if you can, tweet if you do that, sneak regular on-line peeks if you don't have time to engage fully in today's Health Care Summit. And then loose your opinions about our politicians' behavior on-line (on the WMRA Facebook page, for example), in letters to the editor, on the phone to elected officials' Washington offices!

Power to us people!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Post from your Friendly Facebook WMRA Fan Wrangler . . .

This is a frank plea for input. And it starts with an announcement of almost no importance: I have a different title at WMRA. Instead of reporter/producer, I am now WMRA's social media producer.

What this means is that, while I still edit Civic Soapbox, I also now run the WMRA blog, as well as manage the WMRA Facebook fan page. And that is the e-place where I dream of all of us who listen to WMRA having lots of lively discussions about things that matter; some of which I bring up, some of which you bring up.

I really, really, really dislike the term "fan" as a descriptive of those who join our Facebook page. It's a perfectly appropriate term for one who joins a rock star's or an actor's Facebook page, but much less perfect, I think, for someone who listens to and supports and interacts with WMRA. But, we gotta go with calling ourselves "fans," because it's the only term on offer.

For what it's worth: I've become a WMRA fan, and, you know, I feel perfectly okay with it, because I do love the little public radio station for which I work. Please become a fan, yourself, if you haven't already, so the rest of us fans can interact with you.

So what is the input I'm asking for from you . . .
  • Please let me know (either on the WMRA Facebook page, through an e-mail to me, or by commenting at the end of this blog post, what you'd most like to see on our Facebook page: 
    • notice of what's coming up on NPR and WMRA?
    • information about local events, forums, and just general happenings?
    • discussion forums about important issues (such as today's first Facebook post)?
    • all of the above, or something I've not mentioned?
  • How often would you like to hear from us on Facebook? There's so much to talk about around WMRA Land, but we don't want to be an intrusive presence in your Facebook life. 
  • (perhaps most importantly) Would you be willing to post about interesting/thought-provoking/fun events you either plan to attend or have attended, that you think the rest of us would be interested in knowing about?
  • In what other ways could WMRA's Facebook page be useful, informative, and/or just plain fun for you?
In my opinion, as the now official WMRA Fan Wrangler, this isn't WMRA's Facebook page, it's the WMRA Community's Facebook page.  .

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dreaming right, doing right. . .

Yesterday, I spent lunch time in the company of about 100 other folks, listening to a panel made up of  a defense lawyer, an assistant district attorney, the county sheriff, a retired judge, and an Eastern Mennonite University professor who was one of the founders of the field of Restorative Justice. They were talking about “better strategies against crime,” i.e. what can we do with people who break the law that’s more useful to the victim, society, and, indeed to the criminal, than just locking them up. (Harvey Yoder did last week's Civic Soapbox on the same subject, by the way)

First things first, as far as this blog post goes. Restorative Justice and victims' rights were terms that whizzed around the discussion like Tommy’s pinballs. Poking around on the EMU website this morning, I found an explanation of the term by panel member Dr. Howard Zehr: “Restorative Justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by and revealed by crime or wrongdoing. It seeks to involve those who have a stake in a specific offense (the victim, offender, family members, community, or others) to identify and address the harms, needs, and obligations of those involved in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”

HMMM. Putting things right sound great, doesn’t it?

Now, sadly, back to reality. The Rockingham County jail, which was built to house 220 inmates, regularly houses 320-350. Such an overcrowded jail is, according to Dr. Zehr (and, indeed it seemed to be the panel consensus) the result of our own societal expectations. If you build it, Dr. Zehr said, speaking of the jail, they will come. He pointed out that we spend a lot of society’s money on punishment (which may be cheaper short term), but very little investing in programs to treat substance addiction, create jobs, and attack other underlying causes of crime

Sheriff Don Farley pointed out, after listening to panel members talk, that restorative justice may indeed be the way to go, but all he can do is administer the system he’s been handed. His department, he said, works within a criminal justice system, not a victim justice system. The Rockingham County Sheriff Department doesn’t have the funds to focus on helping those injured by crime or to attack the underlying causes of crime. His department’s mandate is to identify criminals and keep them locked up

Defense attorney Gene Hart (roughly transcribed):
In tight budget times such as today, we tend to cut the programs that we know are useful in combating crime, such as drug court and drug treatment. We have to remember that the budget drives everything. It’s up to those of us who’d like to see programs such as monitored at-home sentencing and/or part-time incarceration to show they are cost effective. Some states are using federal stimulus money to expand home monitoring. If we want Sheriff Farley to run an electronic monitoring program, we have to find money. Drug treatment programs have a cost up front. We need to do a better job explaining that long-term savings ensue. We need to show policymakers that there is a cost to saving money today. Must learn not just to talk about what is good, but what is cost effective.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Bailey (again a rough transcription):
If people want change from an existing system, they must work through their elected representatives. The people whom all of us vote for are the people who create the system. If you’re satisfied or not satisfied with the system, it’s your responsibility to fix it. Who are you voting for and what are you telling them before they go to Richmond and Washington? Don’t expect tough "law and order" elected officials to fund more treatment programs. Don’t say we in the sheriff’s office and the commonwealth attorney’s office don’t get it (the value of such alternatives to straight incarceration as treatment programs) because we do.
Judge John McGrath brought up the county’s litter collection program, started by Judge Paul, which allows lawbreakers to do community service on the weekends in lieu of jail time. It took patience and a bus, Judge McGrath said, on Judge Paul’s part to get this program going. And it's done a lot of good for both those involved in the program and the county.

Start small, he advised. Do what you can do, rather than waiting until you can do what you dream.

Any thoughts? You can also comment on WMRA’s Facebook page, as well. And, if you haven’t friended us, please do. We at WMRA need all the friends we can get.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Post from Tom Graham

Note: This note from WMRA Reporter and Virginia Insight Host Tom Graham came into my e-mail box over the weekend.
Hi Martha -

I wondered if WMRAers might like some behind the scenes political news.

On Morning Edition this past Friday, Bob Leweke and I reviewed some of the latest developments out of the state capitol -- now that this year’s General Assembly Session has reached its half way point.

As usual, time constraints kept us from being able to go into everything on my list.
So I’m sending some audio that did not make it on air.

The following comments come from three lawmakers whose districts fall within the WMRA service region:

State Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) was asked about his argument that current law is unfair to so-called “bricks and mortar” businesses because, while they have to collect sales tax, retailers who sell on the internet do not. Senator Hanger is pushing for legislation that would force internet companies like Amazon to collect Virginia sales tax.
Emmett Hanger:    It’s actually a very important issue. The law of the land, as it currently exists and the Supreme Court has interpreted it, is that if a business has a nexus, that is has some kind of physical presence in your state, then they can be required to collect sales tax. And for me it’s a matter of fairness. We certainly should not allow these large retailers to have a competitive advantage on the internet. Because they’re actually running traditional Mom and Pop, bricks and mortar businesses out of business with that advantage.
One single example, which is somewhat of a focus in the legislation I’m currently working on, is Amazon. Amazon this past holiday season, the 4th quarter of 2009, enjoyed roughly a 42% percent growth in business. Tremendous growth. A lot of people are moving that direction and we are allowing them not to collect sales tax. And they actually have a presence in Virginia. So I’m attempting to tighten up our statutes so that we say to that retailer, you will collect that tax that is already owed. It’s not a tax increase. And I think if we equate that to say WalMart, if we were to not have similar legislation for WalMart and just required everyone who made purchases all year long to compute what they’d saved in a shoe box and remit to the state, it just wouldn’t work. And the same can be said for Amazon and other like retailers. They really do need to be good corporate citizens.

Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) was asked why he favors the so-called “guns in bars” measure. This is legislation that would allow gun owners who have concealed carry permits to keep their guns with them when they go into a restaurant where alcohol is served -- as long as that gun owner does not consume any alcohol while in that restaurant.
Todd Gilbert:     I’ve always been a big advocate of the Second Amendment. I’ve always trusted law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, to avail themselves of the means of self-protection. I believe in the Second Amendment; I believe it is a fundamental right. You know while it may seem cavalier or silly to some people to suggest that folks might want to have a gun with them in a restaurant, the fact is that we trust hundreds of thousands each and every day to carry a concealed weapon on their person for themselves or for the protection of their families, and it makes absolutely no sense to me that even though we trust them everywhere else in society, we cease trusting them simply because they want to take their family out to dinner. And I think we’re well on our way to removing that impediment to folks who want to continue to protect themselves if they go out for a nice dinner with their family.
Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) spoke about his hope that efforts to create a “non-partisan commission in charge of legislative redistricting” might yet succeed. That proposal was killed in a House of Delegates committee again this year. But since the State Senate gave its unanimous approval to the same measure, the proposal is technically still alive.

David Toscano:  The non-partisan redistricting bill that I’ve supported over the years passed the Senate and would get over to the House. This is our last chance to try non-partisan redistricting before the next round. I’ve always taken the position that it shouldn’t be the legislators who are choosing their constituents; it should be constituents who are choosing their legislators.
Tom G: In the campaign, candidate McDonnell supported that. It seems like Governor McDonnell has not been active in supporting that once he got into office. Does that cause thoughts for you?
DT: Governor McDonnell has been invisible on the non-partisan redistricting issue, even though he campaigned on it. You would have thought that this was one of the important issues that he would want to push, and nobody from his administration, he didn’t come over to lobby for the legislation. He knew that the House was likely to kill it, but he did nothing to try to get it passed. That’s unfortunate.

One other note on non-partisan redistricting.

State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) is the longtime sponsor of this measure. I spoke to him about it last week.

In past years his proposal has made it through the Senate only to be quashed in the House of Delegates.

Even though a House committee killed the House version of the bill earlier this month, the Senate version will still have to be acted on when it gets sent over to the House.

I asked Senator Deeds if he thought there was any chance that the Senate version of the bill could get approval in the House this year. His response: “Well, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. So I haven’t completely given up hope.”

Made me smile. Hope your day is causing you to do so as well.


Tom (Graham)
Another note: Tom actually sent me the statements from the Virginia legislators as sound files, but I couldn't figure out a way to post sound on this blog. Anyone out there have a clue if this is possible?  MW

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Making radio . . .

Okay, I have to be on the road by 7:30 a.m. today, heading south to Lexington, to give the second of two essay-writing workshops at Boxerwood Gardens. This means I don't have a lot of time to write this morning, so it seemed like a good time to post a picture WMRA's Terry Ward took two days ago. I thought it might be of interest to you, particularly if you've never been to the WMRA studios before.

Yesterday on Morning Edition, we aired what's called a two-way interview (i.e. a conversation) between local ME host Bob Leweke and Virginia Insight host/reporter Tom Graham discussing what's going on in the Virginia General Assembly. Tom had just gotten back from Richmond, covering what's known as cross-over day; the day when all legislative bills under consideration cross over from the House to the Senate or vice-versa.

Sometimes "2-ways" are done live, but since there was some lead time before this one and it wasn't a breaking story, we decided to record it the afternoon before. The red-headed guy in the picture is WMRA  Program Director and production wizard, Matt Bingay. He's in the on-air studio running the board (controlling sound levels and sound balance) and recording Tom Graham and Bob Leweke, whom you can see through the studio window. They are seated in what we call the talk show studio. People in the two soundproof rooms can communicate visually and through microphones.

After Matt digitally records Tom and Bob, he'll trim their conversation to fit a particular time slot in Morning Edition. That done, he'll load the digital audio file into our automation system.

All Bob has to do to air the interview is punch a button on that board in the on-air studio.

Making radio fascinates me. If the process fascinates you, as well, please come by and visit the WMRA studio. We love where we work, are very grateful to you for helping us work there, and would be so proud to show you around.

(By the way, if you look closely, you can see Terry Ward reflected in the talk show studio window.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Harrisonburg downtown green space . . .

If you follow WMRA on Facebook (our page is now 48-hours old ), you know I spent most of yesterday at the Harrisonburg Summit on Strengthening Local Business and Economy.

Along with about 200 other people including real estate developers, Harrisonburg Planning Commission members, yoga teachers, local foodies, ITers, college and university professors and staff, bankers. In my opinion, it was just the kind of diverse group that can generate a truly productive conversation on economic development.

The summit ran from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. At 2:15, I parked myself in the basement of Clementine Cafe (one of many downtown venues helping to, as Mayor Kai Degner put it, "turn conference-center-less downtown Harrisonburg into a conference center, itself"). I was there to attend a break-out session convened by Frazier Quarry's (and longtime WMRA underwriter) Bibb Frazier on why it's important to maintain green space downtown.

First of all, the consensus of the 25 people gathered was that Downtown Harrisonburg will undergo further serious development in the fairly near future, mainly accomplished through public/private partnerships.

This development will happen because, as the economy continues to rebound,  the city's excellent credit rating will attract big-money investment from out of town. These investors will both remodel  Harrisonburg's existing industrial and commercial buildings and build new ones. And their only purpose in this remodeling and building will be to make a buck. Which, as Bibb Frazier put it, is what they're supposed to do. They don't, after all, have to live with results of their development.

We do, however; and everyone at the session (realtors, landscapers, city staff members, businessmen, involved citizens) seemed to agree that it was extremely important to open up more outdoor space (such as downtown's Denton pocket park pictured right) as all this downtown development takes place. So, the session's challenge became how to ensure that for-profit developers honor Harrisonburg citizens' wish for more open-air gathering spaces downtown.

Now here's where my little reporterly eyes really opened wide. Allan Finks, who's on the city Planning Commission, began talking  about how the city's Comprehensive Plan, which is currently undergoing revision, makes precious little mention of downtown green space. The time for citizens to exert serious influence on downtown green space development, Finks suggested, would be during the  revision's public comment period that will take place this spring. Sadly, he said, very few people show up at these meetings, perhaps because very few people realize they are happening.

At this point, I practically sat up and barked. I know first hand from my Charlottesville years in the seventies and eighties that there's very little that influences a community's quality of life more than its Comprehensive Plan.  Downtown Harrisonburg looks as though its going to grow quickly in the fairly near future. That means the city's next Comprehensive Plan is the one that's going to guide this growth.

No one at the session in Clementine Cafe seemed to know how to get the word out about these public comment meetings without spending money that really isn't there.

I went straight back to the station and asked Tom DuVal if WMRA could make it a mission to help get the word out about the public comment  meetings -- once they are scheduled. He said sure.

Whoo-hoo! I thought. Go WMRA!

This station is, after all,  a community of community members, a bunch of whom live in Harrisonburg. It's certainly not WMRA's mission to tell people what to say at these meetings, but it is our mission to let people know they are happening.

So anyway, stay tuned and get ready to mark your calendar. And those of you who live in the 'Burg, take a stroll downtown and think hard about its future.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You GO, girl . .

I am, as I've frequently noted, a woman of a certain age. 

I've always loved basketball. So much so that when I was a kid growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, I used to regularly get in trouble for listening to ACC games under the covers on school nights when I was supposed to be asleep.

I also grew up in a neighborhood of all boys. To play pick-up sports, I had to mix it up with the boy next door. I played games hard and physically. Basketball at the park meant rocketing up and down the court, jostling for the ball, going up hard for rebounds.

The first time I played organized basketball was, I think, in the seventh grade. And I still remember the outrage I felt as I had to stand there and listen to my gym teacher explain that there were different rules for girl's basketball, because we were -- well -- girls.  As such, we were deemed too fragile to run up and down the whole court. We played a half-court game.

What this meant was that, as I liked to play defense, if I stole or rebounded the ball, I could only dribble to  half-court. Then I had to pass off to an offensive player, so as not to...what? Sweat? Offend society? Burst through one of the taboos that hog tied women with male-dominated society's ridiculous concept of femininity?

Even in the seventh grade, I knew this was hooey! I was both as feminine as the next girl, and I was fully capable of playing full-court basketball!

So, when Lindsey Vonn skied down that hill yesterday, obviously in pain, obviously adjusting her run to accommodate her badly bruised and swollen right shin, crossing the finish-line in Gold Medal time on one ski, she not only skied for herself, her family, and for America, she skied for all us uppity women who now happily compete in what is no longer quite such a man's world.

Fragile, my ear!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why not let Bob do it?

Note from Martha: I've found myself thinking a lot about what Evan Bayh's decision not to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate says about the way Americans undertake their political business. And to me, as WMRA's designated blogger, "thinking about" eventually means "writing about." Until I found the following essay posted on Bob Gibson's Facebook page.

Most of you probably know that Bob has been writing and reporting (for The Daily Progress) and commenting (on WINA, WVTF, WAMU) on politics since his 1972 graduation from the University of Virginia. He's also been Tom Graham's frequent guest on WMRA's Virginia Insight. Bob's current full-time occupation is Executive Director of UVa's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.

(On a personal note, Bob's married to Sarah McConnell, the host, doyenne, and driving force of With Good Reason. As I've known them both for 30 years and eschew formality whenever I can, I've posted Bob's Facebook picture, which is charming and shows them both.)

To get back to Bayh's resignation, once I read Bob's essay, I thought why write another one myself, when Bob's already written such a good one?

So I asked Bob Gibson if I could post his essay on the WMRA blog, and he said yes, provided I let you know it will also appear as his regular Sunday column in The Daily Progress.

What Role for Centrists?  by Bob Gibson
U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh is a centrist kind of guy in the Indiana-Virginia tradition of moderates who occasionally thrive in one party or the other.

The Indiana Democrat stunned fellow party members on Presidents' Day with his announcement that he would not seek a third Senate term on Nov. 2 at the end of a politically volatile year in which party polls have suddenly turned upside down.

2010 is an upside-down weather year in which Virginia inherited New York's snowscapes; an upside down political year in which Democrats inherited the last few years' GOP poll numbers; and a generally whacky time of rapid change driven largely by fear in economic and housing markets, uncertain about when up is really up and down is really down.

Bayh, 54, is a man caught in the middle.

Centrists, including Bayh and Virginia's pair of moderate Democrats, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, have been unable to draw both parties in the tradition-bound and prima-donna-centric Senate into coalitions able to govern from the middle.

Both parties reward the kind of team-sport and ideologically driven party bashing of the other side that makes the middle of the political road, as Texans used to brag, a place for yellow-striped, dead armadillos.

Even hungry Americans in states where roadkill is a legal food supply are not particularly attracted to armadillos, and even bold moderates can find the middle hazardous to political health when super-partisanship trumps the otherwise practical notion of compromise.

Bayh, a 1981 University of Virginia law school graduate, said he was sick of politics as blood sport, fed up with the lack of bipartisan spirit needed to allow compromise and not hopeful partisan gridlock in Washington is about to change.

A two-term governor before he became a two-term senator, Bayh has the credentials, if not the charisma, for making a national ticket. But that is a road he has been down several times as a potential vice-presidential choice; and, a little over two long years ago, as a tester of presidential waters, who found them too chilly.

Neither Indiana nor Virginia has been a prolific mother of presidents in recent years despite efforts by former governors Chuck Robb, Doug Wilder, George Allen, Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner to order up periodic pregnancy tests.

Since the late John Dalton was governor from 1978 to 1982, the only Virginia chief executives not to publicly check the status of the Old Dominion's presidential womb were Govs. Gerry Baliles and Tim Kaine, and Kaine did a quite public vice-presidential pregnancy test.

There may be no womb for moderates, despite the once more commonly held belief that governing from the center is the smart way to put together lasting coalitions.

For Bayh to try again for the White House, the subject of some speculation since he declared he was more an executive type of guy than a lover of legislatures, he might recast himself as an outsider to the Congress and a radical centrist.

He could try to ride a popular centrist agenda to tackle short-term job problems and long-term fiscal messes.

Nothing changes faster than change in our nation's political life and fortunes these days.

One day a politician can be a tiger, tigress or hunk in the game of celebrity political roller derby played daily in different cable flavors, but the next he or she can be a washed-up hulk. Richard Nixon was the incredible hulk who bulked back up and returned to rule and then to ruin.

The inability of both political parties to face up to long-term problems is not changing, unless it's worsening. Bayh sought entitlement reform and deficit reduction, which was undone by short-term partisan power jockeying.

A fitness fanatic who once had a union job in Washington during college summers building the Metro rail system, he knew the dangers of touching a third rail and risking political electrocution. His father was a senator, so he knew the job's roles.

What he would have liked to have changed is the role and definition of moderate. Instead of being disrespected and run over, centrists could be operating in the public interest as respected bipartisan craft masters of the compromise he believed is needed to solve longer term problems.

In congressional time, there's always plenty of time for partisan campaigning, but what Congress has not found time for in a while is bipartisan discussion and action that gets much more than lip service.

Bayh is still young and his time may still be in the future. Or, he may be the Senate's latest member in both parties to leave office frustrated by a system that rewards and empowers the party purists who pummel the other side hard and fast on everything, consequential or not.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The endangered odd person?

The DSM is being revised.

That's the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the book that draws the line between individuality and pathology in the human personality. If you're interested, a history of the DSM can be found on-line in, no surprise, Wikipedia.

The DSM's last revision took place in 1994, at which time the diagnosis ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was included. Before that children who jumped around a lot and couldn't pay attention and disrupted class were problems, not pathological. The controversial results of this diagnosis' creation have been well-documented, but then such change is bound to create controversy. Psychiatry is still an infant science and, as such, is still groping toward understanding the relationship among a person's brain, environment, and behavior.

But the fact remains that the labeling of a behavior by the DSM as a disorder means it's now officially a pathology in search of a cure. This in turn signals the pharmaceutical industry to get cracking at producing a pharmaceutical treatment.

If someone's family has been riddled by serious depression for generations, I, personally, feel that the blessing of the gods reign should rain down on every research scientist who helped invent selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and every therapist who helped organically, chronically depressed people realize it's okay to re-balance their serotonin by taking a pill.

However, I know many people who seem to prefer brandishing a diagnosis and taking pills for physical conditions that could instead by addressed by eating right and exercising. Or for coping with bad or sad feelings connected with life's difficulties that could instead be worked through (and so learned from) over time. Aren't they missing some of the adventure of feeling alive?  Or are they, instead, wise to avoid feeling bad feelings?

Here's a cosmic statement for a Tuesday morning: Life is hard, and we're all blessedly different. Or at least, I've always thought we considered our differences a blessing. Yet among the proposed revisions to the DSM is one that creates "risk syndromes," meaning that a person who exhibits behavior that might underlay psychotic disorders gets slapped with a diagnosis. So, if one is overly suspicious (what's overly?) or one has disorganized speech patterns (yikes! have they ever listened to me try to tell a story?), one gets labeled pathological.

The revision also proposes reclassifying what we've always taken as the normal grieving process triggered by the death of a loved one as depression.

Personally, I consider myself a pretty odd person who generally enjoys the company of other odd people. I think what I really mean by this is that I don't want the ups and downs of my life evened out pharmaceutically; and I enjoy engaging with other people who don't shy away from their own ups and downs. Are we odd people an endangered species? Should we be an endangered species? Would I be happier, more productive, more engaged in life, and less problematic for others to deal with if I were willing to take more pills?

The revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are not yet final. There's an open comment period until April 20th. If you have a moment, take a look at the proposed revisions and think about their implications for your future, your family's future, and, most particularly, your children's future.

And, by all means, comment.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What's it all about, Fred?

I had several very serious thoughts on my mind this morning when I woke up. Then I looked out the window at the snow, thought about more snow being on the way, and gave serious a quick boot in favor of thinking about Fred Morrison, who died last week at the age of 90. 

I doubt if anyone's life has been more broadly, if briefly, celebrated in WMRA Land than Mr. Morrison's. Or, indeed, celebrated in any land that believes in celebrating. Did any of us, when we heard about his death (and realized who he was and what he'd given the world), not stop for just a moment to think, thanks, Fred, for living; thanks, Fred, for inventing the Frisbee.

The Washington Post had quite a lengthy obituary/celebration of Mr. Morrison, which included a history of his invention. The Frisbee, it seems, was appropriately discovered in someone's back yard on a national holiday.
 . . .Inspiration for Mr. Morrison's flying-saucer toy came in 1937 at a Thanksgiving feast in Southern California. He and his girlfriend, Lucile "Lu" Nay, entertained themselves by tossing a popcorn-tin lid in the backyard. The lid eventually became dented, ruining its aerodynamic potential, and the resourceful couple snatched a cake pan from Mr. Morrison's mother's kitchen.
Cake pans, it turned out, were sturdier and flew better -- so much so that one day, when the two were flinging a pan back and forth on the beach, an impressed passerby offered to buy it. The pan had originally cost a nickel, the stranger offered a quarter -- and that exchange was enough to whet Mr. Morrison's entrepreneurial appetite. . .
If you haven't yet thought about Fred and his invention, think about them now, as you slog through yet another sunless, sub-freezing day, taking care where you step in snow that's measured in feet, not inches. It's thanks in part to Mr. Morrison's invention that, no matter how old we are, how dreary the weather and cold the temperatures, how many responsibilities we have and tasks we must accomplish, that inside us still lurks a  carefree Dudette or Dude who's capable -- hallelujah! -- of goofing off.

frisbeen drawing

Don't know what I'm talking about? Well then, just go to your closet or down to your basement, root around amongst your summer stuff, find your dusty Frisbee, hold it in both hands, close your eyes and feel yourself magically beamed up to Playland, that inner place where you and I stay, as Bob Dylan put it, Forever Young.

Any Frisbee thoughts, memories, pictures you'd like to post?

Play on, Macduff;
And damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

You never know where an NPR story will lead you . . .

Note: WMRA's Program Director Matt Bingay, our resident Marathon Man, is today's blogger.

Today, I am wearing very funky shoes.

It all started a few weeks ago, when All Things Considered spoke to Dan Lieberman about running.

I ran a marathon back in November and am now working on my next race, so it’s no surprise that I leaned in close to the radio when I heard, “Humans are excellent two-legged walkers. It's one of the things that make us such successful creatures. And there are some scientists who say we're naturally born runners as well, that our bodies evolved to run. Now, anthropologist Dan Lieberman, one of the proponents of the ‘human runner’ school, concludes that we do it better without shoes.” (The Whole story - Study: Humans Were Born To Run Barefoot)


I spent many hours this past year researching and testing running shoes. Now you tell me I would have been better off without them?

Yes, the Marathon was a grueling experience and my ankles, knees, hips, calves and tendons still shudder at the memory of the intense pain of those last 5 miles. But now you tell me that this painful runner’s rite of passage isn’t even supposed to happen?

Last week, the proverbial “second shoe” dropped. I started reading “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Another discovery facilitated by NPR.

I’m not sure if it is the promise of pain-free long distance running or the novelty of the barefoot experience, but I have decided to give this thing a try.

In a 2-mile barefoot test run on a treadmill, I discovered my gait felt more relaxed and required a bit less effort. This is a promising sign. Unfortunately, I also quickly developed blisters.

And so here I am at the WMRA studios… wearing these new “barefoot running shoes” to get acclimated in anticipation of my barefoot training. I must say. I’m enjoying the many reactions to my unusual foot wear.

“Where did you get those gorilla feet?” “Those look like they would take a while to put on.” “What are you wearing?!"

I don’t know if this will work out for the better or the worse, but I’m willing to give it a try. I guess that’s the hazard of trying to cultivate an open mind and working at an NPR station. And I think it is going to be a while before I stop marveling at my toes wiggling back at me.

- Matt Bingay
Note#2: Don't forget to come celebrate 25-years of Blues Valley with a Blues and Barbecue Bash, tonight 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. at the WMRA studios at 983 Reservoir Street.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowpocalypse at NPR . . .

Vivian Schiller at work (Photograph by Julian Dufort for

NOTE: This e-mail from NPR's President and CEO, Vivian Schiller, went around to stations yesterday. Thought you might enjoy a festive report from the frozen NPR HQ!
Greetings from the NPR igloo --

It’s been a week of wild weather in DC, where we are now shoveling out from major snowstorm #2. While the news reports are full of cancellations and closings, NPR hasn’t missed a beat – despite reduced, emergency levels of staffing.

To keep our operations going and the programs on the air, NPR has been working full time on snow planning and snow operations since last Thursday. Led by Director of Engineering Shawn Fox and Director of Operations Charlie Mayer, our logistics group (a.k.a. the NPR Snow Patrol) has worked with staff to keep the behind-the-scenes work running smoothly despite the weather -- and with extraordinary good cheer.

More than a hundred core “essential” programming and operational staff have spent the night at local hotels when it was impossible for them to return home between shifts.

We rented three oversized SUVs for the week to provide emergency transportation to and from work for staff marooned without public transportation or a snow-worthy vehicle. They’ve been running almost non-stop, crammed with hosts, reporters, managers, technicians and executives all together. I hear the seat-warmers have been a hit.

The NPR can-do spirit is alive and well. Employees from across the organization have volunteered to take turns driving the transport vehicles. (See photo of News SVP Ellen Weiss turned chauffeur, below.) Some, including Labor Relations Director Paula Olson, drove their own 4X4s. By the way, Paula also managed to deliver hundreds of fresh baked cookies to the staff. Charlie Mayer even put his chainsaw skills to work to free weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz’s front door from a fallen tree when he and Shawn Fox came to pick Guy up for work last Saturday. (Photos below.)

Fortunately the fabulous staff members of the small cafeteria that operates on our 7th floor agreed to brave the conditions and stay open through the weekend and both storms to provide NPR-paid hot meals to hungry staff members. NPR’s sidewalk/driveway snow removal operation sets the standard in our DC neighborhood thanks to Dave Tenney and our Facilities division.

Not all the action is at HQ. Hundreds of employees have been productively working from their snowed in homes. From across the region, staff members have joined conference calls, answered emails, and moved forward on projects in what has been the largest work-from-home operation we’ve ever attempted. Just two examples, Support Technician Michael Cullen helped to set up our crew at the Vancouver Olympics and is able to adjust our IP-based equipment there over the Internet from home. Support Technician Chris Nelson is working on audio clips for NPR programs and newscasts using his laptop at home.

As for me, I finally made it into the office. But until today I was snow-trapped at home waiting for the snowplows to visit our remote cul-de-sac. Luckily the Internet and phones are working so it was sort of like being in the office…but with fuzzy slippers. Here’s a link to a time-lapse of last weekends snow fall outside my back window. Let’s hope spring comes early this year. After this winter, I’m pretty sure we’ll need it.


The tree in front of Guy Raz’s house….

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Professah Blues on the blues . . .

WMRA celebrates 25 years of Blues Valley this Saturday with a Blues and Barbecue Bash at our studio, 983 Reservoir Street, Harrisonburg. Please join us to dance, talk, and eat some barbecue.

Note: All of the photos in this blog post (as well as all of the words) by Greg Versen, aka Professah Blues.

David Honeyboy Edwards at Shaw's Place/Club 9000

Volumes have been written about the blues . . .
its origins, its unique musical structures—it's not all 12 bar—and its evolution and influence on popular music today. It is the music of an oppressed people; it is a music that reflects the African roots of slaves who were brought south, who survived, flourished, and adapted the culture in which they found themselves to form a unique culture of their own. A culture of language, folklore, and music, to name a few.

Blues is a music that reflects the life experiences of its creators. It deals with issues of life, death, love, faithfulness, betrayal, and power or powerlessness. It is not a music that is maudlin. It is a music that allows listeners to identify with the message. Hey, someone has been where I am, that makes me feel not so alone. Someone understands. It is also a music that makes you happy. On plantations, music provided entertainment (for both plantation owners and workers), provided songs for work, and for musicians, a livelihood that was better than working in the fields.

To me, and many others, blues is a music that you feel as well as listen to. The blues conjures a visceral response in me. The tune, as well as the words, carries a message one can relate to.
The Professah in his home state of Mississippi

I grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, . . .
the city at the southern end of the delta, which is considered to be the birthplace of the blues. The music we listened and danced to—and we did lots of dancing—was blues and rhythm and blues. My late night radio listening was to WLAC, a 50,000-watt station out of Nashville, TN. They had DJs—John Richburg-John R and Hossman Allen—who play blues and R&B. I came to love this music in my youth.
David Durham, Club Ebony, Indianoloa, MS

The birth of Blues Valley

I moved to the valley in 1977. At that time, cable TV also carried radio that could be split off and run through a component stereo system. I discovered stations in DC that had regular blues programming—WDCU, WHUR, and most importantly Pacifica radio station WPFW. It was through cable that I got my blues fix. After several years, the cable company dropped the radio signals, giving me a case of the blues.

In 1984, I approached Bill Miller at WMRA asking that they offer some blues programming—it was mostly bluegrass at the time, but also very eclectic in its overall program offerings. His response: Why don’t you do it. My response: Let me think about it.

After giving it some thought, visiting Bill Barlow, host of Blue Monday on WPFW, I agreed to host a blues show for one semester. It was to be 9-11 p.m. on Fridays. So, the first Friday night, January 4, 1985, was my first show. I needed to name the show. I was familiar with Blues Alley in Georgetown; so to localize the program, I decided on Blues Valley.

The reception of Blues Valley by WMRA listeners was nothing short of phenomenal (to me, at least). I got phone calls and letters from listeners that were very supportive. When the end of the semester arrived and with the response from listeners being so positive, I agreed to continue—that was 25 years ago.

Indianoloa, MS

Special memories . . .
1. While it has been a number of years since the last letter, I used to receive letters from inmates at area correctional facilities—Craigsville, Buckingham—making requests and dedications. For many, it became a way they communicated with family members, girl friends, and wives through music.

2. As a result of #1, I was able to get a grant from Bluemont Concert series to fund the appearance of Piedmont bluesman John Jackson, Fairfax County, at JMU and the Buckingham Correctional Facility.

3. Phone calls from listeners asking me to play songs for them because they were feeling bad/lonely. One caller asked for a special song for his bride to be played at midnight—they were on their honeymoon. Just this past year, a young woman asked me to dedicate a show (she got an hour) as a surprise to her fiancé as a gift—they were working on a limited budget.

4. Mrs. B. More than 10 years ago I received a handwritten letter that said she was a regular listener and listened til the show signed off at 1:00 a.m. It was at the end of the letter that she said she was 80+ years old. She would call from time to time and would request music that had a heavy Hammond B-3 organ component. I later learned that she played the organ at her church for more than 50 years, and loves to hear music that features the B-3. She will be celebrating her 95th birthday this month.
5. Fund raising. This is where the music meets the road. I would guess that about 90% of the challenges I put before Blues Valley listeners during fund raising were met or exceeded.

6. Emceeing area music events as a result of hosting Blues Valley has allowed me to meet a large number of blues performers. As a Blues DJ, I’ve been able to gain access and interview well-known performers: BB King, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lou Rawls, Saffire, Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughn, and Joe Williams.

7. It is the music and the listeners that make Saturday nights (all five hours of it) something I continue to look forward to and enjoy doing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Come on over to WMRA Saturday night and celebrate!

Who-wheeee! Blues Valley has been on the air for a quarter of a century! And you're invited to help celebrate this indubitable reality on Saturday night, from 8 p.m. until midnight, as WMRA hosts a Blues and Barbecue Bash at our studio, 983 Reservoir Street, Harrisonburg.

Professah Blues

So, I'm curious, do you listen to Blues Valley? If so, how'd you discover the Professah and his music?

I was introduced to Blues Valley by my husband, Charlie (back before he was my husband) in the summer of 1990. We lived in Amherst County and both worked for the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, which meant we had absolutely no "discretionary income" to fling about having fun on Saturday nights.

When I first met him, Charlie lived in a tiny, deep-country house, stuck between corn fields and woods. So, on Saturday nights, I'd go over, he'd aim the radio out the window, turn up Blues Valley, the two of us would dance around the back yard, and I'd think: Who needs money? You can't have more fun than this.

Now, before Professah Blues was Professah Blues, he was known simply as Greg Versen and was a much-loved and highly-regarded JMU professor of social work. So how'd Greg Versen morph into Professah Blues?

This, straight from the blues-loving, Mississippi-born Professah Blues, his ownself:
I believe that a DJ needs a memorable name to which people can relate. Being in academia, and a social worker by profession, I was very careful to not be unethical in my name selection. There are lots of blues DJs who call themselves Dr. Blues. Well, I don't have a doctorate but I am a professor, so it became Professah Blues. It seems to have been a good choice.

Blues Valley often features live music. Above, guitar maestro Bob Driver, August 8, 2009.

Blues Valley's  first official on-air date was January 4, 1985. And to reiterate: This Saturday,  from 8 p.m. until midnight, WMRA is opening our doors, turning up the music, serving barbecue catered by Hank's Smokehouse and Southern Grillery, and inviting you to come celebrate the Professah and his music at a free, 4-hour Blues and Barbecue Bash! Please do come!

I don't know about you, but I plan to dance my little toes off. It's still my opinion that you can't have more fun than dancing the night away to Professah Blues and Blues Valley!

Tomorrow:  Professah Blues talks about himself, his show, and, very personally, about the Blues.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The first threat to Sunday's Super Bowl's highest-ever TV ratings?

With apologies to Sir Walter Scott: Oh, the tangled web we weave when health care reform we did conceive.

This news yesterday in CNN's politicalticker:
Washington (CNN) - President Obama's bipartisan meeting on health care reform planned for February 25 will be broadcast live, a senior administration official said Monday.
Coverage details were not complete, but the official said the White House expected "the whole thing to be live."
Most of the comments I read that people had posted to this announcement appeared political and vituperative in nature.

Then this was posted today on's front page:

Expectations Low For Obama's Health Care Summit  by Liz Halloran

President Obama's plan to hold a televised health overhaul summit with Republicans and Democrats is still more than two weeks away, but reviews of the get-together are already in. And they're not optimistic.

Critics are characterizing the plan as a purely political gambit designed to give the appearance of momentum for the president's health care bill, now stalled on Capitol Hill.
Supporters of the president — and the legislation — say the bipartisan give-and-take will provide Obama the opportunity to publicly portray the opposition as bereft of solutions.
The comments made on the NPR site were pretty close in flavor to those attached to CNN's announcement that the meeting would be televised. Although there was a spate of comments made supporting the idea of the summit.

Then came the news today in the Washington Post's Michael Shear's 44 Politics and Policy blog/column that the House Republicans might not even show up for the conference.

Top House Republicans throw cold water on health-care summit

Leading House Republicans raised the prospect Monday night that they might refuse to participate in President Obama's proposed health care summit if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over.
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) expressed frustration at reports that Obama intends to put the Democratic bills on the table for discussion at the Feb. 25 summit.
"If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate," Boehner and Cantor wrote.
I am soooooooo confused. I thought Republicans wanted to sit down with the President and discuss their ideas on healthcare. Is it the fact that the discussion is going to be on television causing them problems? What about all the claims by politicians that "the American people want this" and "the American people want that?" Are they shy about telling us what we want while we're off from work and actually able to watch and listen to them?

I, for one, am delighted by the prospect of having an opportunity to see politicians discussing healthcare with the oft-quoted American people watching. Let's start a WMRA-roots campaign to have more Americans listen to/watch the Health Care Summit on February 25th than watched the Super Bowl.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The pompatus* of "Who Dat!!"

Today, it's short and it's personal. Today this blog is just one more celebration of the joyful fact that the New Orleans Saints actually did it! Drew Brees and company won the Super Bowl, riding the resilience of their drowned city, playing for all of us who've ever had to bounce back.

My condolences to Colts fans, of course. But you've won many, many games. And you will win many, many more. You are lead by Peyton Manning, who, we are endlessly told, studies so hard -- and certainly always looks so serious on the sidelines.  Surely it's appropriate in these dreadfully serious times for a quarterback who actually looks as though he's playing a game to carry off this year's Superbowl MVP award.

Charlie and I watched last night with hope in our hearts -- if not expectations in our head. Both of us were decked out in the rag-tag detritus of my long-ago New Orleans visits. I wore Mardi-Gras beads; Charlie, who's not been to the Big Easy yet, wore my old New Orleans Jazz Festival t-shirt draped over his head like a kufiya.

So today, as WMRA's blogger-in-chief, I'm taking a journalistic break. I just cannot wrap my mind around anything but celebration!

"Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gunna beat dem Saints?"

*  from Wikipedia: The word pompatus (also spelled pompitous, pronounced /ˈpɒmpɨtəs/) is a neologism used in the lyrics of Steve Miller's 1973 rock song "The Joker"[1]:
Some people call me the space cowboy.
Yeah! Some call me the gangster of love.
Some people call me Maurice,
'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Digging out, . . .'s first definition of compromise is:
1) a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.
Thursday, I had lunch with my good friend Judy, and we talked, as we often do, about how gratuitously argumentative our elected officials are. Most of today's politicians, Judy pointed out, seem completely uninterested in compromise. Which, said we two pizza-fueled women, is pointless, because our system of government only gets things done when there's political compromise. And, boy howdy, do we need to get things done!

So much for Thursday. Friday the Blizzard of 2010 began. Charlie and I settled in. We'd already stocked up on food at the grocery store and on books and videos at the library. Yesterday, we ate, read, took naps. We watched the snow and talked about how beautiful it is where we live. During the evening we watched a BBC drama about Vichy France. It was a very contented, feel-good day.  We slept well.

It's now Saturday morning. We have to face up to reality: At some point the snow will stop falling. It's time to think about digging out, which will entail a lot of hard work. Charlie stood out on the front porch and photographed our challenge:

If that's not graphic enough, here's the car I need to drive to work day-after-tomorrow.

As I'm a political animal, I naturally found a political metaphor in the Blizzard of 2010.

As long as the now falls, it's like an election.  It's okay to just cut loose and feel during an election. The whole process is fueled by rhetoric and emotion. Compared to the work of governing, elections are right much fun. We don't have to find a way to effectively get things done.  We know there is hard work ahead, but it's work we can't even get started on until  the votes are counted.

Whenever the snow stops it will be like actual governance. It will be the time hard work actually begins. Blizzard-wise, Charlie and I have already set a goal--we want to dig out enough by Monday morning so that I can go to work. Or at least get out of our driveway. Before we can accomplish that we know we will both be cold, wet, tired, and hungry, but that's okay because we're determined to accomplish that goal. If we just stay warm, dry, rested, and well-fed inside, any goal-setting we do becomes empty rhetoric.

Steven Pearlstein had a very interesting column in yesterday's Washington Post. Its title, "The myth of Washington bipartisanship and the art of true compromise." About half-way through the column is this paragraph:
The only way a democratic system like ours can work is if the majority party acknowledges that winning an election means winning the right to set the agenda and put the first proposal on the table, though not the right to get everything it wants. By the same logic, if members of the minority party want to influence that policy, they have to understand that it will require them to accept some things they don't like to get some things they do.
Compromise is not very glamorous or feel-good, but it is what fuels the real work of governance. And I would suggest that it's fondness for (addiction to?) empty, inflammatory rhetoric that largely fuels Washington's failures in the compromise department. Isn't uninformed, argumentative, political nonsense what we respond to? Aren't we loathe to trade the emotional buzz we get from political anger, for the quiet accomplishments of compromise?

It does seem to me today, as I think about shoveling vast amounts of this beautiful snow, that governance really  is somewhat like a blizzard. Both are amusingly dramatic, but  both bring with them a lot of hard work that we avoid at our own peril.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Make one's life revolve around festivals, not festivals around one's life!"

The title of this blog post is taken from today's WMRA Civic Soapbox, by Greene County home builder Brad Lovelace. It's an essay which, as I prepare to endure more seriously dreary winter weather, struck me as an auditory gift from the gods, most of whom are about to be honored in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, which is what Brad's essay is about. (Mardi Gras graphic is credited to tephies)

Of course Mardi Gras, the largest religious festival in the United States, doesn't technically take place until February 16th, a week from Tuesday. But since the Saints are in the Super Bowl this weekend, I'm sure the partying is well underway, and I did think our wintry souls could use a blast of virtual participation in the rompings and stompings of the Who Dat nation.

The essay is about how last year at this time, Brad and his wife packed up their kids and went to Mardi Gras on impulse (the only real way to attend Mardi Gras, don't you think?) There's no point in rehashing his Civic Soapbox--just click on this link and listen to it, or on this link and read the text. (Unless of course, your life just has too much fun in it already and you don't need a dose of romping and stomping.)

I am, however, going to augment the Civic Soapbox experience with a few pictures, taken with the Lovelace cell phone, since the Lovelace camera got left behind during their impulsive departure.  This means the fun looks a bit blurry, but when you think about it, that's probably not all that inappropriate. All picture commentary is by Brad Lovelace.

As they say in every restaurant I don't like: Enjoy!

After Orpheus almost O' Bead....  Niall and I after the Orpheus parade.  I had so many beads around my neck I couldn't stand up straight....  During this parade I made a heroic leap and snagged a Jim Belushi throw,  a set of purple beads.

 Zulu cigar. . . . That is my daughter Addy with her Zulu cigar.  Zulu is a mainly black Krewe. They dress up with Al Jolson face paint and grass skirts.  They look like characters out of the old King Kong or Tarzan movies.  Their signature throws are cigars, really cool Zulu necklaces and they hand out coconuts.

Lundi Gras....  That is me, my eldest daughter Annalise, who is so enthralled with New Orleans that she moved there, and Addy.   Lundi Gras is when  Zulu gives a big party on the waterfront.  There is a great fireworks show, and then the night is topped with the Proteus and Orpheus parades.

Street cleaners . . .  This is a truly impressive operation of street sweepers, fire hoses, skid loaders and guys with leaf blowers....  They do an incredible job of cleaning streets one would think could never get clean, but every night they are out there.

Laissez les snowy bon temps rouler!

Go Saints!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lightening up . . .

I was driving back from the gym yesterday afternoon listening to the usual Wednesday political discussion on Talk of the Nation. It was all terribly serious until Neal Conan and his Wednesday sidekick, Ken Rudin (pictured left -- who knew he looked like that?), welcomed one Don Steiner to the show. And then serious went out the window. Or at least out of the studio.

Don Steiner is a Philadelphia-based writer who, among other literary endeavors, runs the blog America Bowl: U.S. Presidents vs. Super Bowls. This blog is based on the lovely, lunatic, innately American concept that anything can be made into a competition. And that since we have now had 44 presidents and are about to have our 44th Super Bowl, it's now perfectly reasonable to pit one against the other in historical order.

In his blog, Mr. Steiner uses football language to discuss both the Presidents and the Super Bowls. Which kind of works in a wacky wonderful way. Take LBJ, for example. (This post is excerpted below.) Vietnam is referred to as the hole in President Johnson's game. As a sports fan who lived through Vietnam and has also read some about it, I can't think of a more accurate way to put it -- at least a more accurate way to put it concisely. Besides, it's amusing. And I'm not sure I've ever before found anything said about Vietnam amusing.

"America Bowl" is lite history -- as in lite beer or lite music. It's party history. And, as we Americans remain mired in political vituperation, bless Mr. Steiner's heart for giving us something politically lite to debate come Monday: President Obama vs. Super Bowl XXXXIV

If you want to listen to Don Steiner talking with Neal Conan and Ken Rudin on Talk of the Nation, click here and go to about 20:30 in the sound file.

And here's the aforementioned excerpt.
Game 36: Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Super Bowl XXXVI
  Here is a story of two eager backups thrust by emergency into Number One roles under less than ideal circumstances. Lyndon B. Johnson, who'd never enjoyed being Vice President to John F. Kennedy, was rushed to Dallas and sworn in as the 36th President after Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. Novice QB Tom Brady, who'd played in only one NFL game in his career, stepped in as the Patriots' starting quarterback after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season.

Johnson had great moments, but he was a one-way player. Domestically he was first-string, maybe a Hall of Fame candidate. His tenure from 1963 to 1969 -- which included a landslide election win in 1964 -- saw passage of landmark legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing racial discrimination, the Voting Rights Act of '65 banning racist polling rules, and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to create public TV and radio. He launched Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Head Start, environmental protection laws, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Foreign policy was the hole in his game, though. He hated having to devote time and resources to the war in Vietnam. But he refused to lose and increased rather than drew down U.S. involvement. Ultimately it was his frustration with ceaseless war issues, at home and abroad, that led LBJ to choose not to run in 1968.

Tom Brady came up huge in the Patriots emotional 2001 season, which was played in the dark shadow of the 9/11 attacks. With the poise of a veteran, Brady led New England to an unlikely division title. He seemed charmed. The Pats got a break in a snowy playoff versus the Raiders when what looked like a Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, and the Pats kept the ball for a game-tying score.

In Super Bowl XXXVI the Patriots would face the Rams with their relentless passing attack, the "Greatest Show on Turf."  The Rams had led the NFL with 503 points. QB Kurt Warner threw a league-topping 36 TD passes to a receiving corps that included Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Rakim, Ricky Proehl, and running back Marshall Faulk, who also ran for 1,382 yards. But the Pats' defense attacked Warner. CB Ty Law picked off a Warner pass intended for Bruce and took it to the house for New England's first score. After three quarters, the Pats were up 17-3. It wasn't enough. The Rams drove for two touchdowns to tie the score at 17 with 1:30 left. Brady marshaled the Patriots downfield one last time and spiked the ball to stop the clock at the Rams' 24 yard line with 8 seconds left.  Then kicker Adam Vinatieri did it again, nailing a 41-yard FG to ice the game. It was an all-time classic.

LBJ made his mark. The Patriots launched a dynasty. Score this for the Super Bowls.

Score after this match: Presidents 19, Super Bowls 17