Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tom Graham update to today's blog post

NOTE: Just got this e-mail from WMRA's Tom Graham who keeps up with Virginia politics and news for all the rest of us. . . 

Hey Partner –

Nice work on the offshore drilling blog.

I really liked the map, too !

I imagine you are already following the continuing developments. The Times-Dispatch has already done some updates.

This is a big deal for Governor McDonnell. He succeeded in getting legislation approved by the General Assembly last month that would dedicate monies from offshore drilling to Virginia transportation improvements

The two main bills on this were

HB787: Supports oil and gas exploration and drilling 50 miles off the coast of Virginia. [Senate Companion SB394.]

HB756: Directs 70 percent of any drilling royalties to state road improvements.

In pushing for the above legislation, McDonnell and General Assembly Republicans had received much criticism from those who said it was silly to be passing bills about offshore drilling revenues when such drilling was – at the time the legislation was approved – prohibited by federal statute.

So the governor and the Virginia GOP are likely feeling pretty good about today’s developments.



What's the drill?

There has been a long-standing moratorium on oil and gas drilling along much of the east coast of the United States. That, evidently, is about to change.

Obama to allow drilling 50 miles off Va. coast

WASHINGTON -- In a reversal of a long-standing ban on most offshore drilling, President Barack Obama is allowing oil drilling 50 miles off Virginia's shorelines. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.
Obama's plan offers few concessions to environmentalists, who have been strident in their opposition to more oil platforms off the nation's shores. Hinted at for months, the plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. . .
Thus began an article in this morning's Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Washington Post reports that the move will anger environmentalists and please oil and gas companies.
The drilling policy represents the White House's latest attempt to straddle a middle ground on climate and energy policy, an effort that has already seen steps to boost domestic energy production and demands for stricter limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. This week the administration will finalize the nation's first greenhouse-gas limits for emissions from cars and light trucks, regulations that will boost the fuel economy of the U.S. vehicle fleet over several years.
Interestingly, at the time I'm posting this, there was no mention of the expected announcement in The Dallas Morning News, which reports from arguably the heart of the American oil industry.

Trolling the web for perspective on this announcement, I came across this article about then Senator Obama on the campaign trail, posted August 3, 2008, on CNN.
Sen. Barack Obama responded Saturday to criticism that he has changed his position on opposing offshore oil drilling.
Obama said Friday that he would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs.
"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama told The Palm Beach Post early into a two-day swing through Florida.
But on Saturday morning, Obama said this "wasn't really a new position."
"I made a general point about the fact that we need to provide the American people some relief and that there has been constructive conversations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on this issue," he said during a press conference in Cape Canaveral.
"What I will not do, and this has always been my position, is to support a plan that suggests this drilling is the answer to our energy problems," Obama added.
"If we've got a plan on the table that I think meets the goals that America has to set and there are some things in there that I don't like, then obviously that's something that I would consider because that's the nature of how we govern in a democracy."
So, WMRA community of listeners, what's your reaction? Good move? Bad move? Necessary move? Politically expedient move? 
NOTE: April 1st ON POINT (10 a.m.--noon) on WMRA
President Obama’s Energy Vision - President Obama announces plans to drill for oil offshore. On Point looks at the politics behind the move - - and Obama s energy vision now.
NOTE #2:  map of proposed drilling area off Virginia coast

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The power of verbs . . .

Okay, I'm an aging rock 'n roller, so old rock 'n roll song lyrics resonate with me. Even if, at the time, I found them a bit self-consciously cosmic. So, perhaps, I had an old Who song in mind last night when I came up with what turned into a very interesting way to kick off  the maiden class in an essay-writing course I'm teaching for J.M.U.'s Life-long Learning Institute.

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

Now, please, as one who's firmly in touch with her inner Popeye, I long ago gave up indulging in the kind of navel-gazing introspection such a question implies. But then I wasn't teaching an introspection class, I was teaching a writing class. And as a writing exercise, I found that "who am I" can be a very productive question to address.

It was, by the way, a loose, fun bunch of people gathered in the WMRA conference room last night. At the beginning of class, I asked everyone to tell me what they hoped to get out of our five Monday nights together. One popular goal was to learn to say what they had to say, only shorter. And more clearly. And more vividly.

Anyone who writes seriously, with any kind of writerly discipline and regular time commitment, quickly learns the power of verbs. Verbs are what you are saying; everything else is decoration to be applied judiciously, deliberately, with restraint. Yet it seems to take time to develop enough confidence as a writer to leave verbs alone.

It was with the power of verbs in mind, that I tried something last night I'd never tried before in a class. First, I read my standard bio to the class -- the two paragraphs I send out when I'm giving a speech and whomever I'm speaking to needs something for their program.

Next I read five, two-word sentences that I thought best described me. I am. I love. I think. I move. I write.  

So, I asked the class, which gives you a better feel for who I am, the bio or the five, two-word sentences?

The sentences won unanimously.

So then, with great head scratching and head shaking, each person in the class wrote their own five, two-word takes on who they are.

The results were astonishing in their variety and insight. A post-sentence-writing poll showed that most had felt quite exposed by compressing themselves into verbs.

I think of this five-sentence drill as an exercise in Extreme Writing. Try it yourself. Try it with friends. Let me know if you find it as interesting as I did. And as last night's class did.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A deep philosophical divide?

During last Friday's On Point, David Gergen had some interesting points to make during the show's "Week in the News" discussion. He was speaking about last week's vitriolic-ly expressed opposition to the passage of the health-care reform bill. Were the threats, taunts, and thrown bricks simply partisan politics run amuck or were they inappropriate expressions of something deeper?

David Gergen made the point that, in modern times, all the federal government's sweeping social reforms -- Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and the landmark Civil Rights Bills of 1965 and 1966 -- have been passed when Democrats had a substantial Congressional majority.  But, Gergen pointed out, they were also all passed with significant bipartisan support.

Health care reform, however, was passed without bipartisan support. The GOP walked through the vote in oppositional lockstep. And, Gergen pointed out, historically when this kind of partisan divide has happened in Congress, people, sadly, have tended to become inflamed. And those of us who don't become inflamed over the actions of Congress, become alarmed by the behavior of those who do.

Mr. Gergen went on to caution that we do need to remember that  "there’s a deep philosophical divide between these two parties. One [the Republicans] has a view of private enterprise and a self-reliant view which is much different from the Democratic view that the government is there to help people who can’t help themselves. And [that it] ought to embrace those people.”

This, of course, is something I've heard countless times. Yet it was interesting to think about this "deep philosophical divide" in the specific context of last week's passage of health-care reform and the angry reaction to it.

Some very simple questions came to mind, that I think need to be answered simply and directly before we go back to our customary political posturing.
  1. Is health care a fundamental right? If someone gets sick, do they have a right to proper medical care? Or should medical treatment be the private privilege of those who can pay for it, personally or through insurance?
  2. If health care is a fundamental right, who's responsible for providing it? Who's job is it to see that sick people get the medical treatment they need?
  3. How does this all fit in with the "deep philosophical divide" between our two American political parties?
Okay, so I got questions. You got answers? Thoughts? Opinions?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The writerly bond . . .

About a month ago, I held a two-part, personal essay-writing workshop at Lexington's Boxerwood Gardens. We got together on the theory that conversation among people who love and venerate good use of language stimulates and disciplines the writer in each of us.

I sat among a generous-sized circle of people; some of whom had already written a lot, others of whom had hardly written at all. All of us, I'm pretty sure, enjoyed ourselves mightily; those of us who'd hardly written gaining confidence; those of us who had written getting shaken out of our accustomed (and, perhaps, slightly jaded) approaches to the page -- getting a good smack upside the head about how good writing demands risk, not repetition..

If I "teach" anything at these workshops, it's that essay writing, first and foremost, involves clear thinking. What, exactly, am I trying to say? It seems to me that people often try to work out what they think by writing about it. And while the result may certainly sound impressive, it's a muddle rather than an essay.

This means that a personal essay-writing workshop is a mental work-out for the temporarily fearless. We are gathered to learn to write about things that matter to us.  And in order to do this, we have to know exactly why these things do matter -- not to the world in general, but to us as individuals. In order to write a really good personal essay, we must get beyond our mysterious reluctance to put who we are down on the page.

Whew! It's a bonding experience! But then risk-taking adventures always are.

When we were finished with the second session, we Boxerwood work-shoppers had no desire to let our group go. So, we decided not to. We're having a reunion this Sunday at Books & Co. in Lexington, at a book-signing for one of our members.

Lisa Tracy was one of the people who'd written a lot. Obviously, because here's her website biography:
Lisa Tracy is a journalist and author of a number of books, including Objects of Our Affection, Muddy Waters: The Legacy of Katrina and Rita, and The Gradual Vegetarian. She has served as Home and Design Editor and Sunday Magazine Managing Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, worked in press relations for the ABC Television Network, and hosted a radio show on consumer affairs for the Federal Trade Commission. She also worked as an actress and stage technician before entering the field of journalism and is a member of Actors’ Equity. She has taught composition, creative nonfiction, literature and history.
Her latest book, just out, is called Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time (A Bantam Hardcover; March 23, 2010). Lisa's family has been around Lexington forever, intricately tied up with the area's history, busily amassing historically interesting possessions. Object is a book for anyone who's had to deal with family possessions that need upkeep, yet are not really useful anymore, or for anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow, or for anyone who likes a good memoir. Or, if none of this applies, Objects is, I can testify, simply fun to read

Lisa Tracy, in elegant mode, surrounded by family stuff 

I'll be at Lisa's book-signing tomorrow in Lexington.  Along with, it looks like, about half the Boxerwood essay workshop.

How about you?  If you're within striking distance of Lexington, please do stop by.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Update from Albemarle County . . .

What is going on???

On March 26, 2010 at approximately 8:47 A.M. County Police responded to 455 Albemarle Square for a report of vandalism to the GOP headquarters.  Sometime between 6:15 P.M. on March 25th and 8:45 A.M. this morning unknown suspect(s) threw at least two bricks through the windows of the headquarters.  Two of the windows were completely shattered and a third was partially damaged.  A preliminary estimate of the damage to the windows is approximately $1,000.00.  There was no apparent entry to the building.

The officer on scene collected evidence and the investigation is ongoing.  Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to call the Albemarle County Police Department at 296-5807 or Crime Stoppers at 977-4000.

Here's to the people not making headlines with rude behavior

Short and to the point, this morning. . .

Frankly, it's been a hard and discouraging week, news-wise. Incivility has dominated our legislative process and our national conversation; some of it originating right here in our neighborhood. 

Yet, I'm sitting here feeling good and hopeful and positive about the future.


Because the WMRA community of listeners rocks, that's why! 

Enough people contributed enough support to WMRA's Spring Fundraiser to meet --and surpass -- our minimum goal of raising $135,000 on-air. Which means to me that the wish for civil discourse remains alive and well in our community.

How sweet it is! -- as the Great One was wont to say. Thank-you all, so much!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This just in from the Albemarle County Community Relations Director . . .

NOTE: This refers to the incident at Tom Perriello's brother's house.


The Albemarle County Fire Marshal’s Office and the FBI are confirming details regarding an act of vandalism which was reported on March 23 at 303 Heron Drive in Peacock Hills in the Ivy area of Albemarle County.   The act of vandalism was discovered by residents who returned home and smelled gas and then discovered that the supply hose connecting a liquid petroleum tank to burners on a portable gas grill was severed.  The grill was located on a deck adjacent to a screened porch on the back of the house.   Investigators believe that this was a deliberate act of vandalism and that the supply hose was intentionally cut.  While there was no immediate threat to the residence and its occupants, investigators believe the leaking gas could have posed a danger had there been an ignition source nearby. Investigators collected physical evidence from the scene and have interviewed the victim and nearby residents. Local officials are working co-operatively with Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who has been involved from the early stages of the investigation.  Anyone with information on this incident or other unusual behavior in the neighborhood is encouraged to call Crime Solvers at (434) 977-4000.

A curable condition . . .

This morning when I sat down to write this blog, I just couldn't figure out what to focus on. It felt as though I were experiencing a kind of existential bafflement, a free-floating puzzlement.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that health care, it seems, is headed back to the House even though it has already been signed into law by President Obama.


Or maybe it's a hangover from reading about death threats against Democratic members of Congress, or about the severed gas line at Virginia's 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello's brother's house. Why, oh why, would anyone think such behavior moves this country forward? Bo Perriello has four small children, for Pete's sake!

Or maybe it's anticipation of the likelihood that a significant number of people will just refuse to consider that DNA analysis has possibly revealed a lost human relative from 40,000 years ago  -- as reported in the current issue of Nature and on NPR.

Or this baffling example of how ubiquitous partisan politics has become in American society, as reported in The New York Times.
After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

Or, who knows, maybe it's just fatigue from fundraising (uh, with respect, you supported WMRA yet? 1-800-677-9672 or

Experiencing existential bafflement is not fun. Yet thankfully it's a malaise with a cure. One that I, personally, think has been best prescribed by the Dixie Chicks. . . .

Some days you gotta dance
Live it up when you get the chance
'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense
And you're feeling just a little too tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An update on the situation at Tom Perriello's brother's home . . .

NOTE FROM MARTHA: This morning, I wrote on  his blog about the posting of Tom Perriello's brother's home address on the Lynchburg Tea Party's blog. My morning post is below.

Congressman Perriello’s office confirmed today that a line to a propane tank on a gas grill was cut at Bo Perriello’s Charlottesville home on Tuesday.

Tom Graham, WMRA's plugged-in political guy, sent me this just-released press release from Representative Perriello about the situation at his brother's house, so that  I could pass it along to you.

Statement of Rep. Tom Perriello on Incident at Brother’s Home

Washington, DC—Today, Rep. Tom Perriello released the following statement in response to an ongoing FBI investigation into a severed gas line at the home of the congressman’s brother.

“My number one priority right now is ensuring the safety of my brother’s family, and I am grateful to law enforcement for their excellent work. While it is too early to say anything definitive regarding political motivations behind this act, it’s never too early for political leaders to condemn threats of violence, particularly as threats to other Members of Congress and their children escalate. And so I ask every member of House and Senate leadership to state unequivocally tonight that it is never OK to harm or threaten elected officials and their families with anything more than political retribution. Here in America, we settle our political differences at the ballot box.”

The Lunatic Fringe?

Decades ago, when I was in the restaurant business in Charlottesville, we affectionately used the term "L.F" (meaning the Lunatic Fringe) to refer to customers who just needed to make life unpleasant for other people. Such people do exist, but they are generally harmless.


A WMRA listener sent us this post from Politico last night. The blog referred to in the article can be found at this link:
Tea partiers told to 'drop by' Perriello's home
By: Andy Barr
March 22, 2010 10:20 PM EDT
A tea party organizer angry over Rep. Thomas Perriello’s (D-Va.) vote in favor of health care reform published what he thought was the freshman member’s home address on a blog, in case any readers “want to drop by” and provide a “personal touch” to their views.
Rather than giving out Perriello’s address however, the tea party activist mistakenly printed the home address of the congressman’s brother. Perriello’s brother and wife have four children under the age of 8.
In the post, the author gives out the address to his “friends” in Perriello’s district.
“Just in case any of his friends and neighbors want to drop by and say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for health care,” the author writes. “I personally believe it’s so important for representatives to remain fully grounded and to remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote. Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat. It has a much more personal touch to it.”
The post does not have a byline but was published on a blog run by an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, a member of the group confirmed to POLITICO. There is no contact information on the blog, but POLITICO has been able to trace the blog to Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party who has been active in the organization since it launched last year.
In an interview with POLITICO, Troxel admitted to writing the post and said that he has no intention of removing the address from the blog.
Troxel found the address through a directory website and said he would only replace what he currently has on the blog with an address provided by Perriello’s office.
“If they would like to provide me with the address of Tom, then I’d be more than happy to take it down,” he said. “I have no reason to believe it’s not his house.”
“We’re pretty ticked off he voted for it,” Troxel said.
Troxel, a 2005 graduate of Liberty University, added “I was a journalism major in college, so I have every reason to believe my research is accurate.”
Kurt Feigel, who frequently works and communicates with Troxel and runs a companion blog, told POLITICO that he has no issue with Troxel posting what he thought was a congressman’s home address.
“They have our home addresses. I don’t have a problem with it,” Feigel — a fellow tea party organizer — said during a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s a good thing if it’s not [Perriello’s] address. But I don’t have a problem with posting his address.”
Feigel justified Troxel’s decision to post the home address by saying that Perriello’s office does not “respond to e-mail, they don’t respond to letters, they don’t respond to us showing up at his office. So what am I going to do?”
“We should be protesting on his front lawn. He betrayed his district,” Feigel added.
The post is time-stamped for Monday. Perriello’s office first learned of the post on Monday afternoon and immediately called the congressman’s brother.
Nobody has stopped by the house yet, but the family had lamps stolen out of their yard this weekend as Perriello — a moderate who sided with the majority in passing the bill — weighed how to vote. The congressman’s office did not know if the events are related.
An aide for the congressman posted a comment to the blog asking that the address be removed. The comment has been taken down with no correction to the post or any explanation. Troxel said he never saw the comment.
Perriello’s office declined to comment.
© 2010 Capitol News Company, LLC
I am certainly not saying that all Tea Partiers are flirting with membership to the L.F. There is a great deal of legitimate, conservative concern about policy being expressed among its diverse membership. But it does seem as though Mike Troxel's purpose in making that particular post was to make the brother of one of our elected representative's life unpleasant, don't you think?

If this post had been an isolated example of L.F. behavior done in the name of political protest, I would have deleted it and not passed it on to you. But coming on the heels of the Tea Partiers' racist slurs and homosexual taunts slung at members of Congress; and, even more distressingly to me, the behavior of some of our elected representatives on Sunday, as reported by The Washington Post's Dana Millbank.
As lawmakers debated their way to a vote on the legislation, dozens of GOP lawmakers walked from the chamber, crossed the Speaker's Lobby, stepped out onto the members-only House balcony -- and proceeded to incite an unruly crowd.
Thousands of conservative "tea party" activists had massed on the south side of the Capitol, pushing to within about 50 feet of the building. Some Democrats worried aloud about the risk of violence, and police tried to keep the crowd away from the building.
But rather than calm the demonstrators, Republican congressmen whipped the masses into a frenzy. There on the House balcony, the GOP lawmakers' legislative dissent and the tea-party protest merged into one. Some lawmakers waved handwritten signs and led the crowd in chants of "Kill the bill." A few waved the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag of the tea-party movement. Still others fired up the demonstrators with campaign-style signs mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It seems to me the time has come to ask ourselves if what we've always considered unacceptable political protest is becoming more wide accepted. And if so, is it  really the best way  to conduct the country's business.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yielding space . . .

Today President Obama is expected to sign healthcare reform into reality. To mark this, I wanted to write something cogent and wise that would help put the epic political struggles of the last year into perspective.

Then, I came across the following essay by NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving on It's offered as today's entry in Mr. Elving's "watching washington" column; and, politically speaking, it's just about as cogent and wise a take on healthcare politics as one could wish for.

Just How Unpopular Is The Health Care Bill?  

In the later phase of the health care debate, the argument most often heard from Republicans has been this: The American people have rejected this bill; we are only their messengers.
The verb "rejected" is often amplified with words such as "overwhelmingly" or "resoundingly" or "again and again."
How can President Obama and his Democratic Congress possibly move a piece of social change legislation comparable to Social Security or Medicare without the support of the American people?
You can almost hear the deafening roar of response, even as you ask the rhetorical question.
As the GOP has featured this line over recent weeks, Democrats have been thrown back on defensive arguments. They say the bill's components are popular, even if the bill itself is not. They say the popular judgment is mostly negative because the news has been dominated by the process in recent months, not by the substance of the bill -- which remains largely mysterious to the average voter.
This recalls the judgment of some historians and political scientists that the Clinton administration's push to change health care in 1993-1994 ended badly not so much on substance as on image. The "optics," as political operatives would say, were awful. So the bill failed.
Lately, the optics have been pretty awful again. The moves made in December to nail down 60 votes in the Senate (and forestall a Republican filibuster) looked sleazy and cheapened the underlying bill. And when Democrats talked for a time about using a "deem and pass" procedure in the House that would enact health care "without a vote," the optics got even worse.
But with all that bad publicity and all the doubt generated by a year of debate and opponents' vituperation, the latest Gallup Poll showed 48 percent against the bill and 45 percent in favor.
That does not look like overwhelming rejection. In fact, it's within the margin of polling error.
Moreover, the 45 percent level of approval was achieved despite the same poll's finding that the respondents believed the bill would only improve health insurance and health care for two groups: those currently uninsured and those with low incomes. Clear majorities of respondents thought everyone else, including doctors and other health professionals and the middle class, would suffer.
Yet even given that impression, more than 4 out of 10 were willing to approve the idea of an overhaul along the lines President Obama has proposed.
What would happen if the bill's image were to improve, even slightly, in the days and weeks ahead? What if the passage, and the proliferation of positive details about the actual bill, were to lift its approval in the Gallup above 50 percent? What would be the primary Republican argument in that case?
Would they say the bill was only popular at 60 percent or 70 percent or more?
One thing is clear. Without the Democrats' narrow win in the House this past weekend, the Republicans would have won the health care argument in two ways. First, they would have blocked legislation they opposed. But beyond that, the snuffing out of the bill would mean all their arguments against it would be deemed true -- or successful, and therefore unchallenged.
Was the bill a governmental takeover of health care? We would never really know, but the argument would be remembered in these terms.
Would the bill have been a body blow to the economy? Would it have killed jobs, destroyed small businesses and undermined Medicare? Would it have bankrupted America?
Without a bill in place, all these arguments would remain unproven and impossible to disprove. We would know only that these arguments prevailed, and that the bill, in defeat, would stand guilty as charged.
Perhaps the bill in implementation will grow even less popular, as problems arise and receive extensive airing. But what would happen if, as consumers learn they will benefit, in many cases, from provisions of the bill, they start to feel better about it?
Is it possible the bill has been a more potent political weapon in prospect than it will turn out to be in reality?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yesterday's dueling protests . . .

Yesterday in Washington, DC, told the tale of two different kinds of protests.

The first was a gathering of a few thousand Tea Partyers opposed to healthcare reform. Overwhelmingly white and middle-aged, some shouted racial epithets and anti-gay chants at members of Congress forced to pass through them. For those of us who hoped the days of openly racist politics were behind us, it was a sad demonstration that they are not.

It was interesting to note that a few House Republicans stood on a balcony during the Tea Party demonstration, egging on the protesters, holding up signs saying "Kill the Bill." Other Republicans sought to distance themselves from the group.

Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

Yesterday's second Washington protest was staged by tens of thousands of  immigrants and activists (including four bus-loads of people who left from Harrisonburg) in support of immigration reform. They marched in their massive numbers and went home.

I followed both protests yesterday, interested not just in what happened, but in how what happened was reported. Those few thousand Tea Partyers were given lead coverage -- particularly once they started slinging their distasteful epithets. Coverage of the tens of thousands of Marchers for America was kept decidedly below the fold. That protest did not even make the front page of this morning's New York Times (at least, on-line).

I have no quarrel at all with giving the House's historic vote on healthcare reform the full Monty of journalistic treatment. But I do quarrel with the choice to pay more journalistic attention to a few thousand people's use of racial epithets than to the tens of thousands who staged the kind of orderly protest that makes this country great.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ding! Final Pet Pledge Day Data Update!


WMRA's Pet Pledge Day was yesterday and, as always, serious lunacy prevailed. (Be sure to check out pet photos in "Fan Photos" on WMRA's Facebook page.) I was on the air during All Things Considered with cat lover, Terry Ward, and I promised that this morning's blog would be devoted to The Final Tally of All Pets Pledged in Honor Of.

So here goes. . .
4 donkeys
1 rooster
2 ducks
39 horses
25 deer
46 chickens
1 snake
47 fish
7 birds
2 llamas
1 mouse*
4 rabbits
4 skunks
300,000 bees
1 cockatiel**
2 squirrels
4** bluebirds
3 ferrets
2 goats
1 cow
201*** dogs
219 cats.
* a church mouse, I believe. . .
** not sure why the cockatiel and bluebirds weren't counted as birds, but it's not up to me to question the judges
 *** there was one wished-for dog which the judges ruled could only be used to break a tie.
NOTE: Missing this year were gerbils, hamsters, geckos, iguanas, turtles, pet rocks and stuffed animals.

ANOTHER NOTE: Cats were declared the winners of Pet Pledge Day. I, personally, thought bees should have won, but nobody took my arguments seriously because the bees didn't have names. I did a "shout out" to the bee owners to call in their names, but got no response. Sorry bees, I did what I could.

NOTE #3: Less than $90,000 to go to reach our final goal of at least $135,000. The number to call is 1-800-677-9672 or you can give on-line.

Happy weekend, everybody!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Inadvertent activist . . .

Today's Civic Soapbox is by Sandy Mercer. She sent me a first draft of her essay weeks ago. As is the case with a lot of the essays I'm sent, it was too long and kind of wander-y. Sandy was expressing feelings and opinions that mattered deeply to her, and it's hard to write a disciplined essay about something that has lit a fire in your heart.

Sandy's a public school teacher, and, before now, she's never been an activist. It's still not a comfortable role for her, but Sandy seems to have felt a call to advocate for passage of the DREAM Act -- DREAM being an acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.  Sandy Mercer teaches writing, and she was convinced by stories written by her undocumented students that they deserve a chance to earn the right to stay in the only country they've ever called home.

Here's a link to her finished Civic Soapbox essay if you'd like to listen or read it.

Tuesday night I met with Sandy and a group of her fellow DREAMers for an hour or so at the Earth and Tea Cafe in downtown Harrisonburg. They've been getting  together once a week since October, trying to figure out what they can do in their community to educate friends, neighbors, fellow church members and colleagues at work about the advantages to America of passing the DREAM Act, and embracing undocumented minors who have a proven record of achievement.

I sat next to a young man who is, I think, a junior in high school. He was the youngest person present and the quietest. He didn't participate as the rest talked about what to do with the thick stack of petitions signed by hundreds of local people in favor of passage of the DREAM Act. Or about the four bus loads of Valley residents who are going to Washington to participate in Sunday's immigration reform March for America.

I'm southern, I'm social, I have a knee-jerk impulse to draw quiet, shy people into conversations. "So," I said, smiling at him, "is your immigration status secure?"

It may have been among the most insensitive questions I've ever asked anyone. Haltingly, shyly, the young man let me know that he didn't know how to answer it. Why? Because he didn't know if he could trust me. He was seventeen-years-old, doing very well in school, firmly a part of a circle of friends in the only country he's ever known, and he was afraid that saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could bring his whole life to a crashing halt.

It struck me at that moment how appropriate the acronym DREAM is for the Act this group hopes to see become law. When I was sixteen, it was perfectly plausible for me to dream anything I wanted. Perfectly okay for me to make plans to be anything I wanted to be. My future was in my hands.

My new young friend, however, can only dream, he can't plan. As things currently stand, his talents and his drive have very little to do with the shape of his future.

I found myself watching Sandy Mercer, the reluctant activist, whisked off the sidelines into the immigration reform debate by the power of her students' stories. And it seemed to me that each of us, before we make up our mind about this complex and contentious issue, should do as she did -- we should listen to a few stories of those whose futures are at stake.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yesterday's drive home, a personal digression from blogging as usual . . .

Yesterday, while political maneuvering ground on in Washington, deciding the fate of health care reform, it was finally beautiful and warm in my corner of the Shenandoah Valley. Looking out my office window at WMRA, I swear I could see the grass greening; perhaps, who knows, in honor of that greenest of Saints, Patrick, on his Day.

As I have to be on the air at 6:30 today, asking you to support WMRA, I drove home yesterday an hour earlier than usual. I'm a lucky person, in that my drive home is a pleasure. I live ten miles out in the country, northwest of Harrisonburg. There's no traffic sprawl in that direction. I leave work, cut through Old Town, stop at the grocery store and a half-mile later I'm driving a curvy two-lane road, heading out toward Little North Mountain, a fifty-mile ridge that rises out of my next door neighbor's fields.

Heretical though this may seem, yesterday it was simply too pretty a day after too dreary a winter to listen to the news driving home. I flipped to an oldies station. And there, like a gift from something, somewhere, was the glorious Gladys Knight singing her heart out; backed up, as always, by the great and grooving Pips.
He's leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia
(Leaving on a midnight train)
Said he's going back
(Going back to find)
To find a simpler place and time
(Whenever he takes that ride, guess who's gonna be right by his side)
I'll be with him
(I know you will)
On that midnight train to Georgia
(Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia, woo woo)
I'd rather live in his world,
(Live in his world)
Than live without him in mine
(World, world, is his and hers alone)
It struck me I'd that been listening to that song, lip-syncing, pretending to be a Pip, for almost four decades. And here it was again on this beautiful spring afternoon, keeping me company on the way home.

For a moment, my whole life seemed a gift, a joy. I guess you could say I was happy. And this morning, I guess I just want to pass it along.

Last night's reception committee at home

Note: It is the spring fundraiser. Please support WMRA at 1-800-677-9672 or on-line. And thanks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The incivility of YIKES alerts. . .

Yesterday, at 12:10 p.m., I posted this on the WMRA's Facebook page:
Today during the 2 p.m. hour of TALK OF THE NATION, we'll discuss how the Texas Board of Education (elected) has voted to rewrite history and economic textbooks to reflect more conservative views. Does hearing this trigger a YIKES alert in you? If you'd like to listen, remember we handily stream at . . .

Among the comments made in response was this one from Martha Bell Graham:
"Yikes alert" certainly colors the discussion....It's disappointing that conversations can't begin on common ground rather with a supposition like "Yikes." No wonder we're so polarized.
To put it bluntly, Ms.Graham's comment smacked me upside the head. The last thing I'd always thought I wanted to do on the WMRA Facebook page was fan the polarization fire.

The consensus of subsequent comments to that particular Facebook post was that the Texas School Board's contemplated actions warranted a "yikes alert," because they're so alarming. And most comments spelled out the reasons why they're alarming.

But that, I think, is not Ms. Graham's point. Her point is that in using the term "yikes alert" I had fallen into what I think of as Facebook-ese--the use of snappy language just to trigger a response. (Which, incidentally is what I do want to do, for Facebook is such a good way to have a conversation.) The problem was that by using the term "Yikes alert," I'd called more for a polarizing emotional response rather than for a less inflammatory, more considered one. That most people didn't respond in this way is to their credit, not mine.

I immediately e-mailed Ms. Graham and asked if I could blog about her comment. We had an interesting e-mail exchange during which Ms. Graham had this to say:
I think because I'm a writer, I am perhaps more sensitive than most about the shades of words.. . . Blogs and postings so often seem as if they are yelling — as if the afterthought is "take that!" Ironically, I believe a civil tone is more likely to stir productive discussion. 
And I believe she's right. I have sworn off "yikes alerts" on Facebook. The devil is in the details of language as much as it is in the details of everything else.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A story from the other Corner parking lot

Remember that 1998 Spike Lee movie with Denzel Washington, He Got Game? Among other things, it's about basketball as something that is just there in a person.

People "got story" as well; they're the ones who see story where the rest of us just see stuff going on. And when the people who've got story also have the creative chops to put those stories into words or songs or photographs or films -- the rest of us get lucky and get to substitute their inspired vision for our much more mundane view.

From what I hear about The Parking Lot Movie, filmmaker Meghan Eckman's a person who's got story. She looked at that paved field behind a bunch of shops on The Corner in Charlottesville; at the stinky, funky shack where the car wranglers lurk ready to give their all to maintain order and commercial justice in the chaotic world of Corner parking, and she saw story.

Three years later, what Meghan Eckman saw is available to the rest of us in movie form. According to the movie's website:
The Parking Lot Movie is a documentary about a singular parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia and the select group of Parking Lot Attendants that inhabit its microcosm. . . .For these denizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, the intersection between the status quo and the quest for freedom becomes the challenge. Something as simple as a parking lot becomes an emotional way station for The American Dream.
Okay, I believe in the Theater of the Parking Lot, and I want to see The Parking Lot Movie. But I'm also feeling protective of other parking lots, because every one of them has stories to offer us.

The Elliewood Avenue Parking Lot (Elliewood is the street that cuts between the Corner's Starbuck's and Mincer's), is probably my favorite parking lot, because I parked there for five years. Which meant that, for five years, I had a front row seat to watch its theater, to absorb its stories.

My  favorite story took place on a Thanksgiving Day in the mid-eighties. I was recently separated and had gone over to my Elliewood Avenue restaurant to bake some pecan pies to take to friends' houses. As it was an unseasonably warm day, once the pies were in the oven, I sat out on the front porch. Across the street, the Elliewood parking lot was empty except for my car and one other that had probably broken down. Nothing was open; no one else was around. The world looked as deserted as my life suddenly felt. Everyone else was somewhere else.

Then suddenly a young man strode onto the parking lot, like Hamlet taking stage to worry about whether or not to be. He didn't see me; indeed, he didn't see anything but the small universe of which he was the desperate center.

The young man stopped when he reached the center of the parking lot, raised his face to the heavens,  pounded his chest with both hands, and shouted, "I'll never find romance!" Then he turned and walked off in the other direction from whence he'd come and disappeared around the bank.

Amen, I thought. Maybe. Or maybe not. Should I, too, pound my chest and yell at the heavens?

At that point, I remember checking my watch.. It was time to check on those pies. You can't despair and bake at the same time. That day, I opted for baking.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sighs of semi-relief . . .

Once again, WMRA's Tom Graham is responsible for Monday's blog post. He kept his eye on General Assembly doings all weekend, and sent me a note about them last evening that I thought you might like to read as well.
Hi Martha –

Thought you might be interested in seeing some of the highlights of the compromise budget agreed to by House/Senate conferees in Virginia’s General Assembly.

State officials have released a PowerPoint style overview of the agreement

Some of our audience had been especially concerned about arts funding. They will want to note page 46 of this report. 

It shows a cut to the Commission on the Arts coming. But not the total elimination of funding that the House of Delegates had wanted.

Under former Governor Tim Kaine’s proposals, the Arts Commission was budgeted for $8.8 million in state grants over the next two years.  It now looks like, under the House/Senate compromise, the Commission will be getting about 15 per cent less than that.

The House of Delegates had also pushed for complete elimination of grants to public broadcasting.  Instead, the House/Senate compromise budget calls for a 15 per cent reduction in funding to public radio and television. The third year in a row, I believe, for that kind of reduction. Public broadcasting appears on page 11 of the overview report. [Note from General Manager Tom DuVal: The dollar amount indicated is closer to 28%. I'm trying to find out what the discrepancy is.]

The above web-page also highlights funding changes to local education, Medicaid, constitutional officers and much more. 

But they are just highlights. 
If anyone wants to attempt the actual language of the budget changes,  more detailed reports are available at:

and -- 

Should you decide to brave this world of lawmaker lexicon, may I suggest bringing plenty of caffeine along for the journey?

Tom G

Robert Vaughn, left, chief of staff for the House Appropriations committee, congratulates Del. Lacey E. Putney, I-Bedford,

Then, this morning, Tom G, The Ever Vigilant One, sent this note. I thought, again, you might be interested.
Morning All --

Already had an exchange of emails on this last night, but I thought you might want to see this article from the Richmond Times Dispatch.

The final line of this newspaper story mentions the 15 per cent cuts to to public broadcasting and to the Commission on the Arts. 
Tom G
Tom Graham isn't through yet for the day. He'll be hosting WMRA's Virginia Insight today at 3. The subject of the show is to be treating pain. (No irony intended, given the subject of this blog post.)  Tune in! Call in! 888-967-2825, or 888-WMRA-TALK .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

'Tis the season . . .

I searched Google images for an appropriate graphic to ease us all into fundraising mode. I tried "public radio fundraising," "fundraising," "non-profit fundraising," but couldn't find anything that exuded much dignity.

Then I tried "begging," and voilà! A fifteenth century bishop down on his knees, dripping with dignity!

So yes, my fellow revelers in public radio! The WMRA Festival of Fundraising starts midweek; a ritual peculiar to public broadcasting that we all go through a few times a year (with great dignity and good humor, we hope) to keep WMRA on the air. 

I'm sure it comes as no shock to you, but those of us who work at WMRA are quite honored to be able (through your support) to do what we do. I don't think it's over-the-top at all to say those of us who help make public radio also love public radio. And who better to put this into words, I thought, than Tom DuVal, WMRA's General Manager; aka, Big Boss Man.
It feels like a 6th grade writing assignment that I’ve gotten from Martha: “Why I Love Public Radio.”
Writing about what runs through your thoughts in 6th grade, or anytime, is a good exercise, however, so let me reflect upon 32 years of toiling in the public radio vineyard (14 at WMRA), and another 7 years of loyal listening before that.
I remember some of the earliest broadcasts of All Things Considered, NPR’s first program, launched in 1971. The ATC theme music still starts me thinking, however briefly, about dinner, because back in my college days that’s when I started cooking…at 5 pm…with the radio on.
For nearly four decades I’ve been learning and thinking and being amazed almost every day. By the news, by the music, by the wonder of this smorgasbord of intelligent, diverse, colorful, world-encompassing exploration, cobbled together for my edification and enjoyment.
As a part of the team that makes these moments, these insights, these enrichments happen, I’m proud to do my job. It’s rewarding to know that WMRA has a part in bringing about civil discussions of challenging issues; discussions that shed useful light rather than civic inflammation. Also, that we have a part in airing a song – or three hours of music, for that matter – that would never make it to the commercial airwaves because…well…because the music’s just too artistically good.
What have you learned from public radio? What brought a smile, a tear, a rant? What made you change your mind? What made you see something completely differently; understand it from a thoroughly alien point of view? What made you genuinely feel like a citizen of this glorious, big old world? And maybe want to change it?
For me, the greatest reward of being associated with public radio comes when a listener takes the time to tell me how we have affected him or her. When I'm given an answer to one of these questions. Even when that answer comes in the form of a complaint, I know that this person has listened and thought; that he or she has been more than a passive consumer; that this person was engaged.
WMRA’s mission is to foster informed, engaged and culturally enriched communities. All we are trying to do during our upcoming fundraiser is to raise enough money to keep on doing that. And, perhaps, even do it better.
By the way, if you want to support WMRA online right now, here's a link . . .

Friday, March 12, 2010

The news blues . . .

Most of my work days start about 7:15 a.m. with a look at The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN. If there is time, I might wander around through other metropolitan newspapers. Maybe some overseas ones, as well.

I do this online, of course, because I couldn't afford to look at them otherwise. (And I have a hard time watching CNN on television, because it's so cluttered with celebrities I don't know and scandals I don't care about.)

Okay, I'm a news junkie.I don't want to think about things without first informing myself at least semi-well about them.

At lunch last week with two other journalists, the three of us got to  talking about what a luxurious time the Internet Age this is for  news-aholics. Almost any newspaper is available to us at the click of a mouse. And reading all these far-flung newspapers in print would be both expensive and impractical.

Of course, we said, clucking our journalistic tongues, there's a lot of trash out there on the internet; a lot of people trying to pass off ill-informed, un-sourced opinion as legitimate news. But that's okay, we said, because we can always check the facts ourselves on all these wonderfully accessible, highly-reputable newspapers.

Then we got to talking about The New York Times' decision to start charging for online content in 2011. Our lunch-table consensus was that folks wouldn't pay; that, instead, most of us would regretfully stop reading The NY Times in favor of reading another paper that was still free. We'd gotten  in the habit of reading newspapers online in the first place mostly because they available and free. I, for one, certainly didn't used to start the day perusing three national news sources.

There have been polls (I found one online at The Economist) that say the three of us won't be alone in giving up on the The NY Times.


Of course, The NY Times isn't the only reputable news source that's going to start charging for internet access to its content. There's lots of boardroom rumble that other papers will as well, most notably those among Rupert Murdoch's empire.

Not news, I know. But at lunch with my fellow journalists last week, it occurred to me that a lot of us are now accustomed to getting at least some of our news online. It's there, and it also offers a way for us to participate in the national news discussion. In recognition of this changing behavior among its listeners, NPR now has a full-blown online division (for which I happily write about books and culture as a freelancer). And I'm spending more and more of my time producing online content for WMRA with the hope of  stimulating conversation among WMRA's informed community of listeners.

I would wager that most of the millennium generation look for most of their news online.

So what happens when all our reputable newspapers erect a pay wall and there's nothing left for free online but all that un-sourced opinion and provocative blather? Will we just read whatever's still available there free of charge and call ourselves informed?

This seemed a serious question to the three of us journalists at lunch. What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Robert Banta's idea

This morning's front page Washington Post story on health care reform is  "Obama: 'It's time to vote.'

Maybe so, but as Congress hasn't voted yet, I thought I'd pass along an interesting idea on health care reform from WMRA listener Robert Banta:
Last year President Obama asked Congress to come up with health care reform that pays for itself, encourages competition and is affordable. In the background of the debate on just how to accomplish these goals is the looming issue that, as more and more baby boomers start to retire, Medicare will be the next financial crises if it is not overhauled in this reform.
The old idea of a public option is dead on the floor of Congress. But what if there were a different kind of public option, one that paid for itself, encouraged competition and was affordable? What if every individual or family could choose to pay 8% of their taxable income, capping out at $6,000 dollars, to a government plan for whatever basic health care they needed? The option would exist to choose a private health insurance company for either more or less than 8%, more services or fewer, but the safety net of a public option for all basic health care that cost only 8% of an individual or family’s income would still exist. An 8% plan would replace Medicare, and make the services Medicare provided financially sustainable.
You may have heard the tag line from late night commercials, “but wait, there’s more.” With an 8% plan the tag line would be reversed, “but wait, there’s less.” Take a look at your pay stubs. You are already paying for a public option, whether you are eligible for Medicare or not. Medicare tax is 1.45% of every person and every business’s income. If you chose the 8% plan, you would only be paying 6.55% more than what you are already paying.
To many, 8% must seem so inexpensive as to be too good to be true. A couple months ago the PBS NewsHour did a piece on the Dutch health care reform that by all accounts is doing quite well. The average cost for health care in that country was reported to be 7% of a person’s income. The numbers for the US also seem viable for such a cost. The median household income in the US is 50,000.00 dollars per year. A family choosing the 8% plan would pay $4,000 per year. If only 1/3 of the US population, 100 Million people, used the 8% plan, there would be 400 Billion dollars per year for health care, just for those 100 Million people.
The economic benefits of an 8% plan are many. Besides being affordable, paying for itself and encouraging competition, the 8% plan is not employer based, so it goes with you. Another benefit of this plan is for businesses. In a time when businesses, especially small businesses, need a boost, not having to pay for an employee’s health care would be exactly the stimulus they need. But wait, there’s less. They would not have to pay the 1.45% Medicare tax, either.
Make no mistake; this idea is only part of the greater solution of health care reform. However, an 8% plan is vital to health care reform becoming a true reform.
Health insurance companies will have to become more efficient. They might even have to stop pouring billions of dollars into lobbying Congress to keep things the way they are.
My name is Robert Dean Banta, my idea is 8% health care and I live in Staunton, Virginia.
Any thoughts on Mr. Banta's idea? On health care reform in general? On Congress? On President Obama's handling of the issue?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In praise of musical giving . . .

Hallelujah! Ry Cooder has always had a restless musical soul. He just gets that music gives us access to parts of a culture -- indeed, to parts of ourselves and each other -- that are just not reachable or translatable otherwise. And he has the industry clout to get his chameleon-esque compositions recorded and so bring them to the rest of us.

Ry Cooder in the '60's

In the 60s Ry Cooder was, among a lot of other things, a session musician with the Stones. In the 70s, he began his signature mining of forgotten or neglected musical genres -- black gospel, calypso, white country. His 1979 album Bop Till You Drop was the first digitally recorded pop album, which should be of great interest to any sound geeks reading this.

During the 1980s, Ry Cooder went to the movies. He began in 1984 by scoring the soundtrack for Paris, Texas.  Several movies later, he dubbed all the slide guitar for the 1986 movie, Crossroads, a take on the life of Delta blues man, Robert Johnson, whom Eric Clapton has called  "the most important blues singer that ever lived." And one who may, or may not, have colluded with the Devil to become that way.

The 1990s took Ry Cooder to World Music. His recordings during that decade mixed traditional American musical genres with contemporary African and Indian sounds. In the late 90s he produced  Buena Vista Social Club, and we were invited to acquaint ourselves with the music of Compay Segundo, Rubén González, and Ibrahim Ferrer.

Ry Cooder's home (if he's had time to establish one) must be littered with Grammys.

So, you say, this is all very interesting, why am I blogging about Ry Cooder for WMRA? Because his latest collaborative recording, done with the Chieftans, is currently listenable for free on NPR as one of their First Listen offerings. 

Ry Cooder (left) with Paddy Maloney of The Chieftans

The album is called San Patricio. It's being released around St. Patrick's Day for a reason. It (as lifted from the NPR interview) . . .
. . . commemorates a little-known connection between Mexicans and the Irish. During the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, a group of disaffected Irish-American conscripts led by Capt. John Riley crossed the border to fight with the Mexicans. Riley put together a battalion named the "San Patricio," deserted the U.S. Army and joined the Mexicans to fight on what he saw as the side of justice.
Heaven forbid, I write about music you can listen to for free. All I'll say is I listened yesterday, and was filled with gratitude, yet again, that our world contains Ry Cooder's restless musical soul.

And that NPR offers us the great musical gift of First Listens.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In this, the Age of American Childhood Obesity, I'm relieved to say I was not a fat child, because that adds an unneeded complication to growing up. One reason I wasn't fat is that I was simply too active. And I wish to thank the old-style Girl Scouts for helping to create in me an enduring belief that I move, therefore I am.

Why am I thanking the Girl Scouts? Because Girl Scouts sell cookies, that's why!

Every year I was a GS, I had to stomp miles, carrying boxes and boxes of cookies, knocking on door after door after door; keeping at it until every one of those boxes had been sold. Through rain, snow, heat, whatever -- I walked. And walked. And walked.

Of course, I ate Girl Scout cookies as well. But then, as active as I had to be selling them there was no way I could eat my way into obesity. I ate because I was really, really hungry. And when one is really, really hungry, Girl Scout cookies are the Bomb!

So, it was with a real sense of what? Concern? Amusement? That yet another paradigm has shifted? That I heard recently that Girl Scout cookies are now available online! This can't be so, I thought, while Googling away. You can't sell Girl Scout cookies without Girl Scouts getting out there and hustling the neighborhood!

Oh but you can. At, where you learn that: "Every cookie has a mission; to help girls do great things."

What great things, I ask? Spend more time in front of a computer?

Poor, poor doomed American children. So much food, so few expectations of movement. After the Girl Scouts, who'll be next to tell you to sit down and keep eating?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Good people, doing good . . .

Normally unremarkable tributaries of the Potomac River flooded West Virginia back  in 1985, turning the main streets of small steeply pitched towns such as Clarksburg and Rowlesburg into roaring, sweeping, thundering rivers themselves.

My microphone and recorder and I rode into Clarksburg just behind the National Guard. The whole downtown, as I remember it, was spectacularly under water. Its residents had all fled upland, to some school or church set high on a bluff overlooking the drowned town.

I prowled around the edge of the flood waters, collecting sound for the radio, watching pieces of people's lives rushing away from them in the careening waters. The people who lived here, I realized, had lost everything except that they'd taken with them to the shelter.

What do you think about while that's happening?  How do you keep on keeping on when your life is essentially chopped in half?

I'm not too fond of the part of a reporter's job that requires me to stick a microphone in a troubled person's face and ask what it's like to have your world turned upside down. But as that is part of a reporter's job, I eventually went up to the emergency shelter intent on asking just that.

I don't remember whether I ever actually did ask that, however. What I do remember is how those wonderful people, stuck up on a hill while their lives washed away beneath them, were immediately concerned about where I was going to sleep, what I was going to eat, was I warm enough, did I have a way to stay dry?

It's one of those times I realized that human beings, as flawed and selfish as we frequently are, have a real capacity to help each other out. Somehow, when things get bad, we are frequently at our best.

I was thinking about this incident last week when I got this note from Tom Graham about today's Virginia Insight. The show's subject is Virginia's connection with Haiti, certainly a country that needs all the help from us it can get.

Hi Martha,

At 4:55 p.m. on January 12 of this year, Ryan Jiha was standing in front of a grocery store. 

At that same time, Anna Butt was inside a church.

As the earth began to quake, Ryan saw the store before him crumble to the ground.

Anna heard parts of the church coming apart.  Although somehow, the section she was in continued to stand.

Ryan, a 4th year pre-med student at the University of Virginia, grew up in Port au Prince, Haiti. 

Anna, a registered nurse, has been traveling back and forth between Virginia and Haiti for the past 25 years.

Both managed to get back to the U.S. only a few days after the devastation struck .  This weekend, both are returning to Haiti for the first time since.

This Monday, three Virginians with a history of involvement in Haitian relief efforts will be talking and taking listener questions on WMRA's  Virginia Insight. And, as long as cell phone connections hold up, Anna and Ryan will be joining the discussion, telling us what they are seeing on the ground as they do their part in the current recovery effort.

Thought you’d like to know.

 And I thought you'd like to know, as well. And, remember, we do stream at

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Getting what we voted for . . .

One of the surest ways to track a society's values is to track how it spends its public money when money's tight.

Our Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has proposed dealing with the state's troubled economy through massive cuts to public schools, the state government work force and health and welfare safety net programs in a $2.1 billion bid to balance a critically troubled state budget.

He also proposed that public safety see a boost of $60 million in funding over the biennium.

Which seems to be saying that our governor suggests we will increasingly deal with troubled people if they break the law, at which point we lock them up.

Another way to track our values is to examine how we protect diversity.

This article ran in this morning's Washington Post's "Virginia section:
Virginia Attorney General to colleges: End gay protections
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010; A01
RICHMOND -- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has urged the state's public colleges and universities to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, arguing in a letter sent to each school that their boards of visitors had no legal authority to adopt such statements.
In his most aggressive initiative on conservative social issues since taking office in January, Cuccinelli (R) wrote in the letter sent Thursday that only the General Assembly can extend legal protections to gay state employees, students and others -- a move the legislature has repeatedly declined to take as recently as this week.
The letter demonstrates an increasing split in the region's policies on issues related to sexual orientation. It comes in the same week that the District began issuing marriage licenses for gay couples and a week after Maryland's attorney general announced that his state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Cuccinelli's move has dismayed students and faculty members. It suggests that Cuccinelli intends to take a harder line with the state's university system, where liberal academics have long coexisted uneasily with state leaders in Richmond.
"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly," he wrote in the letter.
State government has real power in our lives. I'm curious: When we elected this administration, were these the ways we envisioned that power being used?