Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dreaming of boldly going . . .

Forget our dreary earth-bound concerns! Where is Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and crew when you need them? Take a look at this article from  the Lebanese newspaper Ya Libnan.

New Earth-like planet outside solar system found

For the first time, astronomers have detected a rocky planet in another solar system that has the most basic and essential conditions needed to support extraterrestrial life.
The presence of Earth-like exoplanets in what is called the “habitable zone” has been predicted for some time, but actually identifying and measuring one was referred to Wednesday as the beginning of a new era in the search for life beyond Earth.
“This is our first Goldilocks planet – just the right size and the right distance from its sun,” said astronomer and “planet-hunter” Paul Butler with the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “A threshold has been crossed.”
The planet, called Gliese 581G, is quite close at 20 light years from Earth’s solar system. It is considered to be in the habitable zone because of its distance from its sun and its size.
Here's an artist's rendition of Gliese 581G, with its viably life-giving sun shining away over there in the corner of the frame. quotes University of California Astronomy and astrophysics professor Steven Vogt as saying, "Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100%. I have almost no doubt about it."

Vogt and fellow Gliese 581G discoverer, astronomer and “planet-hunter” Paul Butler with the Carnegie Institution of Washington,  published their discovery of the planet in The Astrophysical Journal. 

Gliese 581G is smack in the center of what's known rather whimsically as the Goldilocks Zone, described in HowStuffWorks as "an area of space in which a planet is just the right distance from its home star so that its surface is neither too hot nor too cold."

"We had planets on both sides of the habitable zone - one too hot and one too cold - and now we have one in the middle that's just right," Professor Vogt said. Just like, in Goldilocks' opinion, Baby Bear's porridge, bed, and chair.

I watched the internet go wild this morning over the discovery of Gliese 581G. Articles popped up willy-nilly, every few seconds. I don't think this flurry was driven as much by scientific curiosity as by the yearnings of the human heart. There's a space explorer hidden somewhere in most of us.

Do you think whoever inhabits Gliese 581G has done a better job of planet management than we have? Do you think they've learned how to be consistently nice to each other, to tell each other the truth? Have they figured out how to govern themselves fairly, a way to lead without succumbing to greed or marketing fear?

Is anyone besides me just itching to jump into a space ship, shift into warp speed, and find out?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Having fun with Betsy Eggleston

Martha note:  I'm half-way through my second round of classes with JMU's Lifelong Learning Institute. This round's group is about as much fun as groups get. Plus, they write well.
Last night, Betsy Eggleston cracked us up with the following vignette. As I figured you could maybe use a good laugh, I got Betsy's permission to post it today on the WMRA blog.

SELF PRESERVATION  by Betsy Eggleston

      Recently, a pair of sandaled feet entered the cubicle next to mine; the hairy toes were facing the wrong way.  The episode prompted rapid reflections on instinctive self preservation.  It was a small, embarrassing event, something most people experience and later laugh about.  
     At the time, I smiled and wondered how long it would take the man next door to realize he was in the ladies' room.  How would he escape?  Run?  Crouch on the seat and wait?  Or was he cool enough to swallow the error and casually saunter out?  
      I waited. 
      He waited. 
      For a moment, I considered instinctive self-preservation.  An amoeba shrinks, worms secrete slime and burrow deeper.  I'd watched nervous pill bugs roll into balls.   And each December, I hung a dried, once frightened blow fish on my Christmas tree.  It was swollen to an un-bitable size and had sharp spines protruding from its skin.   In my garden and on hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I'd watched copperheads slowly coil, wait a long time and then swiftly strike.   
      The man beside me realized his mistake. He stood quietly frozen in place, waiting to see what I would do.   Already in the position of Rodin's Thinker,  I remained silent and still.
      I thought of protective to brown and back.  I thought of claws and stingers.   I remembered wrens snatch quick, skyward glances between each snatch of a seed. I considered crows.....instantly rising at the clap of a gun. 
      I heard his toilet flush.  He didn't dash away; he went to wash his hands.   
      I'd studied sciences and, as a former biology teacher, knew we partially existed because we're genetically programed for self preservation.  I wondered if the self preservation germ was born the moment of conception or if it developed during gestation? 
      Darwin wrote of it in his treatise on the preservation of species.  I also recalled that Freud saw it as a sexual response.
     More people entered the restroom.  Two were discussing a football game.  My head lifted and I sucked inward.  Someone coughed a deep bass sound.
     Rapidly, I raised my Mary Janes into the air.   I began to hyperventilate.  Legs trembled.  Hot flashes flushed through my upper body.  I wanted to shrink, evaporate, curl into a ball, run.  I stepped into the room with sinks and hand driers. From the corner of my eye, I saw the sandaled man sitting on the counter watching me.  In the next room, every urinal was occupied. Two turned faces let me know I was unwelcome.  Nobody smiled or said "Hi", "Welcome to the crowd" or "See you later?"    
     I flipped my jacket over my head and ran.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Would someone tell me what it means to be a conservative Republican?

If you like to root around in exhaustive coverage of national and Virginia politics, there's no richer grazing ground than And yesterday afternoon, while cruising the site, I came across three separate blog items that started me thinking about what it means to be a conservative Republican in 2010.

Blog item #1)  According to a new Gallup Poll, 73% of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans also identify themselves as  "conservative" or "very conservative."

Does that mean, I wondered, that all those "conservative" and "very conservative" people see themselves as pretty much in agreement about where this country needs to go and how to get there?

Blog item #2)  Virginia's attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has been invited to Alabama and Iowa next week to campaign for those states' Republican candidates for attorney general.

If Virginia has a politician who approaches rock star status (with fans as opposed to soberly simpatico supporters), it has to be our attorney general. Has any other Virginia attorney general ever generated so many in-state headlines or so much out-of-state name recognition?

As Rosalind Helderman puts it in her blog about Virginia politics,
The outspoken Virginia conservative, who is suing the Obama administration over the federal health-care law and EPA greenhouse gas regulations, has been in increasing demand nationally from Republican candidates and organizations.
Love him or hate him, Mr. Cuccinelli's certainly a very visible and vocal conservative Republican. But, surely, just because he attracts a lot of press doesn't mean that the 73% of Republicans who describe themselves as "conservative" and "very conservative" are in line with Ken Cuccinelli's way of thinking. Or does it?

Virginia's attorney general's national political clout pales beside that of the flamboyantly conservative Sarah Palin. I, personally, am not sure exactly what she's for, but I am sure that, whatever it is, she's for it adamantly every chance she gets.

Which leads me to blog item #3)  Ms. Palin's name always comes up when people speculate about who might be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. However, a new Politico poll hints that the "Sarah for President" chatter is more about her celebrity than her political substance. Take a look at this question from the politico poll. . . .
As you may already know, Sarah Palin has been the Governor of Alaska and was the Republican nominee for Vice President in 2008. She resigned from her position as Governor in 2009 and currently runs a political action committee and works as a news commentator for Fox News.
Based on what you know, would you say that Sarah Palin's efforts since resigning as Governor in 2009 have made you more likely or less likely to support her if she runs for President?
More likely/strongly 17%
More likely/somewhat 14%
Less likely/somewhat 13%
Less likely/strongly 45%
Greg Sargent interpreted this data yesterday on his blog Plum Line (also at
There's no quibbling with Palin's soaring popularity among Republicans or her rising influence in GOP primaries. But it seems a sizable majority, 58 percent, see Palin's decision to quit as governor of Alaska after a half term and her strategy of elevating her media profile on Fox and via an endless stream of attacks on Obama on Twitter and Facebook as a reason not to back her for president.
This seems to support the idea that her current strategy is working brilliantly to enhance her brand, but only in her current role of celebrity/quasi-candidate. It's rendering her completely toxic for the broader electorate as an actual presidential candidate.
"Her brand?" Is that how Ms. Palin, herself, views conservationism?

I do not, however, believe for one second that the 73% of Republicans who view themselves as "conservative" and "very conservative" see conservatism as a "brand."  And I, for one, am very interested in understanding how they do understand conservatism. Not their ideology's talking points or knee-jerk oppositions, but what conservatism is, what practical ideas it supports, how these will make the country work better.

So I'd love to hear from conservative Republicans who march to a quieter, more thoughtful, less self-promotional drummer than Mr. Cuccinelli and Ms Palin. What does it mean to be a  "conservative" or "very conservative" Republican?

Can anyone help me out?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Calling all short, short story entrants and Civic Soapboxers . . .

Since writing is inherently solitary, should we all try to get together sometime?

Here's why I'm asking this right now. . .

Frankly, those of us who work at the station were overwhelmed by the number of entries into the Scott Simon-judged short, short story contest.

As the contest organizer and manuscript handler, I happily spent this last weekend reading through the scores of submissions. I say "happily," because they were universally readable and well-written. It reinforced a belief I've long held from editing the Civic Soapbox: Writers in WMRA Land are legion.

This led to an idea. Before I broach it, however, I need to give you a little background.

Personal confession: I love to lunch. And dine, as well.

Why? Well, there's food involved; but, more importantly, I have my best and most interesting conversations over shared meals. There's something about breaking bread with other people that turns chit-chat into real conversation.

 I've had the pleasure of lunching with a lot of  you who write -- both for pleasure and for paychecks. And I've  never talked with a WMRA writer without wishing I could introduce her, or him, to the other writers in the WMRA Community.

So, here's my idea! I want to convene a WMRA writers' meal -- at a time and place most convenient to most of you. If we can't find a central place to convene, perhaps we could hold more than one.

But, first I need to know whether or not you, if you write--fiction, or non-fiction, for the Civic Soapbox or for Scott Simon, for a living or for your own amusement--would you enjoy getting together somewhere (probably after work for an early dinner) with me and other writers to eat and talk.

You can let me know if this interests you by posting a comment on this blog or on Facebook. Also, please send this blog around to anyone you think might be interested who might not see it otherwise.

I'm convinced we'd have a high old time. And, a great deal to say to each other.

Your thoughts?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Black Holes, Wyclef Jean and American Politics by Diane Farineau

 Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday on the blog . . .

Cygnus X-1 is a black hole, discovered the year before I was born in 1964. Anything that goes into a black hole stays there, never to be seen again. Kind of like my daughter's closet, or our garage, or my paycheck, which totally seems to evaporate the minute it hits my checking account.

I love astronomy and began college with the intention of obtaining a physics major. Until I took a physics course and realized that I was way out of my league. I resorted to a degree in politics instead, which is a black hole of a completely different nature.

Last night my son was talking about Wyclef Jean's run for the Haitian presidency. "The thing in his favor" parroted my son "is that he isn't a politician!" "Really?” I asked, “what's so bad about being a politician?" When he couldn’t tell me, it got me thinking about what, exactly, politics really is (are?) One of Webster’s many definitions calls it "the total complex of relations between people living in a society."

So, really, on one level, we are all politicians in our own lives. Everyone has an agenda, and the ability to make decisions and affect the outcome of any situation. The ability to say “yes” or “no” gives each of us some power. My son has a political stake, for example, in family decisions. He is a one man special interest group and lobbies hard to get what he wants.

I worked in organized politics in DC, which was both exciting and exhausting. After ten years I retreated to a small corner of my home town to regroup and start a family. I have recently rediscovered the joys of political involvement at a very small, local level. In technically applying Webster’s definition, everything I do, from joining my PTA to writing a letter to my editor about a new bypass, is political.

I explained my perspective to my son. He doesn’t have to march on Washington, though I encouraged him to do so, and he doesn’t ever have to run for president of a Caribbean nation. What’s important is that he gets and stays engaged in the issues that affect his life. I want him to learn how to successfully navigate his own social solar system.

I wish more people would recognize their inner politicians and get involved in creating solutions to the problems that surround us all. Let's escape the gravitational pull of our own apathy and use our power to discuss challenges and create change. You don't have to be a rock start or an astrophysicist. You just have to have a little passion about something.

                      --Diane Farineau is a writer living in Charlottesville.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September on the Porch by Sarah O'Connor

Martha note: Who doesn't need a vicarious porch break? Sarah O'Connor teaches in the Writing and Rhetoric and Technical Communication at JMU. The following is one of a series of  her nature-related essays.

 AP Photo/Julia Malakie
Soaking in the warm September sun on my deck, trying to read the newspaper, my attention keeps getting hijacked by the crowd scene around the butterfly bush. Over 100 species of Buddleias (butterfly bushes) exist, with names like Black Night, White Profusion, Sungold, and Purple Ice Delight. Some grow as tall as 15 feet and some, like the Himalayan Butterfly Bush, only reach four feet. They can be found in almost every climate, hardy to minus 20 degrees. Their colors range from dark purple to pink to pure white, and the flower spikes grow from 3 to 10 inches long. Each February I cut our butterfly bush back to about a foot of woody growth, sure I have killed it, and each summer it springs up in an effusion of conical purple and yellow blossoms. One website theorizes that gardeners plant butterfly bushes to bring life to vacant spaces. I did not plant our bush, but it is certainly the happening place in our garden.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
What other plant except the Venus flytrap so completely fulfills its name? The butterfly is a giant mother of a bush. Butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bees cannot resist it. Today the small Cabbage White butterflies are like the ballerinas in Swan Lake in their white chiffon costumes. One settles for a moment on a blossom, probing for nectar, then floats up in the air, meeting another one and engaging in a pas de deux. A third flits in from the side, then all three spin around each other and fly off in opposite directions. They play, not in a hurry to go anywhere, concerned less with gathering sweetness and more with celebrating flight and sunlight and the gift of abundant blossoms. Now I notice a tiny black butterfly like the shadow of the whites, so dark he is almost invisible, settling on a purple flower. When he spreads his wings, he shows off two white eyes on the bottoms. I have read that butterflies spread or fold their wings for many purposes: for camouflage, for warning, to attract females, and to warm or cool themselves.

Today the big fellows, the black and orange monarchs and the black swallowtails, are nowhere to be seen, but usually one or two of these grand canvases reign over the bush in crowd stopping orange and black, or in black iridescence studded with white and blue jewels. Perhaps they have already started their winter vacations. With a life span of nine months, the Monarch is one of the longest lived butterflies. Every year when the weather turns cool, this butterfly, weighing no more than .3 grams, travels up to 3000 miles as it migrates south to places such as Mexico. Generations return each spring to the same locations, so maybe the monarch I see is the newest member of the Woodcrest Circle family. Somewhere in its DNA is inscribed this address, handed down from great grandparent to grandparent to parent and so on. Maybe the cities on our maps are the flowering bushes on theirs.

I go back to my newspaper, but the rise and fall of the whites, like breaths in and out, pulls me away again, and now I notice other movement on the bush. While the gossamer whites play, the black and yellow bumblebees are hard at work. If the butterflies are air, the bumblebees are earth. Their short, strong bodies bend the stems of the flowers, and they move purposefully through the clusters of tiny blossoms gathering nectar, ignoring their frivolous neighbors. Unlike the extensive colonies of honey bees, bumblebees form small colonies of about 50 and do not make honey. They can only store a couple of days’ worth of pollen at a time. Bumblebees’ bodies are covered with soft hair, called pile. The pile insulates a bee from the cold but also acquires an electrostatic charge from flight that attracts pollen once the bee lands on a flower. As a bee moves from one blossom to another, the pollen collected on its pile passes to other flowers. Bees do the critical work of pollinating 80 % of flowering plants.

I gather my papers. Shadows are spreading and the temperature is dropping. Bumblebees would rightfully charge that I have wasted the afternoon, and I would agree. Since each day now will see fewer colors and less activity in the garden, since soon warm patches of sun will be memories, like the butterflies, I have chosen to wantonly celebrate the now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Calling all WMRAers with a sense of humor and a willingness to speak up!

Okay, gang, I'm starting today's blog with a really lame, lame, lame attempt at what I would not presume to call wit . . .

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And how you and I together can
Make sure our fundraiser sings."
Here's the deal as I, your intrepid blogger, see it: WMRA on-air folks will be cozying up to their microphones in a matter of weeks and nattering away (cheerfully, compellingly, windily) about both
  • how much we all need WMRA as part of our community's conversation; and 
  • how dependent WMRA is on your support.
Speaking as one of the natterers, I will be hard put to come up with anything I haven't said before. Several hundred times, most likely. I try during every fundraiser to mix things up, but let's face it, I'm working with the same brain and creative juices I've always had.

Now let me pull out my professional crystal ball, give it a good dusting, put on my oracle outfit and do a little gazing.

Hmmmmm, what do I see?

Or more importantly, what do I hear?

Wonder of wonders! I hear myself, and Bob, and Terry, and Matt, and Tom G. and Tom D. speaking words we've never used before, because they are your words!

How fresh! How compelling! What fun we are all having!

But you know, we won't have that wonderful supply of new, fresh words if you don't supply them. Yes, I am asking you to post your reasons for supporting WMRA, so we can use your words instead ours to get the phone a-ringing during the Fall Fundraiser.

I've already asked once on Facebook, and got only one (excellent) response -- thank-you, thank-you Lisa Gaudet Carter! So now, please, it's your turn.

Take your WMRA support to another level!

You may post your reasons for supporting WMRA either here or on the "Why I support WMRA" Facebook discussion page I've started.
WMRA needs you!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrating something really worth celebrating, the poetry of Lucille Clifton . . .

Lucille Clifton died this past February at the age of 73. She lived a hard, challenging life that turned her into a remarkable poet. Her deceptively simple free verse delves into what it means to be a woman, a part of a family, a person of color, have a questioning mind and spirit. And, over and over again, what it's like to grieve.

Ms. Clifton won many awards, among them the 2000 National Book Award for Poetry.

"My Mama Moved Among the Days" 
My Mama moved among the days
like a dreamwalker in a field;
seemed like what she touched was here
seemed like what touched her couldn't hold,
she got us almost through the high grass
then seemed like she turned around and ran
right back in
right back on in

Tonight at 7:00 in Wilson Hall Auditorium, JMU's Furious Flower Poetry Center presents, 73 Poems for 73 Years: Celebrating the Life of Lucille Clifton in honor of this remarkable poetic voice.

I don't often use this blog to promote specific events, but I'm using it this time, because poetry so often gets a yawning bum rap as booooooring. And Lucille Clifton's poetry is so completely not that. Nor are the poets and people gathering to read it: Joanne Gabbin, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove among them.

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton gleaned her poetry from difficulty -- although "difficulty" seems an inadequate word for what this woman went through. She was born Thelma Lucille Sayles in Depew, New York, in 1936. Her childhood was hardly a childhood as most of us understand that phase of life -- her mother had epilepsy; her father sexually molested her.

Even so, Ms. Clifton managed to win a full academic scholarship to Howard University. She lost the scholarship because of poor grades, however, and came home again. At age 22 she married Fred James Clifton, a philosophy student at the University of Buffalo, and they had six children in quick succession. Her mother died before the birth of Lucille’s first child. Ms. Clifton's husband died of cancer in 1984. A daughter died of the same disease in 2000; a son of heart failure four years later. 

Her first book of poetry was published in 1969, two years after Lucille and her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland.  Good Times was well received and  named one of the best books of that year by The New York Times.
"Oh antic God!"
by Lucille Clifton

oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties   
leaned across the front porch   
the huge pillow of her breasts   
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams   
at night.   return to me, oh Lord of then   
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.

About tonight, as one of my old bosses, Lucinda Lally, used to say, "Ya'll come!" Let an evening of poetry rekindle your own slumbering intensity, your own connection to life outside the office or the carpool or all those endless meetings. Come on! Let 73 Poems for 73 Years: Celebrating the Life of Lucille Clifton wake up your soul!

(Many thanks to Kristi Lee for the information about Lucille Clifton's life)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Remember that NPR story I was working on . . .?

I blogged about doing an NPR story on first novels a couple of weeks ago, giving listener Arnie Kahn credit for nudging me into finding the time to do some on-air reporting again.

Well, the story finally got done, completed around the edges of my days now mostly spent editing, blogging and Facebooking, and it aired yesterday on Weekend Edition Sunday. "Two First Novels, 10 Years in the Making " took a look at former C'ville resident Jessica Francis Kane's first novel, The Report, and Susanna Daniel's first novel, Stiltsville.

Okay, gang, here's some inside scoop on reporting for NPR. Sometimes you get to take a break from saving the world through radio and just have fun. And I had fun with my first novel story.

Colin Harrison

Colin Harrison has long been one of my favorite noire thriller writers. He's published seven novels, all wildly successful critically and sales-wise. His latest book, Risk, began as one of those nifty serialized mystery/thrillers in The New York Times Magazine. He's also an editor with Simon & Schuster, so he was the perfect person to talk about both writing a first novel and editing them.

Writers are my rock stars -- I'm unabashedly delighted when I get to talk with one I enjoy reading. So I was flat-out psyched to talk with Colin Harrison. He could have been an old grump, of course, but no!  Mr. Harrison was a blast of an interview -- funny, generous, and just plain nice.

In the course of our conversation, he gabbled merrily on about his own first completed-but-never-published  novel. He described this opus as "terrible," and rightfully consigned to a life of "moldering away in our basement" in Brooklyn.

I immediately had an idea.

Most writers, in my experience, would rather walk naked down Broadway then let loose their "bad" work.
"I don't suppose there's a chance in hell, you'd let NPR have a page to put up on the website as part of the  build-out for the story?" I asked. (A build-out is web-only material attached to an on-air story.)

There was a long pause. And then a chuckle. "Sure," he said. "Why not."

So my part of the web build-out for the First Novel story tells of my conversation with Colin Harrison about his dreadful first novel. And, if you missed it on the NPR website yesterday, I thought you might get some fun out of reading it today.

The excerpt from Colin Harrison's really bad first completed novel is at the end.

Lessons In Novel Writing (Learned The Hard Way) 

by Martha Woodroof

Colin Harrison, author of seven uncommonly successful novels, has actually written eight. He describes his first, The Prince of the Power of the Air, as "a baggy, sloppy, erratic animal." And he views its universal rejection by everyone as a "fantastic stroke of luck."
"First of all," he says, "my style was very immature. I was still learning the most rudimentary techniques required of novelists. How do you get people in and out of a room? What's a chapter? What's a paragraph? How do you construct dialogue?  What's too much dialogue?"
Harrison has a great laugh, especially for a writer of dark, New York-centric thrillers that stay in your psyche like real experience. And he laughs a lot while talking about The Prince.
"I was trying to work out too many of my own personal questions on paper," he says, "and what happened is that I wrote a novel that was relevant to me and almost no one else."
While writing his first unpublishable novel — you can read an excerpt from it here — Harrison says he had to grapple mightily with the novel's form. That grappling, he says, is ongoing, as it is for any novelist trying to write something new. "I think each novelist, each time out, has to learn how to write a novel all over again. It's a literary form that requires struggle to comprehend and control."
Harrison began writing seriously in his teens. As for that first novel? "It was for me, as it is for every young novelist, an intensely personal, passionate, anxiety-stricken undertaking," he recalls. "It seemed like the impossible thing that I had to try to do. And you know, I was young and foolish and energetic enough to actually do it."
Harrison, who's also an editor for Simon and Schuster, says the first novels he publishes are written by people who know what they're doing. "That sounds obvious, but there is a lot of what I'll call 'accomplished mediocrity' out there," he explains. "Writers working hard, but writing what at the end of the day are not utterly fabulous novels. And my job as an editor is not to find middling novels."
So what makes for first-novel fabulous?  Manuscripts, Harrison says, that "have a kind of quick first step right into the story, and that are themselves all the way. They don't change rhetoric. They don't change direction. There's a clarity to them.  There's an authority to them." He wants to publish books that are "a great reading experience. I'm looking to be entertained. Thrilled. Made aghast. Horrified. Titillated. All that stuff."
Piece of cake, right?

Excerpt: 'The Prince of the Power of the Air'

By Colin Harrison

All is still, and the house is very cold. Then she remembers she is not due to work today. "Go home and have Christmas with your papa," Mrs. Lee has said. "A place like this ain't the place for you to be day like Christ-mas." She couldn't have convinced Mrs. Lee otherwise.  She shivers on her way down the stairs. In the kitchen she flicks on the radio.
"Icyroadsthismerrymorning and...cominguponWXLC..." Her father has not eaten breakfast. The back door is open.  The door has been open all night; a thin drift of snow has blown across the kitchen floor.  Jennifer pulls on a coat, her face tight and lips pinched.  Outside, the bright cold hits her face, waking her completely.  So cold, even for December, she thinks.  The bushes and trees are crusted with ice and dusted with snow.  The world has suddenly frozen solid and airless and dead.  Yet the sky is clear, a gold rising sun.  She sees the tractor is not in front of the barn, where it was when she had gone to sleep. Huge skid marks crisscross the shallow snow in a crazy spaghetti tangle; her father has been out during the night. Chunks of frozen mud lay aside the tracks.  Spinning his wheels in the mud, she thinks. Why did she not hear it? The snow muffled the sound, perhaps.  Was she so deeply, so trustfully asleep? The huge barn door is bolted shut, bolted with a sense of finality about it that makes her stand still.  Only the wind makes any sound, scraping along loose boards, up rusty tin rainspouts and across the ragged shingle roof of the barn.
From The Prince of the Power of the Air by Colin Harrison. Excerpted by permission of Colin Harrison.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on the execution of a pen-pal by Jack Payden-Travers

Teresa Lewis

Before leaving for our family week at the beach, I sent a goodbye card to a friend. She’s about to die. As any of us who have lost loved ones to death know, it is not easy to say goodbye. This case was especially difficult, for my friend isn’t ill. As far as I know she is in reasonably good health and turned 41 this past April. But she is set to die on September 23rd.

On that night Teresa Lewis will be strapped to a gurney and lethally injected at the death chamber inside the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. I know she is guilty of participating in the murders of both her husband, Julian, and her stepson, C.J., who was home on military leave prior to his Army reserve unit being sent to Iraq. She pled guilty in front of Judge Strauss. But what I don’t understand is how the two triggermen received life-without-parole sentences while the judge condemned Teresa to death. He referred to her “as the head of the serpent.”

But Teresa Lewis did not fire the shotguns that night. By their own accounts Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller did. Fuller is presently incarcerated at Sussex 1 State Prison. He will die in prison. Shallenberger is already dead. He committed suicide in 2006 while serving his life sentence.

According to news accounts Teresa has an IQ of 70 or 72 while Matthew Shallenberger’s was listed as 113. Yet I keep hearing that she was sentenced to death because she “masterminded” the affair. I question that scenario. Having corresponded with Teresa for the past seven years, I don’t believe she could be the “mastermind” in this affair. This strikes me like the case of Brandon Hedrick, an individual who suffered from a low IQ who was also sentenced to death for murder while the mastermind with a higher IQ got life. Could it be that the criminal with the higher IQ fingers the less intelligent one for the ultimate punishment and thus works a deal to get the lesser sentence?

I am praying that Governor McDonnell will review the mitigating evidence that the courts because of procedural limitations will not consider: the letter that Matthew Shallenberger sent to a female friend in August 2003 in which he wanted “to get her (Teresa) to ‘fall in love’ with me so she would give me the insurance money;” and the affidavit of private investigator Alfred Brown, who interviewed Shallenberger in 2004, in which Mr. Brown says that Shallenberger admitted he orchestrated the events; and the statement of Rodney Fuller, who killed the stepson, that says Shallenberger was the mastermind while Lewis was the dupe.

There is no doubt that Teresa Lewis is guilty of participating in murder but I believe there is a grave question as to her capability to be the mastermind of the plot and thus eligible for execution under Virginia’s “murder for hire” statute. She may be guilty but is she culpable? Governor McDonnell must weigh the evidence and hopefully come down on the side of mercy and commute Lewis’ sentence to life-in-prison-without-parole. It makes no sense for the killers to get life while the dupe gets executed.
--Jack Payden-Travers serves on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Advisory Board of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. A recent graduate of the Conflict Transformation program of Eastern Mennonite University, he resides in Lynchburg, VA.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Science Thursday

Jamie Harris
Jamie Harris is Class of 2012 at UVa,  a Rodman Scholar in Chemical Engineering, and, among other things,  RodSquad Co-Director. (Rod Squad is a program started with a grant from Lockheed Martin that trains Scholars about sustainability and home energy conservation, then sends them out into the Charlottesville area to conduct home energy audits.)

I'm also happy to report that Jamie recently jumped into the WMRA community conversation on Facebook. Which is where our paths crossed. Or perhaps I should say e-crossed.

Over the summer, I learned, Jamie did research on algae processing for use in bio-fuels. And when I heard about this, I have to tell you, my Inner Green Person sat up and barked. What a great idea/theory -- however it's termed at this stage.

 I asked Jamie for more information about his summer work, and he sent the following.
Algae uses a fraction of the nutrients and "field space" of other ethanol producers (such as soybeans and corn). Algae also effectively takes CO2 out of wastewater and uses it to grow. This means algae is an effective wastewater treatment option for large scale factories, but this isn't happening yet. Research at UVa and elsewhere is trying to show that it is a feasible and effective option.

Once the algae has grown, it can be converted to biodiesel via the same reaction that turns corn into ethanol, soybean oil into biodiesel, etc. This is where my research lies-- finding the best type of algae and set of reaction conditions-- especially selecting the correct catalyst and designing that catalyst-- to make this reaction as efficient and cost effective as possible. It was a very exciting summer, getting myself acquainted with the lab and the reaction. Unfortunately, as a third-year chemical engineering student, my course load is quite rigorous and I don't have much time for research thus far.
Hopefully algae pans out sometime in the next decade. Who knows. It is better than corn or soybeans for biofuels, potentially/ given the opportunity. In my opinion.


I got busy this morning and dug around on the internet to see what else was out there about the feasibility of  bio-fuels from algae. And found many references to a cautionary study published by UVa researchers in January 2010 in Environmental Science and Technology that indicated the process, as it's currently understood, is not yet viable.
In this work, the impacts associated with algae production were determined using a stochastic life cycle model and compared with switchgrass, canola, and corn farming. The results indicate that these conventional crops have lower environmental impacts than algae in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water regardless of cultivation location. 
The study's abstract also said there is still hope for the algae-into-bio-fuel process.
Only in total land use and eutrophication potential do algae perform favorably. The large environmental footprint of algae cultivation is driven predominantly by upstream impacts, such as the demand for CO2 and fertilizer. To reduce these impacts, flue gas and, to a greater extent, wastewater could be used to offset most of the environmental burdens associated with algae. To demonstrate the benefits of algae production coupled with wastewater treatment, the model was expanded to include three different municipal wastewater effluents as sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. Each provided a significant reduction in the burdens of algae cultivation, and the use of source-separated urine was found to make algae more environmentally beneficial than the terrestrial crops.
There's not much else besides this one cautionary study out there on the alga-into-bio-fuel process, yet I somehow take comfort in knowing – through Facebook and thanks to Jamie Harris – that the research into it is ongoing. I find it a relief – as we struggle through this staggeringly destructive, lingering drought – to know hopeful scientists and engineers are out there, working away, trying to figure out what we can do to salvage this sweet old world.

Martha note: I've asked Jamie to ask anyone he knows who's got any more information about this process to comment. You got anything to add?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tea Party on . . .

Tomorrow at 3 p.m., on WMRA's Virginia Insight, Tom Graham's guests will be three of WMRA Land's Tea Party leaders. I plan to listen.

To this blogger, the Tea Party seems more mood than political movement; a channel for peoples' righteous anger at the stubborn mess this country finds itself in; a way for people to feel less afraid that nobody in government cares.

It also seems to me that Tea Partiers feel they can draw a line in history's sands, step backwards over it, and start again in 1783.

Tea Partiers again out-voted Republicans in yesterday's Republican primaries.  They partied on in the Delaware Republican Senate primary, choosing Christine O'Donnell, founder of S.A.L.T.  (Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth, an anti-lust, anti-masturbation organization) over the current Republican Representative, moderate Mike Castle.

Castle, the poor nincompoop, ran on his experience. That is not politically savvy these days.

Farther north, as NPR puts it,
Up I-95 in New York, another Tea Party choice, businessman Carl Paladino, pasted former Congressman Rick Lazio to win the Republican governor's nomination.

The results on the Republican side continued the run of successes the Tea Party movement has had this year.
Tea Party victories in Massachusetts, Utah, Nevada, Florida, Alaska and now Delaware and New York were fueled by anger towards Washington over deficits, bailouts, the health care overhaul and the economy.
I spent a fair amount of time this morning looking for anything approaching a comprehensive platform offered by either of the newly-selected candidates. All I could find is that both support the repeal of the new health care act and both support "fiscal responsibility."

I fully acknowledge Tea Party Patriot members' right to feel however they feel whether it's angry, frustrated, scared, or truly concerned about the Constitution. Yet while I can empathize with such emotions, I still want to hear specific ideas from them about how to address this country's very real current troubles.

Saying the budget needs to be balanced doesn't balance the budget.

I see tomorrow's Virginia Insight as my chance to listen to what our area's Tea Party leaders have to say. And to ask for their specific ideas.  I do hope you will join me in both listening and asking.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Facebook: The new smoke break?

We are born into this world with a finite amount of time to do both what we need to do and what we want to do.  And a lot of us are either needing or wanting to spend a tremendous amount of that allotted time on Facebook. Including me -- of course -- as WMRA's official Facebook Maven and Fan Wrangler.

Hmmmm. . .

This was posted recently on CNN Tech.
We already know that Facebook is the web's biggest time sink. If you look at the average amount of time (according to Nielsen) users spend on the social network, Facebook is a clear winner over sites such as Google or Yahoo.

Now, according to comScore, Facebook is also first when it comes to the total amount of time users are spending on the site.
In August, U.S. web users spent 41.1 million minutes on Facebook, which was about 9.9 percent of their entire web-surfing time in that month.
In this same period, people spent 39.8 million minutes on all of Google's sites, and those include another huge online timesink -- YouTube.
comScore puts Yahoo in third place, with U.S. web users spending 37.7 million minutes on its sites, which was about 9.1 percent of their web surfing time in August.
The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Facebook had just overtaken Yahoo in July, and in August last year U.S. web surfers had spent less than 5 percent of their online time on the social networking service.
Still, it hardly comes as a surprise: Facebook has been growing steadily in the last couple of years, and in July it announced it had over 500 million active users.
If Facebook keeps growing, a year from now Google may find itself far behind Facebook when it comes to web users' minutes.
Reading this, and thinking about my own Facebooking, I had a little mini-epiphany; mini in that it was not about anything approaching cosmic, but an epiphany, nonetheless, in that it was "a sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into, the reality or essential meaning of something."

Facebook, I realized, is the new smoke break.

Allow me to illustrate my mini-epiphany with a personal story.

My first job in journalism was at the now-defunct Houston Post. I was hired as a researcher for "Action Line," a consumer column. My office was a cubbyhole off  the main newsroom --  an enormous, window-less space with rows of wooden desks, on which sat black, upright Underwood typewriters, and over which  hung a pall of cigarette smoke.  My own office, sad to say, puffed when I opened the door.

I was 19 and smoked at least a pack-and-a-half  a day.


Well first of all, I was born attached to cigarettes, straight bourbon, and black coffee. All but the black coffee are gone, but I did enjoy the other two mightily for a time. Until, that is, I came to grips with the sad truth that bourbon and cigarettes were, for me, equally poisonous.

Cigarettes in those days, I think, functioned as my think breaks.

Let me explain.

I have always worked in herks and jerks, periods of intense concentration followed by periods of noodling around.  Back during my  Houston Post days, everybody I knew smoked. And viewed it as a legitimate and pleasant way to goof-off for a minute or two.
Isn't that the need Facebook fills today? It certainly does for me.  I mean, when I want a reason to put off doing what I need to be doing for a minute or two, I jump on Facebook?
Of course, as WMRA's official Facebook Maven, it's my job, but still . . .
Facebook as the new smoke break. I like it . . .

You with me, or what?

Of course, cigarettes are highly addictive. Anyone, besides me, ever wonder whether Facebook might be, as well?

Monday, September 13, 2010

On bringing the KING CORN guys to the Valley by Erica Bleeg

Martha note:  Erica Bleeg is always up to something interesting at JMU. When I heard about her latest project -- bringing the documentary King Corn to campus this coming Wednesday (and the two guys responsible for it on Thursday) -- I asked her to blog about what she's gotten up to this time.

For me, inspiration begins with curiosity and asking questions.

My first introduction to filmmakers Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney came over a year ago in late spring when I was listening to WMRA. They were on Bob Edwards Weekend discussing their latest film, The Greening of Southie, about the construction of the first green building in South Boston, a working-class Irish neighborhood locals know as “Southie.”

Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney

Like many NPR listeners, I’m curious about people and other creatures, and how they come to do what they do and know what they know. I’m drawn just as much to voices – like Bob Edwards’s voice, which sounds like a classical pianist and an angler got together and made a smart, understated man, slightly worn but alert, with the traces of someone who used to smoke. On the day I heard Curt and Ian, they, too, had the sincere voices of people who present what they do plainly, without cajoling, as if they knew those who cared would listen. It made me want to learn more. Then what sealed it for me came at the end of the interview, when Bob Edwards mentioned the name of their production company, Wicked Delicate, and Curt said it’s “the kind compliment a Midcoast Mainer might give to a really good blueberry pie.”

It didn’t take long for me to look them up. The Wicked Delicate site itself offers a visual feast of their work. I plucked up a YouTube video of one of their more recent projects, “Truck Farm,” and posted it on my facebook page for friends. Jen Bedet, a redheaded biking vegan, and friend from my years in Iowa City, wrote to me and said, “Didn’t you know Curt and Ian when they were here?” Apparently, they’d lived in Iowa City while filming King Corn, their award-winning breakout film, and they’d befriended enough folks in Iowa City to get invited to at least one wedding. “You must have moved to Maine by then,” said Jen. Indeed, I had. That was 2004, when I graduated from Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program in the spring, and Curt and Ian were just two years out of Yale and in their mid-twenties, moving to Iowa to grow corn and make a film about it with the help of several farmers and Curt’s cousin, director Aaron Woolf.

King Corn asks questions, the first being where does our food come from and what goes into making it? From there, how did corn come to dominate the American diet mostly in the form of corn products like high fructose corn syrup? And how do extensive government subsidies for corn affect our health and the health of the land?

These questions never occurred to me when I was their age, drinking multiple sodas a day. But over a decade later, by the time I heard Curt and Ian on Bob Edwards, the sodas were long behind me. I was putting together a food-writing course for Spring 2010 at James Madison University, where I’ve taught since 2007. For that course, something Virginia Woolf wrote had been circling my thoughts: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” she said. What does it mean to dine well? I wondered. I knew King Corn would be a part of the course, and so I thought, why not? Why not contact the King Corn guys and see if they could come to the valley? I knew I could count on broad support: the film and environmental studies people, and that JMU entity with the most unwieldy name, the Institute for the Stewardship for the Natural World—they would help. I just had to ask.

But first I had to contact Curt and Ian and see if they had time to do this sort of thing. I imagine our Iowa City connection and knowing people in common gave me the gumption to do so. Thing is, whether we knew people in common or not, they would have come, and I’ve thought since that I ought to reach out more. Having scoured the Wicked Delicate website, I knew a few things about them before I sent out that first correspondence. For example, they ran a film workshop in Waldoboro, Maine, and according to the site one of the major draws of said workshop was the chance to see “one of Ian’s childhood soccer trophies”! Well, that was just doggone irresistible.

I’ve known Waldoboro since I was three years old. Just south of there, in Pemaquid, was the first place I saw the ocean. My Grammy used to take my brother and me there in the summers, just as she’d taken my mom and Aunt Beth, and just as she’d been taken by her parents. Next to Ian’s trophies (I’m sure), Waldoboro may be most famous for Moody’s Diner, and Moody’s is famous for its pies. So, when I sent that first email, I asked, “What would be considered a wicked delicate pie at Moody’s?”

Ian’s favorite, I learned, is their peanut butter pie. Not so for Curt. He said Moody’s peanut butter pie is too custardy for his tastes. He likes fruity things, like marionberry pie, a specialty in his home state of Oregon. I’m thinking about dessert even as I write this. Peanut butter and berries—surely two of the world’s greatest creations.

So, yes, now, Ian and Curt are coming to visit and they'll be here this week.

Please join the three of us at James Madison University for a screening of two of Curt and Ian’s greatest creations, King Corn and its companion sequel Big River, this Wednesday, September 15 at 7:00 in Miller Hall, room 1101. At 8:00 the following evening, Curt and Ian will be here to give a media-rich presentation, “Back to Back to the Land” on sustainability in Harrison Hall, room 2105. I’m looking forward to thanking them for their inspiring work.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Special blog post for September 11th event in Harrisonburg

A PEACEFUL PROTEST this Saturday, September 11, on the JMU Commons from 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm organized by the JMU Mid-East Interest Club.  Here is their statement:

"September 11th is a hard day for many Americans, but it's important not to get caught up in rhetoric and religious hatred. Terry Jones and his church, the Dove World Outreach in Gainesville, Florida, plan a ceremony to burn the Qur'an this Saturday. Not only is this day one of remembrance, this year it is also the day that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. His actions are not only hateful, but are the antithesis of what America stands for and the image we want to present to the world. America is composed of many faiths including over 5 million Muslims (U.S. News and World Report 2008.) Freedom of Religion is just as important as freedom of speech and we cannot stand silent and allow one ignorant congregation to incite hatred or misrepresent most of the American population's true feelings. As a sign of good will we ask you to join us this Saturday for a peaceful gathering on the quad. Not for speeches or rhetoric, just for Americans of all faiths and creeds to come together and meet, play Frisbee, talk and to acknowledge that we are against hate and for understanding."

The JMU Interfaith Coalition stands with groups around the country and the world in calling for solidarity and an end to divisive fear-mongering.  This coming weekend will be very special: both Judaism and Islam will celebrate holy days even as the U.S. observes the 9th anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks.  As the JMU Interfaith Coalition soberly wishes our brothers and sisters shana tova and Eid karim, we call upon the JMU community to take time this weekend to reaffirm our commitment to building a better world through improving understanding and serving others, and to affirm our solidarity with the Muslim community in this country and around the world. You will find our full statement at our website:.

James Madison and Religious Liberty for All by Brian Kaylor

As the debate surrounding a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York City continues to heat up, politicians across the county are attempting to use the issue to score political points. The center, often inaccurately called the “Ground Zero mosque,” will not actually be at Ground Zero and will not be just a mosque. Yet, even some of Virginia’s politicians recently have joined in and condemned the project, as if their opposition should make more Virginians want to vote for them.

Republican congressional candidates Robert Hurt and Keith Fimian have both spoken out against the proposed center and called on their Democratic opponents (Representatives Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly) to join them in opposition. Fimian even inexplicably claimed this was not “a question of … religious freedom” even though it seems to me that he only opposes the center because it is a Muslim organization.

Virginia Statute
Sadly, this kind of opposition to the proposed center represents an abandonment of the wisdom of Virginia’s James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. These two Founding Fathers deserve much of the credit for the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as a model for First Amendment’s religious protections. The Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom was so important to Jefferson that he had it, instead of his U.S. presidency, commemorated on his tombstone

James Madison strongly believed the nation must provide for “the freedom of religious opinion & worship” for “every sect.” More importantly, Madison wrote in a letter to Jefferson that one positive result of the U.S. Constitution was that it “opened a door for Jews Turks & infidels.”

Madison’s view of freedoms for Turks—his century’s term for Muslims—should serve as an important model for today’s politicians. Madison knew that religious liberty for all would make both government and religion stronger, and he correctly predicted that religion would flourish in this country because it was kept separate from government.

Rather than demonizing a faith to gain a political advantage, politicians would do well to heed the wisdom of the ‘father of the Constitution.’ America remains a highly religious nation today precisely because of the religious freedoms James Madison and Thomas Jefferson struggled to implement over two centuries ago. To argue that Muslims cannot build a center blocks away and out of eyesight from Ground Zero is to strip these citizens of their fundamental American rights.

Houses of worship must not be used as political footballs in America. We are taking a dark and dangerous path once we start limiting religious liberty. People of all faiths must stand up for religious liberty for all. We must demand that our politicians stand up for the basic tenets of American Constitutional democracy. And if they will not, then we must not elect them to an office where they are supposed to uphold the Constitution.

--Dr. Brian T. Kaylor is a former pastor who teaches political communication at James Madison University and is the author of a forthcoming book on religion and politics

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Possible passage through the eye of that needle?

My father, another dirt-poor German-American kid, was at Columbia College with retired media mogul (and  sometime Albemarle County resident) John Kluge. This tickled Pop immensely. "Where did I go wrong," he used to say, as he watched Mr. Kluge pile up billions. "Maybe I should have played more poker?"

Pop was alluding to the Columbia fact(?) legend(?) that Mr. Kluge had paid his way through the College in part with his poker winnings.

Both Pop and Mr. Kluge credited their Columbia experience with changing the course of their lives for the better. Pop paid the College back in quiet, low-budget ways; his classmate with 500 million dollars in bequests.

“If it hadn’t been for Columbia, my path would have been entirely different in life,” Kluge said six years ago at a celebration of his 90th birthday in [Columbia College's] Low Library. “Columbia gave me an opportunity, and the only way you can really repay that opportunity is for you to help someone else.”

John Kluge also sprinkled tens of millions of dollars worth of gifts around the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville area. Anyone ever known a child who benefited from going to the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center? And Mr. Kluge donated hundreds of millions elsewhere around the country, as well.

Even after all this giving, he was reported to be worth $6.5 billion when he died late Tuesday.

I remember when John Kluge and his third wife, Pat, moved to Albemarle County in the mid-1980s. They created, shall we say, quite a stir. Hook editor Hawes Spencer reminded us of several of the couple's more tacky excesses in an article posted on the news site Most people (am I dealing in gossip on a public radio blog?) credit his then-wife for these ostentatious escapades. But still, John Kluge paid the bills for them.

The terms of the couple's divorce settlement as reported in People are mind-boggling for us folks of ordinary financial status. 

Still, on balance, Mr. Kluge does seem to have been a very, very rich man who strove to give back. Not enough, of course, to threaten his richness; but still, he did seem interested in not just what money can buy, but what it can do. If you want more information about his corporate and philanthropic life, there's a comprehensive remembrance  in today's Washington Post.

Maybe I'm cutting John Kluge some slack because he was at school with my father, but still, the man did seem like a very rich person who, if any very rich person ever can, did not let his money smother his humanity.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And the judge of WMRA's short, short fiction contest is . . .

Scott Simon


Author, world traveler, raconteur, reporter, comedian, and, oh yes, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, Scott Simon has agreed to pick the winners of WMRA's short, short story contest. This means that the man who's written 5 books, himself, and hosts what The Washington Post calls “the most literate, witty, moving, and just plain interesting news show on any dial,” is looking forward to reading your short, short story.

That is, if you write one and send it to WMRA before the contest deadline, which is 5 p.m. September 24th.

WMRA's happy relationship with Scott Simon goes back to 2001, when we hosted a reading of his first memoir, Home and Away, at the Charlottesville's Barnes & Noble. Surprise, surprise, the building was crammed, Scott was charmingly pleased by the size of the crowd, a great time was had by all. Plus, he brought along his almost-new wife Caroline Richard. 

Since then, Simon has written four more books; Pretty Birds: A NovelJackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball (2007), Windy City: A Novel of Politics, (2008), and the just-published Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption. 

So, this man isn't just a pretty face on your radio dial; this man can write!

I know that I'd already blogged about WMRA's short-short contest, and we've already gotten some entries. But I haven't blogged about who's going to judge the contest. And that, to me, is worth another post.

Contest rules:
  • 600 words or fewer
  • entirely the author's original work
  • never-before published in any form (including personal blogs and website)
  • deadline is 5 p.m., Friday, September 24th
What you win:
  • Writers of the four stories judged best will win fame -- you'll read your story at the end of an October edition of Virginia Insight.
  • Writer of the story judged best by Scott Simon will win fame and lunch -- with the WMRA on-air person of your choice.
Please e-mail submissions to me, Martha Woodroof. And feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have.  I'm here to help, to encourage, and, if you need it, to give you a great, big, enthusiastic push to get crackin'! 

My, my, don't we have a good time here in WMRA Land!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Being the change

The Little Rock 9
 Jefferson Thomas died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 67.

Jefferson Thomas in 1957
Mr. Thomas was fourteen when then-Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered out the National Guard troops to prevent him and 8 other teenagers from entering Little Rock High School. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in an under-heralded act of political bravery, sent members of the 101st Army Airborne to escort them into the building and from class to class. Those students have become known collectively as the Little Rock 9.

Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, and Thelma Mothershed Wair
Dr. James D. Hunter was Tom Graham's guest yesterday on WMRA's Virginia Insight.  Dr. Hunter, who is Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, talked about how religion is, and isn't, an effective instrument of cultural change. Religion isn't, Dr. Hunter said, when it becomes just another political harangue. It is, he said, when it becomes a way of life.

In other words, if one wants to change the world, then one must first be the change.

I was 10 when the Little Rock 9 went to high school amidst an armed forces face-off. I remember it as a day my parents spoke highly of President Eisenhower; which, as ardent liberals and Adlai Stevenson supporters, they didn't do often. We were, however, a small island of celebration in our rumbling, all-white, southern neighborhood.

It's difficult for me to imagine nine braver people than the Little Rock 9. Or to think of 9 better examples of "being the change."

Our old American habits die hard. Social, religious, and class/economic discrimination continue to spark  anger and discord. There is great opportunity for each of us to take on the challenge of "being the change;" of walking in the quiet steps of the Little Rock 9.