Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Big Hits: The Reality of Football . . .a personal essay by Jason Barr

Martha note: There's a tremendous amount of news coverage these days (including on NPR)   about devastating head injuries incurred while playing football. I'm with Jason; I'm a football fan, both college and pro. But his essay made me think hard about what being a football fan really means.

It’s that time of year again: football season. I enjoy watching the NFL as much as the next person, and in our household, a Thanksgiving without the distant cheers of a stadium in the background is just plain, well, weird.

Even so, I have a different reaction to football. More and more, it seems, players are going for the “big hit,” the crushing blow of the opponent that will end up on the highlight reels, increase their name recognition, increase their marketability, and even their monetary value.

If I speak in business terms, I do that on purpose: football, like any other sport, is a business, and, perhaps more than any American sport, the players are very aware of the business of selling themselves. When we see replay after replay, or go onto YouTube and watch, in slow motion, a brutal collision, we remember the player’s name. Some of us will cheer for him just a little more loudly; others will buy his jersey after his reputation as a “hard hitter” is established.

When there is a hard hit, though, I have the opposite reaction from many others: while they are cheering and high fiving and watching replay after replay, I can’t help but look away.

As a child, I was fascinated by football. I would sit in one chair, my father in the one beside me, and we would watch the players. I basically discerned the rules on my own about downs and penalties and the line of scrimmage and so on—you simply didn’t interrupt my father during a football game.

I would check out books from the library and read about the great football players: Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Knute Rockne, Jim Brown, Raymond Berry, Johnny Unitas. These players seemed larger than life: people who went out on the field, and gave it everything they had. It was a sport. Though football at the time was a far more brutal sport, it was highly glamorized and sterilized for the consumption of a child.

As a result, I decided to put my gangly, six foot four, one hundred and fifty pound frame to the test: I joined the junior varsity football squad at a local high school. I quickly discovered that football was far less than fun to play, when I managed to play at all.

Most of my brief two-year football career consisted of seeing or experiencing hazing, bullying, and sometimes sexual harassment, on both the part of the coaches and the players. I still clearly remember one coach stomping on my hand and pushing into the mud—it had rained all day that day—during stretching exercises. When I told him I’d rather quit the team, he poured a cup of Gatorade over my head. Stupidly, I stayed on the team and earned myself a few concussions along the way.

This isn’t sour grapes, though, this is reality. Go to a high school football game. Watch the players closely: many of them aren’t playing the sport of football; rather, they are doing the same thing their modern idols are doing: looking for the big hit. With the current emphasis in the NFL on preventing concussions, I have to wonder how we managed to get into this situation to begin with: one of the first rules players should be taught is to look at the person you’re tackling. It may not be the glamorous, pad cracking, jaw dropping hit, but it keeps your head up so you don’t get a concussion making the tackle. With our current spate of famous (or infamous) players in the NFL, I wonder if coaches in high schools and colleges have simply stopped teaching this simple rule, and themselves, congratulate the “big hits.”

Again, I continue to be a big fan of football, and I still enjoy watching the game on the big screen, especially when snow is falling outside and something is cooking in the oven. It’s classic Americana, and I’m not immune to it.

But there is something darker lurking in the background that makes football a more problematical pleasure for me these days: There are thousands of children watching the same game. For them, it is less a sport and more of a celebrity show. I hope, somewhere along the way, their parents or guardians or siblings balance out the glamour of the game with a heavy dose of the reality that exists away from the camera.

--Jason Barr, who won First Place in WMRA's Short, Short Story Contest, teaches at Blue Ridge Community College.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Henry David and Newt, birds of similiar rhetorical feathers?

I am a boomer, a child of the sixties, an unabashed survivor of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, and a penchant for self-importance and self-destruction.

In my late teens and early twenties, back when I was busy loading myself down with hippie-dippy affectations, I used to read Walden as regularly as some Christians read the Bible. Being increasingly pretentious myself and increasingly uncomfortable in my own head and skin, I suppose I was looking for guidance on how to live a more authentic life, and believed Mr. Thoreau’s book could help. Then someone told me his mother cooked his Sunday dinner and did his laundry, and he regularly took a break from his famous solitude to go gadding about with the Concord Transcendentalist crowd. I immediately pegged Mr. Thoreau as just another poseur like myself.

Mr. Thoreau’s most famous words (I say this because they’re posted at the tourist trap Waldon Pond has become) are: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

From what I know of the Concord Transcendentalists, they were an impractical bunch, who made philosophy rather than necessity and reality the basis of action. Mr. Thoreau seems to be saying he took himself off to the woods because of an idea. If he’d had another idea, he might have moved to New York City instead. So, Mr. Thoreau wasn't so much poor and free-spirited, as he was opinionated.

I just finished a really lovely Thanksgiving break, and hope you have as well. My contact with the Real World was officially re-established this morning with an on-line look at newspapers. Two articles particularly caught my eye. The first one is by Karen Tumulty in this morning's Washington Post on the concept of American exceptionalism; in which she writes:
The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character.
It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: "God has granted America a special role in human history."
[Newt] Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that "American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence," and that it is a term "which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God."
 The other was an editorial in yesterday's New York Times ( I had some catching up to do) titled "The Unemployed Held Hostage, Again," which begins:
It is hard to believe, as the holidays approach yet again amid economic hard times, but Congress looks as if it may let federal unemployment benefits lapse for the fourth time this year.

Lame duck lawmakers will have only one day when they return to work on Monday to renew the expiring benefits. If they don’t, two million people will be cut off in December alone. This lack of regard for working Americans is shocking. Last summer, benefits were blocked for 51 days, as senators in both parties focused on preserving tax breaks for wealthy money managers and other affluent constituents.

This time, tax cuts for the rich are bound to drive and distort the debate again. Republicans and Democrats will almost certainly link the renewal of jobless benefits to an extension of the high-end Bush-era tax cuts. That would be a travesty. There is no good argument for letting jobless benefits expire, or for extending those cuts.
What struck me while reading these two articles is what poseurs American politicians are; how easily they can flee from the real problems of real people into comfortable flights of rhetorical fancy. Can those two million unemployed people who are set to lose their benefits in December eat "American Exceptionalism," or use it to pay the rent?

I wonder if Mr. Gingrich, who seems to have an in with the Almighty, would let us know what God thinks about keeping tax cuts for the wealthy in place while cutting off unemployment benefits? And as for those Democratic lame ducks, they may be lame ducks, but they're not dead ducks, are they? At least not for today. So, I'd like to know from them what they really think is the right thing to do for the American people, as opposed to the right thing to do for their political futures.

To me, Mr. Thoreau's Walden is a literary classic in which rhetoric trumps reality. And it does seem to me we've taken Mr. Thoreau's literary license a bit too much to heart when our politicians dare to claim God-given "exceptionalism" for a country that leaves its unemployed to founder.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Back at it on Monday . . .

Martha note: Happy Thanksgiving! See you back here on Monday, with a thankful heart, a rested head and a full tummy. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Art and Politics: Thoughts on Mark Twain and Bristol Palin . . .

NPR sends out a regular missive called "Scoop," which contains mostly shop talk about NPR programming. But occasionally the Scoops include some entertaining nugget that has absolutely nothing to do with NPR.

This week's entertaining nugget was culled from a short New Yorker article about Mark Twain by Macy Halford. In it, Halford relates how, in 1905, Mr. Twain asked the President to move Thanksgiving, because its date that year, November 30th, coincided with the famous author's 70th birthday.

Mark Twain's 70th Birthday Celebration
Twain, himself,  noted the incident in his modest, 2000-page autobiography (the excerpt below was lifted from The New Yorker. 
It [Twain's birthday] arrived on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey* was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist—the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.
Twain by this time (writes Macy Halford) had traveled a long way—from the banks of the Mississippi to a mansion on Fifth Avenue—and had become, as New Yorkers will, unrelenting in his agendas, and brilliantly so:
[Harvey] went to Washington to try to get the President to select another day for the national Thanksgiving, and I furnished him with arguments to use which I thought persuasive and convincing, arguments which ought to persude (sic) him even to put off Thanksgiving Day a whole year—on the ground that nothing had happened during the previous twelvemonth except several vicious and inexcusable wars, and King Leopold of Belgium's usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State, together with the Insurance revelations in New York, which seemed to establish the fact that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday.
Hmmmm. Methinks Mark Twain did not approve of the direction in which his country was heading . . .

The President whom Mr. Harvey went to see was Theodore Roosevelt.  Mark Twain was famously not a fan of the President, disagreeing with him on many points of policy, such as whether or not invading the Philippines had been a good idea and the appropriateness of America shouldering the White Man's Burden.

Yet, amazingly, many people who voted for Theodore Roosevelt read Mark Twain.

What a concept! Imagine keeping one's personal politics from taking over one's entire life. But then think for a moment about what a loss it would have been to us all if Mr. Twain's anti-Imperialist politics had eroded his book sales to the point where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn never made the literary big-time..

Zoom with me to the present, please: Thanksgiving Eve Day 2010

The Washington Post has been running front page coverage of Bristol Palin's appearance on Dancing with the Stars. I haven't watched the show, but I have followed the Post's coverage. Consensus appears to be that a lot of the folks who voted for or against Bristol in the competition were more focused on her mother's politics than her own dancing.

These paragraphs were drawn from Lisa de Moraes' regular Post TV column.
"Are you planning on hosting a Team Bristol Monday Night Dancing Watch party?" conservative blogger Kevin DuJan asked on his blog Hillbuzz.org before the Monday show. "You ... can actually vote together and send Bristol over the top ... while sending Leftist heads into meltdown."
On the other side of the political spectrum, the liberal Web site Network for Progress urged people to get out the vote for Jennifer.
"Fight back against the Tea Party ... because they may make our news and elections into a joke but we need to draw a line at our reality competitions!" the Web site said in an e-mail, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Join Network For Progress as we come together to raise awareness about one of the biggest threats America faces today ... Bristol Palin winning Dancing with the Stars...."
Bristol Palin placed third in Dancing with the Stars. We'll  never know whether it was her dancing or her mother that lost the competition.

Which, in my opinion, is a real shame. And kind of scary, as well.

Wonder how Mark Twain would have fared on Dancing with the Stars?
*Mark Twain's editor at the North American Review

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The compelling myth of safety . . .

Eugene Robinson has an interesting OpEd piece in this morning's Washington Post that any thoughtful person traveling over the holidays might want to read. It's called, "TSA outcry is really a call for profiling," and toward the end of his essay Mr. Robinson writes that if we do not allow the Transportation Safety Board to continue its personal-privacy-busting screening practices, then the chances that terrorists would somehow down an aircraft "would greatly increase."

He goes on to point out that, as we do expect the TSA to keep us safe, what critics of full-body screening are really saying is:
Don't search me, and don't search my grandmother. Just search the potential terrorists. In other words, they want profiling.
That's a seductive idea, I suppose, if you don't spend a lot of time worrying about civil liberties. But it couldn't possibly work. Our terrorist enemies may be evil, but they're not stupid.
If we only search people who "look like terrorists," al-Qaeda will send people who don't fit the profile . . . If terrorists are clever enough to hide powerful explosives in ink cartridges, then eventually they'll find a suicide bomber who looks just like you, me or Granny.
So, there you are: Scan everyone or run a very slight risk of a WASP-y terrorist with bombs in his/her underwear being on your plane.

I do think it's important to remember while we're flapping and fuming about having our junk messed with,
that it's never, ever been a safe world, and living in it has never been a secure proposition. With this in mind, the most compelling part of Mr. Robinson's essay to me has nothing to do with the effectiveness of airport screening. Instead it was his saying that whether or not we all submit to it, "depends on how safe we want to be, or rather how safe we want to feel." (My italics, because I've always considered safety a feeling rather than an absolute reality.)

Post 9-11 America, it seems to me, has became a Timid New World. It's as though when the Twin Towers tumbled, they destroyed a huge chunk of our American cockiness that must have been  rooted in a mistaken belief we were invulnerable from attack by anyone but our own.

Since, 9-11, we've tried and failed to kill or corral this new breed of American enemy. We've spent enormous amounts of money trying to make ourselves feel safe, and still it seems that terrorists really can be anywhere. The only real decision we face is how scared we're going to be of our new reality. How much are we going to let fear erode our enjoyment of life?

I suppose I should admit right here and now that  I wasn't raised to worry much about danger. I grew up across the street from an endless stretch of woods, a good part of which I was allowed to play in without adult supervision. No one taught me to be afraid of snakes or spiders or lurking weirdos.

This sometimes meant that my big sister and I got ourselves into pickles, like the time she climbed a giant pine tree that was so rotten the fire department had to be called to fetch her down. But despite our lifelong careless ways, I'm happy to report, both my big sister and I are still here.

Maybe I'm way off here, but, my fellow Americans, it does seem to me that airport screening might finally help us to come to terms with the fact that our own absolute safety from terrorist attack cannot be guaranteed. Perhaps the real challenge of Post 9-11 America is to reinvent our American cockiness based on this new American reality.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Crows" by Jason Barr

Martha note: Jason Barr wrote Judge Scott Simon's grand prize winning entry in the WMRA Short, Short Story contest. 
drawing by Don McMahon

A flock of crows roosted over the eaves of my grandfather’s barn. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought they were working in shifts; there always seemed to be five of them there, running their yellowed beaks through their oily feathers, cawing insistently.

The sudden slash of birdcall irritated my grandfather. Grandpa had lost his daughter, who was my mother, and his own wife, three months apart. For the past two years, my dad sent me to work on his farm every summer. In order to live with Grandpa every summer, I was consigned to do numerous chores of varying decency. So it fell to me to get rid of the crows.

I was only twelve at the time, but I still clearly remember thinking to myself that, well, the crows wanted to be there for a reason. Remove the reason, and there would be no more crows.

What could keep them there? I could not find a nest. As I descended the ladder, they landed again, their piercing voices splitting the cooling air of the autumn afternoon.

Inside, Grandpa fixed me some sausages and mashed potatoes. Along with hash and mashed potatoes and corn and mashed potatoes, this was all the man fixed for himself. The old black and white TV rattled and hissed behind me. Grandpa’s eyes were fixed on the game until he heard the crows again. Then his eyes moved toward mine. I turned to look at the game.

“Crows still there?”

I kept looking. Grandpa tapped his fork on his plate.

“Crows still there?”

I turned and nodded. I was about to open my mouth when I saw Grandpa eyeing his rifle in the corner.

“I was trying to figure out why they were there. I thought maybe they were protecting a nest or something …”
This was the most I had ever said at Grandpa’s dinner table. He held his fork up in the air.

“It’s not a science experiment, Jody,” he said.

As soon as Grandpa finished his last sausage, curving it through the mashed potatoes before scooping it all into his mouth, he stood and put the dishes in the sink. Then he picked up the rifle, checked the sights, and then the chamber, in the same scientific way he always did, whether to scare away a coyote or some drunken teenagers spinning donuts in the front yard.

I followed him out the door, catching it before it clacked shut. The crows were all lined up on the eave, their beaks open, their calls echoing through the evening air. To the west, a storm was forming, low and black.
Grandpa fired the rifle above the crows. Before the echoing report could sound through the hills, the crows had lifted off, circled, and landed again.

I watched as he ascended the ladder, rifle in hand, and ran his hand through the gutters. He came back down, holding a small ball of black in his hand.

It was a dead crow chick, its feathers parted in strange places.

Grandpa pulled out the shovel and walked several yards out into the field. The rain had begun to splatter the first cold and hard drops of a downpour. I realized that the drops were all I heard: the crows had stopped chattering, and instead, they circled the sky over Grandpa as he buried the chick. When he was done, one of them landed near Grandpa, and then they all flew away, toward the storm.

“Grandpa,” I started.

“It’s not a science experiment, Jody.”

And that was all he said of it.
-- Jason Barr teaches at Blue Ridge Community College

Friday, November 19, 2010

Concerns about Martha Woodroof's (and Your) Bottle of Water by Martha Dudley

Recently, during the WMRA fund raiser, Martha Woodroof mentioned that on her way to Lexington she bought a 20 ounce plastic bottle of water.

Well, there are two things I want Martha and everyone else to remember about plastic -- not just the plastic in those ubiquitous water bottles but plastic anything:

First: It never goes away but spends its eternal life in our landfills. In 2008 seventy percent of plastic water bottles went to those landfills. No one seems to be counting how many ended up clogging our waterways, floating in our oceans, and killing marine life.

And second: Plastic is made from the very same oil that spilled so disastrously in the Gulf of Mexico.

Going back to Martha’s bottle of water, it astonishes me that, despite our recent collective angst over that tragedy, many of us still buy so-called “disposable” plastic water bottles. The production of these bottles of water consumes an annual average of 17 million barrels of crude oil. Even if we recycled some of them – and that is not an energy free proposition – the whole point of “disposable” is not to have to bother with them -- much less search around for a recycling bin.

Why, I want to know, do we waste money on bottled water in the first place, when it’s not proven to be any better than that coming out of our taps? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and simpler to buy a nice metal bottle or a plastic one made without Bisphenol A and fill it from the faucet?

If water quality is an issue, there is an assortment of filters to choose among --ranging in price from a few dollars to as much as you might want to spend. If buying water is essential, it can be delivered in large reusable glass jugs. If “being like everyone else” is the motivation, why not lead the fashion pack with a really snazzy reusable water bottle? They come in every color and size imaginable.

Martha Woodroof said that she bought the bottle of water for a dollar fifty. A dollar fifty for 20 ounces of water! Perhaps she was making the point that there are many odds and ends expenses involved in running a radio station. Or that we lavish money on things we value. In either case, a little math proves interesting: if you buy that bottle of water every day for a year, you will spend $547.50. Given the size of Martha’s bottle, about nine dollars a gallon for water.

So – let’s each of us buy a really flashy water bottle and fill it ourselves everyday. We’d be going a long way toward helping our poor beleaguered planet. And we would have over five hundred dollars to contribute to a favorite charity. Perhaps even to our favorite radio station.

                -- Martha Dudley lives in Staunton

Thursday, November 18, 2010

9th Grade Diversity Workshop Report, by Casey, Martha P., Martha V., & Josephine by Derek Kannemeyer

Martha note: Derek Kannemeyer will read his prize-winning (according to Judge Scott Simon) short-short story today on WMRA's Virginia Insight. It will also be available to listen to at wmra.org. Or you can read it right here.

Q1. 8 ways our group is alike 
~ We like boys.

~ We all have or once had braces except Josephine.

~ All of us are tall except Josephine.

~ We all hope lunch is pizza.

~ We concur that Casey’s little pointy gold heels today are awesome…

~ We still like being barefoot better.

~ We're the Co-Worst Procrastinator Ever (but I'm ├╝berworst!!!)

~ We're all called Casey or Martha except Josephine (kidding!)

Q2. 8 ways we're different

1. Aged six, Casey saw her grandmother’s ghost, standing over her bed. They'd shared the room, so her presence felt ordinary—as if in the night one might naturally, sometimes, half-wake in “the forever place”, where time hoards its best stuff. [Like Hank slobbering over Casey's sneaker…] So Casey mumbled hello, fell back asleep, and never saw her grandmother again; but now she knows that place is there, outside time, where nothing’s lost; whereas we don’t know that at all, we come from planet Earth; but Casey, your planet sounds very sweet.

2. Because P. is the only non-blonde [non-paleface, black/slash/Pamunkey] person in our foursome, she knows "in a different way" what this exercise is about. [Which the others won't get, no matter how she "helps".] So she'd rather we talk. [She'll listen.]

3. Josephine is the only only child. She had a sister, once. She died, Josephine barely remembers her. Her name was Marian. [And Josephine was Josie. But her dad said, You're the big kid now.]

4. Although people call the Marthas the twins, because, duh, they’re physical opposites, best friends, and both named "Martha", V. comes from up north, and still thinks of herself as the outsider. [And wonders how she’d have made it, had P. not adopted her. She’s a big-boned 5' 11"; at her old school she tried to hide but wasn’t good at it; she was the kid kids were mean to. Here, personality-wise, thanks to P., she’s pretty much unrecognizable as that girl. Except, of course, to her secret, well-hidden self.]

5. Casey wants to talk about religion. She wonders what makes her "forever place" so funny: haven’t we heard of Heaven? Casey actually likes church; ask her. The rest of us do not want to talk about religion.

6. Josephine supposes she’s the only non-virgin. The Marthas aren’t buying this without details [which Casey prays they won't goad her into]. V. asks was it diverse or segregated, was he white, black or other? The Marthas laugh. Sorry, says Josephine, strike that, someone else go. P. asks, Friend, stranger, or relative, and they laugh. Josephine bites her lip [he's a shadow in her door; she clenches her eyes; he's the dark inside her lids]. Casey says, Ew.

7. V. doesn’t watch television; the others say nor do they, much! Which sparks a debate about what she so should watch… [But her mind has drifted, to something her mom said. That for people who have gotten where they are by being socially exclusive—for whom exclusivity is a brag—inclusivity just isn’t desirable. "The trick for them, Martha, is more to seem to be open to diversity; to believe they are; but not be. " Well, sometimes. Maybe. But mostly Martha's less cynical. Martha has faith in people. Faith matters.…] Scratch the TV, she says. Put we're a Catholic, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, and an atheist. Oh, says Josephine, am I the only Christian?

8. Y’all, focus! says Martha P. [Come on, she thinks, one more difference and we’re done!]
 -- Derek Kannemeyer teaches at St. Catherine's School in Richmond.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Freeloading off the storm . . .

I was trolling papers this morning, looking for blog fodder. Tom Graham, ever-helpful in feeding me interesting state news, sent me news that "Premature babies rate improves in Virginia," "Half in Va. approve of Obama performance, poll shows," and "Virginia GOP divided on earmarks."

I read them with great interest, but found I had nothing else to add. At least this morning. It's Wednesday, after all, smack in the middle of our sober, productive work week. Rebel that I am, I found myself itching to write about something that was neither sober nor productive.

So I hunted some more. And found it in a small headline on the front page of the Charlottesville Daily Progress: "Lame-duck Fla. governor wants Jim Morrison pardoned."

Yes, my friends, Charlie Crist is looking to pardon that Jim Morrison, the long-dead lead singer of The Doors, who was convicted of exposing himself at a 1969 Miami concert. How delightfully preposterous, I thought. Surely that qualifies as the subject for a blog post that is both non-productive and non-sober . . .

Read on, MacDuff!

Ace reporter that I am, I went to the St. Petersburg Times, the paper that broke the story yesterday. "The more I looked into it, the more I felt the right thing to do would be to try to bring about a pardon," Crist is quoted as saying .... "And I've reached that conclusion now, that's what I'm going to do."

Such gravitas is only appropriate, don't you think? The article goes on to say:
A jury in 1970 convicted Morrison of indecent exposure and open profanity, though he was cleared of a felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior and public drunkenness. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but died two years later in Paris while the case was under appeal.

Whether Morrison ever actually exposed himself during the concert, however, has been a matter of intense speculation and debate over the years.

Crist said he wasn't convinced after reviewing the case that Morrison did "what he was charged with here."
Although there are many photographs of the concert, none showed Morrison exposing himself. And there was no video or other tangible evidence, Crist said. "We really don't know if the alleged act occurred," Crist said.
I met Jim Morrison in 1969 when the Doors came to Houston. I was 19, working as a researcher for the now-defunct Houston Post. On a dare from some Rice University friends, I waved my Post ID card around to security like a press pass, fast-talked my way backstage, and got myself presented to Mr. Morrison.

Jim Morrison sleeps on stage in 1969
What an alarmingly sad sight he made. Jim Morrison lolled on a grubby couch, disheveled, unattractive, and obviously stoned past caring. I remember nothing charismatic about him, and much that was alarming. I scuttled back to my friends, feeling I'd ventured way out of my hipness league. I mean, Jim Morrison. It just didn't get any hipper than him. Did it?

Years later,when my young teenage daughter cranked up her first boy-girl party with The Doors, I experienced a moment of Mom approval when I announced I'd met Jim Morrison. Shamefully, I milked those pathetic and long-ago five minutes in Houston for all they were worth.

Oh, for Pete's sake, I set off to have some fun today writing about something un-sober and unproductive. And I've written myself into a bit of a funk. Boy howdy, do we Americans have a bad, bad habit of leaching excitement from the self-destructiveness of talented, troubled people. Talent, by itself, doesn't seem to be enough to hold our attention. But you throw in enough trouble and even a mediocre rock-n-roller achieves pop culture sainthood.

Why is that, I wonder? Even though I've just admitted doing it myself.

Perhaps Charlie Crist, who's momentarily halted his slide into obscurity by hitching a ride on Jim Morrison's storm, might tell us?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

America's fastest-growing sport: Breaking bad on Nancy Pelosi . . .

Heath Shuler
Remember Representative Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) from his earlier stint in Washington as a not-very-successful quarterback for the seemingly perpetually floundering Washington Redskins? (Anyone else stare dumbfounded as last night's Monday Night Football game unfolded?)

That same Heath Shuler has now re-invented himself as a Blue Dog Democrat,  businessman and real estate investor. He was just re-elected for his second House term from North Carolina's 11th District, a swath of hilly land sprawling across the western part of the state that includes Asheville. Representative Shuler confirmed yesterday what he's been hinting for weeks: He's going to challenge Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the House Democratic Caucus. Why? Shuler terms Pelosi's continued leadership "unacceptable."

Consensus is that Shuler doesn't stand a chance of taking over the leadership of the House Democrats, but Congressman Shuler says the party would benefit from his more moderate (if less experienced) voice in the national debate. "We've got to be able to recruit," said Mr. Shuler. "We have to go into those moderate areas, those swing districts, and be able to get great recruits or get back those members of Congress that we lost, be able to have them on the ticket in 2012 to be able to win back the House. And I just don't see that path happening if we have her at the top of the leadership."

As Brad Knickerbocker writes in The Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Shuler's move to challenge Ms. Pelosi's leadership "reflects some party members' unease" with the current Speaker, even though  . . .
The first woman to hold the most senior position in the House, Pelosi is acknowledged to be one of the most effective Speakers in congressional history – both in terms of organizing her party’s troops and in getting her agenda passed.
Indeed, ever since Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the House, bashing her has been almost as popular a sport in this country as Heath Shuler's former occupation, professional football.

Ms. Pelosi, being Ms. Pelosi, will not go gently into the good night of power loss -- or any other night, for that matter. She recently published an OpEd piece in USA Today, touting accomplishments of her party. I gave up trying to read the 699 comments before I found one that I would describe as civil, let alone positive. They generally rose to the intellectual level of catcalls at a pole-dancing club.

Early this morning, it was announced that the Congressional Black Caucus will withhold its support of Ms. Pelosi's re-election.

Okay, I can look at the bills Ms. Pelosi rode herd through Congress and see why she is not admired by Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is simply too successful at her job. But Democrats? Wasn't it Nancy Pelosi who actually coaxed some really effective work out of the the long fractured Congressional Democratic Caucus? Do Democrats so hate being effective that they'll boot out a person capable of organizing them effectively in favor of a failed professional football player?

Writing in New York Magazine, Vanessa Grigoriadis says of Ms. Pelosi. . .
There’s a knee-jerk aspect to much of the criticism of Pelosi, of course, because she is the most powerful woman in U.S. political history—and we know what the problem is with that. But even to liberals, Pelosi can come across as shrill, strident, too rich. Humorless, odd, tone-deaf. She’s a kind of Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, imperious with her power and relishing her ability to attack ...
Hmmmm. As a woman who's worked for years in and around Old Boy turf, I want to ask Ms. Grigoriadis, since when was it a compliment to describe a Speaker of the House as soft-spoken, retiring, and poor? Anybody ever speak of Lyndon Johnson in those ways?

And here's what I want to ask you: Is it possible that Americans have simply startled themselves into some kind of conservative cultural panic by finding themselves led by a black President and a woman as Speaker of the House?

Charges of sexism and racism have, of course, been vigorously denied, but is it possible that people are to some extent profoundly uncomfortable with the new look of American leadership?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday at Walmart - by Jack Greer

Martha note: Today's blog post  came in third (as judged by Scott Simon) in WMRA's short, short story contest ...

Ralph hated seeing himself in the mirror. Mostly he didn’t think of himself, of how he looked. He was just himself, a big man with tattoos on his arms. One faded blue ribbon on his bicep said “Bonnie.” Maybe he thought he looked tough, his arms thick from years of construction work. But when he passed the mirror in the Home Living section he saw a man with a gut, plaid shirttail out, weekend whiskers going gray, teeth a little yellow. His hair looked matted.

In the main aisle three young women, college girls he guessed, picked out window shades for their dorm room or apartment. He watched them sideways. They did not have guts, or matted hair.

As he started toward the hardware section he found it hard to get the young women out of his mind, and he pretended to look for something in the main aisle so he could see them again, one with long dark braids, one with blond bangs cut short. Their feet were bare, pegged to flip-flops by single thongs between their toes.

Their toenails were pink or peach-colored.

It made him ache to see their feet.

He blinked hard and headed off to get a socket for a lamp that’d burned out. Bonnie had been after him for days to fix it.

Bonnie would be kneeling now, repeating after Pastor Luke. Pale-faced Pastor Luke. Ralph just couldn’t do that anymore. Bonnie said he was becoming an atheist. He was not. Truth was that day-by-day he was filling up with something. Like that benign tumor they cut from his pancreas Christmas before last. Benign. It was a beautiful word.

Overhead fluorescent tubes burned, white light. In this cavernous space everything gleamed — clothes on their racks, towels on their shelves, automotive gear, fishing poles, hammers, wrenches, plastic toys, storage trays, canned goods, jars of olives, frozen foods.

The Walmart was his church. It was where he came to get what he needed. Maybe Jesus would have come here on Sundays, he thought. As far as Ralph understood it, Jesus was a construction worker. That was all he needed to know.

He found the lamp parts and picked one, a shiny brass-colored barrel with a black plastic switch. Then he headed for the lawn and garden section. There, for the first time in his life, he bought a bird feeder and a sack of birdseed. He put them in the cart along with the lamp socket and some groceries from Bonnie’s list.

Even on Sunday morning lines formed at the register. He saw the college girls at the end of one, and he wheeled his cart behind them. From the magazine rack movie stars stared at him, at all the regular people standing in line with their debit cards and paltry bank accounts. When he looked up, he met the eyes of the girl with the long dark braids. She stood close. Her eyes, crystal clear, seemed almost green. She looked at him and then past him. A big unshaven man with a gut. A construction worker. She turned away, showed the back of her head.

When he got home he would stick the bird-feeder out back. They would watch as they grew older, he and Bonnie, watch birds fly through the air to land in their backyard. He would fly away one day, with the birds. Then he would know for certain that all of them — the college girls, the birds, himself, everyone at all the Walmarts everywhere — were God’s own creatures.
--Jack Greer and his family have a mountain cabin near Shenandoah, Virginia, where he goes whenever he can to write. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Power Surges by Elisabeth Gumnior

Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday . . .

illustration by Evette Gabriel

The bumper sticker is wrong. They’re definitely not power surges, even though I remember chuckling about the joke when I saw it the first time; but that was before I had real hot flashes. On a good day they are “my moment in the tropics,” or “my personal sauna heater kicking in.” On a bad day they are “fire flashes,” or “hell fevers.” At best they make me feel a bit be-dewed; at worst they suck the life right out of me. I have just lost an entire summer to these alleged power surges. I am a university professor; we are supposed to use our summers to do productive things like write articles and books. I have not even had the “power” to check my e-mails.

Much of my energy— since this most recent occurrence of hormonal imbalance started in mid-May—has gone into obsessing over my body temperature. When I am not experiencing hot flashes that either take my breath away or wrap my entire body in a sheet of sweat, I am experiencing severe chills. So ironically, I am actually cold most of the time. Every 20 to 40 minutes though, the temperature of my skin rises about 6 degrees Celsius (about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) in a matter of 5 to 15 seconds. In those moments, I seriously want to hurt the person who came up with that oh-so-witty bumper sticker. They most certainly are NOT power surges.

What I find really disconcerting about the line, “they are not hot flashes; they are power surges,” is the implicit “just grin and bear it” message that it communicates to women, and the “let’s make our women feel good about themselves, wink, wink” message that it conveys to men. Millions of women who, like me, experience this part of menopause as a truly debilitating condition, don't need patronizing slogans like that. But, unlike me, many women do not talk about the issue publicly (especially in mixed company) because it is still considered somewhat unseemly to do so. True, women are no longer locked away in asylums when they have gone quietly insane from the strains of menopause. But even the various outlets where women can share experiences and advice with each other keep the talk nicely contained and largely private.

However, all my manners and rhetorical savvy have gone out the window this summer, and anyone who has even casually asked me how I was doing has gotten the entire saga. Being vocal in this way has helped me maintain at least some of my equilibrium. And it has given me a mission: to generate real “em-power-ing” surges by drawing both women and men into open conversations about what women might experience during their 40s, 50s, and into their 60s.

At the suggestion of a friend I have started carrying collapsible fans with me. Not only do they make me feel more comfortable when the heat hits, they are also wonderful conversation starters. So, if you see me with my fan at the grocery store, Kline’s ice cream parlor, or the mall, let’s talk. Maybe I have an insight to share; maybe you have some advice for me. Maybe we can laugh together, or cry. Definitely, we can connect and have ourselves a power surge.
--Elisabeth Gumnior teaches Writing and Rhetoric at JMU

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Music Lessons by Ming Ivory

Martha note: Judge Scott Simon ranked Ming Ivory's story fourth among the many entries in WMRA's Short, Short Story Contest. Ming will read "Music Lessons" on-air today during the last segment of WMRA's Virginia Insight.

drawing by Jana Bouc

Between the ages of nine and thirteen, like many girls I was in the wrong key. I heard a brassy b-flat. But the string-starved orchestra teacher and my Dad conspired to put his Violin in my hand instead of valves. As I careened around the house, bows got caught in the doorjambs. They snapped in two, like dry kindling for Scout campfires, and hung ridiculously from their horsehairs. So did the ripped gathers of my dress all afternoon, after some boy had grabbed it in a game of dodge ball at recess.

How I’d chafed at my Dad’s tracking the flats and sharps from the next room, instead of the fine arc of a fly ball or a foul shot, or demonstrating pizzicato and slurs instead of pitching, a steal or a slide. By Junior High the boys had turned surly and sexist, and the girls began to practice incompetence and timidity. Gender anger ignited, lit by communities who merely beat time, or who played with matches. The teams segregated, sending the girls into eclipse, and the boys into sunshine so bright it blinded them. We wore uniforms with bows and sashes, played on courts and fields without crowds, discovering we were slightly out of tune.

Yet, it was playing with the orchestra at assemblies that could sometimes compensate for those great disappointments of the schools, the playgrounds and the pulpits. Part of a circle of notes and music, sharing the code written in clefs and incidentals, I was sheltered. I was not yet so angry with the world that the battered instrument cases snapping shut, the dog-eared music books, ripped and scribbled on, could not make defeats fade into the clear blue skies of crisp fall schooldays. At the bus stop, they were the mark of secret society.

As I grew up so many other projects and excitements, learning curves and misunderstandings accumulated over the years, that music was jettisoned with girlhood. So much occupied my mind, that for a while, the physical exertion of pass plays and lay-ups were a good full-measure rest from thought itself, even if the laughter of friends echoed off the concrete. I tasted colors and shapes, feasted on words and syntax and swallowed whole the patterns of complex functions, topology and semiotics. I left home, improvised, and repeated myself. Soon I was demanding perfection in all things, and became a spectator. The Boston Symphony or the Philadelphia; it had to be Major League, and I fell short. The clock was running out before I could score.

Then at sixty-one --the very age when his sudden death had robbed my Dad of the overtime he was due-- when I had become baffled by the accumulation of inheritance, achievement, and anger, a strange tintinitis began. The thought wafted faintly nostalgic on the crisp fall air: I could free myself from the marathon I’d been running, and take up the Violin again! And so here I am in my own house. My finger is bandaged from cutting a tomato too close. My back is sore from collecting the dead branches so the mower doesn’t pitch a dry twig and blind me. My glasses magnify that middle distance at which the notes dance on their ledger lines. I am taking delight again in the coded clefs. And when that triple play of tone, tempo, and technique combine in a sweet spot, my soul leaps to catch the fly, smack in the mitt, and my arm, relaxed and confident as it never was in my girlhood, beelines it home for the out, in perfect tune.

-- Ming Ivory is an Integrated Science and Technology professor at James Madison University. As to why she entered WMRA's short, short story contest ...
  ...when it comes to fiction, I'm a closet writer; I've written a lot, but not let much escape into the public square.   The piece I entered in the first [national] NPR contest was a fragment of something I'd written a little while back and thought I would expand into a much longer story or novel, but since I'd put it aside and never had gotten back to it, I had to edit it down to the 600 words.   
The limit of 600 really forced me to focus on what the arc of the action was going to be, and I found that I quite enjoyed the editing process! [like you said, to be a good writer you have to love the editing].  When James Wood mentioned my story on air as exhibiting "linguistic daring", I  got a big boost of confidence!  
When WMRA announced its contest, I thought "I can do that".  I wrote an entirely new piece. The size of the assignment caused me to focus on the architecture of the piece; how each image fits with the whole.  I had to be quite parsimonious about the action, and most of my time was spent editing:  changing words to intensify the metaphor, using more specific and descriptive words, and choosing which images to repeat.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The survival of the beloved . . .

This, for once, is an entirely personal essay, the musings of me, the woman in the picture to the left.

I went to work at WMRA during the waning days of the last century. Close association with the WMRA community has steadily increased both my affection and respect for my colleagues and the WMRA Community of Listeners. And, of course, my absolute, rock-solid belief in the journalistic integrity and educational value of NPR news.

We, the WMRA Community, have a big anniversary coming up this Friday: 35 years of having NPR news as part of our community conversation.

Tom DuVal, WMRA's fearless leader, put this in context recently in an e-mail to those of you who've signed up to get e-messages from us:
At high noon on November 12, 1975, WMRA blasted into the world of "public radio." 

The former 10-watt student-run station, reaching primarily the Madison College campus, fired up a 20,000 watt transmitter up on a mountain and began serving most of the Shenandoah Valley and some of the western Piedmont. 

Most importantly, WMRA became an affiliate of NPR, bringing All Things Considered to tens of thousands of Virginians for the first time.

Here are a couple of images to take you back there:


Times passes, people change (except Cher), and this public radio station has changed as well. WMRA has received steady support from James Madison University (who holds our license) and area businesses, and glorious support from listeners. We've grown pretty steadily, changed formats, struggled financially at times (including possibly now as we await possible funding cuts), added and subtracted programs. But, no matter what, I think WMRA has stuck to its stated mission -- informing us and engaging us in worthwhile conversation.

It's 7:32 in the morning, I'm admittedly half-awake, and the day has yet to begin to peck at me like so many hungry ducks. So, as this is an entirely personal essay, what am I feeling as I type this post?

Unabashedly proud to be part of a brave public radio community that's kept itself going for 35 years.

My own membership in the WMRA Community is what I'll really be celebrating, this Friday from 5 to 7 at the WMRA studios, 983 Reservoir Street in Harrisonburg. Won't you, as a fellow community member, join me?

As Tom D. promised in his e-mail, We'll cut the cake(s), give station tours, draw for prizes, maybe even insert your voice into a Car Talk "call!"

And, most of all, congratulate ourselves for being part of  WMRA's 35 years of broadcasting NPR news.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Empowering the Truth Police . . .

Former (and much-missed) WMRA staff member Randy Huwa sent me a link to the admittedly liberal Bill Maher's criticism of the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity.

Mr. Maher begins by saying ... 
If you’re going to have a rally where hundreds of thousands of people show up, you might as well go ahead and make it about something. If you really wanted to come down on the side of the sane and the reasonable, you’d side with the sane and the reasonable. And not pretend that the insanity is equally distributed between both parties. . . .
The Week Magazine, which offers commentary and analysis of the day's breaking news and current events as well as arts, had this to say about Mr. Maher's monologue :
Bill Maher took on Jon Stewart on his HBO show Friday night, attacking him for claiming during his Rally to Restore Sanity that there are extremists on both the Right and the Left. Liberals are not as "violent and cruel" as Right-wingers, Maher said, adding that a "big mistake of modern media" was the idea of "balance for balance's sake." Stewart's parallels between Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck were particularly egregious, said Maher, when "one reports facts, the other one is very close to playing with his poop."
Alex Moore, writing for Death and Taxes Magazine, also had some thoughts about what Mr. Maher had to say ...
...In any dynamic relationship, compromise only works if both parties commit equally to finding common ground. Two sides working together to find middle ground is called a win-win. One side working to compromise while the second unctuously takes advantage of the other’s readiness to compromise is called delusion. It’s a lesson President Obama illustrated handily over the last two years, as every inch of compromise he offered found him yanked yet another foot from his goals.
Maher continued, “Republicans keep staking out a position that is further and further right, and then demand Democrats meet them in the middle, which is now not the middle anymore. That’s the reason health care reform is so watered down; it’s Bob Dole’s old plan from 1994. Same thing with cap-and-trade; it was the first President Bush’s plan to deal with carbon emissions. Now the Republican plan for climate change is to claim it’s a hoax.”
Sometimes to stand on the side of not arguing is simply to have nothing worth arguing for. If progressives had always felt this impulse to equivocate, we may never have had a civil war, but the compromise would have created a deeply compromised society and country. ...Allowing conservatives to characterize Muslims as terrorists just because you don’t want anyone at the debate table to be wrong is to condone bigotry, period...
We have just been through an election which stank of well-funded mendacity. I stood daily on my Elliptical Throne at the gym, marveling at the number of political ads that contained outright lies. Why would anyone listen to this, I asked myself, let alone let it inform one's vote?

And yet, evidently, people did listen and did let these ads inform their votes.

Is Mr. Maher right in asserting that well-informed people, in their struggle to be fair, collude in the marketing of mendacity? For example, he makes the point that he doesn't care what pundits have to say about climate change, he cares about what climate scientists have to say about it; implying that anyone who treats politicians' and pundits' denial of climate change as a legitimate "side" to the argument, is not helping solve the problem.

If our current political system is increasingly fueled by ignorance and fear, how can we effectively insert accurate information and hope into it? How can we empower the Truth Police?

We cannot afford to just throw up our hands with disgust and let loose another blast of snarky comments. Blowing off verbal steam is just a scant step above lying in its uselessness.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughts on E-tiquette. . . and a scone recipe

Last week I was invited to sit in with Massanutten Regional Library Assistant Director Lora Rose's class on social media. As the Library conference room was being used for something else, we convened in the basement of Clementine Cafe* across the street, which frequently provides shelter to community groups in need of a place to meet.

The class was offered by JMU's Lifelong Learning Institute, which meant all 25 members were over 50. As WMRA's blogger-in-chief and Facebook Friend Wrangler, I was asked to talk about social media and journalism, but the class quickly became more about social media and how its presence is reweaving the fabric of society -- retooling how we communicate with each other.

Members of that LLI class seemed genuinely alarmed at the behavior of grandchildren who choose to text and tweet at family gatherings rather than converse. And grown sons and daughters were no better, working away on smart phones instead of interacting with people, in the room, they were supposed to care about.

The class and I ended up gently confronting today's dominant societal change: People are communicating differently.

Yet even such sweeping, fundamental change, I argued, is still just change: It is not evil incarnate. Rudeness is rudeness, and  E-rudeness is rife. Those of us who work awash in social media are well aware that we desperately need to figure out how to keep it from becoming anti-social media.

As someone who came of age in the late Sixties, I don't expect society to adjust smoothly to change. We still have to work out what, exactly, constitutes E-rudeness: the E-quivalent of talking with your mouth full or blasting the entire neighborhood with your stereo. I was interested to see that "PottyMouth," JMU's toilet cubicle door newsletter, has been suggesting ways to contain your texting, tweeting, and cell-phoning so as not to have your private E-life become publicly offensive.

I wanted to challenge those 25 folks gathered in Clementine Cafe's basement, however, not just to sit in the corner and huff when they found themselves mixing with the E-generation. Why not, I asked, be curious about these sweeping changes, rather than alarmed by them? Why not take the leap toward meeting the E-generation where they live by asking a grandchild to help you set up a Facebook page, or --  hello -- texting your grown daughter as she struggles through her professionally e-harassed day?

The point I wanted to make was that E-change is happening and we all must either embrace it or our social circles will get pretty durn small.

You got  any ideas on E-rudeness, E-manners, E-tiquette?

Now, about those scones. . . .

Mike Moak, who is in the Social Media class, passed out some home-made scones the day I joined them. Ever alert when scones are involved, I asked him to send me the recipe. 

Here 'tis
Mike's FALL (all over me) SCONES
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
You will need:    1 pkg. 17.5 oz. oatmeal cookie mix
                          1 large egg
                          3 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil
                          2/3 cup canned pumpkin
                          6 oz. chopped walnuts (or nuts of your choice)
                          7 oz. pkg. SunMaid mixed fruit, or cranberries or apricots (you will need to chop these into to small pieces).
Time to "git" messy :
                          Mix together cookie mix, egg, oil and pumpkin. Fold in nuts and fruit.
                          Using a regular dinner spoon, spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. (Should make 18 to 24 scones)     
                          Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes (longer if needed, check the edges).
                          Remove from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes. Remove to wire rack and allow to cool.
Serving suggestions: Black coffee, tea with lemon, vanilla or pumpkin ice cream, butterscotch dip or glass of milk for the younger generation. If you are bold (or old), try it with Amaretto, neat. 
I tried these on Saturday, and would offer a tweak or two. I'd add cinnamon to the cookie mix, and cut maybe 1/3 cup butter (in lieu of oil) into this, as though you were making biscuits or pastry. Then I'd mix pumpkin and egg together and lightly toss it with the buttery mix, folding in some raisins and nuts last (being careful not to break-down the butter bits).  I really, really liked using pumpkin as the moistener.

                                                                                                                                    *also a WMRA supporter

Friday, November 5, 2010

My "Green" Chemical Sidekicks by Bruce Dorries

Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday . . .

A caution-yellow, Scorpion brand sprayer squats in a dark corner of our barn, waiting for another dose of poison.

It will be a long cease fire until unwanted aliens -- ivies, trees, and grasses, even roses – attack again next spring. Then, I’ll reload the plastic backpack with herbicides. Their names read like fragments from John Wayne western titles: Round Up, Milestone, Cimarron, Grazon, Sidekick, Crossbow, Rodeo, and Plateau.

Marketers know how to hit their target. They got me.

Spraying deadly liquid labeled with macho names is a guilty pleasure for some conservationists, myself included. Deep-green purists argue that chemical users should be run out of town. This feud between environmentalists, to spray or not to spray, can get as sticky as the dog days of summer. The division stretches back to a dark history -- think Silent Spring, and the chemical industry’s fall from grace.

Herbicide use raises prickly questions: can we restore balance to ecosystems using unnatural means to fight unwanted invaders? And there’s a larger quandary: whether or not to increase ag yields by employing synthetic mean to kill “weeds.” "How else can you feed the world?" ask the mainstream producers.

Thorny questions, indeed.

Which brings us back to my sidekick sprayer, “The Green Scorpion.”

From managing a few acres in the Shenandoah Valley as lifestyle farmer, I’ve learned that the sprayer and he-man herbicides prove great partners in a pinch. Conscientious farmers and conservation pros taught me this. Much as I admire folks who toe the line on strict organic standards, I don't have the time, money, muscle or machinery to get the work done that way.

Traditional tools of farming and land management -- the plow, fire, and axe -- fall short in the battle against alien species. In these parts, as in much of rural America, middle class landowners have little choice. We must resort to chemical warfare.

We combat aggressive invaders imported during the past centuries by immigrants from Mother England, the Old Countries, the Far East, as well as south and north of the border. Bureaucrats brought in exotics, too….good intentions with disastrous consequences.

Left alone, native plants wouldn't have let invasives in. But homo sapiens gave exotics free reign over a continent, opened by the plow and dozer, as well as a lack of mindfulness….

Today, the spread of alien species has become a global problem that threatens plant and animal diversity, and, ultimately, ecosystem sustainability. Including on our 33 acres in Augusta County.

The truth stings…. My posse of corporate-labeled sidekicks -- a.k.a.:

Arsenal, Ally, Oust, Outrider, Path Finder, Razor Pro, Reward, and…Redeem…are, my best allies against invasives. These herbicides can, when used correctly, help beat back the exotics – those aggressive interlopers just itching to take over a country mile when given an inch.

Invaders are stampeding across the land, but we can still restore a semblance of balance to nature -- with skillfully applied chemical help.

Now…where’d I put that jug of Honcho Plus?

 -- Bruce Dorries teaches at Mary Baldwin College. He was named 2010 Conservation Educator of the Year for Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Post-election thoughts on Phyllis Schlafly, Tea Parties, and our American future . . .

Tom Swogger, a.k.a. Swogdog, runs an interesting Wikispace on which I found the American flag logo (pictured left), and the following concise take on Betty Friedan's motivation for writing The Feminine Mystique.

Women's Liberation 
  • Women started admitting they felt "a sense of dissatisfaction" being housewives.
  • The "housewife's syndrome" was characterized by a mixture of frustration and exhaustion.
  • "Queen For A Day" TV show found unhappy women, and based on their situation, treated the most unlucky like a queen for a day, and then gave this woman cosmetics and appliances, because they were considered to be the necessary supplies for them to be a better housewife.
  • Betty Friedan was one viewer of the show who was unhappy with her life as a housewife, and began to question other women, and to realize it was a common problem.
  • In 1963 Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, which answered the question that she continually asked, "Why were American women so discontented?"
P. Schlafly (Getty)
Second Wave Feminism erupted post haste, culminating in the Equal Rights Amendment being passed by Congress in 1972, and being ratified  by 35 of the 38 states necessary to make it an official amendment of  the U.S.Constitution.

At that point the ERA ran smack into Phyllis Schlafly and her well-organized battalions of  formerly apolitical homemakers. Ms. Schlafly effectively sold these women on the idea that their familiar (although legally subservient) position in society was threatened by guaranteed equality. She convinced millions of homemakers and their husbands that the passage of the ERA meant they would no longer control their own family life.

Ms. Schlafly's strategy worked.  That effort to pass an Equal Rights Amendment finally died in 1982. It was one of fear-mongering's finest political hours.

Zooming up to the present . . .

Look at that sign in the photograph to the right, "Preserve The Family, Our Heritage." Haven't I seen similar at recent political rallies as well? Who cares that there's no consensus on what family and heritage mean, they are terms with which we're comfortable and familiar. They don't scare us, by asking us to deal with the real world today as it really is.

2010 political sign
I think it's pretty clear that frightened Americans voted in droves on Tuesday, sweeping back into power in the House the leadership they voted out four years ago as having gotten us into the mess we're struggling to get out of. We voted our fear of this mess four years ago, and we voted our fear of this mess again last Tuesday. Different takes on what to be afraid of, perhaps; but fear is fear is fear.

Fear appears to be a highly effective motivator in American politics. So here, it seems to me, is today's challenge for those of us who deplore fear-mongering: We've got to quit condescending and carping and criticizing, and come up with something realistic and useful that's as practically marketable to a majority of American as fear. If we want leaders who practice informed, dispassionate decision-making, we have to find a way to make such tactics seem as cozy and comfortable as "family" and "heritage."

One  problem, of course, is that embracing these kinds of leaders requires us to  do some responsible, informed thinking, which is a lot of work. Embracing fear-mongers, on the other hand, requires nothing but . . . well . . .being afraid.

Any ideas?

By the way, back in 2007 there were rumblings of a new attempt at passing an Equal Rights Amendment . . .