Thursday, December 27, 2007

The West Virginia Uglies


I think that Charleston is a pretty city. From some vantage points it is a beautiful city. The postcard- esque, if somewhat cliche, view from Cantley Drive (Fort Hill) is classic, and the view from Sunrise is nearly as nice. I really enjoy the view from the YMCA road off Hillcrest Drive, but the view of the town is fleeting as you round the curve near the top of the hill.

One of the reasons our city is so pretty is the massive amounts of vegetation that grows in and around town (this is also why people suffer so badly with seasonal allergies around here). The vegetation, especially the leaves on the deciduous trees, provides a beautiful green backdrop to the man-made portions through most of the year, and then it really comes to life in the fall.

But from late November through mid-April that backdrop changes, and it changes for the worse. In fact, the whole region loses much of its appeal as the leaves fall to the ground, leaving behind the skeletons that invisibly support them throughout most of the year. The green hills turn an ugly shade of gray, the ground turns muddy brown and the whole character of the landscape changes from cheery to dreary. I've heard people call this time of year "The West Virginia Uglies."

I'm sure that there are folks who like the change, but I do not count myself among them. I guess the best thing I could say about it is that the "Uglies" at least provide the contrast that helps us appreciate the amazing transformation that happens around us in the springtime. But that is really stretching optimism to its limits. It's just ugly. And it lasts too long.

Of course, a nice blanket of snow can really cover up the ugly and make the city look presentable for a while, but the snow comes with its own stress: Bad roads, shoveling walks and driveways, etc. Then when the snow begins to melt it is even uglier.

Can someone put in an order for an early spring?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Xmas Wishes


I don't like Christmas. That's not exactly true; I like Christmas as it should be, but I despise it as it is. If Christmas would begin on the evening of December 24th and wrap up at bed time on the 25th I could be a real fan. But the excess it has become is offensive to me, and I therefore quite involuntarily maintain a chronic state of crotchetiness throughout the month of December.

You know that Dr. Suess story about the big green thing that stole Christmas? I hate that story: The ending is so tragic. The Grinch, a creature with what I think is a perfectly understandable attitude toward the foolishness of Christmas, ultimately gets wooed by the sappy and sentimental Whos and is brainwashed into joining the party. I see this story as a parable or myth that explains why all humanity loses its collective freaking mind for the entire month of December every year. We all, I believe, are naturally like the Grinch. We can see the folly and meaninglessness in the obligatory giving and receiving of gifts. We all recognize that we only do it because Madison Avenue says it's what we should do. Everyone, if asked in the right way and in the right time (at least every sane person) will admit that Christmas is overblown and far too commercial. Some people, like the Grinch, resist the hyperbole for a while but then they are finally seduced by the materialism, the orgy of excess that is Christmas in America. We end up holding hands with all the other inmates in the asylum, circling the tree and singing "Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas, come this way!"

So now that we've established the fact that I'm not a fan of the holiday, allow me to wax maniacally and share with you some specific things I dislike the most about it:

First of all, I don't like the way that Christians have commercialized this nice quiet little pagan festival and turned it into something it isn't. If I were a pagan I'd be really pissed: They had a perfectly good party for centuries until all of the sudden it gets the incarnation of a deity ascribed to it and it gets blown all out of proportion.

Now before you start the flames, hear me out: I'm a Christian and I know how sensitive people are about this subject, but those people are mostly idiots. They get bent out of shape about things that they simply don't understand. Their outrage is usually fueled by some completely uneducated preacher or talk show host who has told them they should be offended if someone wishes them "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." They take this righteous indignation to the streets and strike out at the infidels who threaten to "take Christ out of Christmas." They frequently lash out at people who say or write "Xmas," thereby proving their ignorance. If they studied their own church history they would recognize that the "X" is an ancient way of writing the name of Christ, and using it this way actually is a more respectful way of ascribing His name to this holiday than calling it "Christmas" since that name has taken on a completely secular meaning (or so says the supreme court of the United States). Using the X as a monogram for Jesus Christ is a sign of reverence for the deity of Christ since it embraces the spirit of the Jewish prohibition against using the name of God; recognizing that God can't be understood or labeled with human words.

Then there are those people on the other side who invoke the tired old "Jesus wasn't born on December 25th" argument which is equally as stupid. It's metaphorical of another thing I despise about this holiday: That it provokes more religious intolerance than any other thing in our culture. Secularists and atheists take great joy in trying to use the occasion to ridicule the beliefs of Christians. No one with a brain thinks that Jesus was born in December: The reason that The Nativity is celebrated in December has nothing to do with the lunar calendar, but the church calendar which uses a year-long cycle to portray the entire life, death and resurrection of Christ. I won't go into it here, but you folks who want to use this argument should understand that any Christian that has a brain already understands this: It's arguing apples and oranges. Enough already.

But there are more than enough things to dislike about the holiday without even bringing up religion. I've used popular Christmas songs and carols to help put them into some kind of order:

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! - This is a lie on several fronts: First, weather-wise, Christmas just happens to fall a few days after the first day of winter. This means we get to go out and and freeze ourselves to death buying presents we can't afford, that nobody needs and only a few people (most under the age of 17) even want. It's also the most hectic time of the year, filled with way too many activities, too much travel, too many calories and far too many expectations that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year and we had better by golly enjoy ourselves.

Silent Night, Holy Night - Most Christmas memories from my youth are of loud obnoxious relatives crowded into a too small house with their kids screaming, first "When can we open our presents?", then screaming about their presents or screaming while they played with them.

The Twelve Days of Christmas - What I wouldn't give if Christmas were limited to 12 days! The current Christmas season begins shortly before Halloween, when Wal Mart opens their Xmas department. Christmas music CDs usually begin to advertised for sale in about mid-November. Of course, Thanksgiving Day (a day that used to be set aside for reflecting on one's blessings) is now the official start of Christmas shopping season.

I'll Be Home for Christmas - Let's be honest: There is nothing more stressful for parents and children than being forced to be cooped up in the house with each other pretending that they want to be together for hours on end. Add grandparents, aunts, uncles and in-laws and you have a recipe for disaster. With this kind of pressure even the best families can find themselves on an episode of "Cops."

O Christmas Tree - Imagine yourself, if you can, as an alien from another planet who lands on earth at Christmas time. You know nothing about the culture and practices of the people. Now, try to understand why anyone would cut down a perfectly good tree, bring it inside where it will become tinder-dry in a matter of days and then string electric wires all over it? Oh, and don't forget to put bunch of paper underneath for kindling!

Joy to the World - Yeah, right.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coach Rod Adds to Our Fatalistic Self-View

It's legendary. No, not the football program at the University of Michigan, I'm speaking of what might be the single most important dynamic of our shared Appalachian psyche: Our fatalism. And this fatalism is best seen in world of sports fanaticism. Ask any WVU Mountaineer Football fan tomorrow after the news spreads about the defection of our beloved native son, Rich Rodriguez, to greener football pastures. They will be answering in platitudes and cliche`s that are chock full of fatalism.

Rather than expound on it here, let me point you all in the direction of a great post on the subject over at The Jacknut Chronicles.

So long, Coach Rod: We knew you'd be leaving eventually. Nothing good ever lasts for us.

Friday, November 23, 2007

See This Show!


The Contemporary Youth Arts Company opened the eleventh edition of Scarpelli and Kehde's rock opera "Mary" on Friday at the Capitol Theatre. The play will continue with performances on Saturday and Sunday this weekend and then Thursday - Saturday next weekend. If you have never seen it you should. If you have seen it before, see it again! It's a great show with some very talented young actors. It is a Charleston original and a Christmas tradition for many around town.

This year's show features 16 year-old Liz McCormick for the second consecutive year as Mary. She is an unbelievable talent with a voice that is far better than a 16 year-old ought to have. Her vocal performance alone is worth the price of admission, but there are at least a dozen other talented singing and dancing kids supporting her.

Tickets are 9:50 at the door, 5.50 for students and adults.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Defense of Leaf Blowers

Several years ago my stepfather bought himself a new leaf blower. There was nothing wrong with his old one, he just always liked to have the best, newest and shiniest toys on the block, so when a new model came out he bought it. I inherited the old one.

I had never owned a leaf blower before. I never thought I needed one. My yard is rather small and it seemed silly to me to spend the money on an appliance that I would probably use one day per year. But after using my new toy one time I was hooked. "I'm never raking leaves again," I thought. This thing not only blows the leaves effortlessly into a large pile, it also then reverses to a mulching vacuum that sucks up the leaves and deposits them into a waiting receptacle, in my case a 30 gallon trash can. You can fit 100 gallons of leaves into the 30 gallon can because of the chopping and compression effect of the vacuum. Then I can carry the can full of half-digested leaves to my compost pile. It made quick and easy work of a boring and laborious job.

So I was telling someone today that I was going to blow my leaves this weekend was completely surprised by her response: "You have a leaf blower?" She asked in an accusing tone of voice.

"Yes", I replied sheepishly, not sure of why she seemed to think this to be a bad thing. So I asked her, "what's wrong with leaf blowers?"

"Why, leaf blowers are bad for the environment!" she said with a note of disdain.

"They are?" I asked. "Why are they bad for the environment?" The only salient point she made in opposition was that it was bad to suck up your leaves, put them into trash bags and then sent them to a landfill.

"But, I put mine in a compost pile!" I protested. She didn't care. The judge had already convicted me.

But being a man of principle and interested in environmental matters, I decided that I would rake my leaves today instead of using the evil leaf blower. After a couple of hours of raking, though, I began to develop a case in defense of the maligned power tool.

Googling "leaf blowers bad for the environment" yields quite a few arguments against leaf blowers. Here are a few. I do not know if these are the ones that my friend was thinking about, but apparently these are pretty common. I'll offer my refutation after each point:

Blowers use fossil fuel needlessly. My leaf blower is electric powered. Sure, it does require some coal-fired produced electricity to operate, but if I turn off my lights and TV while I'm using it, it's probably about a wash.

The American Lung Association says that a leaf blower causes as much smog as 17 cars. As much smog as 17 cars? OK, this is just silly. I'm not even going to respond to this one.

A study of 9535 workers exposed to noise greater than 85dB with modern hearing protection programs indicates that 34% had noise-induced hearing loss. Fourteen percent had severe hearing loss. (The September 2003 CONSUMER REPORTS indicates that very few brands of leaf blowers emit less than 90dB to the person using them.) Granted they are noisy, but I have a dog that lives next door to me who barked the entire time I was raking leaves. His bark is much louder than my leaf blower.

A German study indicates that cardiac patients have a 25% greater chance on hearth attacks in environments that were persistently exposed to noise above 65 decibels. According to the September 2003 CONSUMER REPORTS very few brands of leaf blowers are less than 65 dB at 50 feet. There is a cardiac patient that lives next door to me, but he's further than 50 feet away so I don't think I'm endangering him too much.

A Japanese study of 1000 babies produced evidence of high proportion of low-weight babies in noisy areas. OK, I am pretty sure there are no pregnant Japanese women in my neighborhood.

And then there is that bagged leaf argument already admitted as evidence above, and rendered moot by my composting.

Now it's my turn to go after the rake users:

Blisters - What about all of the oil used in the production of the ointments and antibiotics thatI need for my hands? And the packaging? And the fuel used to produce it and transport it to Rite Aid? Treating my blisters is bad for the environment.

Aching Muscles - I know that tomorrow I am going to be paying the price for my labor. I'll have to break out the Icy Hot. That would mean a whole other list of petrochemicals and resident energy it took to produce and deliver it, but enough is enough. I'll tough it out for the sake of the Northern Water Shrew.

Electricity - Since the raking took me until after dark to complete, I had to turn on the floodlights in the back yard to see what I was doing. I felt guilty using the several hundred watts that it took for the hour or so to finish up, but at least I wasn't using a leaf blower.

Wear and Tear on the Lawn - Who knows how much money, time and chemicals I'm going to have to spend on my lawn next spring to repair the damage that the rake did, tearing out the grass by the roots.

All in all, I think the environmental impact of my leaf blowing would be difficult to measure and prove worse than say, the impact of smoking a cigarette or two a few times a month.

I think I'm keeping my leaf blower, thank you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hat Tip to a Great Blog

I could count on one hand the number of times I've been tempted to write a post about another blog, but this is overdue.

I want to thank Lawrence Messina for his work on "Lincoln Walks at Midnight", the premier W. Va. political information source on the internet. I can't imagine how he comes up with so many ideas and so much information, but I'm glad he does. With the start of the legislative session just a couple of month away I am thankful for "Lincoln Walks" and feel confident that I will be far ahead of the curve when the political hay begins to fly in January.

You know, sometimes when I read "LWAM" I feel like I'm stealing. The amount of great information and excellent writing you get there for free is better than any source I know of regardless of the price.

Great Job Lawrence! Keep it up.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Malik Shabazz is in da' hizzouse!

It's always great when a World Class troublemaker makes an appearance in our fair city. Because of the horrific Megan Williams kidnapping and torture case in Logan County, Malik Shabazz has decided to come and bring his bad news brethren to Charleston for a protest march this weekend. The Daily Mail has an informative article in today's edition about his exploits.

The really sad thing about the way Shabazz is going about his hate-mongering is that he has decided to defame members of the Black Ministerial Alliance by accusing them of accepting bribes from Danny Jones to stay out of Shabazz's circus event this weekend. Anyone who knows the leaders of the BMA knows what an absurdity this claim is. A few facts to help the uninitiated understand just how absurd it is :

The Black Ministerial Alliance is the only ministerial association currently active in Charleston (the Charleston Ministerial Association disbanded during the 1972 textbook controversy and never got started again). Over the years it has been a strong and progressive voice in human rights issues and has been at the forefront of neighborhood issues on the East End and the West Side. They have never been on the right side of the fence, politically, with City government - seemingly preferring the role of the prophetic voice of opposition to a myriad of City initiatives that they saw as oppressive.

The current president of the BMA, Rev. Lloyd Alan Hill, has been constantly in the face of the last two administrations over several East End issues. He is no friend of Danny Jones and would never accept anything from him that would somehow obligate himself or his organization. Knowing Rev. Hill as I do, I would expect if such an offer was made that he would immediately organize a press conference to expose the Mayor. He is a man of honor and principle. He has a checkered past, to be sure, but anyone who knows him now understands who he is.

Other members of the BMA like Rev. James Ealy, Rev. Robert Davis and Ron Thaxton (who, by the way, is Caucasian and for some folks is the reason that the BMA is suspect in this case) are also strong leaders who would never abide with political shenanigans such as the ones Shabazz alleges.

Late today, the NAACP announced that they would also not be participating or supporting the march.

It's a shame that some folks will be seduced by the fame of Shabazz and Sharpton and participate in this march that has more potential to hurt than to heal. Megan Williams will be no better off at the end of this march. The cause of racism will surely be advanced by the negative feelings that result from the press coverage. It's a lose/lose for our city.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How Big is MTR Mining?

I've been on several recent flights out of Charleston's Yeager Airport to various points south. Most of these depart early in the morning while it's still pretty dark, but on one return flight a few weeks ago I was able to get a good look at one of the largest Mountain Top Removal mine site I've seen. People who know tell me it's the Hobet mine near Danville. Here's what it looks like on Google Earth:
Now, here is the same view but with an outline added to define the extremities of the site:
While you can tell it's big, this view lacks any reference points from which you can draw a sense of scale. So let me take the outline off the picture, rotate it a little and plop it down on a picture shot in the same scale of something more recognizable to most of us.


That's the city of Charleston. This MTR sight covers an area that would stretch from the Yeager Bridge on the W.Va. Turnpike to the Patrick Street Bridge, and is wide enough to encompass the whole valley floor, the West Side Hill, and most of South Hills.

You can make up your own mind about how this makes you feel. Please post your comments.

Friday, October 19, 2007

From the "I Can See It Coming From A Mile Away" Department...

I wondered what the excavation equipment was doing in front of the Clay Center when I passed by yesterday. This article in the Gazette solved the mystery. They are moving ahead with the first phase of the landscaping plan that will provide a softer look to the large sterile front lawn, and part of that plan is for a bunch of low granite seatwalls that will "give schoolchildren that extra place to sit and eat their lunch."

I don't it takes a rocket scientist to see what is going to happen soon after the project is completed.

Remember Slack Plaza? Remember how Mayor Jones, tired of the rabble sitting around on the low seatwalls there had "loafer rails" installed to make it less comfortable for people to sit on them? Then he had the shade-providing trees cut down to make it less hospitable. Have we forgotten? It was only last year.

I would like to remind us all that the Clay Center is located less than two blocks from three homeless facilities, soon to be four with the addition of the new veteran's shelter. Once the landscaping plan is finished there will be dozens of homeless folks who will want to use the nice shady area as their daytime gathering area. I don't blame them; it looks like it will be a nice place to sit and relax.

But how long will it be before people will complain about the large gathering of homeless people on the corner that will serve as the primary gateway entrance to the city? How long will it be before those school children are denied the use of the seating because of the homeless patrons who claimed it first?

How long will it be before the Clay Center calls up the Mayor to ask him where they can buy loafer rails and chainsaws?

Why are Clay Center leaders so oblivious to issues in our city and out-of-phase with City government? Are they really that "pie-in-the-sky" in their planning processes?

Years ago in the "B.C." cartoon series, B.C. was often shown leaning on a rock that had the word "Answers" scrawled on the front. Other characters would come and ask questions and he would provide a snappy answer. In one cartoon Peter asks B.C "What makes you think you're so smart?", to which B.C. replied, "Your questions." That's kind of how I feel about this blog - "why do I think I am qualified to make criticisms of the Clay Center's and City government decisions?" Well, it's simply because they keep making me feel smart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not in HIS Backyard!

According to the story in the Gazette, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Mark A. Toor and Allyn Turner against the Rae of Hope Fellowship, an East End women's shelter. The suit claims that residents of the shelter have created a nuisance and the plaintiffs are seeking to have it shut down.

There is more to this story than meets the eye. Much more.

If you have casually followed the story in the paper, you might know that Mr. Toor was the subject of a court order to stay off of the shelter's property. He also failed to appear in court in the matter and was fined $500.

So now Mr. Toor and his wife, both lawyers, have decided to escalate the fight and use their their legal expertise and contacts to try to force the shelter from its home.

Mr. Toor is a legal manager at Legal Aid, which makes it sound like he's one of the good guys. After all, Legal Aid is all about helping the poor, powerless and needy with legal assitance. It would follow that the people who work there are kind, compassionate souls who are altruistic in all their endeavors, right?
But a quick Google search reveals that Mr. Toor spent time laboring as a corporate attorney for coal industry interests. Turner works for the WV Coal Association. Not that makes them bad people, but in the culture of Left vs. Right we find ourselves living in where every person's actions are judged on where they stand ideologically and politically, it is interesting that the industry that is most often seen as the villian by West Virginian liberals is where these two lawyers made a lot of money. And now it seems they are showing their true Snidely Whiplash colors and foreclosing on the family farm because it has inconvenienced them.

If I were in charge of public relations or the Coal Association, I would not want these two employees pursuing this suit.

But this is really nothing new. All over the country there are examples of people, quite often lawyers, doing their dead-level best to get shelters, housing projects and social service agencies thrown out of their homes because they make neighborhoods less perfect. We can't have all of THOSE people milling about outside our Victorian fixer-upper when we have our wine and cheese receptions, can we? The concept is called NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. Every housing agency and social service agency deals with it every day.

A few years ago, a friend shared with me this little parable he wrote. He intended to send it to the Charleston Gazette as an op-ed piece but decided against it because he knew it would ruffle too many feathers on City Council and he sometimes has to deal with them. So it has sat on my computer hard drive all these years waiting on a blog where it could be posted in anonymity. I thought about it as I read this story, and thought it's high time it was published:


Somewherelse

Driving through Charleston's East End recently, I suddenly had an epiphany: There truly are too many social service agencies located in that area. Driving past Sojourner's I realized what a horrible shame it is that we have taken a perfectly good old building and have turned it into the eyesore that it is. Just think, if we had left it alone the 1500 block of Washington be a much more historical-looking neighborhood - just like the 1600 and 1700 blocks.

Yes! History! That's what we should strive for! As the buildings
begin to rot away we should rebuild them to original standards, using as much lead-based paint and asbestos as we can lay our hands on! We should make any new residential buildings in the area three or four thousand square feet with 10 foot tall ceilings. Of course, all of this cubic feet would require more energy, but it's a small price to pay. After all, we're talking history.

But I digress…

In the past few years I have noticed that City Council Persons from the West Side, from the East End, from North Charleston and South Hills, not to mention Kanawha City and the Elk River area (did I miss any?), have all expressed their resistance to having Social Service Agencies located in their wards. In so many community meetings I have attended I have heard these council representatives go to bat for their constituencies to keep "shelters", "soup kitchens" and other such pesky
organizations out of their neighborhoods. I have heard time and time again that social service agencies and their activities drive down real estate prices and drive up crime rates.

Social service agencies have their place, and surprisingly it's the only thing that everyone seems to agree on. The name of this place is "Somewherelse." I can't seem to find this place on any map, but
I know it exists because so many people agree that's where the social service agencies should be located. It sounds perfect, because from what people say about it no matter what you do there, property values will not be affected. Obviously inhabited by a very compassionate people, no one who lives in Somewherelse is bothered by the idea of poor people being visible in their neighborhood. The land must be very flat and the soil conditions must be ideal for construction, because according to the people who seem to know, anything can be built cheaper Somewherelse.

Affordable housing (which everyone knows is code for "low income housing projects") could be built very effectively in Somewherelse because that's where poor people want to live since it's close to all the social service agencies. Small, simple houses built with maintenance free exteriors like vinyl siding are simply not compatible with the historical look we want in our neighborhood, but it will fit in perfectly with a Somewherelse neighborhood.

As I said before, I don't know where Somewherelse is, so I haven't been there. But from what people say it sounds like everyone has enough to eat, everyone receives proper medical care, and everyone who gets sleepy at night has a place to sleep. Because there is job training and inexpensive housing being built by the non-profit builders that weren't allowed to build anywhere else, people can afford to own their homes making the neighborhood more stable. Sounds to me like a nice place to live; If you like that sort of thing.

I hope the citizenry of Somewherelse doesn't get fed up with every one else sending their poor and downtrodden to their community. If that happens, they might begin to resist the influx of social service agencies. The good news is that if that happens, we can always move them to Anotherplace.

Let's see…does anyone know where that is on the map?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Enjoy Your Hair, Teddy! The Slogan is Right!

This sign makes me crack up every time I see it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I Don't Mean to Harp on Andy, but....

OK, I listen for maybe 10 minutes a day every day. This happens on my morning commute. Some days when I have other places to be or have to run out for an errand I'll listen a bit longer. Once in a while - a very rare while unfortunately - some caller or guest will be talking about something interesting when I get out of my car and I'll turn on the radio when I get in the office. So having properly qualified myself as a minimal listener, I will now begin my rant:

Andy, you are not Rush Limbaugh. You can't carry the show with a long-winded tirade about how evil Democrats and Liberals are. No one listening to local talk radio wants to hear you do 10 - 15 minutes every morning on Hillary or John Edwards. PLEASE! GET ON TO SOMETHING INTERESTING! To US!

Here's an idea: Talk about a local issue without trying to reduce it to partisan politics. Maybe Dave Hardy has a good idea or has done something good, even though he is a Democrat. Maybe there are things that happen every day that are really worthy of discussion even though by discussing them it might make a liberal sound like a human being. Just maybe there are things that happen in our community that have absolutely no partisan meaning. Open the newspaper, for Pete's sake!

I know you are challenged when it comes to speaking to our local audience because you are not from around here, but maybe you can get someone (other than Kent Carper) that is local to call in and talk about something, anything of interest!

Why do I listen if I don't like it? Because I like talk radio, God forgive me, and Andy is the closest thing to local talk we have left.

I'm begging. Really.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Parent of the Year Nomination

Scene: A High School football game at Laidley Field on Saturday night.

The Cast:
Me - An Observer
The Mother - Maybe 30 years old.
The Mother's Friend - A Little older.

The Story: It is an exciting game. Early in the 2nd quarter the home team is ahead but the visitors are threatening to close the gap. A real nail-biter. The Mother obviously has a son on the team and she is really into the cheering, especially when her son is on the field. She screams very loudly and very enthusiastically, and very annoyingly to everyone around her.

Suddenly, over the PA system: "There is a 4 year old child wearing a Spiderman shirt who has been separated from his parents. If this could be your child, please report to the stadium office."

The Mother - looking around: "Where is Chris? Have you seen Chris?"
The Mother's Friend: "I don't know. He was right up there. (points to the top of the stadium). I don't see him now."
Mother - returns to cheering: "Go Offense! Take that ball down the field!"
Friend: "You think that could be Chris they're talking about?"
Mother: "No, they said he's 4. Chris is 5."
Friend: "Didn't he have a Spiderman shirt on?"
Mother: "I don't know. He has a Spiderman shirt, but I didn't notice what he was wearing - GO! RUN, RUN, RUN!!!"

5 minutes pass

PA Announcer: "There is a 4 year old child wearing a Spiderman shirt who has been seperated from his parents. If this could be your child, please report to the stadium office."

Friend: "You think that's Chris?"
Mother: "They said he's 5. Chris is 4. GO! RUN! FIRST DOWN!"
Friend: "I'm going to check to see if it's him."
Mother: "GO!!!!! RUN THAT BALL!"

Friend disappears toward stadium office.

Five more minutes pass. Friend returns.

Mother: "Was it him?"
Friend: "Yeah, I told him to get his butt back up there (points to the top of the stadium) and stay there with the other kids."
Mother - turns around and looks toward the top of the stadium: "Chris! I'll bust your butt when we get home if you leave again!"

Me- Sinks into depression over the future of the world.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

See This Show!

Every West Virginian needs to go to the Capitol Theater this weekend or next to see "ABBR HST OF WV" (that's the Abbreviated History of West Virginia, for those of you who might be Stonewall grads). It is another great musical by Dan Khede and Mark Scarpelli performed by the Contemporary Youth Arts Company (CYAC). Billed as the "fastest, funniest, easiest way to learn West Virginia history ever!" it is 90 minutes of everything you learned in 8th grade WV Studies, only much more fun.

The show opened Thursday and continues with a matinée performance at 2PM on Sunday Sept. 23, and then at 8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Sept. 27-29)

Tickets are 9.50 at the door.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Goodbye, Delsie Mae


I've been going to the Southern Kitchen all of my life. When I was a kid, and I mean a real little kid - like before kindergarten age- it was Delsie Mae Hershman who greeted us when we arrived and took or money when we left. I've eaten there hundreds of times over the years and it's always been Delsie Mae who took my money.

Delsie Mae died over the weekend. She'll be missed.

The Southern Kitchen is a Charleston institution. It isn't a great restaurant. It's always had decent food, but nothing too special. The decor hasn't changed in a lifetime. But there is something about the place that makes you feel safe. At least that's the way I felt there. Maybe it's because of all the times I ate there with my mother and father.

The memories of the place as it was in the mid 1960's to early 1970's are vivid in my mind. I remember the jukebox with those little selection consoles at each table where you could flip through all the songs without getting up from your seat. I remember the W. Va. Tourism Department paper place mats with all of the fun facts on them (to this day I believe they were why I excelled in West Virginia studies - how else could I have known that natural gas was first discovered at Burning Springs?). I remember the chicken and egg motif that is still around today. Maybe the reason the memories are so vivid is because nothing much has changed after many, many years.

My teenage daughter and her friends now love the place, but didn't really discover it until she was old enough to stay out late with her friends. The Southern Kitchen is one of the only 24 hour restaurants in Charleston and its family friendly atmosphere is even accepting of a booth or two full of boisterous teenagers after midnight. It is really neat to see this new generation embrace an old place like The Southern Kitchen.

It's a shame that Delsie Mae won't be around to see the next generation. I really hope, though, that someone keeps it going and keeps everything just the same as it was when Delsie left there on Friday. As long as that happens Delsie will still be there with us, even if someone else is collecting the money.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Controversy



In April 1974 the five members of the Kanawha County Textbook Selection Committee, supported by teacher readers from elementary and secondary schools, recommended the adoption of new textbooks designed to support an English Language programme to be taught in the County’s schools. The textbooks included a wide diversity of views and opinions and exposed children in the Appalachian region to other cultures and new ideas. Following the impact of the civil rights movement across the USA during the 1960s, the textbooks included stories and poems by, and about, African-Americans and other minorities and narrative stories emphasising tolerance and the acceptance of alternative and different traditions and cultures. The books also included approaches to pedagogy which included simulation and the development of critical thinking skills. The recommended list was presented to the Kanawha County School Board on 12th March 1974, and the books were displayed in the Kanawha County Library for public examination.
On 16th May when the Textbook Selection Committee presented its adoption justification the School Board agreed to make a final decision on 27th June regarding the formal adoption of the books. The decision to consider adopting the books caused uproar in the community and in a nine month period between April 1974 and January 1975, mobs throwing rocks forced the County’s one hundred and twenty four public schools to close, demonstrators surrounded schools and blockaded school bus garages, two people were shot, schools were dynamited and firebombed and teachers were threatened. Coal miners went on strike in support of the protest, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in the streets of Charleston and a preacher and his followers discussed murdering families who wouldn’t join the school boycott (Charleston Gazette, 12th October 1993).

As a student at John Adams Junior High School in 1974, I saw firsthand the great Dirty Schoolbook war. Most days my classmates and I had to walk through a picket line of Bible Thumping Fundamentalist Crazies on our way into the school from the bus. Some of the people in the picket lines were parents of some of the kids on the buses. My stepmother was a frequent protester as was the father of one of my best friends. It was humiliating to say the least.

John Adams, though, was probably the least affected school in the County. Being well out of the Eastern Kanawha County Bible Belt and fairly isolated, there were relatively few protesters that showed up every day. But the TV reports from schools in the East Bank and DuPont districts were downright scary, with video of grown adults verbally assaulting kids who were only trying to go to school.

I have so many frightening memories of that time: The shots fired at picket lines at Smith Transfer in Belle where my uncle worked, a car burned on my street because it had a bumper stickers that might have indicated support for the school board, trees cut down to block roads so our buses couldn't pass and the fire-bombing of Loudendale Elementary where my cousins went to school. There was at least one case of a dynamite attack on a school (Midway Elementary). As a 14 year old I didn't understand it. As a 47 year old, I understand it less.

I think about the episode from time to time, but the memories are more fleeting each year. Thank God for Google. A quick search on "Kanawha County Textbook Controversy" brings up a whole host of blurbs on this site or that about the events surrounding the battle for the books. Here is one I found particularly interesting, a scholarly treatment of the subject done by Dr. Keith Crawford who is apparently from the United Kingdom. This essay has some great pictures, too.

Someone really ought to make a movie. But then again, please don't: I just couldn't take seeing Sean Penn as Ezra Graley, or more properly, hearing him using an exaggerated Appalachian accent as I know he or just about any other Hollywooder would do. Let's just leave well enough alone. Afterall, we already have "Inherit the Wind."

Charleston Area Barbies

Disclaimer: I did not write this. This list circulated via email a few years ago. It's a little mean-spirited, but it's pretty much an equal opportunity offender.

Charleston Area Barbies

Elkview Barbie: This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, three kids, a NASCAR shirt and has a tattoo of a Tweety bird on her shoulder. She has big, stiff hair, a six pack of Bud Light and a Hank Williams, Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and can kick Mullet-haired Kenny doll's ass when she's drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get its Confederate flag bumper stickers absolutely free.

Woodbridge Barbie: This trendy homemaker Barbie is available with your choice of Lexus SUV or Ford Windstar minivan. She gets lost easily and has no full-time occupation or secondary education. Brags about area museums, though she's never been to one. Traffic jamming cell phone, real estate license sold separately. Optional matching gym outfit and large, untrained dog available.

Clendenin Barbie: This snuff rubbing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased her beer-gutted boyfriend out of Elkview Barbie's house. Her make-up is dark red lip liner with your choice of lips covered in a sparkly pink. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans with assorted colored G-strings that stick out the back and a white see-through halter-top. Accessories include: CD-player equipped with Bon Jovi and a rusty old Chevy Corsica.

Sissonville Barbie: Comes with an older SUV with "my kid can kick your honor student's ass " bumper sticker on the back. She comes with extra wide hips from all the kids she has had. Also has a trailer hitch on the SUV for the Jon Boat or camper that "Drunken Ken" tows to the lake and fishes on once a year. Works at Wal-Mart.

South Hills Barbie: This yuppie Barbie comes with choice of a BMW sports car or an entry level Mercedes. Included are her own platinum credit card, a Berry Hills membership from a generous settlement from her ex, and a map to find her way to the beach. Also available for this set are Shallow Revenge Boyfriend Ken and Spoiled Rotten Private School Skipper.

West Side Barbie: This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with tinted windows and her own Meth Lab kit. This model is available after dark and can be paid for only in cash. Preferably small, untraceable bills. Unless you're a cop. Then we don't know what you're talking about.

Kanawha City Barbie: This Barbie is the most expensive, due to her extravagant outfit: Mink full-length coat and 5 carat diamond ring, Prada shoes and Versace pantsuits bought on "sprees" in New York. This Barbie also has a blank stare due to weight-reducing insulin injections and is nicknamed "Botox Barbie".

Edgewood Barbie: This Barbie drives a BMW SUV that has never seen a dirt road but travels to Huntington for brunch. Edgewood Ken also comes with an assortment of polos, 5 putters, and is available with a snifter glass of brandy, a Cuban cigar, and a 48-foot Hatteras Sport Fisher permanently parked in his back yard.

East End Barbie: Attire includes Low-waisted jeans, too long with rips along the cuffs, a T-shirt 2-sizes-too-small purchased in the little boys section of the thrift store, flip-flops & horn-rimmed glasses. Hair is cut asymmetrically & dyed dark burgundy. This Barbie is pierced and tattooed and mixes equally well with the arts crowd and the downtown gays.

Winfield Barbie: This average looking, cigarette smoking, bleached-blonde Barbie comes with pumps, tight pants, and a red spaghetti strap half shirt to show off her belly button ring and lower back tattoo. This Barbie comes with a Ford Mustang GT, a cell phone with an assortment of annoying ring-tones, as well as a night bag. She also comes with three "good-guy banker" dolls to match the local gender statistics. Serves as unofficial hostess for visiting General Assemblymen in the spring. Additional options include the "get out of the DUI free" card.

Quarry Creek Barbie: This larger city transplant from mostly NYC and California comes dressed in almost designer clothes out of TJ Maxx. This model speaks phrases like "Everything is better in NYC" or "In California we don't have to do that." She can also bitch up a storm about what Charleston doesn't have, but forgets that this is her new home and moved here for a reason, meaning a job with lower cost of living. She comes with her own 10,000 sq. ft. mansion that was paid for by selling her 1,500 sq. ft. home at $900,000. She enjoys not working and spending Ken's money. You can purchase separately a local Charleston doll that has lived here for more than 5 years holding a sign that says "If you don't like it here, move the hell back."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Christians for the Mountains

In an opinion piece in Sunday's Gazette-Mail, Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains decries a Bush administration decision to apparently issue a regulation that would "enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal.”

I am definitely against the practice of mountain top removal mining. This post is not about that.

This post is about a dichotomy that exists in the Christian world that I find escapes the notice of a lot of people. We hear a lot about the power and influence of the oft-vilified "Religious Right" but I find many people don't realize that there is a strong Religious Left. Christians for the Mountains is one part of the latter group. Another is the West Virginia Council of Churches, even though they are far less liberal than the National Council of Churches of which they are an affiliate of sorts.

When I wrote in July about the way the WV Council of Churches found themselves in the same camp as the Religious Right on the table games issue, I was surprised at the number of people who were not aware of the Religious Left. So let me provide a quick overview:

The hallmark of the Religious Left is a world view that transcends national borders and boundaries. The ideology of the Religious Left is viewed by people on the Right as socialistic in its approach since it is a no-holds-barred social aid ideology. The Christian Left would say that Jesus' ministry, and therefore our ministry, was all about helping the poorest and most powerless among us and that the primary role of government should be relieving poverty in all its forms. That is a very simplistic synopsis, but time doesn't permit a more thorough treatment.

A while back I went to an event sponsored by Christians for the Mountains. I figured I'm a Christian and I'm for the mountains, so I thought I'd feel at home.

I didn't.

About five minutes into the presentation, one of the leaders of the evening made the statement that "there is a special place in Hell for [Massey Energy CEO] Don Blankenship." The crowd responded to the statement with a loud cheer. They really, really liked the idea of Don Blankenship burning in perpetual torment. How nice.

After a few minutes I got up and left the event without speaking to anyone. I didn't want to be a part of that crowd. You see, the bible I read says that it is God's will that none shall perish without knowing the love of God. The teaching of the church has always been one of grace and forgiveness, but that is apparently not a teaching of Christians for the Mountains.

Granted, there are many conservative churches (I might even say "most") that do not speak words of grace and forgiveness. But the overall message of the Christian Left has always been much more compassionate than fundamentalists. I expected to find that same gentle spirit at the Christians for the Mountains event, but apparently God's redeeming grace is not available to sinners as great as Don Blankenship.

It is sad when hate invades and takes over organizations that were built on foundations of love.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Matt and Company

Imagine my surprise as I was driving to work this morning and heard my name and this blog mentioned on the radio. My Sim City post scored some points with the host.

Evidently my omission of the name of the co-host in a previous post had been noticed and maybe hurt someone's feelings a little bit.

Sorry, Matt.

(I wish I knew his last name.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

U$er Fee - Here We Go Again!

According to the Daily Mail, City Manager David Molgaard's office is busy analyzing the city's finances to see if it's feasible to double the $1-a-week user fee. Dave, if you're reading, here's a tool you can use. Anyone who has ever experimented with Sim City knows that one of the fundamental rules of the Sims universe is that when you raise taxes too much you lose business and population. Maybe Mayor Jones should play, too.

I don't want the user fee to go up, but I also despise straw man arguments so I have to speak out: The reason it's not right to raise the user fees is not because it will be a hardship on low income families. four dollars isn't going to make or break anyone. If you are down to your last four dollars at the end of the month you have other problems. It sounds compassionate, but it's not real.

The real reason the user fee shouldn't go up is the same reason I give my kids an allowance: They need to learn to live on what they have because life isn't such that you can just reach out pluck more money off of the mythical money tree in the backyard anytime you have overspent your budget or lived beyond your means.

Of course, Mayor Jones might have really had a money tree in his backyard. Or at least a big trust fund!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Sternwheel Regatta is Over - Forever

Last year I wrote about the first indications that sternwheelers would soon be a thing of the past at the Regatta. Now it is a certainty since the leaders of the Regatta Commission have made it public knowledge that there will most likely never be another "Sternwheel Regatta", but instead something called a "Charleston Regatta." Why "Regatta" at all? Once the sternwheelers are gone then only river activities that will remain will be the swim and the Anything That Floats Race. That certainly doesn't deserve the designation "regatta."

Regatta Jumped The Shark in 1986. That was the year that The Beach Boys came and drew such a crowd that City leaders made the decision to steer away from big name acts because the size of the crowd was way too much for the CPD to handle. The next year it was rumored that Jimmy Buffett was interested in coming and bringing his Parrot Head army but that show never materialized. It was that year that a national magazine voted the regatta as the best festival in the southeast, but by the time the magazine was published the festival was already in it's decline.

Originally a one day event consisting mostly of boat races and other river activities, it soon grew into a three-day weekend full of activities (although Labor Day itself has always been nothing but the car show at the capitol). Most of its life was spent as a ten day festival, with opening ceremonies in the evening of the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If I'm not mistaken the festival reached its maximum duration in about 1985 of twelve days. The reason for the extra couple of days was that so many downtown businesses had their own events that they wanted at certain places, and as a result they held a few meaningless events on Wednesday and Thursday.

One of the worst decisions ever was the moving of events away from the riverfront. For a while there were events held in the Elk City section of the West Side, and even some in South Hills and Kanawha City. It was these far-flung events that took the focus off the river and that was the beginning of the end of the sternwheeler's participation.

I recall walking down amongst the sternwheelers as a teenager and young adult. The barges that Amherst Industries provided every year to serve as docks for the big boats were supposed to be closed to the public, but security was porous and anyone could walk right on. I met some nice folks and got to see some of the sternwheelers up close and personal. The arrival of the sternwheelers to the Regatta on the Wednesday before each Labor Day was a festive and thrilling event. Suddenly the levee area was transformed from a little street party into the grand festival it was because the guests of honor had arrived.

The river activities like the Line Handlers Contest, The Pushers and Shovers Contest, the Whistle Blowing Contest and, of course, the Sternwheel Races, those were the things that gave the event its spice. Even Just as a visual backdrop the sternwheelers made the Regatta special. The colorful boats and the flags they flew transformed the levee into a work of art. Add in the sounds of an occasional whistle blast or a ship's bell ringing and you had a full sensory experience.

When Amherst got fed up with the shenanigans of the Festival Commission it was the death knell for the sternwheelers. The festival that had been the brainchild of Nelson Jones, a child of one of the owners of Amherst Industries, was cut off from its largest supporter of river activities. This was in the late 1990's. The festival has hung on for a few more years.

But it's all over now.

I suspect that we'll have a few more Charleston Regattas, but if it's still around in five years in any recognizable form I will be surprised. It seems that the City has thrown all of its eggs into the FestivAll basket. unfortunately it is already showing signs of Regatta-cization, mainly the spread-out nature of the events that gives it a lack of focus.

Nothing lasts forever, but the Regatta deserved a better effort. Preserving the traditions of the river that gave birth to Charleston and celebrating the big wheeled boats that were such a part of its history was a worthy endeavor. Political tides roll in and then they roll out again, taking with them a little piece of our City's culture with each ebb. Will the Jones administration be the one to put the final nail in the coffin? That would be ironic since it was Nelson Jones who gave the festival life.

The late, great, Charleston Sternwheel Regatta Festival: My she live in our memories forever.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Virginia Street Beautification


Especially for Chris James: Here's a picture of Jessica Ralston in today's Regatta Grand Feature Parade.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Progressives and Liberals

Two people have accused me of being a "progressive" in the past few days. Well, I'm not and what's more, I really detest that label. I'm not liberal, either. Nor a Conservative, although popular belief seems to dictate that I be one or the other. Either that or the dreaded middle of the road "moderate." I'm not one of those either.

I have a friend that is very opinionated about people who label themselves. He gets very irritated with people who identify themselves as "conservative" or "liberal" because, as he says, "people let the label inform their ideologies." He says that people who proudly proclaim they are a liberal will nearly always reserve their opinions on a new issue until they ascertain what the correct liberal stance should be. Same with conservatives.

I dislike labels, too; some more than others. I really dislike that people who used to call themselves "liberals" now call themselves "progressives." To call oneself a Liberal used to mean that you ascribed to certain ideologies that challenged the status quo. It meant that you were one of the revolutionaries that would throw off the shackles of tradition and push the envelope of socially acceptable mores. It meant burning your draft card or your bra, and being against any effort to preserve traditional controls on society. In other words it meant refusing to act like a grown-up, and being damned proud of it.

"Progressives", it could be assumed, are for progress. Well, who isn't? Why do people formerly known as liberals have a corner on this word?

When people advocate for change, such as implementing a new law, they usually do so because they feel it will bring progress. But in today's label obsessed lexicon we ascribe different labels to different laws based on how they fit into our understanding of political ideologies. For example, if the law was for stricter gun controls then it would be called "progressive." But if the law was to increase controls over people who commit crimes by using illegal drugs it would not be called progressive; It would be called "conservative". Why? Both are to make a safer society. Both would be progress, wouldn't they?

The real reason that liberals are calling themselves progressives these days is because Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have made "Liberal" a dirty word. I know very few people these days who proudly say they are a liberal. Thus the switch to "progressive." It was a smart move, I confess, because who can object to someone being for progress?

But it still ticks me off. Especially when Mayor Jones says things like "our City is progressive" like he did in the days after the recent table games vote. Don't lump me in, Mr. Mayor, with people who vote for table games for no other reason than the money it will bring. Don't label me as a "progressive" that would vote to ignore the pleas and warnings of people whose lives have been destroyed by gambling in favor of a larger balance in the B&O fund.

Progress? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Demand A ReKent!

Kent Carper came as close as I've ever seen him get to smiling this afternoon after he realized that the recount of the table games vote didn't change the outcome. After all the fuss, delays and expense the aginners gained only 4 votes. Let the games begin!

Kent has been a picture of anxiety since the election, seemingly terribly afraid that the canvass or the recount would uncover too many "no" ballots. This evening he said he didn't mind if his support of the initiative cost him political points. That's probably because the cash he got from Tri-State Casino (in the form of campaign contributions) will more than make up for the lost votes. Now he can relax since Big Gambling won't be sending The Boys to visit Kent to express their disappointment with a loss.

Now, who wants to bet that Jay Goldman's old idea of annexing Cross Lanes gets resurrected by Mayor Jones? While he can't annex the casino itself (since it is in Nitro) he can surely get his hands on the user fees of the employees of the hotels and restaurants that will pop up nearby.

Our political leaders are so happy they can hardly count.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Sorry State of Local Talk Radio

I've been listening to local talk radio since the advent of "The Morning Exchange" on WCHS 580 in the early 1990's. It has undergone many changes over the years and I have found something that I liked about each new expression of the medium, at least until now.

Other than a couple of different sports talk shows that are scattered through the weekly schedule, 580's talk show offerings are:

1. The infomercial-like "Ask The Expert" show where local egomaniacs and narcissists pay money to be on the air for an hour a day to promote their particular interest; or

2. "58 Live" in the afternoon where neo-con Mike Agnello and flaming moderate Rick Johnson host 3 hours of milquetoast banter every day. Agnello is always bringing on conservative guests who spew right-wing propaganda about the hot topic of the day, but the listeners and callers seem to only want to talk about the most innocuous of topics. The result is 3 hours of nothing every day. It is the single most dreadful show I have ever heard. While on the way home from work most days I will switch to one of our two sports stations to listen to commentary on the latest misadventures of Pac Man Jones or Michael Vick, ad-nauseum.

The other talk station, 950 on your dial, has Andy Albertini's "Andy & Company" that I posted about last week. The good thing about this early morning show is you only need to listen to it for about five minutes per hour to hear everything they have to say. You could pick up a copy of "Conservatism for Dummies" and pretty much figure out what Andy's going to say about everything. Andy's co-host and one-man "Amen Corner" does little to create interesting counter-point. The incessant drumbeat of "our government is oppressing us and our leaders are selling us out" gets very old, very quickly.

Even Jerry Waters, the nattering nabob of negativism that he was, was at least entertaining because his rhetoric raised the hackles of enough people on both sides of an issue to induce them to call the show. His downfall, in my opinion, was having school board member Pete Thaw on the air virtually every day. Pete's laugh (which, incidentally, sounds just like The Penguin from the Batman TV series) was grating and his commentary was beyond dull.

I can't believe it, but I am actually nostalgiac for the days of Danny Jones' show on 950 every morning as it was in the late 1990's. He was so much better as a talk show host than he is a mayor.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cash Crop

Police made an interesting agricultural discovery on an obscure little street on the West Side.

Lt. Chuck Carpenter of the Metro Drug Unit said "They were very, very nice plants."

The plants were later burned before several high police officials.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Black and White World of Andy Albertini

When Jerry Waters was unceremoniously removed from the airwaves of Charleston talk radio earlier in the year, his spot was soon filled by one Andy Albertini. Andy is a transplant from Ohio County and his show is described as "Hard Core Patriot Talk Radio." His shtick is basic neo-con with a little bit of motivational speaker rhetoric thrown in for good measure. Andy has a sycophant sidekick, whose name I don't recall. His job is apparently to make Andy sound smarter.

Lately Andy has been really out there against the smoking ban. He claims that any regulation of smoking in private buildings and businesses is tantamount to being forced to have government as one's business partner. I believe he is a cigar smoker, which would explain his commitment to smoker's rights. He isn't swayed by any theory of public health and smoking. When a caller recently tried to advocate for the public health aspect of the smoking ban, Andy accused the caller of being "the pleasure police" and against anything enjoyable. He was, in my view, unnecessarily harsh to the caller, who was only trying to explain the public health ramifications of second hand smoke.

Andy is a classic "aginner". He's against just about anything any governmental unit says or does.
For the past couple of days he has been on the Regatta Commission pretty hard because of their decision to ban the use of lawn chairs in front of the stage during Regatta performances. He has really gotten a kick out of the phrase "mosh pit" that was used to incorrectly describe the area directly in front of the stage at the concert, and he has been relentless in his ridicule of the person who used the term. Andy thinks that the logic behind the lawn chair ban is stupid (the logic being that emergency workers would have a harder time reaching the stage if there were a sea of lawn chairs to wade through), and the "mosh pit" comment is apparently proof-positive that city government is hopelessly out of touch.

In Andy's world, there is no merit in anything he doesn't understand or agree with. If he's against it, it's the most ludicrous thing in the world. If he's for it, there is no way anyone with a brain could disagree with it unless they have ulterior motives.

At least that's the impression I get from his show. Andy's world is all black and white; no shades of gray.

Seems like an uninteresting place to live.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Our long nightmare is not over...

Remember last week when the prevailing sentiment about the table games vote was "I can't wait until Saturday so this thing will be over with!"? Well, it's Tuesday and it's not over with.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, as is his manner and custom, has put himself in the middle of this controversy by:
  • Demanding the County Commission vote on a resolution supporting table games, and then;
  • Joining Danny Jones in beating the drum to pass the table games resolution, and then;
  • Prematurely announcing that all ballots had been counted, and that the measure had passed by 60 votes, and then;
  • Announcing that the final numbers meant that the measure had passed by 33 votes and proclaiming it a "great day for Kanawha County", and then;
  • Saying that he felt the 64 ballots found on Monday should not be counted.
While he later relented and said the ballots should be counted, it was his shoot-from-the-hip original answer that reveals his true thoughts on the matter.

Could it be that his allegiance is swayed by the money that Tri State Casino donated to his election campaign?

I don't seriously think Commissioner Carper is corrupt, but he would be the first to exclaim, "Avoid the appearance of impropriety!"

He should practice what he preaches.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Table Games Pass

44,000 people in Kanawha County went to the polls to vote for or against allowing table games at the Tri State Greyhound track in Cross Lanes. A razor thin margin of 33 votes passed the measure. With a bunch of provisional ballots to be counted this thing is still close enough that it could turn out differently, but for now it seems Big Gambling has won.

Time will tell if this was good or bad for the economy, but I know already it is not good for the soul of our community. We have one of the greatest places in the country to live, but our government officials want to live beyond our means. They want multi-million dollar arts centers and libraries even though we can't afford them. They want to spend more and more money on a population that is shrinking. So they look to an economic development project that, in order to succeed, it's customers have to lose.

Certainly there are people who gamble for entertainment and can afford the losses they most likely will incur, but there are many people who can't afford it that will lose the grocery or rent money because they can't control themselves. No worries, though, because their grocery money will help finance the next big project and we'll all benefit.

But what happens ten years from now when we've gotten used to the gambling income and our government begins to live beyond its means again? I guess we'll have to look at other revenue sources.

It will be interesting to see what those are.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Gambling Debate Makes Strange Bedfellows

The upcoming "Table Games" election in Kanawha County is creating some interesting alliances and dividing some former allies, irrespective of party lines and ideological labels. Instead of being a Conservative vs. Liberal issue, or a Democrat vs. Republican issue, this election has created a whole new voting block from the extremities of the political spectrum. Ultra right-wing, bible-thumping evangelical preachers are on the same side as left-wing, cradle-to-grave social liberals. What's interesting is that virtually everyone between the two extremes is on the same side of the issue, too.

But while it is true that extreme liberals and extreme conservatives find themselves in agreement, they come to the same position for completely different reasons.

Most extreme conservatives are morally against gambling for religious reasons. Some fundamentalist Christians are of the opinion that gambling is sinful because the Bible tells them that the Roman guards cast lots for Jesus' clothing after his crucifixion (I've always found it interesting that these same people conveniently overlook the passage where the Apostles also cast lots to decide who would replace Judas). "Casting Lots" equals gambling and therefore is sinful behavior in their eyes. Interestingly enough, most non-religious conservatives are not against gambling, except in symbolic "solidarity" with their parties majority position.

Extreme liberals are against gambling because of the social costs. We should not be providing state-sponsored gambling any more than we should be providing heroin to schoolchildren. Gambling is a drug and there are powerless people who should be protected from that drug.

Now the wild card, the unknown, in all of this is the question of how big the middle group is. There is some serious courting going on from both sides, but the heavily-funded gambling industry has too much firepower. They are on TV and radio constantly bombarding the undecided with promises of jobs and economic prosperity if only the issue passes. The other side has only the argument that gambling is wrong.

Morals vs. Money - History predicts the outcome - Money usually wins.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Charleston Round-Up

A few things happening under the radar in Charleston recently:

- Mayor Danny Jones got a pretty good spanking by some old-money Charlestonians for trashing up Mountain View Cemetery with the Fourth of July Fireworks. Although in his public statements he made it sound like no big deal, the fact is that he was read the riot act by several City "Mothers." Rod Blackstone took the blame. If it had been a big hit he wouldn't have been credited.

- Keep your ears open for at least one City Councilman to announce his resignation soon - or at least announce his intention to not seek office again. Butting heads with Mayor Jones can make one lose one's taste for local politics. There are two councilmen who are at odds with the mayor presently and rumor has it that at least one of them is talking about making a big stink when he leaves office. It should be interesting.

- "Friday Night at the Levee" attendance is dismal. You gotta wonder how long the city can spend the money on street crews and police for a party for 100 people or less every Friday night. But since this was Tom Lane's idea, you can be sure that it will get every consideration before it's axed.

- I wrote about the boondoggle park on the East End, but another proposed park for the West Side is nearly as stupid. The next time you are down West Washington Street look at the steep, grassy hillside at the Barton Street intersection and try to figure out what the hell they are thinking.

- In a bizarre, almost reality show type of behavior, former radio talk show host Jerry Waters can now be found sitting on the sidewalk outside Taylor Books almost every day. He sits and snidely comments about passers-by the same way he did about virtually everything in his talk show days.

That's all for now, I think my FiberNet service might be coming back online soon and I have a few hundred phone calls to make!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Free Wi-Fi for the East End

In an announcement heralded by state and city elected officials and the Charleston Area Alliance, it was made known today that the East End Main Street folks have secured a grant to provide free Wi-Fi internet for the entire East End of Charleston.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea. I am totally psyched about being able to sit down and blog or answer email anywhere on the East End where I live. I can get rid of my $39.95 per month Suddenlink internet bill!

But I'll bet if I worked for Suddenlink, FiberNet or Verizon and was looking at losing thousands of DSL or cable internet customers I would be singing a different tune!

How can the Charleston Area Alliance be happy about the government getting into competition with business? What's next, city-run coffee shops?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Far Werks!


Mayor Jones decided to move the City's 4th of July fireworks show from its traditional river front location to Spring Hill Cemetery on the North Side of the valley. Ostensibly this move was to save a bunch of bucks by combining the show with those that The Power were going to be shooting off that evening.

Some people around town are upset that the fireworks would be launched from a sacred place like a cemetery, and a lot of boaters are mad because one of the main reason people have boats in Charleston is to get up close to the two or three fireworks displays that are launched from either barges on the river or on trucks on the banks.

This is another one of those Jones Administration decisions that is curious in its apparent lack of thought. Here are the problems I see with the new location:

1. For more than thirty years, the fireworks have been at the riverfront. People have traditional places they meet to watch them. People always line the riverbank from the Clendenin Street nearly to the Capitol, and hundreds of people watch from boats. For thousands of people this is their family 4th of July tradition. There will be a lot of scrambling this year to find new places to watch from, but;

2. There are less places to watch from. Although the idea of using the elevation of the hilltop sounds good, the angles will make it difficult to see the fireworks from traditional places like Fort Hill, the West Side hill. The river will be a terrible vantage point and boaters will have to get out of the water to see the show. Outside of Appy Park, I can't think of a single vantage point that will be a decent place to watch from.

3. As dry as the foliage and grass is right now, putting the show on the hillside is a recipe for a brush fire. One of the great things about the riverfront show is that the ashes and embers fall harmlessly into the Kanawha.

4. Cars on the interstate will be right under the show. I would not be surprised if we have fender-benders or worse during the display.

I could write a dozen more reasons this is a bad idea, but what's the point?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Snob Knob

South Hills has the reputation of being the rich side of Charleston. Even though the largest, most ostentatious homes in town are found in places like Foxchase and Quarry Creek, it is South Hills that retains the reputation of the stomping grounds of the rich. Many people hold the erroneous belief that everyone who lives in the 25314 zip code is filthy rich. But I know better.

I grew up in South Hills. I went to John Adams Junior High and George Washington High. I know every street in South Hills, having ridden my bike as a teenager on every one of them. There is indeed some enormous wealth scattered about the hills, but there are also a few pockets of real poverty. A large segment of the area's population has always been working-class folks with incomes at or below the Charleston median. Growing up there I didn't know of the stereotypes until I was in high school, and by then I was so familiar with the truth that I didn't pay much attention to the myth. The bottom line for me was I lived in South Hills and I was definitely not rich.

Although my family's economic station was no where near the median of the families of my peers I had no trouble fitting in during elementary, junior high and about one-fourth of high school. Then things changed. Big time.

Looking back, I now know what was the trigger for the change, but I was oblivious then. All I knew was that many - OK, most - of the people who had been my friends since second or third grade were quite suddenly aloof. Guys that I had played little league baseball with were all of the sudden too preoccupied to take in a Charlies game with me. My buddies wouldn't go to the Kanawha State Forest pool with me any more and didn't invite me to go to Windemere or South Hills Pools with them. No more golf at Coonskin or Shawnee for the ol' gang: Nothing but Berry Hills would suffice any longer. Girls that I had known for years and years, and even dated, would act as if they didn't remember my name if we were to meet in unfamiliar places when they were with unfamiliar friends. It was very clear: I was no longer on their level.

It seems that these striations were revealed in the second semester of tenth grade.That was when there was no more denying that there were marked differences in the societal landscape between the "haves" and the "have mores." That's when the truly upper crust kids began to disappear from school one by one. We never knew where some of them went, and some were rumored to have been shipped off to Linsly or another far-away boarding school with names I did not know. These were the future leaders of Charleston, West Virginia and the Nation: They had to be schooled accordingly.

The next lower tier were less likely to be sent away to school unless they got into some trouble, but they were still separating themselves from the chaff with the clothes they wore and, more importantly, the cars they drove. In fact it was the introduction of cars into the high school society mix that triggered all of the separation of the classes - socioeconomic class, that is.

Now there were basically three levels of vehicular status at George Washington High School in the late 1970s. There were those with no car (I would reside in this class my entire high school career), those with cars and then there were those with really expensive cars.

The No Car people, my people, were carless for a variety of reasons, but none of them would be kids from affluent families who denied their offspring a car; no, that never happened. The carless class was made up of those whose parents couldn't afford cars for them, those whose parents thought cars were an unnecessary luxury, those whose parents felt that cars corrupt kids, those who had once had cars but had lost them because they wrecked them or had some run in with the law. There were probably many other reasons that our group had so many members (lack of driver's licenses for one), but we didn't discuss it amongst ourselves.

The largest group were the regular Car Kids. They drove anything from shiny new Trans Ams or Camaros, to the ten year old Datsun Uncle Ralph had given them. This group also had lots of pick up trucks and four-door Caprice Classics, Monte Carlos and an Olds Cutlass or two. Most of these cars were second hand or were daddy's toys that the kids were allowed to drive to school.

The chasm between the Car Kids and the Expensive Car Kids was vast. The lowest of the expensive car kids had new Corvettes. Porsche, BMW, Audi, Mercedes were typical for this group. These are the people who now, 30 years later, drive the highest priced Mercedes and Lexus models, and whose wives all drive Escalades.

And they all eat pizza at Lola's; which is actually what I wanted to write about this evening.


I finally made it to Lola's. I've been trying to get there since I first heard about it last Summer, but the place is tiny and always full to overflow. So my wife and I went a little early recently and got a table with no problem. Nice little place with interesting and expensive gourmet pizzas and lots of interesting and expensive imported beer and wine to wash it down. We had two 10" specialty pizzas and water to drink. The bill? $30. That's-a some-a pricey pizza!!

The little old house that is home to Lola's sits below Bridge Road in the curve that signals the end of the Bridge Road Business District. Its tiny parking lot and
the overflow lot across the street is full of expensive machinery anytime the restaurant is open and especially on Friday night. The drivers of said machinery sit or stand around on the front porch waiting for one of the eight tables and few bar stools inside to become vacant, or for their to-go order to come out of the oven. Inside the patrons order from the pricey menu and sip their wine and guzzle their beer until their pizza comes, then they eat their crispy crust pizza with Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions with a knife and fork. They chat with their neighbors about the trip they took to Tuscany last summer and how dreadful the champagne is that is served in Delta's first-class.

It was like deja-vu. Like I was back in the GW cafeteria, except that none of these people would have eaten in the cafeteria.

By the way, the pizza at Lola's is good. Not to die for good, but very good indeed. All things considered I think I'd rather go to Lorobi's in St. Albans: They have pizza that is to die for, and my Ford would fit in better in the parking lot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Festivallgone


Other than the way cool sidewalk drawing at Appy Park I did not partake of a single event at this year's Festivall. I'm not sure why - kids, work, weather all seemed to conspire to keep me distracted and when I did venture downtown at around 6:00 Saturday evening the sidewalks seemed to have already been rolled up.

There are several bloggers who wrote and posted photos of the events, and Oncee has a round up of the posts.

Last year's event was great for the first time and I was hopeful this year would be even better. But I'm wondering how the attendance was this year. A friend told me he went down to Capitol Street Sunday afternoon and the place was deserted. I heard that the Wine and Jazz event was well attended, but I know no one that went to the Blues, Brews and BBQ on Friday (I really wanted to go to see Robert Cray, but alas).

Having events scattered around town might seem like a good idea on the surface, but I think it tends to suppress attendance overall. Many of the venues are too far apart to walk and it's difficult to drive and park to all the different places. The trolleys aren't frequent enough to encourage a steady stream of riders (and I didn't know about the trolley plays until I read about them in the paper!). The "river taxi" to UC is an insufficient solution to the event-to-event commute for many folks since it only ran every 90 minutes.

The Regatta went through this same wierd tranformation in the 80's. A sponsor would step forward and want to hold the event in its neighborhood, and the sponsor hungry festival commission would acquiese. We ended up with events for this "River Festival" scattered all over town and everything just felt watered down after a while. I wonder why we always do this in Charleston? A word of advice to Larry Groce and other Festivall organizers: Pick an area and focus the activities there. The two and three-hundred blocks of Capitol and Summers Streets would be plenty of room for Festivall. Go ahead with the two big pay events at UC, but keep downtown open a little longer into the evening for those of us who can't or don't want to pay.

Just my $.02. Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Charleston's U$er Fee

As I predicted a year ago, on the very day that Danny Jones took the oath of office to begin his second term as mayor, he proposed a doubling of the user fee.

Read the whole sad story in today's Gazette:

http://www.wvgazette.com/section/News/2007061835

Imagine how easy it would be to run a business if you could just have an extra few million when you wanted it. Instead of being fiscally responsible and living within your means, just grab more money from your constituency.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

East End Boondoggle in the Making

I am not an "aginner." I'm not one of those people who nay-say every idea to make the community a more enjoyable place to live. I don't have a problem with spending tax dollars on projects whose only benefit is quality of life. And God knows that we have a dearth of greenspace in Charleston and recreation space is at a premium. But there is a project in the works in Charleston right now that is a terribly bad idea on so many levels it's difficult to see how anyone could think it will work.

I'm talking about the park that is being proposed for land that sits tucked away in a dreadful little corner of the East End. Here's an aerial photo. (click to enlarge).


The circled area that sits right across the railroad tracks from Laidley Field is the site that has been proposed for this park. Notice how it is bordered by a very dense neighborhood to the south. Here is a street view of that neighborhood.


This shot is taken one block from what has historically been the worst drug corner in the city: Lewis and Thompson. The row houses you see are along Dixie Street and behind these houses are other houses as you can see in the aerial shot. Almost all of these houses are rental units owned by some of the worst slumlords our city has to offer. Many of these houses have been illegally subdivided into multi-family units and the whole area is as densely populated as any section in the city. And the back doors of these houses look out onto the proposed park site.

So, some reasonable people might say, maybe a park will make a difference. Maybe it will be what the neighborhood needs to turn around. History would predict otherwise:

In the mid 1990's, a fantastic community playground, called "Celebration Station" was built not to far from the proposed park site. This wider aerial shot shows both sites. Celebration Station is at the lower left corner


Celebration Station was an amazing community project that utilized hundreds of volunteers to build an awesome playground adjacent to Piedmont Elementary School. Here is a photo taken there on a recent beautiful early summer evening.


Note how many kids are in the picture? None. Other than the basketball courts, the place is desolate most of the time, except for a few neighbor kids who live directly across the street and some rough talking teenagers that seem to always be around. (shortly after snapping this photo I was nearly hit by a shoe that was thrown in my direction by teenagers who were rough-housing on one of the children's swings - I obviously wasn't welcome on their turf). Trash is strewn about the place and graffiti covers the once-beautiful and ingeniously designed structures that were built with such care and hope. When the place was first opened I would take my kids a few times a month, but as the years went by it felt less and less safe. I don't know anyone who takes their kids there now because it just doesn't feel safe.

And Celebration Station is in a much, much safer and more accessible neighborhood than the proposed park.

People in the East End have been clamoring for recreation facilities for years and years. Mayor Jay Goldman, whenever confronted with these requests, would point at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center and say it was on the East End. Only someone who had always lived in South Hills would consider the King Center, which sits on the bank of the Elk River, as being on the East End.

The residents of the East End need and deserve a park, but not here. Granted, land is in short supply on the East End, and this land has little potential as a business location or other economic development project. But the bottom line is that, if this park is built, will be the most phenomenal waste of money we've seen in decades. And after a while residents of the East End will be run out of this park by the criminal or unseemly element that will no doubt thrive in this isolated part of town with a dense area of low and very low income housing surrounding it. And when they complain that the park has become unusable, the city fathers will say "we built you a nice park and you don't use it!"

My opinion is that this is a ploy to pre-empt the uprising that will certainly occur when the City throws several million dollars into the new library. Either that or it is a misguided attempt to fulfill a Danny Jones campaign promise. Or it might be both. Whatever the motive, it is a bad idea.