The Blog Squad

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Everybody loves a caption contest!

In the Times-Dispatch yesterday was perhaps the best and funniest news photo I have seen in ages. Of course, you need the context but photographer Steve Helber caught the greatest picture of Attorney General-Elect Robert F. McDonnell and Attorney General-Wannabe R. Creigh Deeds passing each other in the hall after a luncheon at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. The only thing missing from this picture, of course, is the thought bubbles. That job, my friends, falls to you. I will get the ball rolling:

Left to right:

McDonnell: Heh, heh. Keep movin', loser.

Unidentified woman: "OK, one more time — that guy beat that guy by 323 votes but that guy is calling for a recount ..."

Unidentified man: I wonder if she's single ...

Deeds: I AM the Attorney General, I AM the Attorney General! And if I click my heels together three times it really will come true!

Tiny face of Tim Kaine over Deeds' shoulder: I am soooo the governor.

All right, my clever and sardonic friends, give it a try!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Memo to Ukrop's: Your slip is showing

I am going to start this rant with a nice story first. Last week at the Stony Point Ukrop's, the gentleman who took my bags (and my son, on the bottom of the cart) out to my car chatted with me about young kids and gave me some good advice: "Don't give them dessert until they've done a little chore first ..." He called my son by his nickname and wished us a happy Thanksgiving. This is the level of folks I expect to encounter at Ukrop's. So imagine my horror yesterday to be not so much greeted by as sniffed at by a young man at a Ukrop's cash register who barely stopped for breath in his conversation with the bagger, a young woman who seemed like a social friend. Plans were discussed for the weekend, blah blah blah ... Bad enough. Then when another employee needed to squeeze behind him he used a pretty graphic sexual phrase to which the bagger added something about "copping a feel." Dude, I am not deaf. Nor am I so completely bent double with age that I have no idea what the hip and happening youth of today are talking about. Shut up and do your job. I do not expect the complete graciousness of that Stony Point employee out of everyone, but I at least expect that I'm not going to be subjected to dirty talk while you're bagging my rotisserie chicken. Perhaps I shouldn't pick on Ukrop's because customer service is slipping everywhere. I hate to sound exactly like I am bent double with age, but there is a lack of work ethic that seems endemic to any generation that ends in a letter (mine included). But I also must point out Ukrop's specifically because the chain has built its reputation and earned this community's respect because of the high quality of its employees and customer service. The army of Stepford employees at Ukrop's is a thing of the past. I loved that army. You still find, by and large, warm and welcoming employees; however, this incident was by no means the only time I've noticed a lesser degree of service at Ukrop's, but it was certainly the most offensive. So I'm giving a big Poo-Poo on You to Ukrop's for letting their standards slip even the tiniest bit.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be out of town until Monday, but I'll be popping in and out while I'm away. Thank you to all the people who make my life better -- my husband and children, my parents and all my family. The preschool teachers at Bon View School (and our old stomping grounds at First Presbyterian Preschool) and all the wonderful ladies (I say ladies just because I haven't met any male preschool teachers) at preschools throughout the area who to me seem like endless wells of patience, love and nurturing. Thank you, too, to Richmond Magazine for indulging me month after month, and now on a daily basis. Thank you, Richmonders, for being among the most courteous and polite people I've ever met. (Except when you are sending me hate mail ...) It makes life so much more pleasant, and that is by no means a small thing. Have a wonderful holiday, all. I promise to be cynical again after the tryptophan wears off ...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Number Five ... with a bullet. (Sigh)


Here we are again, Richmond, in the spotlight for something so awful. Now we have been ranked No. 5 on the list of the nation's most dangerous cities. We fall in line behind Camden, N.J., Detroit, St. Louis and Flint, Mich.

This comes after a particularly violent weekend in the city with a number of shootings and stabbings. It also comes on the heels of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce survey that said that more than 60 percent of us in the area feel positive about the Richmond region as a whole. Not surprisingly, we are more likely to be upbeat if we are white and living in affluent suburbs.

This ranking and those survey results put me in mind of something the former police chief, Jerry Oliver, said to me in an interview years ago. He said that unless you are involved in criminal activity, drugs or are in a domestic-violence situation in this city, you are really very safe. That rings true and speaks to the conflict between the statistics and perception in Richmond.

I feel very safe in Richmond. Of course I am white and do live in an affluent suburb. I am not involved in crime or drugs or domestic violence, just as Oliver said. When I lived in the Fan, I always felt safe, if a little more cautious. I feel safe downtown, even at night. But these aren't the problem areas anyway.

Recently, I got lost in Camden, N.J. It was a beautiful afternoon and I had just taken the kids to the Adventure Aquarium there. I took a wrong turn on my way back to my sister's house (in the affluent suburb) and wound up in the heart of war-torn, poverty ravaged Camden. I remember wondering how all the economic development that had taken place on the waterfront — the aquarium, the Camden Children's Garden, the Tweeter Center amphitheater, the Camden Riversharks Campbell's Field baseball stadium — didn't have some trickle-down flow to these neighborhoods. It was like the hole of a doughnut — empty, surrounded by fat and richness.

I can't tell you the last time I was in Richmond's worst sections. I'm sure it was while I was working as a reporter for Style Weekly and I walked through abandoned houses people shot up in and drove through housing projects with police officers and visited Boys & Girls Clubs in the East End. That was more than five years ago. And so when someone tells me I live in the fifth-most dangerous city in the country, my knee-jerk reaction is a scoff. But then I remember some of the places I've seen and I realize that because of who I am and where I live, there is so much I do not know about life in Richmond.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Big recognition for the little blog that could ...

Congratulations to Save Richmond, that somewhat enigmatic group that exists to Windex the murky windows between the Virginia Foundation for the Performing Arts and the people of Richmond. Don Harrison and Andrew Beaujon have won this year's Laurence E. Richardson Freedom of Information Award. From the press release:

“This recognition is given by the Virginia Coalition for Open Government for [Save Richmond’s] efforts in rooting out financial information about the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation,” wrote Frosty Landon, the executive director of the coalition, in a letter announcing the award. “Our judges were impressed with your aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain financial documents and correspondence,” from city and state agencies regarding the arts foundation, Landon wrote to Save Richmond.

The work these guys has done is incredible. Their blog profiles identify them as writers who do a lot of freelancing for some pretty impressive publications so I have no idea where they get the time to go through the FOIA process, much less dig through documents for the kind of information they've provided to the citizens of Richmond. They have been out in front on the arts center story much of the way, and I'm not sure they've really been credited with the real shoe-leather reporting they've done. It's pretty clear they oppose the arts center in its originally proposed form, and maybe that's why they haven't been given the journalistic kudos. Still, it is fair to say that without the work they have done, Richmonders might never have known many of the details of the foundation's funding and spending. The so-called mainstream media could learn a lot from these guys. I wonder what they will turn their attention to next.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Goodnight Moon stirs controversy? ... but there's an unanswered mystery

I saw the headline on AOL: "Goodnight Moon goes smokeless. Cigarette airbrushed from children's book". I pushed the enter button and ran up the steps before the page loaded. I quickly grabbed one of the three copies in our house from my son's bookcase. I could never have missed a cigarette! I know every nuance of that book. When we forget to bring it on trips I just recite it to the kids (OK, it's not exactly The Iliad). I quickly flipped through the pages — no cigarette anywhere. Then I got back to the computer and saw the loaded page. The cigarette in question is being airbrushed from the hand of Clement Hurd, the illustrator of the book, in the photo of him that appears on the back of the book. That explained it — we only have the board book version in our house that doesn't have the photos of Margaret Wise Brown and Hurd on the back. As you might imagine, this has caused an enormous controversy already. Publisher Harper Collins says it is taking the cigarette out of Hurd's hand for the 60th anniversary edition of the children's classic because it sends a bad message to kids and doesn't need to be there. Of course, there is the contingent who believe that to alter a classic in any way is to destroy it beyond recognition. Never mind that we're talking about the back cover. Let's get a grip, everyone. What's important is what's on the inside of this magical book — the little mouse darting around the room, the moon rising in the window, the room darkening, the mush disappearing, the fire dancing, the clock hands ticking away, the copies of Goodnight Moon on the nightstand and The Runaway Bunny on the bookshelf. And then there's the red balloon that bedevils me every time I read it. Where does it go? It disappears, string and all, after "Good night light and the red balloon ..." and reappears on the last page with "Goodnight noise everywhere." Who cares about the dumb cigarette? I want to know about the balloon! There's your controversy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hey, it's not just me!

Here's a question: Was it was Doug Wilder's persona and style that allowed him to demand wide-ranging powers in the newly elected mayor's office? Now, could it be that same persona and style are the reason Manoli Loupassi is proposing a Council resolution to cut back on some of the mayor's powers in the areas of budget and spending?

Hey, it's not just me! I took a lot of heat from Fan residents and a School Board member because of comments I made about city schools in one of my columns for the magazine. I basically said you can't get a decent public school education and that's why families move out in droves. Anyway, six comments in the Times-Dispatch's Op-Ed section today from Vision 20/10 Greater Richmond Region's online survey seem to agree with my position. I hear the same thing on the playground probably twice a week. I wish the people who took offense would not see my comment as an affront to the great job they are doing improving the schools but as the reality of the situation. Most families applaud the advances being made but simply feel they don't have the time to wait around for the whole system to be fixed.

Hey, it's not just me! (Part Two) Check out the letters in response to J. Tyler Ballance's letter to Style Weekly regarding public masturbation and breastfeeding.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Who is this guy and what has he done with Doug Wilder?

In a matter of just a few days, Mayor Doug Wilder has made moves toward ... toward ... hold on while I smack myself in the back of the head to get the word out ... compromise with two groups he seemed downright unbudgeable with last week: The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation and the Richmond School Board. ("Unbudgeable"? I'm a writer. If I say it's a word, it's a word.) In the first move, Wilder proposed a commission — including Jim Ukrop, president of the foundation (and lately the Obi Wan Kenobi to Wilder's Darth Vader. Or is it the other way around? That's a matter for another post.) — to study the arts-center situation and perhaps move beyond stalemate to a workable solution for everyone. Imagine that! In the second move, Wilder, who just days ago was throwing the School Board out on its butt like Felix Unger with the clothes flying and the door slamming all of sudden decides he won't kick the Board out of their City Hall offices by Jan. 1, as he insisted he would last week. Now he's given the Board time to find money in its budget for new headquarters and has given it until July 1 to move.

Doug, what gives? We elected you because you're so darn ... what's the word again? Oh yeah, unbudgeable.*

*The spellchecker didn't like unbudgeable either. It suggested "ombudsperson."

Friday, November 11, 2005


Please, if anyone you love or hold dear lives in Dover, Pa., please beg them to GET OUT NOW! Leave their possessions and flee. Pat Robertson has sicced God Himself on the whole town for voting out of office the entire school board who supported teaching intelligent design in the public schools. This is no joke! We all saw what God did to New Orleans because they know how to party.

If I may switch gears wildly to get back to politics again. I found the story in this morning's Times-Dispatch about yesterday's luncheon dissecting the gubernatorial campaign fascinating and, might I say, kind of offensive. The very idea that after the fact these guys who run the campaigns come together and draw back the curtain and let us pathetic rubes see all the knobs and dials really does bother me. During the campaign the various strategies (which we know to be political because we are not idiots) are framed by the campaigns as matters of principle and policy. Then after it's all over they openly state that polls "whether accurate or not" allow candidates to alter their message and that no matter how repugnant voters find negative ads, they will always be used because they work. Even more offensive — despite its measure of truth — was the statement by Ken Hutcheson, Jerry Kilgore's campaign manager, that "as a society, voters are very lazy. They are uninformed because they choose to be uninformed."

That may very well be true. But candidates don't care that voters are ignorant. In fact, they probably prefer it. Then they can continue to give skin-deep, stump-speech answers to important questions or evade answering them altogether.

The article put me in mind of a brief piece by William Falk in the current issue of The Week. "To stand on principle," Falk writes, "a politician needs the flexibility of a yoga instructor and a short memory. Changing circumstances inevitably create the need for an entirely new position on "the rule of law," "the will of the people," or other such noble abstractions. ... Politics is a rugby scrum, not ballet. It's about ideas some of the time, and self-interest most of the time, but very rarely is politics about principles. Both parties will say and do whatever is necessary to win. We might all be less cynical if the players of this game, now and then, would just admit that."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Check out Art 180's Art Karma event Friday night

I wanted to give a quick plug to a fundraiser tomorrow night at Plant Zero. If you don't already know, Art 180 is a local group that brings art in all its forms to children living in challenging circumstances. You can check it all out yourself at their Web site Tomorrow night's event, Art Karma, is from 7-10 at Plant Zero Art Center, 0 E. 4th St. and it's free!

Excuse me while I whip this out ...

Sometimes things are just so weird you almost can't figure out what to say about them. In its Street Talk section on Oct. 26, Style Weekly reported the story about City Councilman Manoli Loupassi defending a guy who had been charged with exposing himself after a woman caught him, pants around his ankles, masturbating in a parked car. The issue sparked debate in the neighborhood about whether an advocate for the neighborhood — i.e., its Council representative — should defend someone deemed to be harmful to that very neighborhood. The debate goes on, I suppose, but the weird part is the letter-to-the-editor it elicited from J. Tyler Ballance.

As I said, where can you even begin? Mr. (I assume) Ballance equates public masturbation and breastfeeding by virtue of the fact that they are both natural acts, and seems to suggest that if people can't restrain themselves and choose to do these things we should all just mind our business. Well, Mr. Ballance, I had to pee pretty badly yesterday when I wasn't near a bathroom. Should I have just performed that natural act on Buford Road?

As a person who has been on both sides of this (I am not a public masturbator, but I have been the recipient of two public whipping-outs AND I have been that public breastfeeding mom who has done her own share of whipping out.) To compare a recreational whip-out for a moment's pleasure while spying women on the street with a necessary whip-out for the vital sustenance of a helpless human being is, well ...

Maybe you all can supply the word I'm looking for?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A million and one thoughts from last night...

OK, so it wasn't unanimous but it sure was decisive. The joke about it being an early night turned out to be prescient (or at least a wildly lucky call).

Tim Kaine's win proves that Virginia loves Mark Warner. There will be analysis and hand-wringing ad nauseum about whether this was a referendum on George Bush but none of us will ever know that for sure. Even when we know it we don't know it. AOL News framed much of its story about the Virginia and New Jersey Democratic wins in that context and even included a poll asking — ahem — readers from all over the world if the results in Virginia and New Jersey were a referendum on Bush's policies. A whopping 71 percent (at the time I saw it) said yes they were. Yet a paragraph just below about voter surveys in New Jersey read:

"Most voters said President Bush was not a factor in their choices
Tuesday, according to the survey conducted Tuesday by the AP and its polling
partner, Ipsos. The survey was based on interviews with 1,280 adults
throughout New Jersey who said they voted in the governor's election."

So who knows? It's a better guess that this was a referendum on Mark Warner, whose star now catapults into the stratosphere of Democratic politics. Kaine's victory, believe it or not, is not completely unlike George Bush's: Both asked the question "Should we change horses?" Both times voters decided to stay with the horse but for distinctly different reasons. Last year, voters were wary of the horse but were afraid to change in midstream. This time voters just thought it was a damn good horse.

Jerry Kilgore simply could not convince us the horse was no good. A few words on Kilgore. His concession speech was perhaps the most gracious and humble I have ever heard. I'm kicking myself for not taking notes but if someone can come up with the poetry verse he cited, about meeting triumph and defeat in the same way, I'd appreciate it. It was lovely and he was sincere and gracious in his congratulations of Tim Kaine and his family and staff. If only we had seen that Jerry Kilgore throughout the race, people might have gotten a better sense of who he is. I suspect he listened to political experts and gurus a little too closely when they said he'd have to go for the jugular with all that negativity. He should have just been himself. It might have served him better.

Meanwhile, I wish Kaine and Warner and their supporters had played it a little more humbly. I can understand spiking the ball in the end zone and a little dance maybe but it was almost like T.O. pulling the marker out of his sock. It wasn't over the top, really, but having just heard Kilgore it seemed a little bit like a thumb in the eye for Warner to go on about how we proved this and we proved that. Say thank you and shut up. Also, very low class for Kaine's supporters to start booing when Kaine tried to congratulate Kilgore.

On to smaller things. There's a new sheriff in town! Oh, I can see the headlines now with all their Toy Story references — The Buzz on Woody, Woody's Roundup, A Bullseye for Woody ...

I have to say I am a bit surprised. I really thought that Michelle Mitchell had one more rub of that lamp left. Really, that had to be the only way she has been reelected twice with embarrassment after embarrassment and scandal after scandal. Good riddance, sheriff. Don't let the saloon doors hit you in the MissBuns on your way out.

As for you, Brad Marrs — I'm sure it was my eagle eye of your strangely italicized yard signs that cost you the 44 votes. Sorry, dude.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"And Another Thing" Exclusive! Kaine Wins Unanimously!

According to our exclusive "And Another Thing" double-blind, highly scientific and nonpartisan poll Tim Kaine will clobber Jerry Kilgore tonight in a historic unanimous victory! All SIX of the voters who responded to our survey are Kaineites. ... Kaineians. ... Kainees. Anyway, the point is that it should be an early night and you heard it here first. No chance of a surprise. Go to bed. Really, it's fine.
Disclaimer: Richmond Magazine, its management and ownership, disavow this ridiculous poll 100 percent. Giampietro is a political neophyte, not to mention a crazy person with delusions of grandeur. And she really believes those six "voters" were all different people.

Now, onto the matter of how Jerry Kilgore throws a football. Reports keep mentioning that in a public appearance with George Allen Saturday Kilgore threw wobbly passes to the crowd. Long record of public service aside, no one wants a governor or a husband who throws like a girl. Prom date for your daughter maybe ...

Today alone I have received four calls from the Republican Party reminding me to vote and to bring a friend. Since being called by Rudy Giuliani and George Allen I have also been called by President Bush. (At least I think it was him because oddly enough he never actually said it was him. Conspiracy-theory mind that I have, I wonder if they didn't use the part of the tape where he says "This is President George Bush" because, well, you know ... ) Anyway, before the polls close in 20 minutes I am fully expecting a call from Ronald Reagan from beyond the grave.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Can you stand another poll? Also, the idiot strikes again!

It's just keeps getting funnier. Now the Kaine sign on the corner of Huguenot and Koger Center Blvd. has been covered over on both sides with some kind of cardboard! Yep, that'll keep him from winning! ...

Hey, anyone voting in Richmond: I urge you to vote for C.T. Woody for Sheriff because, really, how cool would it be to have Sheriff Woody in town? ...

I got messages from my good friends Rudy Giuliani and George Allen reminding me to vote for Jerry Kilgore. Rudy and George and I are like this. ... What, they called you too? ...

OK, we're down to it. Tomorrow's the election and if all 10 people who read this blog would kindly comment with a quick "Kaine," "Kilgore" or "Potts" (that was alphabetical order, of course), maybe we could get a quick read on how it's going to go tomorrow. On your honor, please submit only once. Also on your honor, please don't vote if you, you know, don't live in Virginia.

Friday, November 04, 2005

On His Excellency's land grab and a couple other things...

If you think our race for governor is nasty you need to check out what's going on in New Jersey. Republican candidate Doug Forrester has used in a TV spot a quote from Democratic candidate Sen. Jon Corzine's ex-wife! Joanne Corzine had told the New York Times in an interview last week: "All I could think was that Jon did let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too." We need to be thankful that all we've got is guys arguing over whether Hitler should have gotten the death penalty ...

That campaign sign of Tim Kaine's that I wrote about the other day outside the law offices of Hall & Hall (which of course is Frank Hall, the House Democratic leader in the General Assembly) has been replaced with a new pristine one and moved closer to the road ...

And what is going on with Doug Wilder????!!!! I will not pretend to know the legal intricacies of the eminent domain issue but I was aghast (as a great many people were) by the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in June strongly affirming the right of local governments to force property owners to sell property to make way for private projects — not roads and bridges — but malls and hotels and other economic development. Now our mayor (through his right-hand man, Paul Goldman) is floating the idea of seizing the Carpenter Center back from the Virginia Foundation for the Performing Arts because the Foundation's plan won't open the venue quickly enough for him. But I don't even believe this is about eminent domain and economic development. This is about His Excellency enjoying every moment of this melodrama and not missing any opportunity to twist the knife in the already mortally wounded VPAF. This mayor has become all about control: He wants it all and he's almost completely out of it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Sorry there was no post yesterday and really not much of one today. I've been out of commission for a couple days after a bout with something that landed me in the E.R. Tuesday night. Thank you to the good people at St. Francis Medical Center. I'll be back tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The saga of one campaign sign

I've been watching one campaign sign with great interest. It's one of those big two-sided signs and it happens to be Tim Kaine's. It's sitting on the corner of Huguenot and Koger Center Blvd. in front of a law office. I remember there was a big Kerry sign there last year, and sure enough the Kaine sign went up probably a couple of months ago. What was interesting to me was that within a few weeks the sign had been moved from its spot right near the road to way back by the building. It was still visible of course but I suspect some Kilgore operative went out there and measured something and looked up some statute and found that it was two feet beyond where it was supposed to be or something. Then, I guess about two weeks ago (as things began really heating up, you see) someone on the Kaine side figures who gives a flying fig and moves the thing back up near the road. Well the latest in this tempest in a teapot — no, a thimble — is that the Kaine sign has now been defaced on all sides with silver paint with a circle with a line through it. Now, truthfully I don't care whose sign is two feet over or who is defacing whose. I'm sure both sides are guilty of these shenanigans. What fascinates me though is the idea that someone is out there battling for every single sign. That indeed someone was probably dispatched to check out the position of that one sign, and some idiot (and there is no evidence to suggest it was an idiot from the Kilgore campaign) took the time out of his (or her!) busy idiot life to skulk over to Huguenot Road, most likely in the dark, park at a safe distance, hide behind a bush until it was all clear, shake up his little can and do the dirty deed. It would be hilarious if it weren't so pathetic. No, scratch that. It is hilarious.