The Blog Squad

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

So, are we all ready to absolve Julia?

Well, that didn’t take long. I wondered when we were going to get the tearful explanation from the parent whose child was bitten by the Maymont bear. The “I-did-everything-you-would-have-done-but-something-happened-that-was-completely-out-my-control” explanation.

“I don’t see this as Maymont’s fault or my fault. It was an accident,” she said.

Her lawyer, Michael Morchower, said the same: “This was an accident. Everyone has to live with it and accept it and not point fingers. If this is negligence on her part, then 80 percent of mothers and fathers in Richmond better take notice.”

Ah, the accident.

Accidents, you see, just happen. Poof, like that. They happen all the time -- cars crash into each other, people fall over the sides of enormous cruise ships, vice presidents shoot their friends in face -- but they are not anyone’s fault, for goodness sake. Accidents happen. They are not actually caused by anything or anyone, so let’s not dare point any fingers.

Julia says she turned around for a few seconds and lost sight of her son. Who hasn’t had that happen with a 4-year-old? But just say it: I made a mistake. It is completely and utterly my fault. And now the bears are dead and it is a guilt I will have to live with my whole life.

Instead we get: “My feelings are no different than what other people are going through.” If that’s true, it means her grief is unburdened by any sense of guilt whatsoever.

And still, there are unanswered questions -- things that just don’t add up.
She says she doesn’t remember anyone at St. Mary’s mentioning anything about rabies treatment on Saturday when it happened. “I’m sure they did, but I don’t recall. I was worried about what was going on with my son.”

Hold it. You are so worried about your son’s health that you don’t remember doctors talking to you about how to treat him properly? It wasn’t until Wednesday that the rabies process was explained to her by health department officials. And it wasn’t until a day later that the mother who was so sharply focused on her son’s health agreed to go ahead with the treatment. If time was so much of the essence why did it take 5½ days to get to that point?

As a mother, I want to be compassionate and sympathetic here. I really do. It takes every bit of our attention and vigilance when we are in public to make sure our little ones are safe. And there’s not one of us who hasn’t had a scary moment in a park or a parking lot or on a crowded beach. But hearing “it’s not my fault” in this particular case just doesn’t cut it. Two bears are dead for no reason. That must be someone’s fault. But hold on, there’s enough blame to around. (There I go, finger-pointing again…)

Because the biggest hole in this story was exposed in the explosive revelation that the Centers for Disease Control now says it gave local officials two options -- euthanize the bears OR treat the child. That was clearly not the impression given by health officials here: according to the Times-Dispatch timeline of events, health department officials contacted the CDC, which "recommends euthanizing the bears and testing them for rabies." Local officials have yet to respond to that particular bombshell.

Well? We’re waiting …

Monday, February 27, 2006

More questions about the Bear Affair

I have a few lingering questions about the whole Bear Affair:

1. How much pressure did the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries put on Maymont to euthanize the bears? What about the CDC? Was their recommendation to euthanize the last word?

2. A VCU Health System pediatric emergency doctor was quoted in the paper as saying that she starts a child on the rabies treatment regimen at least once a month after a child has been bitten by a dog or scratched by a cat. Does that mean it is standard procedure to start rabies treatment with any bite from a wild animal or unknown domesticated animal? If so, why didn't the boy receive immediate treatment for rabies (other than antibiotics) at St. Mary's on Sunday after he was bitten?

3. Maymont said that quarantining the bears was not an option because rabies symptoms could take a very long time to develop and by then it would be "too late" for the child. Was it possible, though, to treat the child with the shots AND quarantine the bears for several months, even, until they safely showed no signs of rabies?

4. When we will learn who these parents are?

5. Now that Mayor Wilder is involved, do I smell yet another commission?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Wild Parents Kill Maymont Bears

As parents, we do not go to extraordinary lengths to protect our children. Instead, we keep our kids safe in a million little ways, every minute of every day. We hold hands in the parking lot; we take a wide swing around them when we're holding a hot cup of coffee; we reflexively throw a stiff-arm when we open the oven door. We keep them safe distances away from wild bears.

Most of us.

I am not, in any way, going to slam Maymont for this tragedy. I feel terrible for everyone who works over there. Maymont is, hands down, my favorite place in Richmond. It is a jewel, but one that has now been tarnished or smudged or cracked or whatever happens to precious things -- all because of the unbelievably irresponsible behavior of a parent or parents. The details aren't coming out (yet) but apparently last weekend a parent or parents allowed their 4-year-old son to climb over a 4-ft. fence and approach another 10-ft. high fence that surrounded the two bears who lived at Maymont. One of the bears bit or scratched the boy -- not severely enough to even require stitches.

The parents must have high-tailed it out of there knowing it was completely their fault because no one at Maymont was notified about it until Tuesday. After meetings with the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Maymont was compelled to euthanize both bears because of the small but possible threat of rabies. Both bears were destroyed because no one knew which bear bit the boy.

This is heartbreaking. If I had a dime for every time I walked that path and stood one of my kids up to the little window to look for those bears among the rocks and trees I would have enough money to hire a fancy lawyer to sue those parents for negligent idiocy on behalf of all of Richmond.

In the T-D this morning, Susan Allmond, Maymont's senior zoologist is quoted as saying, "They've been ripped from us." Those people, with their one foolish, irresponsible action ripped something from the entire city. They have managed to tarnish something so precious to us and they have, quite possibly, changed Maymont. Reports said there are no plans to change anything about the fences, but just watch. Maymont officials will get nervous -- rightfully so -- and fences will get higher and access to the animals will become more carefully choreographed, and that in itself will change the very nature of the Victorian estate and its beautiful grounds and the way it places you quite easily in a time when people were much closer to animals and nature.

I may be wrong. I hope I am. I hope this doesn't permanently change Maymont. But it's at least changed for a while, because for the foreseeable future when you walk down that hill past the hawks and the owls and get to those little windows, you will see nothing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In a political crisis, common sense lies in a ditch by the side of the road...

What is going on in the world of government officials and their ability or inability to communicate with each other? I know for me personally, I have a land-line telephone, a cellphone and molasses-in-January dial-up to send an e-mail and I can pretty much reach someone or be reached by someone at any time. I can speak and type in full sentences, read without moving my lips, and my ears work perfectly well. So when I do have to communicate something important or receive communication, I'm usually able to get all the pertinent information out or in.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I went hunting with my Aunt Verna, and -- oh, I don't know -- accidentally shot her in the face. You can bet I'd get Aunt Verna to the hospital immediately and then while I was waiting around all that time in the E.R. I would call Uncle Ed and tell him all the horrible details. You can also bet that within four or five hours, every cousin in the family would know. Even cousin Lenny, who is sort of the family spokesperson and unofficial disseminator of tragic information would know -- long before the next morning -- that cousin Janet was, indeed, the shooter. All of this accurate information disseminated, by the way, without the benefit of a Blackberry or a cadre of employees who follow me everywhere I go.

Now -- let's just say as a different example that I am on a road trip of some kind in -- oh, um western Kansas. And I get a call (cousin Lenny, naturally) telling me that Aunt Verna has been arrested. What? Arrested?! Good God, Lenny, give me every detail! Now, what I'd probably do is get back home ASAP, probably by driving a few hours to the nearest airport and taking a ridiculously expensive flight -- maybe more than $800. I probably wouldn't get there until the next day, but the way I'd see it, if anybody needed to talk to me urgently about it, there's always that cellphone in my pocket.

So, you see what I'm getting at. Common sense is the hubcap that flies off the wheel of a fast-moving political crisis. In his most recent column, Paul Greenberg puts it in plain language: "Dick Cheney would look a lot better by now, or at least like a guy who had nothing to hide, if he'd just gone ahead and told everybody what had happened as soon as he'd attended to his friend."

Meanwhile, in Chesterfield County, some of my and my neighbors' tax dollars -- $18,000+ in all -- were used to fly County Administrator Lane Ramsey home on a charter flight from Kansas to Richmond within five hours of learning that Supervisor Ed Barber had been arrested. Ramsey is quoted in the Times-Dispatch today as saying, "...we had just had our board chairman arrested and had no idea what was going on, and I needed to get back to the county." I simply don't understand in the age we live in, how it is ever possible to have no idea what is going on. I can understand that you may not have all the facts, but your distance from the goings-on isn't what keeps you out of the loop. I am sure that Ramsey could have been privy to as much information as any of Barber's fellow supervisors. It's called a phone, people and guess what? They even have them on airplanes these days! Isn't that a hoot?

So basically what we've got is government officials moving too slowly or moving too quickly but either way ignoring the sound of that hubcap clattering and spinning to the ground.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

If a gun fires and no one catches a bullet, does it really have any meaning?

Anyone who believes that most hips are better off unencumbered by guns needs to read a story in the Chesterfield Observer which focuses on Philip Van Cleave of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. On second thought, maybe not. You probably don't need the agita. It came out just as Cheney's mess was escalating but the interview obviously took place before the vice president shot his friend on a quail shoot in Texas. Van Cleave was responding to Jack Reid's accidental firing of his pistol in his General Assembly office. Van Cleave flippantly dismisses the fuss over it: "You're never happy about an accident, but no one was hurt." Writer Charles Batchelor says, "Van Cleave said it was a meaningless accident..." There were no quotation marks around "meaningless accident" so I don't know if those are Van Cleave's words or Batchelor's. The message is clear though. I wonder how meaningless the people who work on the other side of Reid's office door thought it was. And if it was meaningless because no one got hurt, does that make Cheney's accident a meaningful one?

Van Cleave goes on to say that the Reid incident was only a big deal to people "who don't like guns anyway. If he had had a car wreck, you wouldn't be talking about cars."

Oh, my. Van Cleave, of course, doesn't acknowledge the flip side -- that the only people who were blase about the incident were the people who are already in love with guns. Which is why most people did think it was a big deal.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Premeditated or not, Fawley's crime is hideous

I'm not going to pretend to be schooled enough in the law to understand the finer points of the amended charges against Ben Fawley in the Taylor Behl murder case. But I found it interesting that prosecutors have changed the charges to omit the "willful premeditation" piece. A couple days earlier I was talking with a friend who said there was a lot of talk within law enforcement that the first-degree murder charge was the wrong one. My friend felt that there was no way they could prove that charge, especially since there seems to be so little forensic evidence. Plus, Fawley's story sounds like it could be true. If Behl was having a consensual physical relationship with Fawley and she may have been playing dangerous games -- in every sense of the word -- then this could be a likely scenario. And Fawley, who seems like an emotionally stunted teenager, just might be the type to freak out and decide the best thing to do is dump her body.
There is that account from Fawley's ex-roommate in Style. Though Fawley seems to have spent a few hours in his room "recovering" from that phony abduction he claimed to have been the victim of, he seems to have pulled it together pretty quickly.

I'm bewildered and frightened now at how smoothly Ben carried on, knowing that a few hours earlier, he'd pitched Taylor's body into a ravine in Mathews County. After rising from the couch, he spent hours that day on the phone with technicians trying to solve my computer problems, several times bending at the waist to clutch his stomach and groan loudly before rising to verify configurations, pull up dialog boxes, check and uncheck options. He didn't drive, so a few days later he asked a female friend to take us to the warehouse store where I'd made the purchase, and he loaded the monstrous box into her sports car. Ben is small. I was concerned that the box was a struggle, but he dismissed any idea that he needed help. ...

I've since looked back on the immensity of the box and the apparent ease with which he hoisted it. I've wondered how much Taylor weighed.

You would think someone who accidentally killed someone he supposedly cared about and then made the reprehensible decision to dump her body would be so racked with guilt and emotion that he wouldn't be able to function. The detached coolness with which he carried on -- having friends over, handing out fliers, even commiserating with Behl's mother -- sounds sociopathic, but is it enough to have proved premeditation?

Ultimately, though, these are legal nuances -- first-degree, second-degree, premeditation. It means a great deal in the court room but not much out here in the real world. To anyone with any common sense, we see very little distinction between someone who would plan to kill you and dump your body and someone who would accidentally kill you ... and dump your body.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jack Reid breathes a sigh of relief...

Today, Jack Reid must be thinking: "At least I only shot a door." ...

T-D columnist Michael Paul Williams said what a lot us of were thinking about Doug Wilder's pitch to corporate America to pony up for construction of the National Slavery Museum: It's either the most brilliantly nuanced fundraising tactic ever or the most blatant kind of shakedown ...

Former City Councilman Lewis "Do You Even Remember Me on Council?" Coates finally paid back more than $1,700 he owed the city after cashing two checks and swearing in an affidavit he never even got the first one. He gave an explanation for why he signed the affidavit, but I still can't decipher it. "Normally I don't keep a record of every check that I cash," he said. He added: "I wanted to clear my name." Apparently, he wants to clear his name as a crook by convincing us he's an idiot. ...

And lastly, local police departments might want to brace themselves for a sudden loss of officers, most especially the single ones. Something tells me a lot of them are going to be applying for jobs in Spotsylvania County.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

At the outer edges of free speech

In all of the news surrounding the worldwide protests by Muslims over newspaper cartoon caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, I have been most interested by what has not been reported here in the U.S.: the cartoons themselves. If Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that started all this by challenging political cartoonists to depict Muhammad, set out to test the limits of freedom of speech, it has clearly achieved that. We are now seeing the limit. A French editor has been fired for reprinting the cartoons. And, perhaps most tellingly, the cartoons have not, as far as I can tell, been published here in the U.S., home of the First Amendment. Generally, as part of a news story, a publication or network would show the controversial images (unless, perhaps there was graphic violence or sex involved). But every story I have seen so far has omitted the images that have shocked and offended much of the Muslim world.

It is taboo in the Muslim faith to depict Muhammad in any way -- even positively -- for fear that images of the prophet would lead to idolatry. But are non-Muslims supposed to adhere to laws of a religion they do not subscribe to? Andrew Sullivan made this point very well in his latest column for Time. Kathleen Parker also wrote a good piece defending our right to be outraged by the reaction around the world. Tolerance, acceptance of other religions? Absolutely. But at the cost of being blackmailed, extorted, threatened and intimidated into giving up a right as basic as the freedom to worship -- the freedom to speak?

I have seen cartoons, TV shows, comics, etc., take shots at the bishops and cardinals in my church -- depicting them leering lasciviously at innocent young boys. I've managed a knowing and cynical chuckle or two, but I will admit it stings -- in the same way peroxide burns when poured on a cut. Satire is meant to sting. Free people should be allowed to sting sometimes. And to be stung.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More on Holmberg's insult of Behl's mother

There's an interesting discussion going on behind my post from a few days ago about a Mark Holmberg column, in which he -- in my opinion -- maligned Taylor Behl's mother. I was about to post a lengthy comment but I figured I might as well revisit the whole issue since it seems to have struck a nerve out there. One anonymous poster (gee whiz, I wish you people would use some kind of name just so I can keep you straight...) suggested that perhaps it is Janet Pelasara's fiery personality that comes across as harsh on TV, which the poster described as a "cool medium." Another anonymous poster countered that Pelasara has earned her right, in the most dreadful way, to be harsh on TV.

Here's the thing. All of those comments are interesting, well-reasoned and most of all, respectful of Mrs. Pelasara and what she has been through. My point continues to be that Holmberg stepped way over all those lines by using the language he chose. Remember, he accused Pelasara of continuing to "bask in the media spotlight like a contestant on some kind strange 'American Idol' for grieving family members." Am I the only one who finds that comment revolting? He owes Janet Pelasara an apology and I for one am astounded that there hasn't been a slew of letters to the editor of the T-D yet or comments in the Your Two Cents section. Readers tore Holmberg apart when he wrote that story about the kid who beat up the bully at the bus stop and then blamed our "feminized" society for the kid's punishment. Then, of course, Holmberg got to write another column about the reaction to that column.
Oh, I see now! Holmberg's probably just saving up the outraged comments so that he can write another column about that, and chastise the rest of us for buying into the corporate cable news philosophy that the murder of an attractive white girl "weighs more" than the murder of people who have lived their lives in the margins of society.

There is room for legitimate -- and respectful -- debate about how far the family members of murder victims should go in feeding the hungry cable news monster that survives on gore and grief. However, Holmberg's grenade at Pelasara was neither legitimate nor respectful.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Style serves up another piece in the Ben Fawley puzzle

Thanks, Jason. Style Weekly's feature is a first-person account of the days surrounding Taylor Behl's disappearance as told by Ben Fawley's roommate at the time, Cesca Janece Waterfield. It is a riveting account that fits another piece into the puzzle that is Ben Fawley: a 38-year-old who seems to be trapped in adolescence, yet is the father of two girls. His initial arrest on child pornography charges makes that particular fact all the more awful. Waterfield recalls Fawley's insistence about keeping children away from pornography: "He raged about the irresponsibility of adults who allowed pornography to find its way into the hands of children and avowed to take every conceivable precaution to ensure that nothing he sold would come near anyone other than adults. Since his arrest for child pornography, some depicting children younger than 3, his claims and the intensity with which he made them remain chilling mysteries to me." Waterfield doesn't come right out and say, "Methinks he doth protest too much" but you get the idea.

Please read this story for yourselves. Although the details Waterfield provides are fascinating at at times startling, they simply raise more questions than they answer about this character, Ben Fawley. Waterfield acknowleges as much, as she continues to try to make sense of the things she saw and heard and experienced while she was Fawley's roommate. Even in looking at his photographs it seems there is little insight. While most art in some ways reveals the artist, Waterfield tells us that Fawley's photographs of vulnerable young women juxtaposed against backdrops of decaying buildings or crumbling facades were hackneyed rip-offs of stuff we've seen a million times. It sounds as if looking at his photographs is a bit like staring into his soul and finding nothing.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Talk amongst yourselves...

Well, it figures. You try to dispense with the eyebrow and that's still the only thing people want to comment on. Actually, folks, I just wanted to check in with you today to let you know I'm a little under the weather, so I've got nothing to discuss with you today. With any luck I'll bounce back tomorrow and offer up some insight of earth-shattering importance and relevance. For now all I've got to amuse you is this, a quote from my 3-year-old son yesterday:

"I love to dress up like a princess and a space ranger."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Other than the eyebrow, how do you think he did?

Let's get the eyebrow out the way. Yes, it has a life of its own. Yes, it seems to be controlled from above Tim Kaine's head from an unseen puppeteer. But these are trivialities. How did you feel about Kaine's performance last night in delivering the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union address? I hope that all Virginians were pulling for the guy, inasmuch as he represents all of us, whether you voted for him or not. The last thing any of us would want is some goofball who would embarrass himself and, by extension, us. Clearly, that didn't happen.

Kaine seemed mostly comfortable but his overly hurried cadence at times -- sort of rushing into that "there's a better way" mantra -- made him sound almost a little like an infomercial salesman. Overall, though, on the superficialities I think Kaine did just fine.

Now to the substance. Kaine managed to challenge the Bush administration on every major issue without sounding like a partisan hack, which was a delicate line to walk. On the economy Kaine scored when he compared Bush's fiscal policies to asking our children to pay our mortgage. "Why should we allow this administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren?" He talked about the flipside of No Child Left Behind -- arguing that the lack of funding is "wreaking havoc" on local school districts, though the "better way" he described didn't seem to address that specific criticism.

I thought perhaps his strongest moment came, surprisingly, in taking Bush on where he is strongest -- the war on terror.

"The president called again tonight for our commitment to win the war on terror and to support our troops. All Americans embrace those goals. We can, and we must, defeat those who attack and kill innocent people. While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans, so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon. Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?"

It's no secret that the Bush administration has tried to paint any criticism of its policies and tactics in Iraq as unpatriotic and I think Kaine managed to open the door to the idea that there might be other ways to fight the war on terror -- that's it's not "Yer with us or again' us." And that we can disagree about tactics and policies while agreeing on the overarching goals.

Finally, I think Kaine said something so old and basic it almost sounded fresh: It was the idea that government should serve the people. He said that government works when it focuses on service. "It's about measuring what we do in terms of real results for real people." He criticized the Bush administration for falling short of its responsibility to serve the people in almost every area of life -- from the victims of Hurricane Katrina to the unemployed to the troops serving in Iraq as well as the environment, family farms, health care and safety in the workplace. It came dangerously close to sounding like the people should look to government to solve every last one of their problems but it also sounded refreshingly noble and selfless in the face of ongoing charges of corruption, cronyism and ethics violations in Washington.

Kaine's performance seemed to get some decent reviews. The New York Times called it the "coming-out party for a new Democratic star." The Indianapolis Star called Kaine a "rising star" of the party.

Not every one was happy. Commenting at, George Blair of Suffolk had this to say:

"For the first time since I was a teenager in the 50's, I was ashamed of the
Governor of my state. Gov. Kaine allowed himself to be trotted out like a new
puppy dog to espouse the political hetoric of Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry and John Dean*. If this speech had been made prior to November's election, I doubt Kaine would be in the executive mansion. Has he been masquerading as a "new Democrat"? After only a few weeks as Governor, does he have his sights set on a national stage. It would have been far better to leave off the tired old criticism and stay with suggesting ways to improve our nation and national politics. This would be more in the tradition of Virginia Statesmanship."

*One presumes he means Howard Dean.

Then again:

George S. of Norfolk said, "Governor Kaine on the other hand blew Bush out of the office. Way to go Kaine, we are so proud to have your honest out spoken opinion of this arrogant speech and disgusting President."

Voters at the website's poll (at that point with 459 votes) rated Kaine's performance this way:
Excellent -- 30%
Good -- 11%
Fair -- 13%
Poor -- 39%
Didn't see
it -- 5%

Which brings me to the people I care to hear from -- you. Your thoughts on the job Kaine did last night?

Postscript: Did you realize that if a tornado had blown the Capitol building away last night, Eric Cantor would be president today?