The Blog Squad

Friday, June 30, 2006

Remind me again how justice was served?

OK, so let me get this straight. Ed Barber, Midlothian representative for the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, pleads guilty to lesser charges in the sexual battery of his teenage stepdaughter. He does so, he says, not because he is guilty but to spare his family the pain of a trial, yadda yadda yadda.

The special prosecutor expresses satisfaction that the victim has been spared the trauma of a trial, yadda yadda yadda, she has closure. Justice has been served!


The only thing that has been served here is that a case has been “closed” in the legal sense and the docket cleared. But how is justice really served? If Ed Barber is an innocent man -- as he has maintained all along (and I have no idea really, but if you were innocent of something so heinous as this would you ever consider pleading guilty?) -- but if he is innocent, his life is now in ruins. He has no job (he’s out at Crenshaw Elementary) and though he says he will hold onto his Supervisor seat the groundswell of disgust among Chesterfield voters suggests it’s just a matter of time before he steps down.

If he is guilty as charged, how in God’s good earth was justice served for that teenage girl? Just because she doesn’t have to endure the pain of a trial doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t go on. One report said the girl had kept a journal saying Barber had been touching her since she was 12. And to know the guy is walking around free when he should be in jail? … Well, how would you feel if you were her parents?

So again, I ask the question. How was justice served in all this?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rainy days

We sure have had a lot of rain in the past few days -- so much that the governor declared an emergency and Shockoe Bottom merchants were watching warily. For now, though, it looks like the downpour stopped in time to avoid major flooding downtown.

Still, there were tragedies and close calls. Among the saddest news was the death of 8-year-old Nikki Godbold of Allegheny County. She was swept away when she fell into Dunlap Creek, and her body was found yesterday. It's terrible when you read about something like this, imagining what it feels like for the family and friends.

Everyone knows that rain is part of nature's cycle, and certainly more than a few of us may have chuckled at the thought of the federal government coming to a standstill because of this week's rain. But it doesn't always take a tsunami or a hurricane to create tragedy in people's lives. God bless the Godbold family.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Final update

Hey, guys. We've been discussing the Elliott issue situation here, and it's too much for us to handle international orders. We're all working to meet next month's deadlines, and this is taking an enormous amount of time away from our regular jobs (editing, writing). So, we are shutting down the Elliott e-mail account and are taking orders only from the United States. The phone lines remain open at (804) 355-0111, and we will take domestic orders as long as we have enough copies of the July issue.

We will be sending out the international issues already ordered, but we just can't take any more. We're sorry. Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and understanding.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Old Yaminion

The madness has truly hit: We've heard from people in 32 states, Canada and Germany, all ordering copies of the July issue of Richmond magazine, which hits stands today in the greater Richmond area. If you haven't heard, it has Our Boy Elliott Yamin on the cover. The story -- which follows him from Richmond to L.A. -- goes into E's background (43 jobs!) and his future (very bright). So far, copies are still available, but there's no telling for how long.

We've also had record traffic on our Web site, and at the moment, I can't even open the page. As a result, it's possible that no one's reading this blog post. Still, it's been fun to hear from the callers. You guys are definitely enthusiastic, and we've been impressed with how far away some of you live (I've personally taken calls from Arizona and California). One person we spoke to said Elliott's the best thing since sliced bread and Elvis. We like him too.

UPDATE: We're up to 38 states and the District of Columbia, as of Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Latest in the D'angelo saga

So, a little bird told me ... actually, a person familiar with the situation... All right. A reliable source said that D'angelo, the reclusive neo-soul singer from Richmond whom we wrote about in June, narrowly escaped some serious trouble.

When we last heard about D'angelo, he was under threat of being served with a warrant, and his Chesterfield County house was under foreclosure. According to our source, who wishes to remain anonymous, the singer came up with the money and is now back in his home. Still no word on the warrant or any future recordings. We'll apprise you of further developments.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tropicalia ... on Horsepen

I went to Full Kee, a traditional Chinese restaurant on Horsepen, on Saturday night. The food was excellent (big points for crab Rangoon), but what was super-cool was the list of old-school tropical drinks at the front of the menu. My dining partner and I partook of a Mai Tai and a Zombie served in a brown tiki glass with a face, something like this:

Other drinks include the Virgin's Downfall and the Bachelor's Downfall (mutual?). I know we're a long way from Honolulu, but this drink list brings us just a step closer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Well, of course it was Holmberg...

Yes, indeed it was Mark Holmberg who said it. It got under my skin in January when he wrote it and I spent a couple of days ranting about it on the blog. I wondered then, as I wonder now, how someone could just say something so callous and there not be tremendous outrage over it. After all, there's usually some outrage about something Holmberg has written, as he is always proud to point out in his subsequent column about the outrage. What Ann Coulter said about four of the 9/11 widows was just unconscionable and it brought up the whole Holmberg thing for me again. ...

Anyway, I'll be out of town for the next week, but I can't wait to find out when I get home:

(A) Where Doug Wilder has put his foot -- in his own mouth or in someone else's behind

(B) What the bear's name is

(C) If Gene Cox is still saying "Short Town Pump Center"

Have a great week and wish me luck with the kids for 14 hours in the car. (Hmmm, what was that Nanny 911 info again?...)

Need a nanny?

Well, we all know that children from Richmond are very polite and never misbehave. So these folks won't have any volunteers. But I'm posting anyway, just as a public service, in case there are some recent transplants browsing this blog.

Here we go: Fox's "Nanny 911" is going to be in the area from July 12-19. They're looking for families with "out-of-control kids" (what are those?). British nannies Deb, Stella and Yvonne -- a combination of Mary Poppins and Harry Potter's Professor McGonagall -- are the ladies who take charge of households in an uproar.

If, by chance, you have an unwieldy pack of kids, click here or call (800) 928-4515 for more information. To apply, email Nanny911Casting (at) with the following info:

Name and ages of all family members in the house
Location (city and state)
Description of situation/children's behavior
Recent family photo

And then watch the skies for a woman hanging onto an umbrella.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Let's play "Who Said It?" !!!

OK, sharpies! Who said it?

"[She continues] to bask in the media spotlight like a contestant on some kind of strange 'American Idol' for grieving family members.”

A. Ann Coulter, on the 9/11 widows

B. T-D columnist Mark Holmberg, on Janet Pelasara, Taylor Behl's mother

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Laurels for the poet

Today, Donald Hall was named the U.S. poet laureate. As a former English major who has a big thing for sonnets, I like it when poetry makes the news.

Hall, 77, lives in New Hampshire and is best known for his poems dealing with the loss of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, who died from leukemia a decade ago. I plan to select a book or two to read this summer. Ron Smith, a Richmond poet and teacher at St. Christopher's School, had this to say about Hall:

"Donald Hall has been part of the furniture of my mind as far back as high school. He has dedicated his long life to poetry -- a downright heroic achievement in America these days. He has edited more books, I'll bet, than some 'educated' people have read. He has a sharp eye and a deep well of compassion. His attitude toward poets in the academy is instructively wary, and many of his poems are simply unforgettable. I think of 'My Son My Executioner,' 'Ox Cart Man,' 'Names of Horses,' 'Kicking the Leaves,' and many others. Poet Laureate? This is the first I've heard of it. What I say is Congratulations. Well-deserved."

Virginia has a proud heritage of fine poets: former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, 2006 Weinstein Poetry Prize winner George Garret (both with ties to the University of Virginia) and Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson (a professor at University of Mary Washington, my alma mater). And there are many more that I'm sure I'm leaving out.

This is a recording of Hall reading "Mount Kearsage," one of his poems.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Peach season

It is always a pleasure when peach season returns. I purchased my first fresh, local yellow peach of the season today at the Carytown Ukrop's. My favorite aspect of the peach is its versatility. It's delightful in a pork dish, on top of cereal or baked in a cobbler. And of course picked straight from the tree.

When I took the job at Richmond magazine, I moved from Charlottesville, where peaches are plentiful. Chiles Orchard in Crozet offers a pick-your-own deal and, one weekend a year, sells homemade peach ice cream benefiting a local women's group. Although it's nice to be back in my hometown, I'd best not think too much about missing out on that ice cream. It's that good.

After extensive research (checking state agricultural Web sites), I realized that peaches straight from the tree are a little difficult to come by in Richmond. But beyond the weekly farmers' markets, here are two semi-nearby suggestions: Bush Neck Farm in James City County, where you can pluck peaches from the trees, and All Good Things Farm Market in Dinwiddie County, offering "juicy peaches" from mid-June to September.

OK, now I'm getting hungry.

From the Die-Hard-Sports-Fan-With-Zero-Compassion Department:

Overheard today at a Midlothian drug store:

Employee #1: "I was sorry to hear about Roethlisberger."

Employee #2: "No, that's good for me. I'm a Browns fan."

Monday, June 12, 2006

City housing czar offers mea culpa for blighted house

Dr. Freed G. “Mike” Etienne, who was just last week named as Richmond's deputy chief administrative officer in charge of housing, land use and community development, explained in a late Friday press release that he plans to restore the blighted house he co-owns at 3416 East Clay Street, in the Chimborazo Park area.

The press release from the city says that Etienne is working with the property's co-owner, Steven S. Morris, a local architect and builder, to renovate the house.

News of Etienne's connection to the blighted property was first reported by the Church Hill People's News, a neighborhood adovcacy blog, on June 7.

According to the news release, Etienne and Morris bought the property in 1996 for $27,000. (Today, the mayor's press secretary, Linwood Norman, said he's trying to clarify whether that was the actual purchase price since other property records suggest Etienne and Morris may have bought the house and land for as little as $9,500.)

Etienne says he he had planned to renovate the house as his primary residence, but then was offered a job in Roanoke. Hence, the renovation project never began.

With the house unoccupied and boarded up, Etienne and Morris attempted several times to sell it for the amount originally paid, but no one came forward to purchase the property. With Etienne returning to live in Richmond, renovation work began several weeks ago.

Norman says Etienne is moving into the Chimborazo Park area, which still struggles with problems of drug activity and crime, as something of an "urban pioneer."

"Really what he's doing is stepping up to the plate," Norman says.

The press release included a lengthy quote from Etienne signalling his intentions and taking responsibility for the property's deteriorated condition.

“I am looking forward to living in the Chimborazo area and contributing toward the further revitalization within this wonderful neighborhood,” said Etienne. “The house is being restored in accordance with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s historic preservation standards, and we are planning to move into our new home by December of this year.

“I regret any appearance of property blight or neglect while I lived away from Richmond, and I am apologetic for this,” he said. “Even though my intentions have been explained, there is still no excuse for not having been more diligent and this matter will be fully corrected.” —Jack Cooksey

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Irony 101: City's new housing czar owns a ramshackle eyesore?

Interesting news out of City Hall this week. In brief, the city's new housing chief, Dr. Freed G. "Mike" Etienne has some explaining to do with regard to an eyesore of a property at 3416 E. Clay St.for which he is listed as co-owner.

William E. Harrell, the city of Richmond's chief administrative officer, announced on Monday, June 5, the appointment of Dr. Freed G. “Mike” Etienne as the city's first deputy chief administrative officer in charge of housing, land use and community development.

Departments under Etienne's purview are specifically charged with responding to complaints about blighted, vacant and abandoned properties. On the face of it, the house on East Clay appears to be left for dead.

Credit goes to the Church Hill People's News, a scrappy neighborhood advocacy blog, for being the first to get this on the radar. The blog's report and message board suggest that neighbors have watched the property go untended for some time.

In all fairness, Etienne has not had a chance to tell the full story about the property. Richmond magazine's Harry Kollatz Jr. attempted to get some comment from the city about Etienne's connection to the house, and so far has been told, in a voice mail message, that the property is in the process of being restored.

If that is the case, it probably appears to residents of that neighborhood that it's about time. --Jack Cooksey

Friday, June 09, 2006

Art that matches the sofa (OK, kidding ...)

I moved into my new home last weekend, and now I'm looking into purchasing some original art. This is where you can help me and others.

I want interesting art (preferably larger paintings, unusual landscapes) at a relatively low price. This probably sounds totally crass and against the whole ethos of art-for-art's-sake (and bite the bullet if the price is $5,000). But this is real life, real budget. I'm thinking VCU art students' paintings, upper limit of $300, but I need to know where to find some of these pieces. If you know about any art sales, galleries or have any work you want to sell, respond in the comments section.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How would the real experts have handled the Cookie Kids?

Since there were no new developments in the Cookie Caper today, the news stories revolved around the reaction to the news story. How perfect!

No one seems to want to deal with the meat of the issue -- Did the school overreact in its punishment? There is really only one true way to figure it out. Let's turn to the experts, and by experts I mean, of course, fictional people on TV.

What would the great teachers and principals of TV have done?

Well, Gabe Kotter would make Barbarino clean up the school cafeteria while throwing in a lot of "crummy" jokes. Ar, ar, ar.

Principal Kaufman on Room 222 would rap with the kids about their feelings over the cookies. Was it hunger? Or boredom? Or retaliation for some affront? Either way, he'd have them join the Peace Corps.

Coach Reeves of the White Shadow wouldn't have any of that. He'd make the kid sit on the bench for the next basketball game -- even if it was the Regional Finals. And they would lose the game, and the kid would learn a hard lesson.

Charlie Moore, of the Head of the Class, would give his student a little talking to and then he would sneak into the cafeteria the next day to see if anyone left any brownies sitting around.

Principal Skinner, after consulting with his mother, would mete out the harshest possible punishment on Bart Simpson -- expulsion -- only to be outsmarted by Bart who then would provide evidence that it was in fact Skinner himself who ate the cookies.

Jan Brady, of course, would eventually confess on her own and give back her Good Citizenship award. Her brother, Peter, for that matter, would do the same thing and not complain when Mike and Carol say he can't go on the camping trip.

And though not technically a teacher, Mayor Wilkins of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, would just turn into a giant snake and eat all the kids. That'd teach them.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Maybe number two stole the cookie from the cookie jar...

Oh, thank you, Gods of News, for your deus ex machina rescue of the boring start-of-summer news stories -- no state budget, the soccer World Cup, war in Iraq, blah blah blah.

Thank you, great Titans of Typeset, for the Cookie Caper.

I had initially worried that the story about boys at Hungary Creek Middle School getting suspended for eating cookies that didn’t belong to them would fade, nay crumble, and disappear from the newspaper. But lo! In your infinite wisdom, Rulers of Reportage, you gave us a trail of crumbs -- more suspects! Indignant parents! Gatorade!

And the alliteration! The puns! Cookie Caper. Cookie Culprits. “That’s the part his mother finds most crummy.” Sigh. It doesn’t get any better than this. Just when there were no legs left in the Maymont Bear story and our post-Elliott malaise hit and we thought we’d be subject to the mind-numbing details of battle between the governor and the attorney general over the legislature’s failure to enact …


…oh, where was I? Just then, oh Great Gods of Distraction, you swoop in on your golden chariot and save us all.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Get behind me, Satan

Is today's date making you nervous? For some, getting out of bed on 6/6/06 is like walking under a ladder while carrying a black cat and a broken mirror. If you're one of those superstitious Richmonders, take heart: We're known as a city that shuns the devil.

Remember 10 years ago when the city canceled the Marilyn Manson concert, citing the band's satanic underpinnings? Of course the civil liberties folks stepped in and protested, and the show went on as planned (with twice the ticket sales), but our point was made: Richmond is not Lucifer's playground.

As a helpful local newscaster noted this morning, today is not only the devil's day (and opening date of "The Omen" remake -- by the way, does Liev Schreiber strike anyone else as too young to be an ambassador?), it's also the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. And the date has other significant meanings, according to Wikipedia: It's the 73rd anniversary of the opening of the country's first drive-in theater, David Bowie released his Ziggy Stardust album today in 1972, and it's the birthday of Robert Englund, aka Freddy Krueger. So those are some positive things to think about today.

As for me, I'm going to have some deviled eggs for lunch.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Truthiness in (Political) Advertising

One has to wonder if the people working for Harris Miller, who will oppose Jim Webb in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate June 13, are either (a) stupefyingly out of touch or (2) on the cutting edge of American politics and culture. The reason I ponder this is because of one tiny reference in the direct mail piece I got the other day. It slams Webb repeatedly for his conservative leanings as evidenced by quotes praising Ronald Reagan and his votes for George W. Bush and George Allen. And then it offers this quote (highlighted in yellow for extra effect): “I may change parties, but I don’t change positions on the issues.”

The source?

The Colbert Report.

As I say, either these guys are completely cut off from the culture and have no idea that the Colbert Report is a comedy show, OR it just proves why the Daily Show and its progeny are so influential. It’s been reported that a healthy percentage of young adults gets its news from Jon Stewart, recognizing that satire -- in this case a fake news broadcast -- often distills facts into truth.

The Colbert Report (don‘t pronounce the T at the end of either word) puts Stephen Colbert in the role of a Bill O’Reilly -- a pugnacious conservative commentator who offers up segments like “Movies that are Destroying America.”

So what exactly does a Jim Webb quote from the Colbert Report do for Harris Miller in his political advertising? I guess that depends on the voter. Many will have no idea what the Colbert Report is and will take it for a straight news source and confer whatever legitimacy they would give to any news organization. Others will know what the Colbert Report is but still accept it as legitimate because, after all, Jim Webb said it. And still others, yours truly included, will laugh our heads off at the absurdity -- the very idea that politics and comedy have become barely distinguishable from each other.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Call me Helen ... Helen of Richmond

That's right, I'm the face that launched a thousand tzatziki dips. My mind turns to all things Hellenic this time of year, with the return of the Richmond Greek Festival, a culinary event in every sense of the word. The June 1-4 festival at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral (30 Malvern Ave., just off Cary St.), celebrates its 30th year this summer.

Striking while the iron (and the weather) was hot, my mother went to the church the first day of the festival to get some carry-out. As native Richmonders know, the festival is very popular, and the lines can stretch as far as the ancient Greek empire. Well, perhaps I'm taking a little artistic license here, but you know what I mean. Mom went at 3:30 p.m. and reported that the crowds were light — not the case at lunchtime and after work. But on to the main event: the food, which is cooked by members of the church.

I'm not a big eggplant-eater, so I passed on the moussaka, but I did enjoy the Greek green beans (cooked in tomato sauce) and the pastichio, which is rather like baked ziti, except with that slight flavor of cinnamon so common to Greek beef dishes. The best dishes, though, were the tiropita (flaky pastry with cheese inside) and the dense, honey-ey baklava. So good. I'm having flashbacks. Oh, and you can do the drive-thru if you are in a hurry.

For those of you who want to make a day of it, the festival also offers a craft market, Greek music and dancing, plus tours of the church. Just get there early and save room for lunch.