30 January 2007


The news that true red heads may become extinct by the end of this century is pretty old, but selective breeding may cure the problem. It's just a matter of compounding the recessives.

Being of mostly Celtic extraction, I've been highly amused at how popular bottle red has become in the past decade. It seems every woman I know under 40 has gone auburn, strawberry, or copper at some point. In my family, it's been a while since we produced a true carrot top, although most of us come by our highlights naturally, the stereotypical white skin prevails, and freckles can be found all over the family tree on both sides.

What I find most interesting about the phenomenon is how, well before science pinpointed and published the (lack-of) genetic trend, popular culture seemed to sense it--going red was (and still is) the haircolor version of getting couture swag. Much like bustles and corsets were popularized to make skinny girls look Mae West voluptuous around the turn of the last century, and the heroin-waif look is popular today precisely because we have, as a nation, finally grown into the Mae West figure. These trends in looks point up what is rare, instead of what is normal, as being more desirable. No wonder we're called a culture of death--we always idolize what few can reasonably achieve, whatever end of the pendulum it is.

It's simply too bad we can't harness all that obsession into idolizing a new model of society and community. It seems wasted on looks. Can you imagine the world if we truly valued rarity instead of imitating it? Here are some fashion-forward soundbytes I'd like to hear on the street:

"Buying clothes made from organically grown fibers is all the rage because, dang, are they expensive and hard to get!!"

"Scrap the Nikes--Eccos are sooo much hotter!"

"I'll be gingered, is that real flax?"

and my fave,

"Hemp--it's not just for smoking anymore."

22 January 2007

Red Hot Funding: Election 2008 Goes Private

Updated just 3 minutes ago, the New York Times reports that Senator Hillary Clinton has elected to eschew public funding of her 2008 Presidential campaign, fully confident that she can raise far more in private monies than the $150 million that would be granted her by the public election funds without those pesky spending limits.

Word on the street has it that Senator John McCain, Hillary's opposite member from the Republican line-up is seriously considering doing likewise. The former champion of campaign finance reform just took his name off a bill that would expand the presidential public financing program.

Now that's interesting...

McCain Opposed to ... Bush?

It's rare that I speak out on military matters in general or the Iraq war in particular, but this tidbit from the Post got me riled. Apparently John McCain, frontrunner for the Republican 2008 nod, has decided he doesn't like Gen. George W. Casey Jr.'s nomination as Bush's new Army Chief of Staff because Casey has presided over a "failure of policy" in Iraq.

My question to Senator McCain: If you think Gen. Casey is unfit to command on those grounds, it is logical to presume you equally think the Commander-in-Chief who devised and instituted that failed policy is unfit to lead. So, why are you still supporting George W. Bush, you flaming hypocrite?

Barack Not an Island

According to the League of Conservation Voters, Barack Obama's senatorial record on environmental issues is nearly perfect. At a time when most congress members were ignoring inconvenient truths, Obama made speeches about how global warming was a reality we needed to address sooner rather than later. Then why is Grist saying, "Not so much" to his new energy plan? [In a sick twist, they praise Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), notorious for having a hissy fit on the floor when a fellow Senator tried to block his Bridge to Nowhere, for his "progressive" fuel economy proposal this session.]

The love affair between enviros and Obama ended over his introduction of a new coal-to-liquid proposal which would benefit downstate Illinois at the price of adding a lot more CO2 emissions. The Coal-to-Liquid (CTL) Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 is an ill-thought piece of green-wannabe legislation designed to appease some of Obama's squeakiest home-state wheels. According to the Senator's spokesman, Tony Vietor, "Illinois basin coal has more untapped energy potential than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined."

The coal industry says that converting coal into diesel engine fuel would reduce dependence on foreign oil through a new, home-mined fuel that burns as cleanly as gasoline. The environmentalists say that's nice, but it's still coal. Coal-mining doesn't meet any standard for environmental protection nor does it lower overall emissions and the United States shouldn't be using South Africa as a model for going green.

The Presidential mantle flaps in the breeze, and it will be interesting to see whether Obama decides to go with his demonstrated principles, which would gain him the national eco-vote, or with his downstate demands, which would gain him a monied interest in his 2008 campaign.

21 January 2007

The Richardson File

The Santa Fe Free New Mexican actually has a file on Presidential hopeful, Gov. Bill Richardson, to help all us non-Westerners find local coverage on his NM works and deeds. Bookmark!

Richardson in the Ring

When it comes to '08 candidates, I like Hillary. I really like Obama. But after this morning's interview with Stephanopoulos, I got to thinkin' I might have to look more closely at Bill Richardson, the Dem governor of NM (a/k/a Vips' Big Boy). Why should I bother looking at this long-shot dark horse? Because he came across on TV as competent, sensible, funny, and down-to-earth--all personality traits that appealed to swing voters who went for Bush because he "spoke the people's language."

And because Bill's got the resume from hell, which means that, regardless of his salt-of-the-earth attitude, he probably owes lots of people and, equally probable, lots of people owe him.

It'd be nice, for once, if the United States didn't pick a President based on photogenics, charisma, spin, and sound bytes. I don't have high hopes for it; I'm just sayin' -- it would be nice.

First stop on the Bill Richardson tour was to the Free New Mexican. I found an interesting article there from Feb. 2005, in the run-up to the Gov's election. What makes the article interesting isn't the content. It's the comments section. You want to know whether to vote for a guy, ask the people he's been governing.

Update: To track what New Mexicans think of Bill Richardson now, keep an eye on the Free New Mexican's comments to this morning's announcement.

Update #2: If Richardson was president... (Hardball interview on MSNBC)

Green Plaidie Scotsman

Don't you find that it generally helps perspective to dive into foreign newspapers every once in a while?

Today's Scotsman has a great article on reducing your individual carbon footprint, which is all the rage on the other side of the pond.

Retail giant Marks & Spencer is dedicating more money than our federal government to overhauling its energy plan, is seeking local suppliers, and has made a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2012. Several major blue-chip Brit companies, including Sun Microsystems and BP, have instigated a task force tasked with producing an industrial agenda for going clean and green. Senior politicians have been ordered to take the bus to work instead of their stretch limos. Prince Charles canceled a ski trip due to media razzing over his waste of jet fuel. Even Tony Blair will be hip deep in dirt, planting trees, thanks to a fracas with his top advisor on environmental sustainability.

Next, the Great Scot tartan will be changin' from black and blue to green and brown. I'd buy a length o' that!

18 January 2007

"Service Fodder" or Valued Employee?

(Wow! I was reading an ongoing debate on George Loper's site and responded to George with some of my thoughts. He actually posted them. I feel honored. So, here it is, reprinted from George's blog, for those of you who don't follow it.)

Dear George,

According to the Washington Post, the minimum wage bill passed the House of Representatives, 315 to 111. The proposed new minimum is $7.25. So, it looks like William Lyster will be firing employees relatively soon.

In his analysis, Mr. Lyster finds it ironic that the Living Wage campaign will necessarily result in fewer jobs. In his response, Mr. Foster finds irony in the concept that Mr. Lyster would bother to keep an incompetent employee on the payroll at $5.15, but wouldn't at $7.50. [Read whole ping-pong exchange at minimum wage index.]

I find irony in the whole debate. Mr. Lyster complains of disaffection among low-income workers, especially in the service industry, characterizing them as either new, uneducated, or possessing addiction problems which result in a lack of concern for and loyalty to their jobs.

I find the opposite to be generally true--disaffection comes not at the beginning of the job, but after the employee has been poorly managed, devalued, and/or mistreated. The term "cannon fodder" refers to footsoldiers put on the frontline in harm's way because they are considered expendable. In the workforce, we are creating "service fodder" by treating our entry-level workers as expendable. Both customers and employers show a jaw-dropping lack of respect to anyone earning poverty-level wages in the service industry.

If an employer invests in his/her employees--and investment can come in many ways, e.g., higher wages, increased educational opportunities, perks and benefits, kindness and consideration, competent management, positive work atmosphere, flexible scheduling, creative scope--then s/he will earn their loyalty and concern, which will, in turn, increase their happiness and involvement in their workplace regardless of their pay scale. Happy, involved workers generally give better customer service.

And since "loyalty" seems to be a buzzword for Mr. Lyster, I should add that loyalty is earned--it can not be taken for granted when most jobs are "at-will" contracts. It might be useful to think of each rung of employees as the "customers" of the next level above--what are you doing to keep them?

Just my two cents.

Tatyanna Patten (electronic mail, January 11, 2007)

Energy to Go

The new CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 is developing it's own fan club; even the most pessimistic enviros praise its long-reaching effects. In this case, CLEAN stands for "Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation" (you can see why they wanted an acronym).

What makes this particular bill interesting is the related bill H. Res. 66, put forth by James McGovern (D-MA-3) of the House Rules committee, which calls for H.R. 6 to hit the House floor for a 3-hour debate before a vote. IOW, they have bypassed the Committees on Energy & Commerce, Natural Resources, and Sci-Tech, all of which might have had claim to tie this bill up for months. Instead, the House Dems, who have a clear majority, are passing that job to the Senate.

This bill calls for a shift of $14 billion from gas & oil tax breaks to renewable, alternative, and efficient energy. Gas & oil has become the most deep-pocketed, entrenched industry lobby in D.C. In this energy bill, I see the first hard test for the now allegedly Democratic Senate: Are the new conservatives Dems, who were responsible for turning that congressional house blue, willing to put $14 billion where their mouths were last year? If it passes the Senate, Bush will likely exercise veto power, and it will depend entirely upon the margin of the Senate vote whether that veto can be overruled.

So... does the Senate have the will to change our energy future, or will the Senate Dems find a moderate perch on the slippery slope between the left and the right?

11 January 2007

House Passes Minimum Wage Bill

In a 315 to 111 vote, the House of Representatives passed an act increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour. That 315 tally included 82 Republicans who refused to toe the party line. 54 Republicans even abandoned ship and voted against a motion to add business tax breaks to the bill.

I'm guessing these guys are up for reelection in 2008.

05 January 2007

Economic Caste as a Way of Life

MSNBC reports that December saw the creation of an additional 167,000 new jobs which left the year-end unemployment rate unchanged at 4.5%. However, the article also examines the growing divide between the graduate-degree haves and have-nots.

Once again, skilled, blue-collar jobs left the country in droves in 2006. They were replaced by positions in the education, health-care, and professional services industries at equal or higher average salaries. The problem is, of course, a skilled factory worker with a HS diploma or even Bachelor's education can not find work as a nurse, high school teacher, lawyer, or publicity manager without undergoing several years of retraining at the college and graduate level.

So, these middle-income workers, who often earned up to $22-25/hour for their specialized skill sets, are now taking minimum-to-low-wage jobs because you don't need a related degree in order to become a supervisor at Burger King or a meter reader for the gas company, but you do need to pay your bills on time and feed your kids.

The problem faced, time and time again, is that poverty breeds poverty. No one designs anything of quality for poor people because they can't pay for it. Therefore, what little income they have often goes out as soon as it comes in, not just because their debt-income ratio is so high, but also because they have to buy substandard goods and are constantly replacing or repairing them. This trend runs from housing (which I've brought up many times) to groceries to clothing and transportation.

The manufacture of toxic clothing can be addressed by lawsuits and regulation. Cheap mass transportation issues can be solved on a regional and state level, and benefit more than just the poor. But, by far, the most dangerous of these are the housing and food nexuses. Substandard housing, as we've seen even locally [1, 2, 3], comes with a nightmare of health issues in addition to the costs of reconstruction and/or finding a new place to live. The hidden cost in eating low-cost foods is in decreased health and increased medical costs. Yet, unfortunately, most people living below a living wage have no or minimal health insurance to help them address such health concerns as they arise. Instead, those health problems have to fester, unaddressed, while they continue work, until the problems cannot be avoided, by which time their care and treatment is financially exponential.

Really, poverty is big business, but it is definitely not a good quality business. It becomes a Catch-22, as the health issues mount and the work and income floods out the door, creating an abyss from which whole cultures still haven't risen, in spite of the health of their government's pockets (and here I'm talkin' Appalachia as well as Nigeria).

Enter Acumen Fund, which is a philanthropic venture capital group dedicated to identifying and giving financial boost to the best entrepreneurs and organizations focused on delivering critical, affordable goods and services--such as healthcare and housing. The Acumen Fund's goal is to improve livelihoods, health and opportunities for the poor, while proving there's money in doing it.

Looking for a fiscally savvy yet socially progressive firm to invest your money and/or time with? Check them out. They are trying to break the economic caste cycle permanently.

Hunting the Snark

In Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, a group of wayward adventurers follow the lead of a mad Bellman in pursuit of a legendary (read: nonexistant) beast.

In Cville, strong argument could be made that our personal snark is affordable housing, and the posse gathered to pursue it has grown to an army over the last few years. The Daily Progress reported on the City Council meeting I mentioned previously in this blog.

What I find most interesting about Tuesday night's debate, however, was Kevin Lynch's discussion about the need to address the wage side of the equation. I don't disagree with his statements. But I doubt that employers will ever find basic burger flipping to be worth $10.50 or more per hour.

Let's say you work in Cville and you had to move to Nelson or Louisa to find a rent or mortgage you could afford. At some point, looking for work in Amherst, Waynesboro, or Richmond suburbs like Short Pump will be very attractive, just because of the shorter traveling distance. The lower-skilled your job, the more incentive you have to look close by, because, let's face it, gas is expensive.

I can not say it frequently enough, apparently: We need economic diversity in this town. Not this regional area, because there's a lot of bleedover to other metro regions once you are living 45 minutes from Downtown in a geographic section designed only for car transit. This. Urban. Area.

I know it seems unfair to ask Charlottesville City to bear the brunt of affordable housing and it certainly makes sense to address the Board of Supervisors for Albemarle County--but, beyond that, really, who else can we ask to take the lead in this kind of urban design? The outlying rural counties are equidistant to other city and town centers. It is our growth which is causing their headaches, not the other way around. So, IMO, we--meaning Charlottesville and Albemarle--have to be the ones who hunt the snark.

04 January 2007

SWF Refugee

SWF refugee, mother of 2, new to area, seeks affordable 2-BR house close to floes, fishing.

[A friend sent me this photo--I don't know to whom it should be accredited, but I liked it so much I gave it a caption. If you know the photographer, please let me know. I'd like to at least acknowledge and link to him/her.]

New Conservation Series Starts Jan. 18

The Rivanna Conservation Society will be hosting a new brown-bag lunch series that focuses on watershed issues. The presentations will take place on 3rd Thursdays from 12 noon to 1 pm, at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library on Market Street. All meetings are open to the public. If water quality and streambank conservation are topics of interest to you, this will be a can't-miss series.

The first presentation will be on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007, in the Madison Room of the library. John Murphy, director of Streamwatch, will be talking about the results of the 2006 Streamwatch report and its implications on development within our basin.

RCS looks forward to seeing you there!

03 January 2007

Best in Show

Best in Show for the freshman Congressional class of 2007 goes to Rep. Keith Ellison, who has asked the the Library of Congress for the use of Thomas Jefferson's Q'ran for his swearing in.

Thomas Jefferson was the most illustrious person to live in Virginia's 5th Congressional District, which is currently represented by noted Ellison detractor Virgil Goode. TJ would surely be pleased and, if still alive, would have loaned Ellison his copy himself. Talk about a keen sense of enlightened demogoguery. Wish Ellison were my representative instead of Goode.


Bill Emory put his finger on exactly what I feel has been missing these past 2 weeks. All the rumination I've done individually on the passing of the year and my hopes for 2007 has no audience (unless you include my cat). It's a truism that, as you age, the years shorten and the individual days mean virtually nothing--they become seconds compared to the span of your life. Entire eras eventually become condensed to brief descriptive paragraphs divulged to auld acquaintance at reunions.

When I was a kid, I did as kids did: Christmas was for buying (and receiving!) lots o' prezzies, constantly visiting people, and flitting from one social event to the next. New Years was for partying with a whole bunch of people I didn't know well but called friends. In a fun and superficial sense, they were friends. They didn't mind that I invariably spent January 1st hungover. Some would crash (read: pass out) and help with the trash in the morning. "Morning" began no earlier than 10:30 a.m. Others would join for a late breakfast (read: lunch) consisting of Bloody Marys, aspirin, and all the eggs we could eat. Anyone who is willing to put up with your binge-drinking and come back the next morning for cleanup duty is a friend, even if you don't know their hometown, their life dreams, or the names of three family members. But it was indicative of a simple, youthful outlook--one in which time is for spending, not for cherishing.

That was then, this is now. Now I feel the passage of time less, but feel a need to remark it more. There is a hurdy-gurdy quality to the end of the year that shellacks the passage of time, reflecting our hectic modernity in both style and content. One year you are 21, the next you are 41. 50 is the new 30, blah blah. But it isn't true. Just because we have the ability to cheat and ignore time, to play truant and play God until the average expected life span is 110, doesn't mean we should take for granted the time that is given us.

As Bill said, the passing of a year is a weighty thing. Perhaps a time for reflection and good, quiet company. For reassessing who you are and who you want to be when you grow up. For we are all, still, growing up.

02 January 2007

Affordable Housing Future--TONIGHT @ City Council!

Tonight City Council takes up the affordable housing proposal report. Background information can be found at my last entry on this topic in my blog.

Where: City Hall, Council Chambers
When: 6:45 pm (meeting starts @ 7)
Agenda available online (Hint: if you click on the "with background material" option, it will include a printable copy of the CAHIP Investment proposal)

Anyone can sign up to speak on the subject prior to the meeting's start time. Sign-up sheets are in front of the dais; there's a 3-minute limit per speaker. (This section is called "Matters by the Public" on the agenda.)

5 Things You Never Knew About Me

Picked up from Waldo's blog, who was tagged by Book of Joe. Like Waldo, I'm not going to tag in turn, but if you read this post choose to participate in 2007's first tagging mania, it would be cool if you left me a link in the comments.

I've been in, from, and around the area since 1972, so I sometimes feel my life is an open book that's been read by the entire population. But lately I've come to realize that, even in this microcosm called Charlottesville, one's current incarnation tends to wipe out the past. So, here are five things most people don't know or remember about me:

(1) As a child growing up on Rt. 795 in Albemarle county, I wanted to buy Morven stud farm and turn it into a wildlife preserve. Kluge bought it instead and thus ended the dream.

(2) I was once a card-carrying member of the Music Teachers National Association, back when I was a group education director on keyboard instruments. Why didn't I become a concert pianist? Because in 1983, Hyun-Sook Park moved here and became a friend of mine at AHS. It's rough when you think you might be good at something and then someone so brilliant moves into your territory, competing against you at every level. She wiped the floor with me at regionals our senior year; my musical self-esteem and classical ambitions never fully recovered.

(3) In Summer 1986, I worked as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival, under the direction of Nikos Psacharopoulos. There was an underground betting pool in the UVa theater department's GSO as to whether I'd get into the excessively competitive summer stock that had previously apprenticed such luminaries as Chris Reeve and Santo Loquasto. Everyone I knew bet against me.

(4) Just like every photographer in a 40-mile radius, I supplemented my college income by shooting for Chuck Lane. My first 3 jobs post-college were in photography.

(5) The first political campaign I ever worked on was Gary Hart's run for the 1984 Democratic candidacy for President. The Donna Rice photos ended his 1988 run, but it's nice to know we were shocked by something as simple as a photo of a leggy blonde sitting on a Senator's lap--a picture that could probably be taken at a thousand D.C. Xmas parties and wouldn't even cause Wonkette to snigger. Nowadays, our greed for grist and threshold of intolerance is much higher.