Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who's afraid of RVANews?

Local news departments of the mainstream media should mark the date it began: RVANews was unveiled for all with a hookup to the Internet to see on Oct. 31, 2007.

That this event should occur on Halloween is probably a coincidence, but don’t be surprised if/when RVANews starts to resemble a scary monster to the inky wretches at Media General and Landmark Communications, plus the broadcasters in the Richmond market.

RVANews is an experiment. Now we are going to see what will happen with the next stage of a trend that has taken off in Richmond -- community blogs. RVANews is an aggregator which will pull from a dozen or so local community blogs, most of which have been in operation for a few months, some less time than that. The first such blog in this area was John Murden's Church Hill People's News. The newest of them, River District News, just began today.

The list of community blogs (several of them launched by Murden and handed off to a willing publisher) that are currently participating is as follows:
RVANews will also offer original material from local freelance writers. This part of inventor/publisher Ross Catrow's venture may not be so easy to sustain at a professional level. Or, maybe it will. We'll see.

With the trends in the news biz going as they have been in recent years, there’s a hole in the market for local news coverage. Radio stations no longer have news teams. Television news is mostly national. Newspapers all over the country are shriveling, consequently, they are covering less homegrown news.

By creating what amounts to a network of independent publishers, RVANews will quickly develop a following among regular visitors to RVABlogs (also published by Catrow), an already well established site which aggregates over 200 local blogs of all types. The beauty of this way to get local news is that it is free and it is always there; one is not obligated to watch or listen at a certain time.

RVANews will also catch on fast with the media types who watch anything along these lines closely. Then whether it will attract a broad audience remains to be seen.

My prediction is that it will. Furthermore, I expect this development to quickly jump to other cities. Of course, whether anybody can sustain it and make any money will be the true test of whether such networks of cooperating but independently published community blogs will actually become players in the long run.

No prediction on that ... yet.

Meanwhile, we’ll be keeping an eye on RVANews, to watch it evolve into whatever it will become. No way I'm scared of news that comes from the bottom up, rather than the top down. Are you?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gilmore the darling of Flat-Earth Republicans

It’s starting to look like the Flat-Earth Republicans in Virginia may get their wish.

At this writing former governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore appears to be the betting favorite to win the GOP’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat of John Warner. Should Gilmore get the nod from next summer's Republican convention that would likely pit him against another former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner.

The Aug. 31st announcement of Sen. Warner's decision to retire at the end of his fifth term in the U.S. Senate created an opening that sent the commonwealth's political operators scrambling. Democrat Mark Warner wasted little time in announcing he would seek the office. With the recent withdrawal of Rep. Tom Davis from the race, Gilmore now appears to embody the GOP's best hope to hold onto the seat.

Last year's loss by the supposedly invincible incumbent George Allen to author Jim Webb, heaped on top of two consecutive gubernatorial losses, has put Virginia's Republicans into an uncooperative mood. Bickering to do with ideology and issues of purity are dividing them once again.

Thus, with the commonwealth trending Democratic, rather than move toward respected moderates such as John Warner and Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Hager, it appears the hardcore rightwingers of the GOP are calling the tune. Convinced they lost the statewide elections mentioned above because their candidates were insufficiently conservative, such ideologues routinely refer to realists along the lines of Warner and Hager as “Republicans-in-name-only,” or “RINOs.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats have to be delighted at the prospect of facing a man with Gilmore's peculiar baggage. Let's hop aboard the Wayback Machine and examine some of what would come tumbling back into the picture with a Gilmore campaign:

Ten years ago Gilmore galloped to triumph with his No-More-Car-Tax mantra. In a time of plenty many Virginians liked his blunt, blue collar style. Then, as governor, he stubbornly stayed on that same tired workhorse issue throughout his four-year term until it collapsed in a heap in the spring of 2001.

In a time of belt-tightening, Gilmore's style of leadership meant that for the first time in history the Virginia legislature failed to approve a budget.

Gilmore made enemies who won't forget his cynical moves in the Hugh Finn death-with-dignity case. Intervening, as he did, to play politics with a spouse's decision of when to pull the plug on her brain-dead husband, was embarrassing to many Virginians.

With the Sally Mann flap, Gilmore played the rube by creating a sensational front-page story scolding the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' staff for presenting art tantamount to pornography. The problem was Gilmore's quick-draw opinion was based entirely on one anonymous tipster's complaint; he apparently wasn't aware of Mann's reputation as one of Virginia's foremost photographers.

Also among Gilmore's puzzling political moves was his decision to take on the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. By accepting that job from the Bush administration he broke with a longstanding custom in the Old Dominion -- sitting governors do not play such an obvious role in national politics. Then he wasn't chairman long enough to do much more than be remembered for being fired, and, of course, denying that he was fired.

So, with some justification Gilmore's reputation for awkwardness has been well earned. Yet, his most absurd move of all -- the Shark Task Force -- should hardly be overlooked. With his popularity plummeting and four months remaining in his term came news of a pair of shark attacks off the nearby coast. Gilmore thought knew an enemy no one could defend when he saw one.

From the Washington Business Journal (Sept. 5, 2001): “In response to the recent shark attacks at Virginia Beach and in North Carolina, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has convened a task force to examine the issue.”

The Gilmore Shark Task Force's findings were made public on Dec. 14, 2001. The first sentence of the report made it unnecessary to read the rest of it: “In more than 390 years since the English settlement of Virginia there had never been a fatal shark attack in Virginia waters until September 1, 2001 when a 10-year old boy named David Peltier was attacked near the Little Island Fishing Pier at Sandbridge...”

The report went on to say that sharks usually live in the ocean and every now and then one of them bites a person who is also in the ocean. Ouch!

If the still popular Mark Warner could choose an opponent to run against in 2008 from a menu of Republican possibles -- the one that would be the easiest and most fun to beat -- it says here he would pick the Shark Task Force's commander-in-chief, Jim Gilmore.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Warping the View

Little battles between bloggers erupt on a regular basis in the Virginia political blogosphere. Some of them seem spontaneous, others more contrived. Many of them come off as a promotion for one or more of the parties. Nearly all of them end up looking silly. Most of the time I try to ignore them.

At SLANTblog and at the community blog that I publish, the Fan District Hub, I often write about politics. Occasionally, I write about the political blogosphere.

Last week, after spending a little time looking at the posts of some of Virginia’s rightwing bloggers I reacted with a piece here at SLANTblog on how comically ineffective some of their regular putdowns are. The piece cited such juvenile jabs as: “Marky Mark” for Mark Warner; “Governor Timmy” for Tim Kaine; “Democrat(icks)” for Democrats. Later I edited the piece down, to make it more locally oriented, and posted a second version of it at Fan District Hub.

Both versions laughed at the notion that such lowbrow commentary is accomplishing anything close to making undecided or independent voters rethink their views of Warner, Kaine, or Democrats, in general. Both versions used the example of how one such blogger liked to brag about his “influence” ranking, according to Blognet News (a statewide political blog aggregator), while his blog stands as the least popular (then 215th out of 215) of all blogs at RVABlogs (a Richmond blog aggregator).

That observation underlined the difference between a political-blogs-only aggregator and an aggregator that pulls from a locality’s wide array of bloggers, many of them non-political. Yes, it seems some political bloggers are not so popular or influential with a general audience. That should hardly come as a surprise, given the strident nature of many political bloggers on either side of the aisle between red-think and blue-think.

Since then the publisher of the decidedly rightwing The Ward View has taken exception to what I wrote, even though I did not name him or link to his blog. My main point was to ridicule some of the silly tactics of a few prolific rightwing bloggers who aren’t influencing anyone outside of their own blogging team. I didn’t seek to call anyone in particular out, so I didn’t name any other blog, either.

That’s precisely why I didn’t write that The Ward View was the blog rated least popular at RVABlogs. Since then The Ward View has outed itself with two posts; here and here.

At The Ward View its publisher claimed he doesn’t read my blogs.
As we noted before, we wouldn’t have discovered this if WordPress hadn’t shown a link from the blog in question. We don’t read either of the blogs where the article was posted. However, that link has been removed and the existence thereof denied.
Well, I don’t know what his point was with that business about a link, but it is not true. Neither of my previous posts mentioned or linked to The Ward View. So, no such link has been removed. One is left only to speculate as to why this blogger has chosen to make that up out of thin air. But it certainly is revealing.

And, given what I’ve seen of how these tiffs in the blogosphere go, this odd but outright prevarication will not cause The Ward View much of a problem with his fellow rightwing bloggers, members of his club/team who shall remain unnamed.

For some in Virginia's political blogosphere an opportunity for self-promotion trumps honesty every time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Numbers and numbing nonsense

In politics, there are always new polling numbers to brag about, consider, or dismiss as meaningless. A recent Christopher Newport University poll revealed that 55 percent of its Virginia respondents had a positive view of the performance of Tim Kaine, their governor.

Some Republican-leaning bloggers reacted by calling Kaine, a Democrat, “Governor Timmy.”

The same CNU poll said that when it comes to the election next year to replace retiring Sen. John Warner, former-Governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, presently leads the two most often mentioned Republicans by a two-to-one margin.

The Red-faced blogosphere reacted by referring to the front-running Democrat as “Marky Mark.”

Mark this: Democrats have been gaining momentum steadily in the Old Dominion since Mark Warner’s victory in 2001. It was followed by Gov. Kaine’s win (in 2005) and that of Sen. Jim Webb (in 2006). Now the Democrats running for seats in Virginia’s General Assembly are actually raising more money than their Republican counterparts, who still hold the majority in that body.

Yet, over the last week, team-playing Republican bloggers have spent their energy heaving an avalanche of guff upon a 12-year-old boy, Graeme Frost, and his family. Despite the runaway spending of the Bush administration, lots of those same bloggers continue to try to cast Bush as a fiscal conservative when he vetoes a bill to help working families who can’t get insurance and can’t pay their medical bills.

Back to polls and ratings. There is a Richmond-based, rightwing blogger who loves to tout his “influence rating” at the statewide political blog aggregator Blognet News. (It beats me what an “influence rating” is supposed to be.) At his blog, his posts on politics consistently regurgitate hardcore extremist blatherings he has gleaned from such semi-reputable sources as the Drudge Report and Then, perhaps to up his bloggy influence, he dresses those twisted stories up with his own semi-clever touches, such as labeling all Democrats as “Democrat(icks).”

Other copycats imitate his imitations. Perhaps that’s influence.

What this particular snickering blogger doesn’t brag about is this: At the RVABlogs aggregator, which displays titles and excerpts of posts from 215 blogs in the Richmond area, his busy one-sided blog is rated dead last in popularity, No. 215!

In fact, there’s no other local blog even close to his negative rating.

Of course, RVABlogs is not a political-blogs-only aggregator. Most of the blogs displayed there are not political, but plenty of them are, at least in part. So, RVABlogs is more like a sampling of Richmond’s general population than what you might see at Blognet News.

Moreover, it’s representative of Richmonders who are engaged with what’s going on today, but politics is not something they dwell on to the exclusion of all else. Thus, I submit that they are the undecideds and independents most campaigns go after. They are Greens, or perhaps Libertarians. Some are apolitical.

Collectively, whatever they are they think the snickering blogger’s site is the worst of the worst.

While rightwing Republican politicians and their spin docs are still dwelling on opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, or defending a failed war policy that’s breaking the bank, most of us voters who think for ourselves want our government out of our bedrooms; we want America out of Iraq, pronto.

The GOP-leaning bloggers, who enjoy thinking they are annoying their opponents to no end, seem more interested in being part of a click of self-styled patriots than they are in influencing anyone beyond their own support group/blogging team.

Influence ratings, indeed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

National Folk Fest pictures

The establishing shot: The 69th National Folk Festival

The weather was perfect for live music on outdoor stages

Well, hello, yourself!

At the Richmond Times-Dispatch dance tent

The setting for this well-run event could hardly have been better

Local Old Timey musicians performed without a tent

The magician with the rope that defied gravity had a rapt audience of one

Photos by SLANT; click on the pics to enlarge them

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where will Gore's hot streak lead?

Democrat Al Gore, once seen by many in his own political party as a loser, is enjoying a rather nice winning streak. Now he has a Nobel Peace Prize to put on his mantel beside the Oscar he won for the documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

According to this Reuters story about this morning’s announcement about the Nobel Prize the odds that Gore will go on to win yet another highly-coveted prize are improving.
British bookmakers once put 100-to-1 odds on Gore winning an Oscar, becoming a Nobel laureate and becoming president. He has now accomplished two of the three, and on Friday bookies slashed the odds to 8/1 from 10/1.
Following Gore’s 2000 loss to President George Bush, Gore seemed about as washed up as it gets. Republicans mocked him for being boring. Democrats were disgusted with what a terrible campaign he had waged. But here we are, seven years later, and 59-year-old Al Gore seems capable of instantly becoming a top-tier candidate should he choose to hear the call of the Draft Gore movement and throw his hat into the ring.

Gore’s experience in politics trumps everyone in the field. He was in Congress for 16 years, eight in the House of Representatives (1977-‘85), then eight in the Senate (1985-‘93). And, of course, for eight years he served as vice president (1993-‘01).

Prior to his years in politics he worked as a reporter in Nashville. Gore had previously received some training as a journalist during his time in the Army (he volunteered), which included covering the war on the ground in Vietnam for five months.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, the current top three Democratic candidates, combined, have less experience in elective office than Gore. And, none of them has come close to winning an Oscar or a Nobel. Could a rehabilitated, prize-winning Al Gore be the perfect candidate for the Democrats for 2008?

-- Gore illustration for in 2000 by F.T. Rea

Thursday, October 11, 2007

High on the Hog flashback

Memphis Rockabilly Band on the wet HOTH 30 stage last year
While there will be no High on the Hog this year, here's an excerpt of the HOTH piece I penned for this week's issue of Brick Weekly:

...When it suddenly began raining in 1980, rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and clearing the stage—to wait out the downpour—Wrenn broke out his staple gun and large rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. With the help of volunteers an awning was hastily improvised to keep the rain off the stage. A portion of the yard closest to it was also protected, somewhat.

Then, with the electric guitars of Don’ Ax Me ... Bitch wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by those dancing in the mud was unforgettable. The full potential of live rock n’ roll music to simultaneously express both lamentation and celebration was realized.

To find out why there will be no HOTH 31, click here to read the entire piece at Brick.
Photo by SLANT

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Loophole' demonstration planned for gun show

This notice has come in from June Hazlehurst of the Million Mom March United with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
In August, the Virginia Tech Review Panel completed its work and released a report with important recommendations to prevent such a terrible tragedy from happening again. One of the key recommendations of the panel was that Virginia should require background checks for ALL firearm sales, including those at gun shows. As you are probably aware, unlicensed private sellers can currently sell guns at these events without conducting background checks on purchasers. No questions asked.

You would think that the Virginia legislature would rush to adopt this common sense proposal, but the gun lobby is very active and will fight us every inch of the way. We need to tell our legislators that we expect them to close the Gun Show Loophole to protect us all.

There will be a gun show at the Showplace on October 20 and we plan to have at least 32 people who will stage a “Lie-In” for just a few minutes. These few minutes will signify the short time it took the Tech gunman to buy his weapon. We will be coordinating with the Police to ensure a quick, safe and effective event.

This is an opportunity to do something. I am inviting you to join us in a peaceful, brief protest to call for the closing of the Loophole. Here are the details:

What: A peaceful demonstration calling for the closing of the Gun Show Loophole
When: At 12 noon on Saturday, October 20, 2007
Where: The Showplace, 3000 Mechanicsville Turnpike

During the event we will be wearing black as well as ribbons with the Virginia Tech colors. There have been other similar peaceful protests and we need to do our part in Richmond.

Please join us. Send me an e-mail, and say you will give up one hour of your day. Please forward this to your family and friends.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

GOP debate notes

Watching the Republican debate on MSNBC, it occurred to me it’s going to be interesting to see what will happen to the Ron Paul phenomenon. He’s picking up steam, but he has no chance of getting the nomination of his corporate-to-the-bone party. With his common sense message, he’s a serious third party threat.

Who knows which party he would hurt the most? Who knows what other candidates will come out of the woodwork?

The most obvious candidate on the stage who seemed to be running for vice president was Fred Thompson. That, while Mitt Romney still looked like the man most likely to be at the top of the Republican 2008 ticket in the long run. But that’s mostly because the other guys on camera in Dearborn were so bad.

Both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain sounded like cartoons .

Maybe the smartest guys on the red side of the aisle sense the GOP simply can’t win next year, so they are sitting this one out. But that sort of thinking can lead to the unexpected.

In 1992, Bill Clinton, unlike most of the Democrats' heavy hitters, was willing to face the presumably unbeatable sitting president, George H. W. Bush, and he ran off with the nomination. Then, with the help of a quirky third party candidate, Ross Perot, he defeated the incumbent.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Wilder Walk

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Here's an excerpt of a piece about Mayor Doug Wilder penned by yours truly for Brick Weekly:

...One aspect of Wilder’s landslide win stood out above others -- he had won handily in every part of town. That feat offered welcomed evidence that with proper leadership citizens with different backgrounds and conflicting agendas can still find common ground, even in Richmond.

Now, nearly three years later, many who supported Wilder wholeheartedly are shaking their heads, wondering what in the world happened to all that positive momentum?

While it’s obvious the sad answer to that question is that Wilder has willingly squandered his glorious mandate, nonetheless, some of his supporters remain loyal.

Click here to read the entire piece at Brick.

Mayor Wilder now reminds me of the Lone Ranger character in a Lenny Bruce routine that was made into a wonderful cartoon short, “Thank You, Masked Man (1971)”

In a scene a man tells the Lone Ranger he’s soon going to be out of business. The man tells him that he’s no longer needed to drive off rogues and other trouble-makers, because the Messiah has come.

The Lone Ranger shoots back, “Well then, I'll make trouble because I'm geared for it.”

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mark Warner's reasons

Mark Warner, the still popular former governor of Virginia, will be a formidable candidate in next year’s race to win the seat in the U.S. Senate that Republican Sen. John Warner had held since winning it in 1978.

As could be expected there are several Republicans who are considering entering the race to take on Mark Warner, who almost certainly will be the Democrats’ candidate. The list includes Warner’s Republican predecessor in the Governor’s Mansion, Jim Gilmore. And, if the Republicans in Virginia are crazy enough to nominate Gilmore they will probably get what they deserve -- something less than 40 percent of the votes.

Meanwhile, Mark Warner should consider how to best clear up something soon. He could do it by sitting for an interview with a writer who would ask him about a number of topics. Among them should be a couple of questions something like those in the paragraph below:

Question: When you discontinued your exploratory campaign for president, you said you were doing so largely because of family considerations. So, has something changed since that decision, family considerations-wise? Or, is a statewide run for the Senate so different from a nationwide presidential campaign that those same considerations didn’t weigh as heavily on your recent decision to become a candidate again?

Then, again, Warner could do it by simply commenting on this post at SLANTblog. Or, he could just issue a statement. But I think the interview process would work best, because the interviewer could follow up. Plus, I think this sort of clarification would fly best in the midst of an interview covering other areas, too.

Why does Mark Warner need to respond to those questions?

Reason No. 1: He needs for anything that has to do with his political career to be an open book. Everybody knows politicians/bureaucrats who say they have dropped out/resigned, because of their need to see more of their families -- wink, wink ... nudge, nudge -- are frequently not telling the entire story. Warner needs to separate himself from those who cynically use such explanations as cover for the real reasons.

Actually, I do think Warner’s citing of family considerations did tell us something about at least part, maybe even most of what convinced him to withdraw. It is no secret that his wife, Lisa Collis, does not always relish the bright-lights scrutiny of being the spouse of a celebrity politician, living in a fishbowl. And, he has three daughters, ages 13, 16 and 17, he obviously wants to see and talk with more than every now and then between fund-raising appearances.

Nonetheless, a more thorough explanation of why Warner quit one political campaign, only to decide to take up another a year later, would do much to provide insight into his decision-making process.

Reason No. 2: Because as long as such questions seem unanswered some of Warner’s opponents are going to exploit the apparent void by speculating that there are hidden reasons that would be embarrassing if they were revealed.

After all, Republican strategists know they can’t beat Warner with any candidate unless they knock down his consistently high approval rating several notches. So, I suspect the rumors circulating that there is something dark and damaging out there, which is being withheld for the time being for some unexplained reason, will continue to be repeated.

Frankly, I doubt there is such a bombshell waiting to scuttle Warner’s run for the Senate. That’s mostly because I think if Warner’s enemies in either party had such material in hand, we would already know plenty about it. Such secrets don’t keep well these days.

So, if Warner moves soon and smoothly to allow sunlight to shine on this matter, then the speculative rumors being promoted now with innuendo will gain no traction whatsoever, none outside of the overactive imaginations of those who are simply wishing there is something wrong with Mark Warner, something convenient and unnoticed before.