Monday, May 31, 2010

Drilling in the Valley?

This week central Valley residents have an opportunity to learn more about the plans for and perils of drilling for gas in the Shenandoah Valley at a public forum, Caring for Eden: A Community Discussion on Drilling for Gas in the Valley. It will be held at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg at 7:00 PM on Thursday, June 3. To RSVP or for more information follow this link.

Gas drilling involves a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing which critics say poses a very real threat to groundwater. The clip below looks at gas drilling in Wyoming and discusses the issues that have arisen, including lax regulations under federal law. As local leaders make decisions on a well or wells near Bergton, citizens must be informed, demand full disclosure, and make sure government verifies compliance with relevant regulations.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day as a way to remember those who died in service to the United States of America. While there are various stories about the origins of Memorial Day, it appears that it was first officially observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Today, many Americans seem to have forgotten the original meaning of Memorial Day and see it more as the beginning of summer when swimming pools open, BBQ grills are flaring, and NASCAR is roaring.

While veterans groups and many cities and towns have parades and other events to honor our nation's war dead, in my opinion many of those events also glorify war itself. And while it is quite true that war can bring out the very best in individuals - bravery, courage, compassion, teamwork, loyalty - as Eugene Sledge writes in his incredible memoir, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa 
War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste.  Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it.
With the Old Breed provided much of the background for HBO's production of The Pacific, a miniseries that followed the stories of Sledge, Robert Leckie, John Basilone and other Marines from Guadalcanal, through the bitter fighting in the little remembered Battle of Peleliu, across the bloody sands of Iwo Jima, through Okinawa's horrors. As (some of) the men return home they find themselves in a strange place within America, within their families, and within themselves.

I was reminded of my childhood questions to my own father, a WWII Army veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was among the first U.S. troops to meet the Russian troops advancing from the east. Questions that disclosed my own childish glorification of war. Questions that he refused to answer then by deflecting them to lighter moments of the Army life. Questions that will remain forever unanswered.

This Memorial Day, let us honor those who understood, "if the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for." But, let's not use Memorial Day to glorify war itself. Rather we should keep in mind the words of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman who said, "War is Hell." History books may talk of winners and losers, but in war there are only varying degrees of losers. Memorial Day should, in the words of Herman Wouk, author of War and Remembrance, remind us all that -
The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Old Speckled Hen

I received a couple bottles of Old Speckled Hen in a gift basket and figured this drizzly afternoon was a good time to sample a brew that I'd never experienced. Besides, a blog named Coarse Cracked Corn just had to give Old Speckled Hen a shot. Brewed by Morland Brewery, the label describes it as "English Fine Ale" and boasts the brewery was established in 1711. It also claims 5.2% alcohol. The uniquely shaped clear glass bottle showed a nice copper colored beer. When poured in a glass it created a nice, off-white head that lasted a short while leaving thin lace on the glass. Fairly light bodied but it still had fairly good mouth feel. Hoppy... yes, but I didn't care for the bitter taste as much as what I find in my favorite IPAs such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As I drank Old Speckled Hen, hints of maltiness and other grains come through. So, a nice beer but not something this bird would cross the road to find. I'll give it a B, although that may be a bit generous.
I also had a pint bottle of St. Peters India Pale Ale, another English brewed ale. Again it was an interesting bottle design of drab olive that conceals the color of the contents. Poured in a glass, the ale was a cloudy dull copper color. Like with home brewing, there was sediment in the bottom that contributed to the cloudy appearance. St. Peters India Pale Ale kicked up an okay head with great texture and an appealing creamy mouth feel. I liked its balance of hops and malts better than the Old Speckled Hen. All-in-all, I like this beer but have no idea where I'd find it locally or at a reasonable price. I found this fairly close (perhaps a bit less hoppy) to the Brass Rabbit IPA I used to cook up at Queen City Brewing. Lets give it an A-!
Well, it is back to some domestics for me. And cheaper ones at that.... anybody for a Pabst Blue Ribbon? For the record, I give PBR a solid B... higher than many popularly priced domestics... and if you factor in price, an A+.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A step forward on voting rights

Virginia is one of two states (Kentucky is the other) that permanently disenfranchises all felons by leaving the restoration process to the discretion of the governor. This week, Governor Bob McDonnell announced new, more streamlined steps for convicted felons to apply for restoration of their voting rights. Among the changes - the waiting period for nonviolent offenders has been reduced from three years to two and the processing time reduced to 60 days. While this announcement does not guarantee that the Commonwealth has eliminated the last vestiges of Jim Crow, it is clearly a step in a more enlightened direction.
CCC had been critical of then governor-elect McDonnell writing in December, "There ain't a snowball's chance in Hell the next governor will give a tinker's damn about this issue...." The governor, while still dancing on his right foot, has shown some flexibility on issues, especially when moderates and progressives get in his face and take issues to the people. Governor McDonnell is to be commended for opening a new discussion on voting rights.
That conversation now needs to move to the General Assembly. "It's a significant first step," Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) said. "It falls short, quite frankly, of the bill we want to see passed, but it's a step." Ware and others support amending the Virginia Constitution to make restoration of voting rights automatic following an administrative process.
With conservative Republicans in control of the House of Delegates, passage will have to navigate more potholes than I do on our gravel road. Perhaps Governor McDonnell is counting on that - he can look moderate and reasonable while relying on allies to axe the more significant reforms. It is up to we the people to keep up the pressure on legislators. Write your delegate and senator. Join with the ACLU of Virginia, The Sentencing Project, and The Virginia Interfaith Center to spread the word. Progress occurs when people stand up and speak out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The True Cost of Coal

On the verge of the clean energy revolution, the last thing Virginia needs is new demand for mountaintop removal-mined coal, and a 1500 megawatt plant next to the Chesapeake Bay. Join the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club on Tuesday, May 25 at Clementine Cafe in Harrisonburg to learn about the proposal to build Virginia's largest coal-fired power plant, and how you can take action to stop it. Here are the details:
  • WHO: Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, friends, and neighbors
  • WHAT: The True Cost of Coal: Come learn about the campaign to keep coal out of the bay, and make sure you are not going to be asked to foot the bill for a $6 billion plant!
  • WHEN: 7pm, Tuesday, May 25th
  • WHERE: Clementine Cafe, 153 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801-3602.
  • RSVP: or Kate Pollard, or (703) 865-6659
With Shenandoah Valley Electric Co-op sending out pro-coal propaganda to members in the magazine Cooperative Living, along with postage-paid post cards to our D.C. representatives, it is important to for Valley folks to hear the other side, the true side, of the story about the true cost of coal. Please plan to attend.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Glenn Beck Has "Nazi Tourettes"

Lewis Black skewers the darling of several recent Daily News-Record letter writers - Glenn Beck - a man whose babbling mouth is connected to a twisted mind that wouldn't know a fact if it slapped him in the face. Some consider Beck a prophet, but he is really all about profit.
Lewis Black again demonstrates the best humor is firmly rooted in truth.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Campus safety

Just a week after the horrific murder of Yeardley Love, University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III met with Governor Bob McDonnell to explore ways that changes in state law can make our campuses safer. Casteen believes that UVA would have been able to take preemptive steps to prevent Love's death if university officials had been aware of George Huguely's arrest in Lexington two years ago. Casteen said, such information "would have lit our system." He continued, "It becomes almost an obligation for the student to demonstrate that whatever behavior caused the [issue] has been in some way addressed. We regularly require students to leave the university to undergo psychological or other treatment and in some cases we don’t readmit them."
Perhaps President Casteen is correct in this instance, however it is hard to imagine that any safeguard would provide complete protection against the uncertainties of human behavior. But, perhaps a few changes in state law, with funding, can help universities better protect students. Knowledge is power and colleges and universities should know as much as possible (within reasonable privacy rights) about their students to best assure a safe learning environment.
Whatever approaches are being considered, we must be very careful to not place extra burdens on law enforcement and on our judicial system. Doing so may help one problem while creating many others. The main burden of securing this information should be placed squarely on those who will use it - the college or university.
It seems to me that one fairly simple and reasonably inexpensive change could be the way the Virginia Judicial System reports the status of cases online. Currently, if I want to check up on John Doe's case, his sentence, etc., I have to know which court has jurisdiction so I can conduct a search. Was John busted in Waynesboro or Augusta County? Or was it Albemarle? To conduct an effective search I must have some prior knowledge and be persistent in what may be a time consuming search. If I find the case, great! But, with the current system, I'm not alerted to John's other case(s) pending in Virginia Beach and Harrisonburg.
If the Virginia Judicial System had a truly global search of all district and circuit courts, college officials could more effectively and efficiently find out about students arrests, cases, and convictions. The information would be retrievable, but the burden of searching for it would be placed where it belongs - on college and university officials. Surely the technology exists to automate such searches. Both public and private schools would be empowered.
Would this fairly simple change "fix" the problem? No way! Juvenile convictions would not (and should not) be part of the public record. Likewise, we'd not be aware of John's arrest during spring break in Daytona Beach - with many out-of-state and foreign students, college and university officials will remain unaware of criminal issues beyond the commonwealth.
A simple, but partial, solution that is relatively inexpensive and might even be in place during the next academic year. A change that would not pile unnecessary and distracting work on police and courts. And, since all of these court records are already public, there are no significant privacy concerns.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hey, Slick

How big is the Gulf oil spill compared to the Shenandoah Valley? To Virginia Beach? To the pristine Eastern Shore of the Commonwealth? Google Maps helps you visualize the extent of the BP disaster. Plug-in may be required.
Drill now, spill later? Still think drilling off the Virginia coast makes sense? If so, you are a friggin' fool. We are led by fools. Cartoon from the News Leader.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's a gas

The EPA has spent some $15 million and a couple years studying the impact of cow "emissions" on climate change. As someone who has more cows than people for neighbors, I am more than a little interested in cow farts. Well, the numbers are in and the handy map below ranks states by bovine flatulence. California, always a national leader, has the highest emissions followed by Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Virginia ranks #18. More.
The numbers, of course, are certainly affected by the number of cows in a state and many other factors. For example, does the type of feed or even the type of pasture grass change the amount of gas? Intake affects output as Mel Brooks famously reminded movie goers in 1974s Blazing Saddles:
And how about the breed - who is the biggest farter - Jerseys, Holsteins, or Guernseys? There are definite differences between people so there must be differences in cattle too. How about other animals - pound for pound, how do cows compare to pigs, to goats, to humans? Do chickens fart?
Probably more environmentally damaging than gastric gasses are the solid wastes of livestock (and humans) that find their way into our precious water resources filling them with e-coli. As my nostrils were reminded following a manure hauler the other day, many farmers responsibly use animal wastes as fertilizer on their fields. I tilled some into my garden a few weeks back. But, when there too many cows and too much waste for the land to use beneficially, or waste flows directly into creeks and streams from cattle (or faulty septic systems), we risk impairment of our waterways and ground water. We all live downstream.
I guess this should remind us that there are environmental consequences to all human activity. We can't eliminate all of the negative impact, but we owe it to Mother Earth and our children's children to minimize our harmful footprints. The costs shouldn't be borne by just the farmers, but by all who enjoy milk, grilled chicken, or a cheeseburger in paradise.