Does God make political endorsements?

If you believe one candidate for sheriff of Floyd County, God guaranteed him the job if he entered the race.

Paul Hill, a mechanic who works for an excavating company, says God woke him up at three in the morning back in December 2009 and told him to run against popular county sheriff Shannon Zeman.  Zeman faces both Hill and former deputy Laura Sparks in the November general election.

In his election announcement, reported in NRV News, Hill said:

In December of 2009, God woke me up at three in the morning. I sat up in bed and a loud voice spoke, saying, ‘Paul, it is time to start telling people about this, and if you work at this, I will deliver this to you.’ “

Interesting.  How, we wonder, will God “deliver” the job to Hill?  Will he (or she) rig the voting machines?  Will he (or she) serve as Hill’s campaign consultant?  Will God host a Glenn Beck style rally for Hill?

Hill admits he doesn’t have actual experience in law enforcement but says that doesn’t matter.

I don’t have experience, but I’m a commonsense man. I think people are ready for someone who will listen to their opinions and needs and work to make the county a safer and happier place.

Hill is not the first candidate to claim a mandate from God.  Candidates and elected officials all the way up to President of the United States have invoked God’s calling as rationalizations for their actions. Former President George W. Bush said God told him to invade Iraq and we all know how that turned out.

We checked the voter rolls in Floyd County and couldn’t find a registration for God and we can’t find a single time when the deity has publicly endorsed a candidate.

While God hasn’t yet issued a press release publicly endorsing Hill for sheriff, the candidate who claims his blessing apparently feels he has divine guidance when it comes to placement of his campaign signs without permission.

In the last two weeks, we have received numerous complaints from county residents who say Hill’s yard signs have appeared on their property without anyone asking for permission to put them up.  Others have complained to the sheriff’s department.

We’ve also seen signs for Hill placed on road rights-of-way — a violation of Virginia law.

Which makes us wonder if God told him to do that too.

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Grundy: They paved paradise and put up a Walmart

Floyd County may lay claim to “The Man Who Moved a Mountain,” but moving mountains and rerouting rivers is business as usual in Grundy, the Buchanan County seat in deep Southwestern Virginia.

And at a time when most Virginia towns try to preserve their history and heritage through renovation of landmarks, Grundy took the wrecking ball to most of its old downtown and is pinning its future on a new core built around a Walmart.

To some, it’s ironic that a dying mining town built on the back of workers exploited by the coal barons is now turning to another mega-corporation reviled worldwide for its low wages, stingy benefits and exploitation of workers.

For years, Grundy faced flood threats from the Levisa River. A 1977 flood sent most of the town’s commerce floating down the river so the area became part of a vast Army Corps of Engineers to save the region from the ravages of floods.

The Corps of Engineers never met a landscape it couldn’t alter or a river it couldn’t rechannel so — with help from then-Congressman Rick Boucher, the king of Southwestern Virginia pork barrel — the feds launched a $200-plus  million plan to transform Grundy into a shopping and retail mecca.

Skeptics and retail pros wondered how a town of 1,100 people sitting in one of the poorer areas of the Old Dominion could support such a retail creation, especially one anchored by Walmart, which has a store less than 30 miles away in Claypool Hill and another just across the state line in Pikeville, KY.

But economic realities didn’t faze the Corps or Boucher.  The Army’s enginners blasted away half of a scenic mountain to create a 13-acre plateau they hope is above the flood plain.  The Corps blasted away 2.4 million cubic yards of mountainside for the project.

The Virginia Coalfield Economic Coalfield Authority kicked in $2 million for construction of a 500-car parking garage with retail storfronts and space for a box store on top of the facility.

Boucher claimed the new “retail center” would “retain and create 1,000 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs.”  Retail experts say the size of the proposed Walmart and the handful of smaller stores in the complex will create — at best — about 200 low-paying retail jobs.

The Virginia Department of Transportation bought Grundy’s historic Lywood Theater and several other 30s-era buildings damaged by the 1077 flood and sent in the wrecking ball. VDOT dynamited another section of mountain to build a new intersection and road joining a widened U.S. 460.

A floodwall now protects the remaining sections of the old downtown Grundy — anchored by the Buchanan County Courthouse.  A movie theater sits atop another parking garage just west of the old downtown.

Developers predicted the business lost when VDOT razed the old downtown would move to the “new downtown” with the Walmart.  Everything was expected to open by 2007.

Didn’t work out that way.  In May 2007, Nick Miroff of The Washington Post wrote:

With loads of dynamite and government dollars, the leaders of this struggling coal town in southwest Virginia set to work years ago on a bold project to engineer their way out of poverty and the flood path of the Levisa Fork River.

The “New Grundy” of planners’ sketches was an Appalachian version of an upscale urban village, with distinctive shops, apartments and high-tech businesses that would spark an economic revival of the town.

This grand vision didn’t fit in the canyon-like confines of the old Grundy (population 1,100). So with a miner’s disdain for the incommodities of geology, town leaders recruited the Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Transportation. They demolished dozens of buildings along Main Street and, to make room for the new town, blasted away a mountainside.

The $196 million project — costing more than $175,000 for every man, woman and child in Grundy — was scheduled to deliver the new town this year.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. Many owners of the razed businesses pocketed their government payouts and don’t plan to reopen. The original goal of a revived small-town community morphed into something quite different — a future now heralded by an empty lot with a solitary blue sign sticking up from the barren expanse.

On Sept. 14 — four years late — the new Walmart “supercenter” opens in Grundy but several of the storefronts that spread out from the entrance to the big box giant remain empty. The businesses lost to flooding and VDOT’s wrecking ball won’t be part of the new downtown.

“You trade your town for a Walmart, and you don’t feel likes it’s a good trade-off,” Grundy High School teacher Debbie Raines told the Post.

Construction worker Lyle Agee came to Grundy five years ago hoping the highly-hyped project would provide work.  He found a few minimum wage, short-term jobs but nothing permanent. He and his family are packing to leave and won’t be in Grundy when the new Walmart opens.

Many in the town speak with disdain about Chuck Crabtree, the former town manager and head of Grundy’s Industrial Development Authority who spent nearly 20 years championing the project.

Crabtree promoted Walmart as a modern-day “general store” that would provide a center for the manufactured downtown.

Others don’t see it that way.

“We just old country folks,” 75-year-old Grundy native Lee Keen told the Post. “We had a neat little town here.”

I spent time in Grundy recently on assignment for a news agency.  My interviews can’t be published here yet because the people who hired me paid for first dibs on that.  The photos here are ones that weren’t submitted for publication.


Grudges? We don’t need no stinkin’ grudges

From time to time, someone will walk up, call up or email to say something like “why do you have a grudge against (insert name here).”

Grudges? We don’t need no stinkin’ grudges. Grudges waste time, energy and emotional reserves.

Angela Pirisi writes in Psychology Today:

Still holding grudges? Check your pulse: research suggests that harboring feelings of betrayal may be linked to high blood pressure which can ultimately lead to stroke, kidney or heart failure, or even death.

The same goes for hate. Don’t have time to hate. Life if too short to waste time on hating anyone or anything.

In his book, The Psychology of Hate, Dr. Robert J. Sternberg writes:

Hate is among the most powerful of human emotions—it has caused great sorrow and suffering—and yet it has been understudied by psychologists.

After the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II, the expression “Never Again” became a familiar refrain. Yet, during the last half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the current decade, society has witnessed staggering numbers of brutal and hateful acts.

News sources are filled with reports of Palestinians attacking Jews and Jewish settlers attacking Palestinians, white supremacist groups murdering members of minority groups, religious zealots killing doctors who perform abortions, teenagers violently clashing with their classmates, genocide in Rwanda and mass killing in Bosnia, and the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. These are not random or sudden bursts of irrationality, but rather, carefully planned and orchestrated acts of violence and killing. Underlying these events is a widespread and hazardous human emotion: hate.

Hate destroys a civilized society. Hate replaces reason with rage.

Extremist groups thrive on hate. They exploit it along with fear, ignorance and intolerance to serve their own hate-driven agendas. Sadly, we’ve seen hate all too often in our backyard, like the Ku Klux Klan that still operates near us or the white supremacists in our midst or the political extremists who masquerade as grassroots organizations.

Too often, these groups promote anger to justify their hatred. They cloak themselves in American flags to justify intolerance. They invoke Christianity to rationalize behavior that is anything but Christian.

I saw hate first hand as a young boy in Farmville when a racist school board and board of supervisors closed the public schools rather than integrate.

It would be easy to hate such people but I cannot.  It would be easy to hold grudges against those who wish to destroy society by subverting the political process but doing so serves no purpose.

We must, instead, fight ignorance with education, confront fear with resolve and avoid hate with compassion.

If we are at peace with ourselves, no one can use use our emotions against us.

Some years ago — as I struggled to battle alcoholism and the anger management issues that come with the disease — I came across this quote from an unknown author:

Life is too short. Grudges are a waste of perfect happiness. Laugh when you can, apologize when you should and let go of what you  can’t change. Love deeply and forgive quickly. Take chances. Give everything and have no regrets. Life is too short to be unhappy. You have to take the good with the bad. Smile when you should, love what you have and always remember what you had. Always forgive but never forget. Learn from your mistakes but never regret. People change and things go wrong. But, always remember, life goes on.

Let others hate. Let them hold grudges.

We have better uses for our time and our lives.

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Danica Patrick brings her sexpot act to NASCAR

Today’s big racing news: Bikini model/skin magazine centerfold/race car driver Danica Patrick will run NASCAR “full time” next year, driving a full season in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports along with “selected” Sprint Cup events for Tony Stewart‘s team.

It’s getting a lot of hype.  WDBJ Chanel 7 in Roanoke led its sportscast with the news this morning.

A lot of attention for a driver who’s one just one race in the Indycar series in six seasons.  When she raced her first Indianapolis 500 in 2005, Patrick made the cover of Sports Illustrated.  The race winner did not.

Sports Illustrated loves Danica Patrick. She has appeared  in several of the magazine’s swimsuit editions in — and sometimes partially out of — swimsuits.  She strutted her stuff in FHM, a men’s skin magazine. She appears in sexy television ads for GoDaddy.Com — her sponsor in both Indycar and Nascar.  Those ads encourage viewers to visit the hosting company’s web site to see her with less clothes on.

A few years ago, Patrick told an interviewer that she wanted to be “taken seriously” as a race car drive — an interesting comment from someone who appears willing to show off vast amounts of skin.

Of course, flouting sex appeal pays off.  Forbes.Com reports that Patrick is the third-highest paid female athlete in the world — earning $12 million last year in “prize money, appearance fees and endorsements.”  Very little of that is prize money.

NASCAR, of course, is welcoming their new sexpot driver with open arms. With attendance and TV ratings declining, the sport needs a shot of “star power” and Patrick brings that — even if her performance on the track hasn’t been all that impressive to date.

What’s interesting is that NASCAR — the organization that sacked one of its Sprint Girls recently because she sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend back in her college days — is openly welcoming a female driver who poses for skin mags.

Don’t get us wrong.  We have nothing against sex or nudity.  We love the female form and like to look at pretty girls in skimpy attire too. 😉  We don’t, however, like hypocrisy or the fact that a pretty celebrity can displace a more talented driver who might deserve a shot with a top-notch team.

It’s fitting that Patrick will drive mostly next year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. — co-owner of JR Motorsports with his sister Kelly.  He’s another NASCAR star who is more celebrity than driver.

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Too much anger

Lots of anger out there.

Too much.

Can’t talk politics with some without it turning into a shouting match.

Can’t joke about someone’s background without them getting mad.

Not much humor left.

Used to be angry.

Lost temper with little or no provocation.

No more.

Getting mad solves nothing.

Anger escalates emotions and displaces reason.

So nothing is accomplished.

Look at Congress.

If pro is the opposite of con then Congress is the opposite of progress.

Look at sideshow atmosphere that has descended on too many public meetings in our area.

Too much shouting, too much hyperbole, too little truth.

Not sure what to do about it.

Can’t discuss anger management with most.

Pisses them off.

Can’t suggest moderation in an atmosphere of extremes.

Can’t promote reason in a sea of rowdiness.

It’s enough to make you mad.

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When public meetings turn into The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

It’s astounding;
Time is fleeting;
Madness takes its toll.
But listen closely…
Not for very much longer…
I’ve got to keep control.

Never thought the lyrics from a song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show would come to mind while attending a public meeting or hearing in Floyd County but the words from “Time Warp” runs through the head a lot lately.

Public hearings have become side shows, dominated by a vocal few spouting conspiracy theories, quoting the Book of Revelation and issuing dire warnings about socialist conspiracies and a bogeyman under nearby rocks.

Too many of these claims are created by local activists who twist facts to fit narrow-issue agendas driven by political organizations with hidden motives.

Too often in recent weeks, local citizens who should know better go to the podiums of local meetings and rant and rave about socialist plots and United Nations-driven conspiracies. Speakers misquote the Bill of Rights, invoke visions of Armageddon and drag the Bible into land-use debates with dire warnings of “boiling babies in oil.”

A few of these troublemakers are homegrown but most are transplants who apparently saw Floyd County as fertile ground for stirring up problems by using false facts and misinformation to generate controversy.

As a result, public meetings have become studies in rude social behavior where so-called adults utter extemporaneous comments from the audience, talk loudly among themselves and allow their ringing cell phones — more often than not with some bizarre ring tone — to add to the din.

Some are members of the local tea party who bring their group’s national agenda of distraction, diversion and disruption to what was once a peaceful community of meetings where people respected decorum and courtesy. Others just like to make trouble.

Our local elected and appointed officials have difficult jobs. They do the best they can. There is — and should be — places in meetings for reasoned public comment but the last thing our elected officials need is the diversion that comes from listening to small minds spout big lies. Our community deserves better than having loudmouth agitators disrupt public meetings because they lack social skills, manners or basic courtesy.

It’s interesting that some of those who come to meetings and preach fiscal responsibility are often hauled into Floyd’s General District Court by creditors because they don’t pay their own bills.

It’s disturbing that the long string of one-liners spouted by some speakers at public meetings are lifted — word for word — from web sites that preach racism and white supremacy.

Hopefully, this behavior is an anomaly that will soon pass. Fringe groups come and go. The current crop are the CB-radios of modern politics — a fad with a lot of flash and very little substance. With luck, they will disappear into the dung-heap of other fake populist movements.

Until they do, some meetings in Floyd County will remind us of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or perhaps the words from an Emerson, Lake and Palmer song:

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We’re so glad you could attend
Come inside! Come inside!

There behind a glass is a real blade of grass
be careful as you pass.
Move along! Move along!

Come inside, the show’s about to start
guaranteed to blow your head apart
Rest assured you’ll get your money’s worth
The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth.
You’ve got to see the show, it’s a dynamo.
You’ve got to see the show, it’s rock and roll ….

(Lyrics from “Time Warp” by Richard O”Brien and “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 2″ by Emerson, Lake & Palmer)

Turn the damn cell phones off!

Hard to concentrate on the issues in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Floyd.

Too many cell phones ringing.

Too many people attending the crowded meeting didn’t have the common courtesy of putting their phones on vibrate or simply turning the damn things off.

So phones kept ringing. Former Supervisor Kerry Whitlock’s phone rang twice in less than an hour. Burks Fork Supervisor candidate Joe Turman’s phone rang at least three times. Other phones went off multiple times during a 66-minute public comment period and throughout the day.

Good grief folks. Is it too much to ask to turn the things off or at least put them on vibrate during a public meeting? Is simple courtesy or common sense a thing of the past?

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Sunset for the Blue Ridge Parkway?

(Photo digitally-enhanced)


At least once a year, I travel the full-length of the Blue Ridge Parkway — from Mile Marker 0 near Waynesboro to Mile 469 at the entrance to Smokey Mountains National Park.

The Parkway has been a central part of my life since I first visited it at age 5.  I hiked its trails as a kid, explored raging teenage hormones with young ladies at Rocky Knob Overlook and photographed its beauty for most of my life.

But as I travel the Parkway nowadays I worry and wonder about its future. My motorcycle lurches over broken pavement and potholes while disrepair and overdue maintenance add glaring contrasts to the natural beauty and once-popular stops now greet visitors with locked doors.

Otter Creek, Doughton Park and Bluffs Lodge & Restaurant closed this year.  No vendors stepped foward to take over the facilities after Forever Resorts pulled out at the end of last season. The grapevine says the vendor who took over Mabry Mill this year is telling the National Park Service she won’t be back in 2012.

Floyd County depends on traffic from the Parkway to feed its growing tourism business.  The county contains more miles of the Parkway than any other jurisdiction in Virginia.  But the Parkway all too often seems like part of an era whose time has passed.

Maybe people are just too busy and in too much of a hurry to travel a leisurely 500 miles at 45 miles per hour. Maybe enjoying nature is out of style in an era of Gameboys, texting and wireless internet.

I don’t know but as I travel one of my favorite roads I wonder just how much longer it will be available as one of the treasures of our area.

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Paige Duke and NASCAR’s hypocrisy

The Sprint Cup Girls: Paige Duke is on the right.

Paige Duke, a 24-year-old beauty served — until this past week — as one of three “Sprint Cup Girls” for the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) racing series.

The Sprint Cup girls aren’t chosen for their knowledge of racing, their intellectual prowess or their educational credentials. They get picked because they’re young, beautiful and look good in form-fitting racing suits.

But a decision by Duke six years ago to shed her clothes for some pictures to send her boyfriend landed her in hot water with NASCAR — for violating the “morals clause” of her contract.

The photos of Duke — then an 18-year-old freshman at Clemson — surfaced on an Internet site that mixes racing news with “hottie of the week” photos. She didn’t give them the photos and hasn’t seen the boyfriend in years. Her lawyers moved quickly to force the web site to remove the photos but it wasn’t quick enough for NASCAR. They fired her over the phone.

NASCAR’s move is hypocritical at best. They parade young women around as part of their show because they look sexy in tight costumes but send one of them packing because something they did as a private thing six years ago is immoral?

Strange behavior for a “sport” that grew out of the moonshining days.

NASCAR has always been an outfit that pushes “family value” and “morality” with a naughty blink of the eye. Have they forgotten the glory days of sexpots like the legendary Linda Vaughn — Miss Hearst Golden Shifter — of the sordid history of a past Miss Winston Cup who violated her contract by secretly dating young driver Jeff Gordon before marrying him and then hauling him into divorce court to take half of his millions?

You can’t push sex as part of the side show and then act shocked when sex becomes more than they bargained for.

Yes, what Paige Duke did as an 18-year-old was stupid but most of us did stupid things when we were young. Hell, some of us still do stupid things as so-called “adults.”

NASCAR expects drivers to prostitute themselves to sponsors. The sport sold out long ago.

Firing Paige Duke is a holier-than-thou move that proves just how out-of-touch NASCAR has become.

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School Superintendent Arbogast ignores traffic laws too

Outgoing Floyd County School Superintendent Terry E. Arbogast got into hot water this year for playing fast and loose with the rules when it came to his rapidly escalating salary and his reluctance to come clean about why he kept the truth about his actual pay under wraps.

Now it turns out he has a similar disregard for the rules of the road in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

On June 19, deputy sheriff Tim Dulaney nailed Arbgogast for speeding — not just a few ticks over the limit mind you but rushing headlong down one of Floyd County’s two-lane roads at 70 miles per hour.

That’s 15 miles per hour over the posted limit of 55 and just five miles an hour short of reckless driving.

We try to promote responsible driving but it is not easy when one lives with a lead-footed wife. Last year, State Trooper Keith Gregory busted the mistress of Chateau Thompson for running 73 miles per hour on U.S. 221 near Ray’s Restaurant and her perceived need for speed landed her in the dog house at home and a well-deserved trip to a driver improvement program class in Christiansburg.

The superintendent of schools is supposed to set an example for the many young people in our education system. A couple of years ago, Arbogast got bent out of shape when I wrote about observing some school bus drivers breaking traffic laws.

He didn’t think it was a big deal.

Now we understand why.