Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eclipse Wash Out

Here was the view of the 86% eclipse from my house. Woo hoo! This big flippin’ cloud sailed in from nowhere just in time to block out everything. I’ll take another whack at it in 2024.

I wonder how Bill Tracey fared.

Dunes

Sand dunes at the southern tip of Emerald Isle.

Sweet Sunset

Sweet sunset at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Virginian and would never seriously think about moving to any other state. But if I did… The North Carolina coast would be at the top of the list of places I’d consider.

Fulminations about Yuppy Scum and Idiot Technology

This is me right now — without the muscles.

OK, I’m really ticked off, my wife is out of the house, and I have no one to vent to. So, I will air my wrath online.

First thing that happened: I was picking up some branches out of Countryside Lane at the intersection with River Road. (No, I’m not much of a Good Samaritan, but I am president of the Home Owners Association, so I feel obligated to do such things.) As I was getting back into my car, I saw a guy come out of nowhere and ram into the River Road/Countryside Lane Street sign, knocking it half over. Just knocked it right over. The dude sat there, seemingly wondering what to do. When I approached to inspect the damage, he started backing up, as if to leave. When I started jogging closer to get a look at his license plate, he took off down River Road like a bat out of hell.

The dirt bag was driving what seemed to be a fairly expensive, black, two-door car. (I have no ability to recognize the model of the car he was driving.) He was white, well groomed and seemed to be in his 30s. Pardon my stereotype, but he looked like egg-sucking Yuppy scum!! I’d love to take a hammer to his Volvo or Beemer, or whatever it was!

Then, when I got home: I got a push message from Apple on my PC to download an iTunes software update. I complied. Everything seemed normal. But when I tried to add a playlist to my iPhone, nothing worked. I tried everything I could imagine, then finally gave up and called Geek support. My tech guy was baffled at first, but then discovered that the hundreds of songs that I had downloaded onto my PC previously were now marked by iTunes as needing to be downloaded again! What the %#[email protected]??? Now I’ve got to download all my songs again? Thanks Apple!

This gets back to one of my favorite themes. Yeah, technology is capable of doing all sorts of amazing things. But the more complex it gets, the more FUBAR it gets. Besides the iTunes incident, I continually get menus popping up on my PC and laptop from Apple, Microsoft, WordPress and others asking me to fill out user names and passwords for stupid reasons, and NOTHING WORKS, even though I know my username and password are correct! As a consequence, I’m driven to create new user names and passwords, some of which I manage to keep track of, and some of which I don’t. It’s all a colossal pain! So, while technology makes my life better in some ways, it is also driving me to the brink of madness!

I need a drink. Thank God for bourbon.

Everything Is Better with Bacon

Ambrosia of the gods.

Quick, load up on bacon while you can! The national craving for bacon is pushing U.S. pork belly prices to record highs, reports the Wall Street Journal. Americans purchased 14% more bacon at stores in 2016 than the previous year, and stocks of bacon in commercial freezers have begun running low. Farmers increased the size of the national hog herd by 3% last year, but not fast enough to keep up with demand for the yummiest food ever created.

Fralin Assumes SCHEV Leadership

F. Heywood Fralin. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) elected W. Heywood Fralin, a prominent Roanoke businessman and former rector of the University of Virginia, as chairman Wednesday.

Fralin replaces G. Gilmer Minor III, much beloved by SCHEV staff and fellow council members, who after two terms was ineligible for reappointment to the board. Minor, who also retired recently as chairman of medical distribution giant Owens & Minor, Inc., had been instrumental in persuading the McDonnell administration not to axe the once-troubled Council and then acted to restore its credibility with lawmakers.

“I look forward to working with my fellow Council members in leading Virginia’s system of higher education to even higher levels of excellence,” Fralin said. “Virginia is fortunate to have so many superb colleges, universities and career-training schools — they truly are our crown jewels. It is an honor to work with them for the good of the Commonwealth.”

G. Gilmer Minor. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The consummate Virginia gentleman, the 72-year-old Minor was known for his self-effacing leadership style and his penchant for praising the contributions and accomplishments of others. When introducing staff and other speakers at SCHEV meetings, he would always find something positive to say — often expostulating at some length. At his final board meeting in May, Fralin and SCHEV Director Peter Blake lauded him for his eight-year contribution.

Minor joined SCHEV in 2009, at a low point in its history. The legislature had established the Council as the state entity responsible for coordinating Virginia’s highly decentralized system of higher education. The council had seen significant turnover in its senior staff, Minor told Bacon’s Rebellion, and relations were strained with the colleges and universities it oversaw. Minor, who had just come finished a term as chairman of the Virginia Military Institute, said VMI almost regarded SCHEV as the “enemy.”

When Bob McDonnell came into office in 2010 on a platform of cutting state government, he gave serious consideration to eliminating SCHEV. Minor made it his mission to save the council and rebuild its credibility. Thanks in large part to Minor’s efforts, McDonnell spared the council. Minor spent considerable time with legislators, explaining SCHEV’s role and advocating the interests of higher education. SCHEV has functioned without major controversy ever since.

Fralin will bring a different style to SCHEV — from my few months of covering the council, he seems more blunt-spoken than Minor — but I expect the 62-year-old chairman of the Medical Facilities of America, a provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services — to play a similar role as advocate for Virginia’s higher-ed system.

In addition to serving as rector, Fralin has given generously to UVa, most notably a 40-piece art collection, which includes works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt and Robert Henri. The donation was the largest single art gift in the University’s history.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Man

My dad was not a famous man, but he was a great man — at least in my eyes. He served his country in the military. He rose from humble beginnings to a high-level position in the corporate world. He was active in the community, helping those less fortunate than him. He loved his family, and his family loved him. The greatness of America lies not in its presidents, celebrities and billionaires, but in its ability to produce millions of men (and women) like my dad who work diligently, pay taxes, raise their families, practice their faith, give to the community and leave the world a better place. His death a week ago at the age of 90 warranted no news articles or paeans in the media. To a nation that did not know him, he was invisible. But the country is diminished by his passing. — JAB

Here follows the obituary that appeared in the Virginian-Pilot:

Norfolk – CMDR James Alton Bacon, USN, Ret., 90, died peacefully on April 16, 2017, in a local hospital. A native of Laurel, Del., he was the son of the late H. Alton and Evelyn Hastings Bacon.

A 1945 graduate of St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Del., he was drafted into the U.S. Army in the closing months of World War II. After the war, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with the class of 1951. He served at sea on five submarines, culminating with his command of the U.S.S. Tench SS 417. Subsequent duty included two tours on COMSUBLANT staff and other submarine-related billets.

Commander Bacon received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University, and a diploma in Naval Warfare from the U.S. Naval War College. He retired from the Navy after serving as submarine consultant at the Center for Naval Analysis. Following his naval career, he joined Sovran Financial Corporation (Bank of America) and retired in 1990 as Senior Vice President and Director of Corporate Planning.

In retirement he led a full, active life. An Episcopalian, he was an active member of the Church of the Good Shepherd and served as a member of its vestry. He was a member also of the Naval Academy Alumni Association and the Retired Officers Association, served on the Finance Committee of the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and joined the board of directors of Lee’s Friends. For many years, he volunteered his time delivering meals to the elderly and driving cancer patients to their medical appointments.

In his later years, he was an avid reader of Tom Clancy thrillers, an indefatigable fan of Navy football, and all things lacrosse. He enjoyed the occasional glass of white wine and had a weakness for chocolate Oreo cookies.

Throughout his life, he conducted himself as a gentleman: with kindness, courtesy and modesty. He upheld the ideals of honor and integrity, and served as an exemplar to his family and to all who knew him.

He is survived by his loving wife of 60 years, Marguerite Overbey Bacon and his daughter, Mary A. Bacon and her husband John Crowder of Richmond, Va.; his son James Alton Bacon, Jr. and his wife Laura of Richmond, Va.; and his son Jesse Cabell Bacon and his wife Rives of Berryville, Va.; and eight grandchildren.

Chesapeake Crabs Rejoice at Crab Picker Shortage

Even the H2-B visa program can't alleviate the crab picker shortage at Graham & Rollins.

Even the H2-B visa program can’t alleviate the crab picker shortage at Graham & Rollins. Photo credit: Daily Press.

For many years, the big challenge besetting Chesapeake Bay watermen was the declining crab population. As the number of crabs dropped from 680 million in 1990 to 300 million in 2014, so did harvests. The crab count rebounded to 553 million last year. Now the problem isn’t a shortage of crabs, it’s a shortage of crab pickers.

Hampton-based Graham & Rollins, Inc., one of only six crab houses remaining in Virginia, expects a strong 2017 harvest, reports the Daily Press. CEO Johnny Graham needs to staff up with crab pickers. Decades ago, he had hundreds of employees, but they have all left or retired.  This year he found only nine locals through online recruitment. Three showed up, one quit early, and only two have stuck it out.

Graham & Rollins is entitled through the H-2B visa program to hire 110 seasonal workers from Mexico. Paperwork is a hindrance. “I’d like to have all 110 here now,” Graham said. He’s expecting 25 soon but doesn’t know when the rest will arrive. Last year, he told the Daily Press, the company lost 37 days of the season because they could not bring in workers.

Bacon’s bottom line: I have two conflicting reactions regarding Graham’s labor dilemma.

First, with so many Americans unemployed or underemployed, why the heck can’t Graham find any workers? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Hampton residents find unemployment more attractive than working a tedious eight-hour day. When social safety net benefits are as generous as they are, unemployment is a viable career option.

Second, if so few people are interested in the work, perhaps Graham is not paying enough! I expect that the handful of surviving crab houses in Virginia are experiencing the same labor shortages. If Graham pays more, his costs go up but he hires more workers and moves a greater volume of product. His competitors might even follow his lead.

The only winners in the current state of affairs are the crabs. Maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Josh Lief Releases Album

Josh Lief, an economic development official in the Gilmore administration, was in the starting line-up of Bacon’s Rebellion columnists when I started publishing in 2002. He moved on to run the Virginia International Raceway and, then, five years later, to practice law. I lost track of him, but he has resurfaced with the roll-out of his solo album. I’ve listened to several of his songs on YouTube, and they’re all worth listening to, but I like “Redemption” the best. Support a Virginia artist. Buy Josh’s music on iTunes!

How to Destroy a Small Town: Build More Stroads

Suck the soul out of your community and destroy its vitality: Build more stroads.

Want to suck the soul out of your community and destroy its vitality? Build more stroads. Photo credit: Strong Towns.

I have a meeting tomorrow with Augie Wallmeyer, author of “The Extremes of Virginia,” a book that highlights the perilous social and economic condition of rural/small town Virginia. In anticipation of the conversation, I have been reflecting upon what it takes to stabilize rural counties whose economies have been devastated by the decline of coal, tobacco, furniture, textiles and apparel. With all the challenges they face, which Wallmeyer has described in copious detail, can these hard-hit communities reinvent themselves for the 21st century?

There are at least two parts to this question. One, which tends to get the most attention, is economic development: how to stimulate jobs and investment. A second, which gets overlooked here in Virginia, is how to maintain essential government services in a jurisdiction with an eroding population and fragile economy. The latter task is as essential as the former. If counties and small cities can’t maintain basic services, how can they hope to compete for people and jobs?

In the course of these ruminations, I encountered a recent blog post by Charles Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns movement: “America’s Next Transportation System: Doing More While Spending Less.” This short essay reminds me that every supervisor, council person, city or county manager, and planning director in a rural Virginia jurisdiction needs to read Strong Towns regularly — or be fired!

This particular piece discusses basic principles of transportation policy — principles that are routinely ignored throughout most of Virginia, and in rural Virginia most of all, where politicians and civic boosters regard new roads and highways mainly as tools for economic development. The entire post is worth reading, but I want to focus on some points most pertinent to rural planning.

Marohn distinguishes between roads and streets. “Roads are for getting to a place,” he writes. “Streets are for being in a place.”

Roads and highways are connectors; they provide high-speed links between productive places. They enable trade and commerce. Travel speed and throughput are relevant metrics. But we ruin our roads by gumming them up with development, intersections, curb cuts, stop lights and many other hindrances to unimpeded travel. For classic examples of how to ruin a road, look to U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville, the Broad Street and Midlothian Turnpike corridors in Richmond, Route 1 in Fredericksburg, and any transportation corridor in Northern Virginia. Smaller-scale but no less grotesque examples can be seen outside of almost every small city or town in Virginia. Communities have choked off their access to the world through their failure to understand the function of a road.

Streets are what you find at the end of the road. They provide local access — not just for cars but for pedestrians and bicycles. They do not create economic value by allowing faster speeds. Indeed, speed kills economic value on streets by making people feel less safe. The function of streets is to create places where people interact. Streets that work well are marked by short, gridded blocks, slower speeds, fewer stoplights, wider sidewalks, buildings abutting the sidewalk, and a vibrant street life.

“The productivity of a street is improved by slowing traffic, by giving priority to walking, biking and transit over automobiles and by intensifying the adjacent land use,” Marohn writes. As he elaborates in other blog posts, more intensive development (two-, three-, four-story buildings in small towns) generates more property tax revenue per acre for a comparable investment in infrastructure. This insight is absolutely critical for any town intent upon preserving and building its tax base.

Marohn coined the term “stroads” for street-road hybrids that combine the worst attributes of streets and roads —  “a transportation investment that attempts to simultaneously provide a high-speed connection while also attempting to build wealth.” Writes Marohn:

These outcomes are incompatible. Stroads are the highest cost, lowest returning of all transportation investments. They are also the most dangerous. We must stop building stroads and actively seek to convert existing stroads into either high-performance roads or wealth producing streets.

The path to economic salvation for rural Virginia lies (1) in building better transportation connections between towns and cities, and (2) in designing wealth-creating places where people want to live and work. Instead, most rural Virginia communities are still building stroads and destroying what vitality they have.