Saturday, August 27, 2005


TheWeekCoverShortly after lamenting on this blog of the sad state of U.S. weekly news magazines I received a promo letter for a magazine I had never heard of, The Week. It sounded interesting and seemed cheap. So I sent in the subscription card and waited. In short order I received my first copy.

Turns out The Week was first published in England less than ten years ago; the U.S. version is not quite five. In layout and tone it reminds me of the Economist. I suspect that is not an accident.

From their web site here is part of the Editor's letter introducing the U.S. edition:
Every week, our staff will scour more than 100 newspapers, magazines, and Web sites. We’ll distill into 40 pithy pages the best of what we find—the most important news, the most provocative commentary, the freshest ideas. In clear, concise writing, The Week will update you on the key controversies in government and politics. We’ll brief you on news and comment from the rest of the globe. We’ll highlight the most interesting stories from health, science, and business. We’ll tell you what the critics are saying about the latest in films, TV, theater, and the arts. To spice the stew, we’ll stir in some gossip and some fun. You’ll not only know what happened. You’ll know what the best minds are saying—conservative and liberal, independent and partisan, thoughtful and passionate. Our only agenda: To make reading The Week one of the most informative—and entertaining—experiences of your week.
I believe they have succeeded. I doubt I will ever feel the need to subscribe to Time or Newsweek again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jim Dorsett, 1929-2005

From the Roanoke Times, August 17, 2005
Long-time Christiansburg resident James H. Dorsett, died on August 14, 2005 after an extended illness. Jim, as he was known to family and friends, had three careers as minister, professor and publisher. Throughout his life Jim was committed to issues of social justice and social and community activism.

He is survived by two daughters, Meghan Helen Dorsett and Carol Lindstrom of Christiansburg; sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Robert Dodds of Amboy, Washington; sisters-in-law, Lois Dorsett of Wichita, Kansas, Cora Thiebaud of Covington, Washington, Peg Dorsett of San Francisco; stepsons, Frank and Robert White of North Carolina; and numerous nieces and nephews. Jim's family and friends will remember him fondly as a man who loved to read, to surf the internet, to tell stories, and to laugh.

Born September 24, 1929 in Jefferson City, Missouri and raised in Coalstrip, Montana, Jim received a BA in English from Wichita City College (now Wichita State University) in 1951. He married his college sweetheart, B. Helen Bennett, in 1953. The two shared a passion for railroad modeling, music and politics. Jim attended McCormick Seminary in Chicago and earned a bachelors degree in divinity in 1954. For the next several years Jim served as a minister and mediator for the Board of Missions to rural communities in Montana and Missouri. Jim had churches in Lewistown, Hilger, Whiplash, and Roy, Montana, and Otterville and Tipton, Missouri.

In 1963 the couple moved to Columbia, Missouri so that Jim could return to school; he received a masters and doctorate in sociology from the University of Missouri in 1969. Jim taught at Virginia Tech from 1969 until 1976, focusing on rural sociology and poverty, social theory, religion, and the history of social thought. Many of Jim's students remained in contact with him and continued to be inspired in their own careers and lives by his teaching and his example.

In 1976 Jim left the academy to form Dorsett Publications, an outgrowth of Jim and Helen's interest in scale modeling. In 1963 Jim and Helen had founded Dorsett Miniatures; in 1964, they published the first Cabinetmaker's Guide to Dollhouse Furniture, and in 1976 began publishing The Scale Cabinetmaker, which was published for twenty-two years, until Jim's retirement. Jim and Helen bought the Christiansburg Depot in 1983; their painstaking renovations allowed the Depot to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. They subsequently renovated the Lee Building in 1988 and opened the Cambria Emporium the next year.

In 1990, shortly after completion of these projects, Helen began a fierce struggle with cancer and died in August. Jim continued to publish TSC with the help of his daughter Meghan. In 1993 Jim's life was enriched when he married Mary Marye White. In 1996 Jim retired from Dorsett Publications and ceased publication of TSC; Jim and Mary enjoyed several more years together before her death in 2000.

Jim continued active in community affairs. He served on the board of directors of the New River Valley AIDS Coalition, was active in starting a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, chaired the witness committee of the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church, and was a long-time member of the Democratic Party. Throughout his life, Jim was committed to anti-poverty and anti-war programs and to working for civil rights, including gay/lesbian rights.

A memorial service will be held at four o'clock Friday at the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church; a celebration of Jim's life will begin at 5:30 at the Christiansburg Depot. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent to Habitat for Humanity or Blue Ridge Public Television or that those interested in honoring Jim's memory devote five hours of their time to a community project of their choice. Online condolences may be sent by visiting www.hornefuneral

Monday, August 22, 2005

Road Trip Report

courthouse_and_clerkAs my lack of posts might have indicated, I have been on the road. On the past two week-ends I have attended two reunions - the 76th Edwards family reunion at the King William Court House Sunday before last and the 30-year reunion of the Class of 1975 of King William High School last Saturday. Their senior year was my first as Assistant Principal at KWHS.

KWHSReunionIn between I managed to do some research - did I ever mention that I am writing a book or two? - at libraries at UVA, the College of William and Mary, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and the Virginia Historical Society. I also worked in a visit with my old friend John, my new friend Layla, and said goodbye to the family friend and minister who officiated at my wedding ten years ago. We will miss Jim Dorsett. Good man.

I also had two short visits with my mother, one also with my daughter, and spent some spare time preparing for my fantasy football draft, which was held last night.

Other than that I have not been up to much.

Oh, I managed to pick up a cold/sinus infection/whatever that manifested itself for the first time last night. Tomorrow I travel to Fayetteville to have new rotors mounted on front wheels of my car.

When I return Analog Man might have the energy to give one - or some - of these events the attention they deserve on these pages. Or he may not.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


cancer_rainbow_awarenessBecause my father died almost 25 years ago from an especially preventable form of cancer, melanoma, I have become especially sensitive to the sound of that word, cancer. Unfortunately, since then my extended family has had additional reasons to loath the word. Recently cancer has hit even closer to home.

While cancer has always been with us, cancer rates seem to be increasing. As best as we can tell, many cancers are dependent on lifestyles and environmental factors. In simple language, they are the result of choices we have individually made or situations we have created for others. We are doing it to ourselves. As disturbing as that may sound, this is actually good news because that means WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

My daughter - as usual - has a few suggestions.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Belief v. Values

ThisIBelievelogoThis spring National Public Radio (NPR) began airing a series of radio essays - personal statements from listeners - Mondays on Morning Edition and All Things Considered under the title This I Believe. Based on a 1950's radio program created and hosted by Edward R. Murrow, the program sought, in Mr. Murrow's words, "to point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." As he described it in 1951,
In this brief space, a banker or a butcher, a painter or a social worker... will write about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.
According to the This I Believe web site,
Each day, millions of Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists and secretaries -- anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. Their words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism and racial division.
Revived by a group of veteran radio producers led by Dan Gediman and Jay Allison, Mr. Murrow's idea of looking for "common meeting grounds" has been expanded. Again from the This I Believe web site,
In reviving This I Believe, Allison and Gediman say their goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, they hope to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of balancing looking for "common ground" and "respecting differences," the series is well done, interesting and thought provoking. The title is also misleading.

murrowThose of you who have known me over the years must realize how difficult it is for me to write anything negative about NPR or its programming. I am an NPR junkie. All of the presets on my car radio are to public radio stations. I am a long time listener, about 30 years worth. But This I Believe has it wrong. Worse, the problem started with Ed Murrow, the patron saint of radio journalism.

The common themes within these radio essays are generally values, not beliefs. Values and beliefs are not the same thing. Granted, these words are often (mis)used interchangeably. But there is a reason these different words exist. They mean different things.

From Websters, 1913 edition,
Believe - To exercise belief in; to credit upon the authority or testimony of another; to be persuaded of the truth of, upon evidence furnished by reasons, arguments, and deductions of the mind, or by circumstances other than personal knowledge; to regard or accept as true; to place confidence in; to think; to consider; as, to believe a person, a statement, or a doctrine.
Further, when we explore the usages of Belief we find,
Belief -

1. Assent to a proposition or affirmation, or the acceptance of a fact, opinion, or assertion as real or true, without immediate personal knowledge; reliance upon word or testimony; partial or full assurance without positive knowledge or absolute certainty; persuasion; conviction; confidence; as, belief of a witness; the belief of our senses. Belief admits of all degrees, from the slightest suspicion to the fullest assurance. Reid.

2. (Theol.) A persuasion of the truths of religion; faith. No man can attain [to] belief by the bare contemplation of heaven and earth. Hooker.

3. The thing believed; the object of belief. Superstitious prophecies are not only the belief of fools, but the talk sometimes of wise men. Bacon.

4. A tenet, or the body of tenets, held by the advocates of any class of views; doctrine; creed. In the heat of persecution to which Christian belief was subject upon its first promulgation. Hooker.
Here we see the strong connection between belief and faith, and between faith and religion. We also see the distinction between belief and knowledge, especially personal knowledge gained through the senses. Belief is, in essence, a necessary "best guess" as to the nature of things about which we have little or no personal knowledge. It helps us through the day, gets us through the night.
Personally I strive daily to increase the number of things I know while proportionally decreasing the number of things I believe. But I know others have different values.

Values, withing this context, are generally principles, standards or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable by the person who holds them. Further, values are frequently described as a basis of behavior, the foundation of choices made by individuals or groups.
Values, like beliefs, may be shared and passed from generation to generation, formally or informally. These guiding principles may indeed grow out of a belief or system of beliefs. Or they may spring from life's personal experiences, the retelling of which making good radio. Or a combination of the two.

Both values and beliefs have their place in the world and may be related; but they are not the same. Murrow knew this in 1951, writing in the quote above of "the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives." (emphasis added) But he selected This I Believe as the program's name. I suppose his Bible-belt roots made it easier to choose the more rhetorically powerful title over one more accurate.

Am I making too much of this? Probably. Is the distinction I am trying to make important enough to change your radio listen habits? Of course not. This I Believe is a wonderful series. It is worthy of your time. Unfortunately the title invites muddy thinking caused by poor use of language. In that it is far from alone, nor the worst offender. With words like beliefs, values, and faith being applied once again into our political discourse - like dry rub on ribs in Memphis - I am getting more than a little sensitive to the misuse of our language, deliberate or not. More on that topic later.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Favorite Blogs, An Update

Several blogs, and bloggers, I enjoy deserve special note.

Chris at Locust Street has completed his series on the Seven Deadly Sins. They are wonderful reads, certainly better than any musings I would have.

Sue's nycdilettante continues to add interersting content and features. This site is starting to look crude by comparison.

And Jesse of Travels with Maureen, Jesse and Abby, along with other members of his family, has started a "blogazine" (sorry Jesse). It is truly wonderful, an example of this new electronic medium at its best. I invite you to join me from time to time visiting at butternoparsnips.

Monday, August 01, 2005

FloydFest 2005 Report

That Canadian cold front sliding south seemed to stall over the Blue Ridge Parkway. The result last weekend was three days of music, a gathering of the tribe, and rain.

But one does not go to FloydFest unprepared, nor let a little rain spoil the fun. Frowns and grumpiness were in short supply as the music carried on through the fog (clouds actually) and sprinkles. Our Base Camp was home to my wife and I, and my wife's sister's ex-husband, their daughter and granddaughter. We had a very good time.

The high point for me was the "family style" gathering late Saturday night at Camp Stillwater, located just a few yards from our base camp. Todd Shaeffer performed solo for about an hour under a large tent, the hub of activity for a contingent of Todd’s (and RRE’s) friends and extended family from New Jersey. As if one needed further proof of the magic of live music performed with skill and feeling, it was under that tent Saturday night. Many thanks to the Stillwater gang for the invitation.

I thought Railroad Earth played especially well, both on the Main Stage Friday night and under the dance tent Saturday afternoon. Certainly the crowd Saturday was about twice the size as last year, the first time I heard the band.

Music has been a large part of my life for over fifty years now. Part of what has sustained my interest has been the ability of musicians from time to time to create something new out of the traditional. Railroad Earth seems to do that, at least to my ears. Skilled musicians individually, together these guys are doing something greater than their sum of their parts.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

Base Camp


RRE, Friday Night, Main Stage


RRE, Saturday Afternoon, Dance Tent


FloydFest, Promenade


Winner, Best Camper