Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

The Thinker

A short walk on Fairfax County’s Cross-County Trail

I live in Fairfax County, Virginia. It’s known for having a million people, being nestled up to the capital beltway (and partly inside it), beltway bandits, clean industries, great schools and well-moneyed people. One thing that doesn’t come to mind when you think about Fairfax County is nature. It’s not that nature is wholly absent, it’s just that nature consists mostly of modest county parks and little asphalt trails winding their way through patches of woods that are overseen by hulking single family houses. Some communities in the county try to celebrate nature. Reston does a good job of it, or at least did before they put the downtown in. Mostly though Fairfax County is about nice houses, annoying traffic, lawns, keeping up with the Joneses and people who think they are more important than they actually are.

In general, if you want nature you go west. The Shenandoah Mountains is about an hour away. Many people from Fairfax County consider a trip to nature to be climbing Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoahs. (It has a granite face so you can take in a view.)

It turns out that Fairfax County has a trail that almost no one knows about. I walked part of it last weekend. It’s the Cross County Trail and it literally crosses the entire length of the county, from the Potomac River in the North to Woodbridge in the South. It does touch civilization in spots but mostly it cuts its way through remnants of forests and along local streambeds. I had known about the trail for a couple of years and had ignored it. Most Fairfax County residents don’t even know it’s there. But if you are a hiker, it’s right here and a great way to get some exercise. You just have to find the darn thing. At least that was my experience last Sunday walking a stretch of it between Vale and Lawyers roads.

The trail may not be well known because it is not well marked. I had to drive to it and it took me a while to find it. There was no place to park my car, so I pulled off and parked by the side of the road. The entrance to the trail at first escaped me, as all I could see was a gravel road into Camp Crowell, the local Girl Scout camp. There was a hard to see dirt path off on the side, and this happened to be the trail. I was expecting something grander and wasn’t even sure I was on it at all until I saw a small trail marker. Water bottle and camera in hand I headed north. Slowly the noise from cars on Vale Road disappeared behind me.

Horse at Camp Crowell

Horse at Camp Crowell

What appeared ahead of me was pasture, and then another pasture, this one bounded by fences. Inside were two horses for the girls of Camp Crowell looking very bored in the distance. There were prominent no trespassing signs, so I didn’t. I did however come up to the fence just to get a better look at the horses, a rare sight in Fairfax County. The two horses, including one foal, were frisky, playful and curious and came right up to me. “How you doing, fellas,” I said, stroking their heads, affection that they were very happy to receive. I could not recall how long it had been since I had the pleasure of touching a horse. It was likely more than a decade, but it was a welcome, almost sensuous experience. I regretted not having packed a couple of apples, but I had no idea I would be encountering horse on my little four-mile hike.

I wandered past the pastures and soon found myself in the woods, somewhat past their autumn peak. To my right was the sound of gently flowing water, a stream called Difficult Run to be precise. I knew of it not because I have lived in Fairfax County for nearly thirty years but because I manage a web site for the USGS that serves data for thousands of water monitoring sites, including one on Difficult Run. I wasn’t sure whether I would encounter our gaging station or not, but water flow was gentle so it couldn’t be flowing more than a few cubic feet per second. The creek’s banks, covered with sand and gravel, attested to the power of the stream after storms. Today it was moving at a languid pace. I breathed deeply. How wonderful: invigorating autumn air, temperatures in the lower 60s, mostly dry ground to walk across, a mixture of hazy sunshine filtering through the canopy and a gently winding trail to traverse.

And yet it was not wholly unmaintained. I crossed a few bridges the county had put in. I also found one volunteer about my age, with his aging dog sporting a large benign tumor on his right side, maintaining the trail of sorts. He had a little rake and was engaged in the thankless task of sweeping leaves off the trail, but only in spots where they masked hidden roots. I stopped and we chatted for a bit. He spoke of the trail as a hidden gem and said he walked it regularly, but usually alone and sometimes in the evening when the deer came out. It was both sad and nice to hear about its little use. Today, I didn’t mind so much the lack of human company. Instead I hungered for a little nature. I got it with the rustling of leaves, mostly wind driven but occasionally caused by a squirrel in the bush. I heard it in the birds overhead and the occasional call of a crow.

It was not quite just me, this man and his dog on the trail. A little further I found a mother with two daughters and two dogs. Dog lovers know what happens if you put dogs near a stream: they were in it, lapping it, walking in it, prancing through it from time to time, and mostly making a happy but soggy mess of themselves. It’s a natural things for dogs to do, except you don’t see it much in Fairfax County, where leash laws are in effect and where nature like this tends to be far away. Here, hidden in the woods, dogs could be dogs.

Difficult Run

Difficult Run

“Follow the signs carefully,” the trail guide with the broom told me. “Cross the creek to the path on the other side and you can end up on private property. Nothing should happen to you, but it’s best avoided.” Instead he pointed me to the trail marker pointing to the left. It moved me away from Difficult Run and up a small hill. Up the hill I found some tents in the woods, which I first mistook for tents of homeless people. On further inspection I realized that they were there to keep cords of firewood dry. Nearby were some large estates for rich people. Their chimneys would use that that wood when the weather turned colder. I was more than a little envious. I wished I could purchase an opportunity to be so close to nature.

Up to Lawyers Road then back again. My pace back was brisker as rain looked like it might threaten. The horses were nowhere to be found when I past their pasture again. There was no sign of an outhouse, but plenty of nature. When privacy allowed, I let nature be my outhouse.

Finally the distant sound of cars on Vale Road, and suddenly the magic was over. But now that I know the Cross County Trail is so close and often so unused, it is likely that I will be back again soon, and exploring other parts of this largely unknown gem secretly nestled in the heart of Fairfax County. Walking the trail I can renew both body and spirit. And I don’t have to go too far. Call me selfish, but I hope it stays our little hidden natural gem.

 
The Thinker

Most mass murders are preventable. For God’s sake, let’s prevent them.

Yesterday, another pointless mass slaughtering of innocents occurred. Six people were murdered this time, plus the gunman who was shot by police, at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The assassin (no point calling him alleged, as he is dead) is Michael Page, a forty-year-old Army veteran, a member of an Army psychological unit that was never deployed. Some news sources are suggesting that Page was a white supremacist. Most likely he wasn’t a very bright white supremacist for choosing Sikhs as victims. Most white supremacists are far more concerned about allegedly radical Muslims than Sikhs, who are a largely peaceful religion primarily from India that believes in one immortal being and the ten gurus. But they wear towels on their head, so that probably looked Muslim enough for Page. We’ll probably never know for sure why he targeted Sikhs, but their main crime seems to be they were not Caucasians like him.

About three weeks earlier, the white Caucasian pulling the trigger was allegedly James Eagan Holmes, 26, a recent dropout from the University of Colorado’s PhD neuroscience program. He killed twelve people and injured 58 others at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado with semiautomatic weapons and bullets purchased in part over the Internet. Shortly before he dropped out he was apparently receiving counseling from a psychiatrist at the university, who was so alarmed she brought his case to the attention of campus authorities. However, the campus lost interest as he had dropped out. Holmes acquired a huge lethal arsenal and over three thousand rounds of ammunition, all without a background investigation. He would have killed many more had not police discovered that he had booby-trapped his apartment.

And so it goes. On January 8, 2011 it was Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) who took a bullet to the brain at the hands of alleged assassin Jared Lee Loughner, 23, also a Caucasian white guy. Giffords was fortunate to survive, but her injury eventually meant resigning her seat in Congress and years of rehabilitation therapy that is still underway. Loughner shot 18 people, six of whom died at a Tucson Safeway. While he did not kill Giffords, he did manage to kill a federal judge. Like Holmes, Loughner had a traumatic incident in his personal life. He underwent a personality change after he was fired from a job at a local Quiznos. He was known to abuse alcohol and took hallucinogens. His firearm was purchased legally at a local Sportsman’s Warehouse in Tucson. Loughner is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to these shootings. He is considered mentally ill and is required to take an anti-psychotic medication.

Of course who could possibly forget the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, a shooting that killed 32 and injured 17 others? It stands as the worst mass murder by an individual in the United States. While the incident occurred in Blacksburg, Seung-Hui Cho grew up close to where I live in Northern Virginia. He attended Poplar Tree Elementary School down the street in Chantilly, and Westfield High School, also in Chantilly, where my daughter graduated the year of the incident. Cho had seen many mental health experts, had been on antidepressants and creeped out more than a few of his professors.

The United States is lucky to go a year without a mass murder episode. Some of them get little press. Four days before the Aurora shooting, twelve to 18 people were injured by gunman Nathan Van Wilkins, 44, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. If the incident made the paper, it was buried deep in the back somewhere. Maybe that no one actually died made it un-newsworthy. To pick a few recent mass shootings: 4 dead and 7 injured by Eduardo Sencion in Carson City, Nevada on September 6, 2011 and 13 killed and 4 injured in Binghamton, New York, my home town, by Jiverly Antares Wong on April 3, 2009. Wikipedia keeps a current list if you are curious. By my count the grisly total is: thirty murdered since 2010 and 82 from 2000-2009, and these are just the rampage killers. School massacres like Virginia Tech, workplace killings and hate crimes are not included.

Certain themes show up in these murderers. For the ones that tend to be most newsworthy, the perpetrators tends to be white, male, in their prime testosterone years and mentally ill. Mass murder though seems to be almost exclusively a guy thing, principally a white guy thing. Maybe women lack the crazy gene. Most of these mass murders probably were preventable. I will grant you that our loose, albeit almost nonexistent gun laws, make it difficult to impossible to keep these crazies from acquiring weapons. In the Aurora, Colorado shooting, had semi-automatic weapons been controlled, the death rate would have been markedly lower. Even I belatedly agreed that strict gun control is impossible in this country, but I would like to think that even the NRA would agree that people with severe mental illnesses should not be allowed to acquire weapons. Yes, perhaps they could get them from illicit sources, but we should not make it easy for them to get. These people should be in known databases. To alleviate the concern that regular citizens would be put in the database, perhaps getting added to the database would require the signatures of three psychiatrists.

But guns don’t kill people (unless they smash their heads in with a rifle’s butt), but bullets sure do. James Holmes acquired 300 rounds of ammunition and no one blinked an eye. More importantly, no one was tracking the fact that one dude in a short period of time acquired this much ammunition, or that there was something unusual about the semi-automatic weapons he acquired so quickly too. If all gun sales were in a database, it would be easy enough to search it for unusual cases, and if it were cross-indexed with a list of people with mental psychoses then the Holmes case should have stood out like a red flag. Exactly how are gun rights diminished if we were to enact laws like this? Are we really agreeing that every psychotic should have unlimited access to firearms and rounds of ammunition?

While guns and bullets allow these murders to occur easily, in most cases the catalyst is mental illness. Mental illness is at least required to be treated by health insurance plans but we still have fifty million people uninsured. There are fewer stigmas to treating mental illness these days, but we should press for even less of them. Even if you can be treated, as was true in Seung-Hui Cho’s case, mentally ill adults can refuse treatment. Cho’s case was truly extreme: red flags were everywhere. Particularly with cases this severe, it is reasonable for society to require these individuals stay in treatment, both for their own safety and for society’s safety as well, unless a board of psychiatrists clears the person.

Our world is growing more crowded and complex. Our highly industrialized, information-centric world does affect us in ways that are hard for us to understand. Denser communities raise the number of human interactions, making trouble more likely. The Internet, while it has lots of advantages, also allows mentally ill people license to feed their psychoses. Sociologists need to study the effects of Future Shock, well underway, and it needs to be come part of a public policy discussion. Ignoring these realities simply means that more of us will die needlessly from future and preventable acts of mass violence. It also means those with these mental illnesses are less likely to keep their conditions under control.

George Santayana said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It’s one thing to forget lessons from events that happened generations ago. It is another thing to forget events that happened last week or last month and not learn from them. It is the height of public policy stupidity.

 
The Thinker

Homophobia is receding faster than anticipated

New York State recently became the latest state to permit gays and lesbians to wed. That leaves six states, the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe that have achieved enlightenment. New York’s approval of gay marriage was especially important because of the size of its population. With its passage, the number of citizens who can marry regardless of their sexual orientation effectively doubled. In addition, six other states allow civil unions but do not allow gay marriage, including the populous state of California.

Even here in Virginia the homophobes are receding. In 2006, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage in the state (already illegal by law) that also explicitly ruled out civil unions as well. Now just five years later, according to a surprising Washington Post poll, a majority of Virginians now approve of gay marriage. I don’t expect Virginia will approve gay marriage anytime soon, but I now think it is likely that I will live to see gay marriage in Virginia. Back in 2006, I believed it would take at least fifty years. Now I am betting it will take fifteen years.

Even weirder, at least one organization staunchly opposed to gay marriage has given up. Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family says his organization will no longer try to stop gay marriage legislation. They think it’s a lost cause, in part because they can interpret demographic trends. The younger generation is fine with gay marriage; it’s only those sixty plus who still have heartburn over it.

Overall, homophobia seems to be receding. Even Republicans are caring less. The social conservatives are still against it, but there is a significant libertarian wing of the Republican Party that sees gay marriage as a civil right. More and more Republicans are realizing their inconsistency of promoting a “pro-freedom” agenda while restricting civil liberties for others. Fundamentalists remain largely aghast, but even in conservative communities it’s not unusual for people to know someone who is gay. That’s the problem with homophobia. Once you know someone who is gay, and particularly if you get to know them in any depth, you feel sorry if they do not have the same right to marry as you do. If you have any compassion in your heart, it is hard not to just say yes.

The few opposed to gay marriage who are evidenced-based can look to states like Massachusetts, which instituted gay marriage in 2004, and realize that it has not become a Gomorrah, at least no more than it was before the law took effect. A few years ago I spent a week touring New England, where it’s hard to find a state without gay marriage or civil unions. It felt more like Norman Rockwell territory than many deeply red states I also visited, like Arizona and South Dakota. In New England, there are lots of tidy towns with white picket fences, and more churches per square mile than in the South (perhaps because the population density is higher). For the most part, gay couples are no longer the least bit remarkable in New England. You don’t feel the need to discuss it with your neighbor because you have grown inured to the whole phenomenon. To the extent you think about it, it is to wonder why people in other states are still states up in arms about the whole idea. Where’s the harm? Where’s the implosion of society?

As time passes, the arguments of those opposed to gay marriage only become weaker tea. As I outlined some time ago, marriage between one man and one woman was hardly the historical norm, and in many parts of the world (particularly in Islamic countries) polygamy is as common as monogamy. At least one study suggests that same sex lesbian couples are proving to be better parents than heterosexual parents. In Canada, a study suggests that same sex couples are at least as good as heterosexual parents.

Other studies suggest just how weak other arguments are. Gay-friendly Massachusetts also has the nation’s lowest divorce rate. Divorce rates have not budged since gay marriage became law, as Charles Colson asserted they would in 2004. In fact, being evangelical is apparently more dangerous to your marriage than marrying a same sex partner. Divorce.com notes a study that evangelicals have a 43% divorce rate, which is greater than the national average.

President Obama says his views on gay marriage are “evolving”, but at a news conference yesterday he still could not come out and say he was in favor of gay marriage. He is in favor of equal rights for gays, including civil unions as long as “marriage” is reserved for heterosexual couples. One strongly gets the feeling that Obama is all for gay marriage, but he just does not have the courage to “come out of the closet” on the issue. I expect it will happen after elections next year, whether or not he wins.

It is easiest to manipulate people when you give them something to fear, but it’s clear that the more Americans encounter gays the less they are bothered by them and the more they are in favor of their equal rights, including the right to marry. Saying gay marriage should be illegal because it is immoral is not working too well either, as plenty of activities are immoral, but are not necessarily criminal (adultery and drunkenness comes to mind). Gay marriage seems to have no effect on society whatsoever, either for good or bad. The only thing that is clear is that more people who were denied certain freedoms based purely on their sexual orientation no longer have legalized discrimination working against them. They are freer to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

As a man married to the same woman for a quarter century, I want to give gays and lesbians the same chance at an enduring relationship that I have. Gay marriage clearly says that society wants to encourage serial monogamy between same sex couples, which seems moral to most people as well as inhibits the spread of social diseases. I suspect gay spouses will soon realize that a marriage is no panacea; it is not for us heterosexuals either. Any intimate relationship comes full of landmines as well as benefits.

Wise conservatives are realizing there is little traction on the issue anymore, so they best move on and find new bogeymen instead. Eventually all states will allow gay marriage, not because they necessarily agree it is moral, but because the costs of discriminating against gays will become too high. Over time, gays and lesbians will find incentives to move to gay-friendly states, and they will take their talents (and income) with them. In fact, it is easy to predict that states and cities will highlight their gay-friendliness as a marketing tool. In the end, it will be good old capitalism, not liberal values that are likely to give gays the right to marriage from sea to shining sea. When it happens, it is unlikely to be a moment for celebration. We will simply shrug our shoulders.

 
The Thinker

Virginia is a socialist state

Oh Lord, I am worried! I have lived in Virginia for more than twenty years but until recently, I had not realized I was living in a socialist state. Why? Because Virginia is one of four uppity states not content to be just ordinary states but which insisted on calling themselves “commonwealths”.

This is quite alarming. What is socialism? According to Merriam-Webster, it is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”. Granted, thanks to the “enlightened” people at Fox News, most Americans now believe the word has an entirely different meaning. Socialism now apparently means the government taking any action to redistribute wealth, particularly from the richer to the poorer. (Don’t worry, patriots. The other way around is perfectly okay, as always. Screwing the poor is a sacrosanct American tradition.)

All I know is that the meaning of “common wealth” is obvious enough! It means that some poor bugger down in Tidewater, Virginia must be entitled to some part of my six-figure salary! Virginia felt so strongly about being a commonwealth that in its original constitution passed in 1776 it declared that “Commissions and Grants shall run, In the Name of the commonwealth of Virginia, and bear taste by the Governor with the Seal of the Commonwealth annexed.”

Virginia is not alone. Three other socialist states are out there: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kentucky. All have the audacity to call themselves commonwealths. And we let them into the U.S.A.! How could we? Don’t these uppity states know that socialism is un-American?

I am afraid to say there is rampant evidence of socialism here in the Old Dominion. For example, if you want to purchase hard liquor, you must buy it at a Virginia ABC store. Warning: before reading further, if you are standing, please sit down. Virginia ABC stores are owned and operated exclusively by the State of Virginia. In fact, we have a Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control! Virginia law allows no other legal means of acquiring hard liquor within the state! This has some obvious problems. First, there is no competition! The government sets whatever price it wants to for liquor and residents must pay it! This encourages bootlegging and an illegal moonshine industry, which is still going on today! Even worse, when Virginia ABC stores make a profit, the profits are used to fund state services! This also means that Virginians who enjoy hard liquor are disproportionately overtaxed.

If it were only Virginia ABC stores, perhaps this socialism would be tolerable. Yet, Virginia also has a state lottery. It allows no other lotteries in the state, so private industry has no opportunity at all to run their own betting parlors. This is by law! Moreover, Virginia prohibits most other forms of gambling. If you are into gambling on horses, you can only place bets on races at state owned and managed offsite betting parlors and only for races at Colonial Downs east of Richmond. This is clearly more socialism as well as stifling free enterprise!

My suspicion is that there are similar socialist things going on in the commonwealth socialist states of Kentucky, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as well. It should be obvious that Massachusetts is already a socialist state, given their tendency to elect Democrats! It’s like they want to be socialists! How weird is that?

If you are a red-blooded, all American citizen, you should be alarmed by these socialist trends. I have heard other states are doing similar things, but are masquerading as “states” rather than the communist/socialist/tree hugging commonwealths they actually are. Clearly, drastic action is required. We can start with a constitutional amendment kicking any state out of the union that labels itself as a commie “commonwealth”. Actually, it would be much cooler if it allowed residents of other states the right to rape, pillage and plunder these states. That would show them the way the natural order actually works. Maybe they will eventually see the light. In fact, we should be able to kick any state out of the union we feel that may even be thinking about socialism. Why? Because socialism is bad, obviously! It stifles competition and free markets.

I guess I need to move across the Potomac River and back to Maryland. There may be many Democrats over there, but oh Lord, at least they are not a commonwealth!

 
The Thinker

Good luck with the budget voodoo, Governor McDonnell

In case you haven’t heard, not only does Massachusetts have a new senator-elect, but Virginia has a new Governor. Bob McDonnell, your typical grey haired white Republican male with a toothy smile and a blonde arm candy wife was sworn in a week ago. He won election by promising no new taxes (a position few find hard to argue with) but also by promising all these new services. Yes, he has a four billion dollar budget hole to fill, but somehow he’s going to cut spending and add services. This includes increasing funds to the Virginia Department of Transportation, which is already decades behind where it needs to be in providing sufficient roads to handle Virginia’s burgeoning population.

Good luck with that, Governor McDonnell. Not that I am wishing you any bad luck or anything, but you are hardly the first governor, Republican or Democratic, to promise all these magical new services without raising any additional taxes. In a way, it’s an easy promise to make. After all, you don’t have to worry about reelection. Virginia governors can only serve one term.

I guess it wouldn’t work to tell voters the truth: that state services, already cut to the bone, have zero fat in them already. To close the four billion dollar gap outgoing Governor Tim Kaine outlined, most residents are going to squeal when they see what it actually means. Virginia’s total budget is around $38 billion, so $4 billion is hardly a drop in the bucket and amounts to about ten percent of the budget. I doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that if you are not going to raise taxes, you are going to add services and you already have a large projected deficit, then you are going to have to further cut services somewhere. You already promised to give more money to transportation and increase the portion of state money given to fund teacher salaries. The only problem is that both the easy and the hard cuts were made years ago.

How crazy has it gotten? The last cut to VDOT budget was $42 million from the road maintenance fund. How much is Fairfax County getting from the state for road maintenance this year? Zero dollars. That’s right, despite being the most prosperous county in the state as well as providing more tax revenue to the state than any other county as well as tons of revenue in gas taxes which is supposed to go for things like highway maintenance, we will get zero dollars for maintenance. So either we just let the potholes get bigger or we raise county taxes to pay to fix potholes which hitherto has been at least partially a state responsibility.

Now as a frequent driver, I’m all for changing this, so I think it’s great that our new governor is going to add to VDOT’s funding but I just don’t see where the money is going to come from. Education, health and human services, and transportation, in that order, are the biggest consumers of state tax dollars. It doesn’t look like education will be cut, unless it is subsidies to state universities, which have already been dramatically reduced and have students howling over their tuition rate increases. You say that transportation will get more funding which leaves human services as a likely place to use your budget knife. These services of course have already been pared to the bone. It’s hard to see how you reduce spending more there. It’s not like Medicaid is optional. It’s a nice gesture that you and your senior staff are going to be taking pay cuts, but that’s all it is and will do almost nothing to address a four billion dollar shortfall.

As best I can tell, you are pinning your hopes on two scenarios. One: the overall economy will improve to the point where more tax revenues come in. I would not take that one to the bank at least for a year or two. The other is your hope to sell oil leases off Virginia’s coast in 2011 and using some of that money to fund the state budget. I’d say the odds are pretty long there too. First, you have to get the federal government to agree to do this. Second, you have to hope that oil companies will be willing to front the money. Lastly, you are assuming that environmentalists won’t tangle this up in the courts for years.

So good luck governor but as Virginia is not licensed to print money, it’s pretty easy to see what’s going to give. Since you promised not to raise any taxes, it likely means that our overstretched state services are going to be more overstretched, which is to say the state will have to stop doing stuff that states typically do and we’re already pretty much giving up on road maintenance. I think it is much more likely that you will find reason to consolidate prisons and let non-violent prisoners out early in an attempt to make your budget math work. You just have to hope Virginia voters do not notice. As costly as prisons are, you still won’t be able to cough up four billion dollars in savings from them.

One promise I can make is that when you leave office in four years we will be lucky if our transportation funding is where it is now and our public school teachers do not have an extra four or five pupils in their classes. As for my fellow Virginians, shame on us for falling for these lies once again. Just once, I’d like to hear a Republican run for office promising no lower taxes and fewer services because that’s what it always means. Virginians would be well advised to buy extra heavy-duty shock absorbers for our cars. There will be many bumpy days ahead.

 
The Thinker

Virginia, just say no to Terry McAuliffe

My dinner was interrupted tonight by a phone call from the Terry McAuliffe for Governor campaign. In case you haven’t heard, Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is running for governor of Virginia. No doubt, his campaign wanted my support and likely my money too. Just hearing whose campaign was calling me was enough for me to hang up the phone. While I am a good Democrat, I simply cannot abide this man. I will hold my nose and vote for him in the general election if necessary, because the Republicans will doubtless field someone worse. However, I refuse to vote for him in the upcoming Democratic primary.

You ever see a picture of someone or just hear them and instinctively not like them? I feel that way about Terry. So in part, my reaction is not logical. However, it is not hard to find logical reasons to hope this guy’s campaign flounders. Let us start with the biggest one: despite having a house here in Fairfax County for twenty years, in spirit he is no Virginian. Rather he is a Washington insider intimately connected with national politics.

Nevertheless, let’s not be too hasty. Let’s look at his resume. How did he do as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005? It depends on whom you ask. Friends and partisans like Donna Brazile have plenty of nice things to say about Terry. He was good at raking in the money. During his tenure, the DNC raised a record $578 million. He also compiled a computerized database of over 170 million voters for targeting. It takes money to win elections, of course, but the money he raised apparently was squandered. In the 2002 election, Republicans gained eight House seats and two Senate seats. In 2004, Republicans picked up three more House seats and four Senate seats. In short, all that fundraising prowess was for naught. He left the Democratic Party significantly politically weaker than it was when he assumed chairmanship. The party was so out of touch with many of us Democrats that many like my wife had to be coaxed (or in her case, pushed) into the voting booth. The slate we were given was milquetoast.

What did he do wrong? Clearly he had to deal with some strong Republican headwinds, flamed by 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. It does not matter because he had the responsibility to change the dynamic, and he failed. He lacked the imagination to properly harness the power of the Internet. He raised money the old fashioned way, with rubber chicken dinners for wealthy donors and by sending out fundraising letters to targeted demographics. Nor did he give the Democratic Party a clear and positive message to distinguish its brand from the Republican’s. When he left the DNC, the Democratic Party still looked like Bill Clinton’s party. What it needed was a chairman willing to remake the party into a newer and better brand.

It took Howard Dean to change the dynamics. Dean was somewhat reluctantly elected DNC chairman in 2005, almost as a consolation prize. Dean however had a grasp of the bigger picture and the changing dynamics. Dean may have irritated the party establishment, but he proved to be a focused and agile leader of the party, putting recruiters in all states, not just the swing states. The results in 2006 and 2008 were telling. Democrats now control Congress and the White House. Most importantly, Dean connected with the disenfranchised Democratic voter, people like me who wanted a progressive agenda, not more of the Democratic-lite brand popularized by Bill Clinton. The result was apparent not only in the voting booth, but in bulging DNC coffers and an energized Democratic Party on both coasts and many states in between. Today, compared with a few years ago, significantly more Americans identify themselves as Democrats than they do Republicans.

In short, despite his protests to the contrary, McAuliffe represents the Democratic Party that was, not the Democratic Party we are today. Apparently, he figures he can use his old-school skills to buy his way into the governor’s mansion. With his well-practiced schmoozing, he will likely have little trouble raising more funds than his two announced primary challengers. He also looks trim and dashing in his three-piece suit. To try to connect with Virginians beyond the Capital Beltway, who he knows tangentially at best, he is trying to do a Mark Warner thing and visit every part of the state. The problem is that he comes across as a Washington insider because, well, he is.

Call me old fashioned, but if I am going to vote for someone for governor, can they first have experience in state and local government or running a business or large non-profit in the state? McAuliffe has none. He knows as much about the Virginia beyond the beltway as he does about city council elections in Fargo, North Dakota. At best, he only dimly understands the culture of the state, which is complex and very polymorphic. How would he get along with the Virginia legislature, which has one house firmly in Republican hands? Many prominent Virginians who have spent many years in public office do understand the dynamics of our state government. McAuliffe appears clueless.

Virginia, don’t be mesmerized by this fast-talking Washingtonian. McAuliffe’s real destination is the White House. The governor’s mansion in Richmond is just a way station. Elect someone who understands our state. Just say no to the slick and superficial Terry McAuliffe.

 
The Thinker

Trapped in exurbia

As a part time prognosticator, I sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes I get it right. When I get it right, it is not necessarily a reason for feeling smug. Today, I reread this post that I wrote back in 2005. I wrote it when the oil squeeze was just beginning. I remarked how uncomfortable I felt seeing new exurbias sprouting up in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia because virtually all of them are inaccessible to public transportation. I wondered what would happen to these communities with continued increases in price of oil or its unavailability.

Now we are finding out, and the answer is scary, as this NPR story reports. Ashburn, Virginia is in Loudon County, Virginia and part of the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. It is one of those newly built exurbias. What is happening in Ashburn is that home prices are tumbling much faster than the national average.

Realtor Danilo Bogdanovic surveyed two rows of neat, new, brick townhouses on Falkner’s Lane. “These were selling for about $550,000 at the peak, which was about August ’05, and they’re selling right now for about $350,000,” Bogdanovic said. “Fifty percent of this community has been ether foreclosed on or is facing foreclosure.”

Coincidentally, my hair stylist lives in Ashburn. Today while she was cutting my hair, we were chatting about high gas prices. If she and her husband had to do it over again, she said, they would have never moved to Ashburn. Their gas prices are driving a big dent in their budget. Yet, I learned, moving in closer was not an option. They would lose too much money, because their house was worth less than they paid for it. If her house is on Falkner’s Lane, I can understand why she would feel blue, since she might now own a house worth $200,000 less than what she paid for it.

What might turn things around? As I implied back in 2005, some public transportation might help. That is not to say that it doesn’t exist in Loudoun County, but it is very limited and assumes you commute to work in Washington, D.C. A resident of Ashburn could drive or bike to the Dulles North Transportation Center and from there take an express bus into Washington D.C. This bus is not cheap. It costs $6.00 each way with a smart card, or $7.00 if you pay cash.

What would someone in Ashburn do if they needed to commute to some other job center like Tyson’s Corner? Perhaps they could catch another bus at the West Falls Church Metro Station, where the bus stops on its way into Washington. What if they need to take public transportation to go to a doctor’s office in Reston, Virginia? It might be technically possible at certain times of the day, if they can make it work with the commuter bus schedule and make their bus transfers on time. What if they need to take public transportation to go to the grocery store? As best I can tell, there are no such routes. Even if routes were put into place, given that Ashburn is such a sprawled out community they might have to walk a mile or more just to get to a bus stop.

For all practical purposes, residents of Ashburn are stuck. Owning a car is required to live there. Their lifestyle is held hostage by the price of oil. Oil prices may seem astronomical, but they are fortunate that gas is available at any price. Without it, Ashburn would become a gigantic modern ghost town. Combine rising oil prices with a falling dollar and the negative net worth of so many residents of Ashburn and you end up with houses that are worth $200,000 less than they were just three years ago. You have whole communities of people with negative equities in their houses, unable to move and who are one job loss away from financial catastrophe.

My own house is about three miles away from Reston. Reston is a major source of employment and has thousands of great jobs for knowledge workers. In the unlikely event that you lose your job at one company in Reston, you can probably pick another one like it somewhere else in Reston. A Fairfax Connector bus serves my neighborhood, but it operates during rush hours only. However, my house is just three to five miles away from thousands of jobs, not ten or fifteen miles away like in Ashburn. Where I live, you can probably get to your job without a car if needed. I bicycle to work, which is three miles away, three or four days a week. Consequently, gas prices affect me much less than most commuters. Yet even if I worked downtown, I still would not be too badly inconvenienced. I could bike to the Herndon Monroe Park and Ride, which is also three miles away, or grab the 929 bus, which runs by a road a few hundred feet from my door. Once at the Herndon Monroe Park and Ride there are plentiful express buses that will take me to the West Falls Church Metro station. From there I can get to any place on the Metro system. If I needed to take a bus to nearby Reston, Herndon, or even some of the local malls, I can transfer at the Herndon Monroe Park and Ride. Obviously, I could get to these places more quickly by car, but it is possible. The same cannot necessarily be said about communities like Ashburn.

My neighborhood is not immune to the real estate slowdown either. Our house has lost about $75,000 in value since its 2005 peak. However, that is $75,000 though, not $200,000. There are plenty of houses for sale on my street, virtually all in excellent condition. We live in a terrific family neighborhood where owners take pride in their houses. I suggested to my stylist that they should move to a house on my street. She would be two miles from work so the cost of gasoline would be insignificant. However, with the negative equity in her house, moving is out of the question. Where would she and her husband find the money to pay off their loan on closing?

I do not think these underlying dynamics are likely to change. We are at the beginning of a fundamental transformation of America. This means our love affair with the automobile is likely to change dramatically. At best, I expect oil prices will stay about where they are now. Therefore, for many homeowners out in exurbia the financial squeeze, already bad, is likely to get much more painful. The long-term trends though are clear. Unless you can work from your home or can find employment close by that pays your bills, do not buy in the exurbia. If you are in the exurbia and can move in close, this is the time to do it.

Housing prices are down substantially in good neighborhoods like mine that are close to jobs and public transportation. Because prices are down and mortgages are very affordable, now is an excellent time to buy in these neighborhoods. It may not be easy to sell your current house, but as I learned in 1993 if you lower the price enough you can sell any house. You can buy a better and closer house at a substantial discount and be primed for appreciation during this seismic realignment of society. In addition, selection is plentiful.

To the many residents of Ashburn and similar far-flung communities who are feeling the squeeze, you have my sympathy. If I lived in Ashburn, I would still move closer in if I could find a way. The long-term housing dynamics for Ashburn and places like it look dismal. You may find yourself inhabiting a modern ghost town.

 
The Thinker

The Soulless City

When I find that four days pass between blog entries, it means either two things. It means either I am very sick, or I am very busy. Fortunately, in this case it was the latter.

I have returned from three days in the Soulless City. I did not need to take a bus or an airplane to get to this is a city. In fact, the Soulless City is less than ten miles from my house. It is a city without a real name, but it is a city nonetheless. Those of you who are Washingtonians probably know my destination. If you travel the Beltway around Washington, D.C., it is hard to miss. While it has no official name, it does have an unofficial one: Tyson’s Corner.

I understand that most towns and villages sprung up, quite literally, near the spring. They were built at the place in the river or stream where it became too shallow to navigate. Newer edge cities like Tyson’s Corner in Northern Virginia though owe their rise not to its proximity to water, but to its convenience to a number of prominent roads. The Capital Beltway was completed in 1964. It was not that long after that Mr. Tyson sold his considerable acreage near the intersection of Leesburg Pike (Route 7) and Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) to developers. This land, known informally as Mr. Tyson’s Corner, or Tyson’s Corner for short, just happened to be just off the new Capital Beltway.

Tyson’s Corner became a convenient location for one of the nation’s first large indoor shopping malls. By the late 1960s, Tyson’s Corner Mall had opened. It instantly became both a regional shopping Mecca and a neat place to visit, because back then any indoor mall was a novelty. Its convenience to the Capital Beltway meant that it had to be a place optimized for arrival and departure by car. It was also close to affordable bedroom communities. The shopping mall soon attracted other businesses. It was not too many years later, that Tyson’s Corner became noted as more of a convenient place for Beltway Bandits to set up shop rather than as a shopping destination. Tyson’s Corner Mall inspired numerous copies, not just in my region but nationwide. In time, one mall would not be enough for Tyson’s Corner. Around 1990, Tyson’s Galleria (also known as Tyson’s II) arose across Chain Bridge Road. While more upscale, it never enjoyed quite the success of the original Tyson’s Corner Mall, which itself has been thoroughly modernized and expanded.

I do my best to avoid Tyson’s Corner. I tend to avoid malls in general, but in particular, I avoid Tyson’s Corner. Its success has spawned a commuter’s nightmare, making it on any business day a time consuming hassle to get into or get out of. Although replete with many tall buildings, most of which are wholly uninteresting, it is also full of ugly wide boulevards with weedy and trash filled medians. On the sides of these roads are auto dealerships and many ordinary shopping centers. Routes 7 and 123 support six lanes of traffic each, plus ugly service roads and what feels like ten zillion traffic lights. It feels like each traffic light is engineered to ensure that you cannot get between any two points without encountering the next red light.

With a mailing address of McLean, Virginia, Tyson’s Corner it is actually an unincorporated edge city neither in McLean nor in Vienna, which straddles it to the south. I was there to attend three days of project management training. From my eighth floor window, I could look down on Leesburg Pike and grimace over the overwhelming view of aging office buildings, discount retailers, parking lots (and parking garages), asphalt and automobiles queued at traffic lights.

Tyson’s Corner is not a pedestrian friendly place. You would think with so many people working there that there would be plenty of dining options. Moreover, you would be right. Unfortunately, to get to most of them you have to get in your car, and thus get back in traffic. This in turn means waiting at red lights and creeping forward through the crush of traffic just to get to a McDonalds. If you are daring, you could walk to some of these dining destinations. I do not recommend it. For Tyson’s Corner is pedestrian hostile. It has the dubious notoriety of having the most dangerous pedestrian crosswalk in all of Fairfax County. You can try to walk across Chain Bridge Road at International Drive. If you are a praying type, you should say a prayer before doing so. You will have to cross nine lanes of traffic. Even a sprinter would have a hard time getting across the road before the crosswalk light changes. Do not expect drivers to be mindful of your presence.

Tyson’s Corner of course needs to be pedestrian friendly. Like most of Fairfax County, little thought was given to those without cars when it was developed. It was more important to bring in the growth than figure out sensible ways to manage the growth. You have to look hard to find anyone riding a bike around Tyson’s Corner. That would be even more dangerous than walking across International Drive. Since almost everyone commutes by car, the motorists are obsessed with getting in and out of Tyson’s Corner quickly. They will not cut a bicyclist any slack. Nevertheless, there is also the minor matter that there is no safe place to bike along the roads, and that includes the service roads, which are full of cars jockeying to get on the major roads. What sidewalks that do exist tend to appear and disappear rather suddenly.

There are actually people who live in Tyson’s Corner, but not very many. From its size you would think there would be hundreds of thousands of residents. Tyson’s Corner does not have residents as much as commuters. Approximately 20,000 people live in Tyson’s Corner and most of these live in townhouses on its outskirts, or in one of the few apartment or condominium communities.

There is some nightlife in Tyson’s Corner, if your idea of nightlife is going to the mall, or a Ruby Tuesday’s, or a movie theater. There are a few churches in the Tyson’s Corner area, but mostly they serve communities outside of it. Community theater? You are out of luck. Parks? There are a couple, but they are small and well hidden. Schools? Yes to day care centers and secretarial schools. It has exactly one public elementary school. A high school straddles its eastern edge. So accept what Tyson’s Corner actually is: a city where commercialism and the car is king. USA Today has its digs in Tyson’s Corner, along with many prominent software companies, many of whom pimp Uncle Sam to keep solvent. Parts of it try to be upscale yet even the upscale parts are typically surrounded by the garish and the mediocre.

There is talk of extending the Metrorail through Tyson’s Corner. To save money, planners want to put the Metro on elevated tracks. Tyson’s Corner is a logical destination so its arrival is long overdue. Many would prefer that the station be built underground. However, in this case, the federal government will not chip in; it would make their share too expensive. So likely if the Metrorail extension is actually built to Tysons, it will be placed on elevated tracks right through the center of this concrete metropolis. This, of course, will make the traffic in Tyson’s Corner for several years, already miserable, approach one of Dante’s lower levels of hell. It is the price or progress, or perhaps the price of insufficient land use planning by the Fairfax County government many years ago.

Three days in Tyson’s Corner was ample. I am glad to be free of it, and will have to work hard to wrest images of its congestion and ugliness from my mind. I pity those who work in Tyson’s Corner. I realize that job opportunities abound there, particularly if you are in the technology business. However, the place saps your soul. Maybe some day Tyson’s Corner will grow up and become a real city. Instead, it is more likely to remain just a destination for work and to buy stuff. It is a shame so little thought was given to properly managing its growth. It had the potential to be a real city.

 
The Thinker

The Price of Growth

Here in Northern Virginia, residents on its western edge are in a bit of a tizzy. These areas in Loudoun and Prince William counties, along with counties even further to the west hugging the Shenandoah Mountains, are Washington D.C.’s latest and fastest growing bedroom communities. Uppity blue-blooded towns like Middleburg, home to wineries, the well moneyed and fox hunting, who have taken the Virginia piedmont for granted are feeling the press of encroaching civilization. To their south, new bedroom communities like Gainesville are growing by leaps and bounds. For the moment, this land is relatively cheap. This means many of these pastoral areas are now sporting boxy McMansions instead of foxholes. Most of these residents take pride in their new homes and their unspoiled views. You can see the Shenandoah Mountain much more clearly from places like Warrenton and Gainesville than you can from where I live, in Fairfax County.

Along with growth of course come all the trappings of growth: strip malls, congested highways, overcrowded schools and power lines. The strip malls do not seem to bother these latest residents. No doubt, they grumble about the crowded schools. Those who commute regularly from these far-flung exurbs to Washington D.C. have to groan through nightmarish commutes that get them up long before dawn and deposit them home long after the dinner hour. However, it seems to be a price they are willing to pay for a relatively affordable home in the exurbs, the white picket fence and to not hear neighbors playing rock music at 2 a.m. In time, they expect their houses will become excellent investments, as my closer in house has become for me in the 13 years we have lived in closer-in Fairfax County. Nevertheless, there appears to be one adjustment they cannot tolerate: new fifteen story power lines courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power and Pennsylvania based Alleghany Power.

The Virginia Piedmont is without question gorgeous real estate. At least for now it consists of many miles of generally rolling hills, mostly deforested, which make a gradual incline as they approach the Shenandoah Mountains to the west. Perhaps it is the relative lack of trees in this part of Virginia that has these new residents so up in alarm. Without them, it is hard to obscure the ugliness of these new power lines set to run through their neighborhoods. Some are watching their hopes for a tidy fortune disappear with the power lines.

She bought her 100-acre Delaplane farm last year, when it was an overgrown slice of land anchored by a rundown old farmhouse just off Interstate 66. She plowed all her savings into it. To pay down her $1 million mortgage and build up her horse business, she planned to sell a five-acre chunk within a couple of years.

Then came what her neighbors have come to regard as “the black cloud.”

“I’m probably sunk by this,” said Eaton, 45, seated by the wood stove she uses to heat the farmhouse. “No one will buy that land if some ugly power line could run right over their house. I’m broken off at the knees.”

I am having a hard time summoning much sympathy for these property owners. That is not to say that I too would not be aghast if Virginia Power decided to put up fifteen story power lines in my neighborhood. However, that was never a problem. My community was settled before I bought my house. In fact, there are high voltage power lines about half a mile from my house. There is many a nice house as well as a McMansion close to these power lines too. I have not taken the time to assess their value compared to homes like mine that are further away, but I doubt those high tension power lines have affected their property values too much. At least here in Fairfax County, it is location, location, location. If you live in Fairfax County, you are within twenty miles of an incredible number of diverse and well paying jobs. Residents seem to agree: being closer to good schools and good jobs is worth the price of having a high power line as a next-door neighbor.

On the other hand, what are the people in these latest exurbs thinking? Did they think growth would not involve some messy choices? Virginia and Alleghany Power understand what is going on: these areas are growing like gangbusters. Eventually they will not be able to meet demand for electricity unless they build the infrastructure now to support these communities. Hence the need for fifteen story power lines. The only question is where to place them. For the most part, they are hoping to place them not too far from I-66, which is the major interstate heading west from Washington D.C. This seems reasonable to me. I-66 is a bit of an eyesore as an interstate anyhow. It would be hard to make things much worse by putting a power line next to it, unless, of course, you have property close to these power lines.

Most homeowners in these areas will make out very well. I expect their home values will rise steadily. The land may no longer be so pristine. They may be spending their days in new traffic jams far from the city. Nevertheless, more swatches of Virginia piedmont seemed doomed to succumb to humanity’s need for large living spaces.

While people have to live somewhere, in my mind the obscenity are not plans to put in these admittedly ugly power lines. The real obscenity is the way these pristine lands are being transformed into new oversized habitats for humanity. These newly traffic-clogged roads once ferried the likes of statesmen like Thomas Jefferson. Instead of building in closer to cities like Washington, which already have large tracks of land that could be redeveloped, we have to push out further, destroying our environment, further reducing space needed for wild animals and exacerbating global warming in the process.

I understand why these people choose to live where they live. If I were a twenty something again it would probably seem like a logical choice to me. I probably could not afford to live closer in. However, I do not think I would be so naïve as to think my choice would not be without some necessary tradeoffs. Fifteen story power lines are part of the price of growth. These NIMBYies may be upset now, particularly if their property values are affected. Nevertheless, you can bet they would be much more upset if ten years from now their house suffered regular brownouts because the supply of power could not keep up with the demand.

They should swallow their misgiving and applaud Virginia and Alleghany Power for being proactive. If they do not like it, it is not too late to sell their estates in the exurbs, and move in to some smaller and more modest estate closer in. I suspect Mother Nature would prefer it if they made that kind of choice.

 
The Thinker

Virginia to gays: share our values or get the hell out

Today’s Washington Post brings more sad news that I am living in the wrong state. If it were not for this wonderful job three miles from my house and twenty years vested as a civil servant I would probably be living across the Potomac River, or heading to any place where the good citizens have some sense of justice and proportion. I will likely get there soon after I retire.

Because it looks like Virginia voters (courtesy of our legislature) will have an opportunity to enshrine in the state constitution once and for all that, you guessed it, marriage is between one man and one woman only. Knowing my fellow citizens as I unfortunately do, I am afraid this is a slam-dunk. For I live in the great homophobic state of Virginia.

I have written about gay marriage before. I have no illusions that, barring a U.S. Supreme Court decision, it will happen in Virginia during my lifetime. Naturally, I feel that laws discriminating against homosexuals like this are deeply wrong, hurtful and anti-American. But what really pains me today is I know that, just like the Jim Crow laws so plentiful throughout the South at one time, this constitutional amendment will someday either be stricken down by the U.S. Supreme Court or simply excised altogether by some future generation of ashamed Virginia voters. If Virginians are unwise enough to vote in this proposed constitutional amendment, they or their children will rue the day it passed. It is simply mean spirited. It is sadly just another big f— you to those citizens of the Commonwealth who happen to be attracted to their own gender.

As reprehensible as this amendment is, I already know that Virginia has a sad history of showing contempt for homosexuals. Entries like this one will refresh your memory. The Washington Post Magazine also reported sad stories like this. Make no mistake: in Virginia, homosexuals have under the law essentially become second-class citizens. Unable to legally discriminate against the people we used to hate, like Jews and African Americans, my fellow citizens deeply repressed feelings of rage must be channeled somewhere. So now it is chic to make life increasingly miserable for those who don’t happen to share our heterosexual values. The message is simply: emulate our values or get the hell out.

Therefore, as The Washington Post Magazine article sadly points out, gay couples increasingly simply get out. They know they are not wanted. For Virginia law will not allow gay couples to pass to each other even a nickel of their inheritance to each other. Should they want to be there for their spouse when they are in the hospital, they can be refused. For gays and lesbians, their partners are not legal relatives, and consequently not next of kin. It is the equivalent of spitting in their faces. It is simply mean.

Who are the people who are passing these laws? Mostly they claim to be Christians. It is a good thing Jesus does not live here. If he is the man depicted in the New Testament, it is clear he would be choking on his matzah right now. Jesus was after all someone who spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Negroes of Palestine at the time. He hung out with the lepers and the prostitutes. He avoided the moneychangers in the temple. Jesus was not about exclusivity. He was about inclusiveness. He told us to do to others, as we want them to do to us. If the homosexuals were running the world, would good heterosexual couples want them to void all their marriage contracts? Would they want to be stripped of their simple human right to pass on their inheritance to the person they love, or to be prohibited from giving their beloved comfort in a time of great stress?

It is not likely that they would. Nevertheless, modern Christianity, at least as practiced here in Virginia, has become so twisted and perverted that it has become 100% righteousness and 0% compassion, unless, of course, you model a life very, very close to their lives. Then they can identify with you. Then you become a member of the club. As for the rest of you: go to the back of the bus or better yet, just get the hell out of the commonwealth. If this cannot be done legally because of those darned liberal judges, well, find any legal way you can to turn the screws on those whose values and morals you personally do not agree with.

In addition to causing needless hurt and distress in the lives of good American people, such attitudes only serve to divide us more as a nation. Therefore, at least for a while, the citizens of Virginia are likely to get their wish. The bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender community will increasingly cross the Potomac River to live in Washington D.C. or Maryland or any place where the people have some compassion in their hearts for those with different values. The sad result: red states will get redder and blue states will get bluer. The culture wars will grow. Rather than trying to become a more inclusive nation, these misguided laws will simply drive us into increasingly hateful and xenophobic behavior.

I wish that the citizens of my state could find some compassion in their hearts for those unlike them. Instead we have this constant stream of mean spirited laws and now this reprehensible constitutional amendment. Yet the time of their repeal will come eventually. It may take 50 years. It may take a hundred years. Yet it will happen in time, yes even here in Virginia. Just as we once hung our heads in shame for tolerating evils like slavery, just as we flagrantly hung on to white and black only schools as recently as 1964, the time will come when we will look back on these sad modern times wholly aghast that we could have ever been so shallow, intolerant and mean spirited.

 

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