Brandy Somers’ Cut Paper Art

One of the great things about Harrisonburg is the uncommon proliferation of high quality local art work that is easy for people from all walks of life to not only appreciate, but engage with. Local art seems to have been a staple and common place thing in Harrisonburg for some time now. With the First Fridays Downtown going strong for several years now, Harrisonburg’s, and the Valley’s natural beauty is matched by the creations of Harrisonburg’s local artists.

Brandy Somers Artwork at Yellow Button in downtown Harrisonburg

One especially extraordinary show of local art and talent is Brandy Somers’ art show on display at The Yellow Button (at the corner of Bruce and Main St.). Somers’ cut paper creations are colorful displays of common insects such as flies, ladybugs, praying mantises and even a couple spiders, which are technically arachnids.

Somers, an area high school art teacher, said the following about why she chooses this peculiar medium, “I like the challenge of making something look real with only paper. Since I’m an organized person, I like that it’s broken down into several tedious steps. I like that I can do it at home when the kids are sleeping because it allows me to do something I love while still being a good mommy. I love the clean, almost print-like quality it has.”

While her approach is mostly representational, she substitutes the uninspiring colors of the bugs she depicts with wonderfully bright, engaging colors that pop. Some of her bugs are also divided up into panels; the praying mantis is split across three equal sized panels for example. There is a dynamism created by the aesthetic color choices and division of space in her pieces that makes these ordinary insects very unique and interesting.

Brandy Somers' Artwork at Yellow Button

Art does not always have to be something that alienates people or has an unapproachable feel. As Somers’ show at The Yellow Button illustrates it can be quite the opposite: inclusive, inspiring, fun and engaging. Art also need not be unaffordable, and fortunately for Harrisonburg, and especially patrons of The Yellow Button, Somers’ beautiful bugs are actually surprisingly cheap. Original art can range a great deal in price, but rest assured if you fall in love with one of her bugs, it will likely cost under a hundred dollars to take it home.

So if you have not seen this show of bugs yet, you should take a stroll through Downtown Harrisonburg and stop in The Yellow Button before the end of May. You may also be interested in knowing Somers has upcoming shows of more cut paper creations, not bugs but animals, at The Turtles Back in June and Clementine Café in August.

This post was submitted by Paul Somers.

Hope for Replacing Fossil Fuels

On May 19, 2010, the National Academy of Sciences advised the government “to take drastic action” to slow global warming. I don’t think the technical and economic problems are insurmountable. Rather, it is the political will that is missing, mainly in the conservative camp.

It may be that many conservatives are taking some of their cues from Senator James Inhofe. After all, he is Barbara Boxer’s counterpart on the Environmental and Public Works Committee. Inhofe has openly and loudly proclaimed that global warming is a hoax. His portion of the EPW website proclaims that 700 scientists dispute the claims of the IPCC on global warming.

Inhofe claims “An abundance of new peer-reviewed studies, analyses, and data error discoveries in the last several months has prompted scientists to declare that fear of catastrophic man-made global warming “bites the dust” and the scientific underpinnings for alarm may be “falling apart.” However, the only recent article that he cites, and on which he primarily relies, is “Heat Capacity, Time Constant, and Sensitivity of Earth’s Climate System,” by Brookhaven National Lab scientist Stephen Schwartz.

I corresponded with Dr. Schwartz and it turns out that Dr. Schwartz’s paper simply said was that the sensitivity of global temperature to CO2 rise was less than claimed by the IPCC report. Further, Dr. Schwartz has now revised the paper, doubling his figure on sensitivity. Even though the revised figure is still on the low side of the IPCC range, Dr. Schwartz told me by email:

“But if we consider the consequences of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, even for a rather low sensitivity the expected climate consequences would be anywhere from serious to severe to catastrophic.”

Serious to severe to catastrophic!  As you can see, Inhofe is playing fast and loose with the truth.

Most people turn off to the issue of global warming because they fear there is no solution. Although we will use a number of types of renewables as well as conservation and energy efficiency to meet the global warming problem, calculations using solar photovoltaic (PV) technology provide a quick and dirty way to assess the feasibility of accomplishing the task.

The total electric generating capacity of the United States is about 900 gigawatts (almost one terawatt). Eighty percent of the electrical generating capacity of the United States could be replaced by installing photovoltaics (PV) on existing rooftops (source). The cost would be about $2 trillion. If this capacity was implemented over a twenty year period, the per capita yearly cost would be $335.

Of course, we use more than just electrical power in the United States. The total annual use of energy used in the United States is 29,000 terawatt-hours, or 3.3 terawatts average power output (source).

About 85% of our power comes from fossil fuels, or 2.8 terawatts. PV generates about 10 watts per square foot, so you need 0.28 trillion square feet (280 billion square feet) of PV panels to replace all of the fossil fuel used the United States. That comes to 10,000 square miles, or 200 square miles per state. As already shown, over 1/3 of that is already available in rooftops. The cost would be about $5.6 trillion dollars, or $18,666 per person in the United States. Spread over 50 years, it would cost $373 per year per person to provide all of our energy needs with photovoltaics.

Another interesting calculation can be gotten by looking at the impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This spill is expected to cost more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill ($8.5 billion), and the stock price of BP has dropped $18 billion (source). If we use a figure of $18 billion as the cost of this spill, for this amount of money one could build photovoltaic generating capacity of 9 gigawatts. Over an estimated lifetime of 50 years, the energy produced would be about 740,000 gigawatt-hours, which at a modest price $0.10 per kilowatt-hour has a value of $74 billion. The Deepwater Horizon well had the potential of 50M barrels, which at today’s oil price of $70/barrel has a value of $3.5 billion. Thus, the value of energy that could be produced by PV installations built from the cost of this spill would be 21 times the maximum value of the energy that would have been produced by the Deepwater Horizon well.

Might there be a message in that?

This post was submitted by Bishop Dansby.

BP or DC?

BP—before disaster– had been trying to position itself as a progressive company with such ad slogans as “Beyond Petroleum.” And indeed, some stations currently offer biodiesel., for example in Strasburg. BP as a company was NOT pouring money into climate-change denying campaigns as was Exxon. It was a “greener” oil company. . .or so it seemed.

But we now know that BP does not stand for “Be Prepared.” From what we have seen this past month, as the oil spill in the Gulf continues, BP may need to change its name to DC for Damage Control, or Don’t Count the gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf.
Does this latest environmental disaster point to our addiction to petroleum? That’s too much of a conceptual leap. We need to start first with our addiction to inventions, chemicals, and technology without any accompanying wisdom as to how they should be used. For example, BP’s early application of chemical agents to disperse the oil may actually cause more environmental damage than the oil itself. Clearly, BP was not thinking in terms of the Big Picture.

There’s a saying in some circles that the mindset that created the problem cannot solve the problem. We cannot keep inventing things and using technology to fix the problems caused by malfunctions and misuse of other inventions, without a radical examination of, and shift in, our values.

A few weeks ago, the invention of a concrete cap to place over the well to stop the oil failed. It had not been tested, and if it had, it might have worked. Why not? My guess is that BP was in Damage Control mode. I sincerely hope the current “top kill” strategy of pouring mud into the well is successful, but this sounds like something a 7-year-old could have thought of. Why has it taken over a month to implement?
If, 100 years from now there is an ocean, and a planet that can support human life, I envision a company that puts people and the environment Before Profits

This post was submitted by Diana Woodall.

Elliott Downs: Prolific and Awesome

Elliott Downs is definitely one of the most talented, authentic and original artists calling Harrisonburg his home.  He graduated from Harrisonburg High School after taking as many art classes as he could under Jauana Brooks, also a highly talented local artists.
The immediacy of his style has earned him quite a bit of notoriety for being only 23 years old. It seems like everyone in town owns one of his stenciled records, if not one of his larger pieces of art. He’s done work for Gone Magazine, Skatan Worshipers, has owned his own screen printing business, has had several sold out art shows and has a documentary about him, this is quite a feat for an artist living and working in Harrisonburg. Why is he so successful, you might wonder, well I know the answer to that. Continue reading “Elliott Downs: Prolific and Awesome” »

This post was submitted by Paul Somers.

Daily News Record

I subscribe to the Daily News Record and I find that I am learning about Harrisonburg as I plan to move there this year from Roanoke to be closer to family. However, I am finding the editorials there to be bigoted and racist and I cannot understand how there are journalistic ethics to be followed. I hope that I am not to understand that there is a dominating culture in Harrisonburg that is composed of angry white Christian men who are hostile to all others outside of their nationality, race, religion and gender?

This post was submitted by Jay Bender.

The Price of Politics

When a friend of mine informed me that he would no longer shop at Wal-Mart because he believed the store was guilty of stocking books with only one political point of view, my immediate reaction was to support his decision. But after a few hours of mulling over his position and trying to confirm the allegation, I realized that this is not such a simple black and white issue.

My search came up with only a few instances of Wal-Mart banning anything. One was a book by Jon Stewart, but only because of what they deemed to be an offensive picture on its cover. Another was an accusation that Wal-Mart had banned Christmas.

“A Catholic advocacy group has launched a national boycott against Wal-Mart, claiming the world’s number one retailer has in effect ‘banned’ Christmas, while promoting other seasonal holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But Wal-Mart tells WorldNetDaily it has ‘absolutely not’ banned Christmas, but is just trying to serve all our customers for the holiday season.’”  (source:

There was also an article about how Wal-Mart stopped carrying magazines such as Hustler and others due to customer complaints but I could not find anything about limiting its stock of books based on politics.

So, I went to the Wal-Mart website. I was surprised to find many titles from both the Right and the Left, including Nancy Pelosi’s, Know Your Power, and Barack Obama’s, A Change We Can Believe In. This is not to imply that store managers who may choose not to stock a narrower selection of books based on their geographical demographics and local market do not exist. The corollary question is: how do we react to retailers who limit our choice of reading materials?

In a free and open market, retailers are the sole arbiters of what is placed on the shelves of their stores. Customers are the sole arbiters of what and where they choose to buy. For instance, a few years ago, I chose to cancel my subscription to a particular local newspaper because I objected to their mindless editorials and lack of journalistic integrity. At that time, there was not much in the way of competition for the newspaper but I felt that TV news and rumors were about as satisfying and valid as what I had been reading. The commercial book market is quite different. There are so many outlets for books, both in stores and online, that I do not feel deprived of options by one or even several retailer’s stock choices.

I am well aware that the Wal-Mart business model is considered by many to be destructive to Main Street, USA. Because they deal in enormous volume, they can cut prices far below those of traditional mom and pop retail stores. The trend for the past few decades has been moving toward big box stores for low-end customers and boutique shops that cater to the more affluent. We can nostalgically pine for the old days of butcher shops and haberdashers but the hard reality is that blue-collar working folks are going to spend their limited funds where they can get the best value. I should at this point acknowledge that my wife and I shop regularly at Wal-Mart, primarily because we live on my retirement and her teacher’s salary. We would very much prefer to patronize local vendors but the money we save shopping cheap allows us to donate to our favorite charities. Such is the dilemma many folks like us face.

There is one more consideration that I thought was worth mentioning. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Wal-Mart is guilty of selling only books that adhere to their owner’s political views. Would or should we consider a retailer who values profit over their political convictions to be a better citizen? Can we disagree with an individual’s point of view and still give him our business? If you still shop at a local boutique shop, do you know the proprietor’s politics? Should that matter?

David Rood

I never thought I would ever be in a position to defend Wal-Mart and I hope this does not come off as an apology for the corporation. However, they are part of the mix of our modern system of commerce. Though we may not like them very much, they do fit the model of American Capitalism, which is to win customers through competition in an open market. I would not fault anyone who, after considering all of the above, chooses to boycott Wal-Mart. Neither would I fault anyone who continues to shop there. How we allow our political views to affect our buying behavior is a decision each of us needs to make without recrimination or condescension from others.

This post was submitted by David Rood.

New Law In Arizona

I recently saw a newsclip that featured a few words by Mexian-American Linda Ronstadt and she mentioned how the new law would not effect her because she was light-skinned. I really that the new law is racist. Immigration is indeed a problem and new policies are needed but scapegoating Hispanics is simply not just.

This post was submitted by Jay Bender.

Capitalism: Two Scenarios

David Rood

Like many others, whose views do not fit neatly into a well-defined category, I am frequently mischaracterized as a “liberal” or a “socialist,” and even “anti-Capitalism.” I suppose some of my positions might be considered liberal but I am hardly a socialist and certainly not anti-Capitalism. Perhaps the best way to state how I feel about our American form of economic structure is to paint two extremes of what our nation’s experience with Capitalism has been and to indicate the end of the spectrum I prefer.

Capitalism – Scenario A

An enterprising individual uses his savings or a loan from a bank or investors to create a company that provides a product or service to benefit his community, his country or the world.

He hires workers and managers to help him and forms a cooperative bond, wherein he agrees to provide employment and a safe workplace in exchange for the worker’s dedication and service to the company.

In times when market forces compel him to cut back, he attempts to fairly distribute the hardship throughout the company and its investors.
He resists the pecuniary urge to overpower the market for his product/service through unfair practices such as “dumping” and acquiring his competitors to create a monopoly.

He does not knowingly hire illegal aliens, under-age children or only those who promise not to complain about work conditions.
He does not discriminate in hiring based on race, religion, gender or political views.

He permits workers to organize and respects their decision, if they choose to do so. He bargains in good faith with their elected union.
He abides with all laws and codes of ethics, and does not attempt to sell products that he knows will very likely cause death or injury to his customers. When knowledge that one of his products is found to be unsafe, he publicly discloses that information and makes a good faith attempt to rectify the problem.

Capitalism – Scenario B

A clever individual with resources provided by a major multi-national corporation or syndicate acquires a small family-owned company, sells off its assets and fires all of the workers.

The acquired company’s product market share is transferred to the parent corporation and production is moved to a plant in a developing nation.
Criteria for management positions are carefully crafted to exclude women, people of color or anyone who might question the corporation’s practices.
To maximize profits, the corporation encourages the plant manager to employ children eleven and younger.

Any attempt of its workers to organize for better conditions is met with immediate termination and beatings administered by hired goons.
The corporation’s management circumvents US laws and taxes by moving all subsidiaries and financial operations off-shore.

When one of its products is found to be dangerous, it hires lobbyists to deny it, while it continues to manufacture and sell the product, having calculated that the law suits will not cost the corporation as much as recalling the product or fixing the problem.

The board of directors and senior executives vote to give themselves generous bonuses, despite the corporation’s failing performance and widespread firing of any remaining US workers and mid-level managers.

Both of these scenarios represent American Capitalism. I am very much in favor of A, and very much opposed to B. I also believe that the federal government has a role to encourage A and discourage B. That does not make me a “socialist” or a “Marxist.” It is merely an indication that I want Capitalism to represent the best of America, and not the worst. It also does not indicate that I want the expansion of government or the dissolution of our individual rights. It does mean that I want the federal government to represent me and all of my fellow citizens who are the consumers of products from both company A and corporation B.

This post was submitted by David Rood.

Coop Reaches Goal! Celebration on Friday



May 19, 2010

HARRISONBURG, VA – The Friendly City Food Cooperative announced that it has reached a major milestone in its effort to open a community-owned grocery store in downtown Harrisonburg. On Tuesday, May 17, members of the food co-op passed their goal to raise $600,000 by May 20. This significant accomplishment keeps the co-op on track to begin design and build out of the store.

Owners and supporters of the food co-op invite everyone to celebrate with them this Friday, May 21, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Blue Nile. The final amount raised by the loan campaign will be announced at 8:30 p.m.

The loan campaign had raised only $370,000 when the co-op signed a lease for the building last month. The lease carried a contingency that required the co-op to raise sufficient capital by May 20 to move ahead. With the successful completion of the member-loan campaign, the food co-op now plans to move ahead with final store design and renovations. In addition, candidates for general manager are already being interviewed.

Over the last year, more than 160 member-households loaned the co-op startup money to open and operate the store. The average loan amount was $3,750. As of Tuesday, the food co-op has sold 960 membership shares. “This is a great indicator of our potential for success,” said Ben Sandel, president of the food co-op’s board of directors. “Getting this far shows the community really wants the co-op to come into existence.”

While the Friendly City Food Co-op met its $600,000 loan-campaign goal on Tuesday, additional loans continue to come in from members. “More loans are needed to offset future cash needs,” said Sam Nickels, chair of the member-loan campaign. “The more we raise now, the stronger position we’ll be in as the store builds a foothold in the community.”
The entire community is invited to the Loan Campaign Celebration to share in the excitement, enjoy live music, food, and celebrate the four years of planning, the countless volunteer hours and the many generous loans that made this announcement possible.


The Preacher’s Paradox

The Rev. Franklin Graham recently reaffirmed his 2001 comment that Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion.” For this, he was excluded from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer. Many fundamentalist Christians believe his being banned is unfair. Most others do not.

Graham was expressing a deeply held belief, similar to the belief that some hold about the superiority of their own race. The notion that we are God’s chosen and everyone else is living in sin and ignorance creates a serious paradox in a society that prides itself on freedoms of speech, assembly and religion. How do we accommodate different belief systems when those systems tend to be non-accommodating and antithetical to freedom and tolerance?

Religion in America is probably unlike any other. Because we are composed of peoples from every part of the globe, and because our Founding Fathers were well aware of the blood shed over conflicting religious doctrines in the 16th Century, we have decided to be a nation that tolerates and accommodates. Still, there are those among us who only begrudgingly tolerate other religions because the one they practice teaches that theirs and theirs alone is the true faith. To say that the core belief of their religion is wrong denies the reality that there is no possible way to prove the truth or falsity of any religion. Therein lies the dilemma.

We want to be open and accommodating but we also want to be true to our faith. For some of us, that is a conundrum not easily solved. At what point do we exclude those who exclude us? What would have been the reaction of the Christian community if an Islamic cleric had stood up and called Christianity “wicked and sinful”? We all remember the Iranian slurs against Judaism a few years back, that it was a “gutter religion.” That set back progress for peace in the Middle East decades. Those of us who are passionate about our own brand of faith sometimes forget how easy passion can sometimes step over the line to zealotry. Passionate people can still talk to each other, zealots rarely negotiate with anyone, even divisions among their own.

I do not share Rev. Graham’s religious views. Whether or not his passion has crossed the line of zealotry is a close call.  However, just as our parents taught us, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, it’s better to say nothing at all,” perhaps Graham would have been better off to practice Christian charity and kept his mouth shut.  Another old saw teaches us, “the less we say, the more we listen, and the more we listen, the more we learn.”  To all who are absolutely convinced they alone know the “truth,” this is very good advice.

This post was submitted by David Rood.

Springfest vs. Volunteerism

Aired May 7, 2010
“CIVIC SOAPBOX” (WMRA-FM): Springfest vs. Volunteerism
By Mike Grundmann

When the Springfest riot broke out in Harrisonburg on April 10, the opposite was going on across town, and JMU students were at the center of both. Dozens of students were helping with the annual Blacks Run cleanup, where almost 3 tons of trash were collected.

Not only that, 35 members of the JMU swim club anticipated the Springfest garbage mess and helped the city do its cleanup the next day.

There’s been plenty of shame-on-you within the campus confines after Springfest: not just from the president but a professor who wrote a scalding letter to the student newspaper, The Breeze, and at least two students who wrote confessional pieces. Dozens of readers added their comments. The Breeze also probed for causes in a piece on mob psychology.

The following week, a group of students spontaneously formed and started planning how it can help patch relations with the city and volunteer where needed. It’s talking with city leaders so its efforts can be meaningful.

I’m the Breeze faculty adviser, so pardon me if I cite a few stories just from this semester, which prove the altruism permeating the student body. After the Haitian earthquake, a group struggled desperately to reach its $30,000 fundraising goal. A 25-hour basketball game raised money for orphans in Mozambique as well as the local Boys and Girls Clubs (one organizer played for 18 hours). An airplane-pulling contest raised money for a city mediation center. The women’s lacrosse team served a Sunday meal at the Salvation Army. The annual Relay for Life, a cancer-benefit walk that’s an overnighter, drew about 2,000 people and raised more than $150,000. One student in 2008 invented a new type of concrete mixer that will raise the standard of living in a Ugandan village.

Using examples from my own journalism classes this semester, one student spent spring break helping the homeless in Nashville, and another helped build a shelter for homeless teen girls in Belize.

It’s not just volunteerism that JMU students contribute. The university is also a lab for the kinds of technology that will save the world. An electric motorcycle that students built has set a speed record. Students are also designing bicycles that disabled people can ride. Others are experimenting with nanotechnology, which will produce eventual wonders in medicine, manufacturing and space travel. There’s a lab with printers, quote-unquote, that make 3-D objects; the prediction is that we’ll all have such printers at home in 10 years. And, from the president on down, there’s a major push to minimize waste in energy and materials. JMU just won a governor’s award for that.

I’m continually impressed by how many of my students list activity or office-holding positions on campus, the vast majority of them service-oriented.

Did some of these same students also attend Springfest? Yes. Did they throw bottles? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

I’m not saying all this because I’m the booster type. I’m a journalist by training, and you know how skeptical we can be. I’m doing this because the Springfest riot really surprised me, and I wanted you to know why I was surprised.

Mike Grundmann is a journalism professor at JMU and advisor to the student newspaper, The Breeze.

This post was submitted by Mike Grundmann.

Help Support Local Student in Design Competition!

Have a passion for color or home design? Third year Virginia Tech interior design student and Harrisonburg native, Jessie Oliver, does! Jessie has recently entered a home office design into the 2010 Benjamin Moore Envision Color Contest, and needs the community’s help to become one of the top ten finalists!
From the top ten, 3 entries will be selected to win the following awards: 1st Place-$10,000, 2nd Place-$5,000, and 3rd Place-$2,500! Jessie is competing against 134 other interior design students from all over the nation and Canada. Voting is quick, easy, and will be open until 11:59 PM on May 30, 2010. All you need to do to vote is follow these few steps:

  1. Follow this link to Jessie’s entry
  2. Click the purple “Like it?” paint swatch in the upper right hand corner of the entry.
  3. Register to vote and click “submit and start voting.” (They ask for a minimal amount of information in order to keep track of the voting).
  4. It will bring you back to Jessie’s entry. Now click the same “Like it?” purple paint swatch until it changes to a pink “I like it!” paint swatch.

Thank you so much for helping support a local student!

This post was submitted by Jessie Oliver.

Horse trading starts after UK Elections

As one of the most extraordinary General Elections in living memory comes to a close, the United Kingdom has woken to the news of the first hung parliament since 1974. Neither of the three major parties managed to secure the required 326 parliamentary seats to afford a controlling  majority. Negotiations are now underway to instigate a governmental structure that will hopefully allow the handling of the current fiscal crisis the UK faces.

Despite winning the popular vote and the most number of seats (307 versus Labours 250), David Cameron’s Conservative Party are now faced with the opportunity of forming a coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats Party.

Clegg set the election ablaze, with excellent performances during the countries first ever televised Prime Ministerial debates. Sadly for Clegg, his party failed to convert the tidal wave of excitement into votes and came in third place to Labour with 57 seats.

With low approval ratings, a swollen deficit, and a European wide economic crisis, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour Party suffered dramatic losses in various seats around the country. This election was seen by many as a vote on the PM’s popularity. Brown is left now playing a waiting game as the various back room negotiations commence.

This election has seen a jump in voter turnout averaging 65% with many polling stations reporting participation rates exceeding 70%. Despite the predicted increase in number of votes cast, polling stations in Liverpool, Hull and Chester run out of voting slips for a time, and hundreds were unable to cast their vote as polling stations struggled to cope with the late evening surge of voters. Many were left angry and bewildered that their vote was not counted. The Electoral Commission has already indicated that there will be a thorough investigation into any wrong doing.

Our cousin across the pond has a busy weekend ahead. The civil service has been called in to assist with negotiations, utilizing lessons learned from both the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament. Cameron may well have to offer up  positions within a Conservative cabinet to the Liberal Democrats, to secure power within the House of Commons and oust Brown from office. Something former Conservative PM John Major described as “a price worth paying”.

With a looming financial crisis, the UK’s political leaders can ill afford to be complacent in the establishment of a stable government. The London FTSE 250 (more of a domestic indicator rather than the internationally biased FTSE100) index of shares reacted badly to today’s results loosing over 4%, and the the Pound ended the day at a year low against the Dollar. With any luck, before the markets open again on Monday, we shall see results from this weekends horse trading and the UK will be ready to tackle it’s most pressing issues.

Author James Carter is from the United Kingdom and lives in Harrisonburg with his family.

Alternative Health: One Mother Balances Through Belly Dance

Healing is the tendency of any system to return to equilibrium when equilibrium is disturbed. — Andrew Weil

In 2005, Rose Shenk was a happy, fulfilled stay-at-home mother of four boys living in Charlottesville. But her equilibrium was about to be disturbed. That spring, her husband was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Soon after, he was killed in a head-on car collision. Her father, whom she also relied on, died a week later from injuries sustained after being hit by a truck in Kenya. Shenk attended two funerals in two consecutive weekends: One for her husband and the next for her father.

“It was so painful,” she said. “I had to do what was best for my sons. I had to remain grounded.”

Shenk began to heal her grief using the traditional methods of journaling and talking to a therapist. But she needed another method. “I became super self aware of the extraordinary circumstances that were happening to me. I needed to get out of my head and find a physical outlet.”

While in a Charlottesville pizzeria, Shenk found a flyer for a belly dancing class held on Monday nights when the children were visiting with their paternal family. She was afraid to attend and considered not going. “When I went, I found that it was lots of single moms and women in their 40’s and 50’s. I wasn’t the the only widow,” she said. “I was stepping out of what I was comfortable with and realized that I can do it. It was feminine, beautiful, strengthening — and you didn’t need a partner.”

“My first teacher taught belly dance from a New Age, mystical point of view, stressing the sacred energy of the feminine. It was foreign to me but it stretched me,” she said. “Emotions, the body and sexuality are all part of the dance and those are part of a whole and balanced person. It didn’t fully connect with my Christian faith, but I could understand the attempt to balance yourself. Also, at this time, I did not have a sexual partnership. Belly dance was a sensual experience that was not damaging for me or anyone else.”

Shenk said that the basic belly dance stance is a lot like the martial art “horse stance”: feet apart, knees bent. “There is a lot of balance in that position. You are flexible. To be flexible and balanced allows you to do a lot in life that you did not know you were capable of. I am surprised at my own resilience.”

Shenk has been studying belly dancing for four years and teaching for a year and a half. “It took me about three years to get back my equilibrium,” she said.

Author Tracey Brown is a Harrisonburg resident and a Massage Therapist at the Beauty Spa, Harrisonburg, VA.

“There is a student in my class experiencing the slow death of her husband from cancer. We performed a dance at church on Good Friday. We used the imagery of healing in the dance. This was expressed through candles that showed light in darkness. We also used veils in the dance to express the things within death that are hidden from us. For me it was a prayer and an expression of sisterhood and community.”

Shenk now lives in Harrisonburg, and recently re-married. “It’s amazing how much we can bear,” she says of her experience. “You can get hit so hard like I was that summer. And you can still be okay, happy, survive–and sometimes even help carry other people.”

Shenk will be teaching a five-week fitness belly dance class at EMU beginning Tuesday, May 11. For more information contact the Fitness Center at (540) 432-4341, or email

This post was submitted by Tracey Brown.

Then and Now: JMU Presidents’ Controversies

“Spring Fest 1010” that took place off-campus but was hosted by James Madison University students led to police battles that headlined newsprint with each step into blame or fame heralding the school’s response. And the school newspaper’s invasion by a team of the local Commonwealth Attorney heightened the public outcry.

Students protesting in Wilson Hall and being arrested, circa 1970, before Dr. Ronald Carrier became the school's president. (Courtesy of JMU Special Collections, Carrier Library)

Since the school’s inception just over a century ago as an academy for young women, the five successive school presidents have each had visions of accomplishment and always faced the media chopping block. Any time something major and/or colorful went wrong, newspapers quickly front-paged the story.

For example, first president Julian Burruss felt, “The development of a strong, noble and womanly character is of first importance….” His rules were stringent but media ignored any small discrepancies such as one girl placed on a quarter’s probation for attending a dance downtown without permission, knowing she couldn’t get permission. Ditto when another was suspended for rudeness to a teacher.

But on certain matters Burruss could not hold the newspapers in check.  Banner headlines in the Harrisonburg paper for February 15, 1913, reported “PRETTY SCHOOL GIRL ELOPES FROM NORMAL.” Immediately below in smaller caps ran “MISS LILLIAN CAMPBELL, LEAVES DORMITORY BY MEANS OF IMPROVISED ROPE, JOINS LOVER AND HASTENS TO BE MARRIED—STUDENT BODY SHOCKED.”

The faculty was more shocked and faced a dilemma since no specific rule banned elopement!  Deliberating from afternoon until after midnight, the faculty finally voted to expel the young lady from school for “leaving without permission.” The groom’s sister was asked to withdraw as well and the other roommate suspended for a year. The story made the Washington Post and newspapers around the state—yet the school didn’t lose face on this one.

And so it goes, both problems and kudos make the news. Yet president Burruss made few errors and when offered the presidency of Virginia Technical Institute, he couldn’t refuse the step up to his alma mater. Newspapers applauded his success.

However, those same papers only halfheartedly welcomed the new president Samuel P. Duke. Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record for July 23, 1919, simply stated the Virginia Normal School Board voted “7 to 5 in favor of Prof. Duke.” Clearly disappointed in the choice, the paper didn’t even accord Duke the title of state supervisor or list his many accomplishments. Their newsprint continued to evoke the vast local disappointment that Dr. Sanger, the local popular Valley choice, had not been given the position.

Yet Duke’s presidency ran smoothly—even when his Dean of Women Denise Varner bobbed her hair and numerous students followed this trend so absolutely forbidden in Duke’s rules of conduct. However, newspapers paid no attention as general student behavior toed the line under Duke at the newly named State Teachers College in Harrisonburg. While Duke’s list of restrictions seems ludicrous today, they generally extended ordinary rules enforced at students’ homes.

For 30 years Duke won only public accolades as he guided his faculty and students through the changing world in the Great Depression and World War II. Under his leadership, men were admitted as students for the first time and male athletic teams emerged. (The basketball team dubbed itself the “Madison Dukes” in hope Dr. Duke would fork over funds for basketballs and equipment—which he did.)

In 1949 a massive stroke ended Duke’s presidency. Soon designated President Emeritus, he and his wife were given the refurbished Zirkle House across Main Street (where JMU is now building its nearly-completed performing arts center) to be their home for the final six years of his life. And Gov. William Tuck appointed Dr. Tyler Miller to become Madison’s third president.

However, “The third time’s a charm” did not apply to third president Miller. While his first decade accomplished continuing growth with few changes, his last years were shadowed by the startling disharmony of the ‘60s and ‘70s. For example in 1967-68, student Jay Rainey came on campus wearing “hippie fashion” blue jeans, blanket ponchos, sandals, and flowing hair. Rainey refused to change and Miller refused his admission for next year. That decision drew wide press coverage when support on Raney’s behalf from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia won in court and the school had to admit him.

Also, a campus underground organization, Harambee, objected to Miller’s firing of three sympathetic faculty members without apparent reason as they were quickly replaced. In addition, demonstrations on campus led to student arrests. Those events included students marching on campus, a one-night takeover of the administration building, and a later welcome for Vietnam protester and movie star Jane Fonda to appear on campus to encourage students to join the antiwar activists.

Looking back years later, fourth president Dr. Ronald E. Carrier candidly assessed:

Tyler Miller had been a good president, was a very fine man. But the world was changing—dramatically. You’d had the assassination of John F. Kennedy; of Robert Kennedy, of Martin Luther King. You’d had the Berkeley free-speech movement; you’d had Civil Rights issues in Selma, Alabama, and Birmingham. You had the Vietnam War, had just had Cambodia, plus we had Kent State. You had some trouble here which was really minor but turned into more of an issue than it probably should have been.

Dr. Miller was caught in the vortex of a changing world, didn’t really want to go into it but didn’t know how to get out of it. Yet he got out in time before it damaged him personally—no one asked him to quit—and before the institution paid the price.

Newspapers had a field day. And at times presidents #4 and #5 have run the same gauntlets. One example is Carrier’s firing of a physics professor popular with the faculty but yearly unable to attract enough students to the physics program to warrant his continuing. The faculty called for Carrier’s dismissal but the Board of Visitors disagreed. Carrier remained and the school continued to flourish with expanding programs in all academic areas.

And now President Rose responded to Spring Fest by taking immediate action to contact parents school wide with a letter of his assessment and reassurance of responsive actions ahead. No student uprising or parent ire has followed. Both parents and students applaud his timely response and strong leadership. That, however, has not made the off-campus news.

For more detailed description of the events of the first four presidents—Burruss, Duke, Miller, and Carrier, read detailed chapters in Nancy Bondurant-Jones’ book, Rooted On Blue Stone Hill, a history of the school’s first ninety years.

This post was submitted by Nancy Bondurant Jones.

Harrisonburg Blue (Drinking Liberally)

Drinking Liberally is an informal, inclusive progressive social group. We have a monthly social every 2nd Thursday at 6pm. This month we mee May 13th at 6pm till 9pm. Raise your spirits while you raise your glass, and share ideas while you share a pitcher. Drinking Liberally gives like-minded, left-leaning individuals a place to talk politics. You don’t need to be a policy expert and this isn’t a book club – just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration and hang out in an environment where it’s not taboo to talk

Bars are democratic spaces – you talk to strangers, you share booths, you feel the bond of common ground. Bring democratic discourse to your local democratic space – build democracy one drink at a time.

While drinking liberally, always remember to drink responsibly, and make liberal use of designated drivers. Drinking and driving is reckless and irresponsible, like a neocon war or corporatist tax cut. Liberals, don’t
do it.

Drinking Liberally is not exclusive to people over the age of 21. Feel free to come by and have some food and soda and talk politics. Hope everyone can make it out.

This content was submitted by the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Harrisonburg Times.

This post was submitted by Dan Chavez.

All In: Friendly City Food Coop Seeks Last Loans to Open

It sounded ambitious (to an optimist), or crazy (to a lot of others): after four years of planning, fundraising and outreach, the Friendly City Food Coop committed itself to collecting more than $200,000 in member loans and adding a few hundred more member-owners, all within a month.

The coop – a member-owned grocery store that will carry local, natural, organic and fair trade goods – took its biggest step toward reality in mid-April by signing a lease for the old Mick-or-Mack building on East Wolfe Street, between Dollar General and the Post Office.

That lease, however, carried a significant contingency. It required the coop to Continue reading “All In: Friendly City Food Coop Seeks Last Loans to Open” »

This post was submitted by Andrew Jenner.