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Rutherford Challenges Pellet Conviction

by Garet G. Sarkisian

A conservative-linked civil rights group has filed suit seeking to reverse the suspension of a Spotsylvania, Virginia high school freshman who “shot” classmates with plastic pellets blown from a toy.

Charlottesville’s own Rutherford Institute says it filed the suit as of last Wednesday in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court to stand up for the rights of 14-year-old freshman honor student at Spotsylvania High School Andrew Mikel II.

According to the Associated Press, along with being suspended in December for the rest of the school year, Mikel was charged with misdemeanor assault — a charge that was promised to be dropped as long as he completes a year-long “diversion program.”

Mikel initially was given a ten-day suspension, but the Spotsylvania County School Board later voted to punish him for the rest of the school year, citing the system’s Student Code of Conduct requirement that a student found with “any type of weapon, or object used to intimidate, threaten or harm others” be “expelled for a minimum of 365 days” unless “special circumstances exist.” The school system refused comment as to whether the toy could conceivably be used to “intimidate, threaten, or harm” anyone.

The district also sent the case to the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, which charged Mikel with three counts of misdemeanor assault.

As result Mikel entered the “diversion program” — which includes community service and substance abuse and anger management counseling — to avoid prosecution. Mikel’s father now says his son’s damaged record has shattered his hopes of attending the U.S. Naval Academy after graduation.

The Rutherford Institute’s president, John Whitehead, said Mikel is a victim of so-called “zero-tolerance” policies in our nation’s schools that “defy common sense” and “essentially criminalize childish behavior.”

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Changing Precipitation in Virginia?

RUMORS ABOUND: Much ado has been made about the prospect of changing levels of precipitation in Virginia. On one hand, recent moisture shortages (the most recent having been last summer) have elicited speculation that our precipitation might be decreasing, spurring Virginia Drought Task Force activity as well as claims that global climate change will be taking its toll on the state in the form of a drier climate.

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Explore Our Virginia

LET’S EXPLORE the region around Charlottesville, Virginia — Charlottesville and Albemarle County have a combined population of around 120,000, with higher education, tourism, light manufacturing, agriculture, and retail sales constituting the economic base. Over the years, citizens have done much to preserve the natural beauty and character of Albemarle County. The countryside, especially in the springtime, ranks among the most beautiful sites in the nation.

Take a picnic and drive into the countryside; you’ll discover numerous Civil War sites and historical markers detailing more than two hundred years of nationally-important history. Beautiful estates, bounded by titanic old-growth trees and enclosing delightful architecture, dot the rolling-hill landscape.

Some highlights include:

The Albemarle County Courthouse: Two blocks north of the famous Downtown Mall. Built in 1762, the courthouse was the site of a raid by British soldiers hoping to capture fleeing state legislators. Most of the revolutionaries escaped, though Daniel Boone was captured.

Ash Lawn-Highland: Just over two miles from Monticello. The restored home of President James Monroe, this 550-acre estate features gardens, farm demonstrations, and a lovely hiking trail. The scene of many events such as the Summer Festival (opera and musical theatre), the Champagne and Candlelight Tour, and the Colonial Crafts Weekend. Open daily except Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving. Admission is charged.

Montpelier: Located near Orange, Virginia. Montpelier is a 2,750-acre estate that includes farmland, race courses, a terraced two-acre formal garden, a stunning landscape, a National Landmark Forest, active archaeological sites, and more than 130 buildings.

Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention and UVA Visitors Center: All the information you need, including maps, guides, brochures and on-the-spot help and advice, can be found here. UVA Visitor Center — 2306 Ivy Road; and area Visitor Center — Downtown at the eastern end of the Downtown Mall (Open daily except Sunday: 10-5).

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‘The Hour,’ Famous Cocktail Guide, Is Reissued

IN days of yore, American men were expected to have opinions about drink. A signature cocktail, and how to mix it, mattered. It was part of the male identity, like the ability to grill meat or change a carburetor.

It was in this spirit that the literary critic Bernard DeVoto wrote a curious book, “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto.” First published in 1948, it has long been regarded as a classic, one of the first attempts to formulate a philosophy of the cocktail. It has been out of print for decades, but Tin House Books has just reissued it, and now, modern readers can recapture that moment from the middle of last century, when calibrating a martini was theology, not mixology.

Mr. DeVoto, a Mark Twain scholar and the longtime resident of the “Easy Chair” column in Harper’s, lays down the law in words of fire, banishing all manner of mixed drinks to outer darkness, lamenting the perversion of national taste during Prohibition and flailing away indiscriminately at just about any target crossing his sightlines.

Strait is the gate and narrow is the way to Mr. DeVoto’s magic cocktail kingdom. He abhors rum, because rum drinks require fruit juice, pure poison to any cocktail. Public enemy number one, in this regard, is the Bronx, a mixture of gin , vermouth and orange juice that, for Mr. DeVoto, ushered in the Orange Blossom and its ilk, so prominent during Prohibition.

So the Bronx is out. And so, astonishingly, is the Manhattan — “an offense against piety” because it has vermouth. “With dry vermouth it is disreputable, with sweet vermouth disgusting.” The daiquiri he dismisses as “a regressive fantasy.” Hot drinks are verboten. Scotch is an abomination. The list goes on and on.

In fact, Mr. DeVoto shrinks the cocktail universe to two drinks: “a slug of whiskey” and the martini. The first, of course, is not even a mixed drink. The second he surrounds with more caveats and fine-print instructions than a car-repair manual.

First, no olives or onions or orange bitters. The martini can be shaken or stirred, but no ice particles should enter the drink. The strainer must be perforated, not encircled by a coiled wire. Only American gin is permissible. The drink should not be premixed and stored in a refrigerator, lest “the fragile tie of ecstasy” be snapped. You may hum, but not whistle, as you make the drink, which must be consumed in the city, for it is essentially an urban cocktail. In a spasm of gender generosity, Mr. DeVoto states outright that there is no reason why a woman cannot mix a proper martini.

And the proportions? Mr. DeVoto, mortal enemy of sweet drinks, calls for a ratio of 3.7 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, with an upper limit of just over four to one. This is not a dry martini by modern standards, but in his day, when a half-and-half martini was common, this rates as arid. The finishing touch is two drops of lemon oil squeezed from a piece of rind, which may be deposited in the drink as long as it has no pith.

Mr. DeVoto’s text is part Fourth of July oration, part sermon, part St. Crispin’s Day speech. It is written in the mock-heroic style favored by writers for The American Mercury — see Herbert Asbury’s extended introduction to Jerry Thomas ’s “Bon Vivant’s Companion” — and two-fisted drink columnists like Esquire’s Murdock Pemberton. It can be hard to take.

“This is the violet hour,” Mr. DeVoto writes of that magic moment, 6 p.m., alluded to in the title. It is “the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.”

A little of this goes a long way. But when he emerges from the empurpled shades, Mr. DeVoto does deliver some very funny send-ups of cocktail recipes in cookbooks (still pertinent) and the “laff-riot” accessories that filled suburban home bars — the nudie bottle stoppers, the signs reading “Danger — Hangover Under Construction.”

Yes, he bans 90 percent of drink culture as we know it. But someone has to hold up standards. As he says when banishing punch, “Well, you asked for a ruling.”

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WINA: Why No Live Feed?

by Garet G. Sarkisian

YOU KNOW, I really like WINA radio, AM 1070 in Charlottesville. They have a variety of views represented — not just one solid phalanx of party hacks like WCHV or that “progressive” station on 1450. They have the most complete local news. And when bad weather strikes, they get on the ball fast with live reports on conditions so my family and I can stay as safe as possible.

But why, oh why don’t they have a live streaming feed of their station on their Web site, or anywhere on the Internet? (Yes, they have podcasts of some of their shows, but that is definitely not the same thing — for one thing, podcasts aren’t live.)

After all, they are an AM-only station, and with the rising tide of noise on the AM band from CFL lamps to switching power supplies to computer monitors, there are many places (especially my office) where the AM signal is just plain painful to listen to. Or inaudible. And, like many AM stations, they reduce their power at night. In some areas of the county, they might as well sign off at night considering how weak their signal gets.

All of these problems could be instantly solved if WINA streamed their programming live on the ‘Net. I could listen to them on my desktop or laptop anywhere in the city or county — or, for that matter, in Rome or Peru or Afghanistan — and have absolutely perfect reception. I could use free software to record the programs to listen to later on my iPod.

So, please, WINA, grant my wish: start streaming your excellent station on the Web!

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The Downtown Mall and Cultural Events

IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia theatre-goers attend on-Grounds productions at UVA by the Virginia Players and the Heritage Theatre Festival or performances by the Four County Players and the Light Opera Society. Music-lovers look forward to UVA’s Tuesday Evening Concert series or concerts by local bands and symphony orchestras. University students, community members of all ages and visitors to the area enjoy fine art from around the world at the permanent galleries and special exhibitions at the University of Virginia Art Museum and private galleries on the Downtown Mall. The city also supports a number of art venues and 25 movie theatres.

The area celebrates Spring with a Dogwood Festival and Parade every April, highlighted by blooming azaleas, dogwood and redbud trees. The Virginia Festival of the Book, which brings together readers, editors, publishers, and writers from around the country for lectures, seminars, and discussions about literature, poetry, and nonfiction, also occurs in spring.

Summer events include the weekly after-work celebration — Fridays After Five — a lively concert series at the grassy amphitheatre at the western end of the historic downtown mall.

Summer also brings a Fourth of July celebration at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful estate.

Fall brings regional fairs to the area, wine tasting tours, and breathtaking scenic drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains to view the instensely colorful foliage.

Every Winter brings “First Night Virginia”‘s New Year’s Eve family-friendly festivities, featuring live music, entertainment, and fireworks at midnight on the mall. Join us!

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Tell Me About Charlottesville, Virginia

Named in honor of Princess Charlotte, the wife of King George III (yes, that King George), Charlottesville was settled in the eighteenth century on a hill overlooking the majestic Rivanna River. Today, Charlottesville is a thriving city that has kept up with the times while not sacrificing a love for tradition and good taste.

The city’s population is over 50,000 with a metropolitan population nearing 220,000. There are few places in the United States that combine a picturesque and cultivated countryside that is so rich in historical associations with the proximity of a magnificent national park and cultural opportunities beyond compare.

In July 2008, Outside Magazine recognized Charlottesville as a top place to live in the U.S. In 2008, Forbes Magazine and Money Magazine also named Charlottesville among the best cities in the United States. In their book, Cities Ranked and Rated, Bert Sperling and Peter Sander place Charlottesville in the top 5 percent among the best places to live in the United States. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the country’s largest private, nonprofit historic preservation organization, named Charlottesville to its 2007 listing of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual list of lovingly preserved places. In May 2009, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine named Charlottesville the “Number Four City” in the U.S.A. Kiplinger’s writes that Charlottesville is a “great city” because of top-flight employers such as the University of Virginia, attractions like the outdoor downtown mall, and its close proximity to Richmond, Norfolk and the Atlantic beaches, and Washington, DC (the latter is quite a mixed blessing, of course!).