Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

Conservative vs. Progressive: Global Climate Change

climate_changeKiller Bs. In an unprecedented move, two prominent Virginia blogs, Bacon’s Rebellion and BlueVirginia, have agreed to cooperate in a structured debate over a series of possible programs designed to combat global climate change. The programs were selected based on two major criteria – they had to be applicable to Virginia and they had to encompass actions that could conceivably start in 2014.  The blogmasters from both blogs have agreed to post the articles verbatim on their blogs. This introductory article is designed to explain the “rules of the road”.

Picking sides.  A few regular contributors from both blogs have been divided up into “conservative” and “progressive” teams.  The division into teams was based on political outlook not “home blog”.  Here are the teams:

Conservative – Jim Bacon (BaconsRebellion) and Don Rippert (Bacon’s Rebellion)

Progressive – Lowell Feld (Blue Virginia), kindler (Blue Virginia) and Peter Galuszka (Bacon’s Rebellion)

No hitting below the belt. In order to foster a constructive debate all participants have stipulated certain things.  They are:

  • The Earth is warming.  All participants accept the consensus of leading scientists that the Earth is warming.
  • Humans cause a substantial amount of the warming. While there may be disagreement on the relative role of humanity in causing global warming there is agreement that humans are a cause of global warming.
  • The speed with which the Earth will warm is not known with precision.
  • The impact of the warming Earth on human civilization is not known with precision.

Marquess of Queensberry.  The rules are simple.  A series of policies that may, or may not, be effective in combating global climate change have been selected.  Each potential policy is applicable to Virginia. Each policy could conceivably be part of a law enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia in the upcoming 2014 session.  A blog article will be written for each possible policy.  The blog article will have the following three sections:

  • Factual description.  A neutral party has written a description of the potential policy with relevant facts.  Both the conservative team and the progressive team have reviewed and accepted the factual description of the possible policy.
  • Conservative viewpoint(s).  A conservative perspective on the policy written by one or more authors from the conservative team.
  • Progressive viewpoint(s).  A progressive perspective on the policy written by one or more of the authors from the progressive team.

Just some facts, ma’am.  All authors have been encouraged to document their assumed costs and benefits of the potential policy in as quantitative terms as possible.  However, it must be recognized that a strict quantitative cost or benefit may not be possible in all circumstances.

Let the games begin.  The first potential policy initiative is … Virginia should adopt a strong (mandatory) Renewal Portfolio Standards as opposed to the weak (voluntary) Renewal Portfolio Standards currently in place.

See you at the next blog posting for the first policy debate!

-D.J. Rippert
Bacon’s Rebellion      

Tiny Homes, Meet Mobile Homes

Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

Tiny homes in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

by James A. Bacon

I am tickled by the “tiny homes” movement, which the urbanist blogs treat with a certain reverence. To be sure, tiny homes (under 500 square feet) address a real problem: the unaffordability of real estate in some of the nation’s most desirable metropolitan areas. Tapping creativity and ingenuity to stretch the boundaries of design is vastly preferable to addressing the problem through coercion and wealth transfers, as the political class is inclined to do. Still, it amuses me that when Millennial creative-class types get so much attention, while a rural, blue-collar alternative — the mobile home — gets no respect at all.

A recent case in point is a profile, published yesterday in Atlantic Cities, of four tiny homes built on a single lot in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. Housing in the rapidly gentrifying District is unaffordable for many residents. By one estimate, the housing supply for low-income renters falls 30,000 units short.  Writes Nancy Cook:

This is where evangelists for the tiny-house movement come in. Proponents of this small-space living say these houses can help fill the void. They can be built in vacant urban lots, allowing residents to reuse space in dense areas. More important, the tiny houses offer a cheaper alternative to buying a condo or a single-family house. Tenants of the Evarts Street lot in Northeast Washington—a community the owners call Boneyard Studios—built their houses for about $35,000 to $40,000; that is less than the down payment required to buy many D.C. homes.

The author describes the house of 24-year-old Jay Austin as having a “cool minimalist design” along with solar panels and a tank to collect rain water for use in his kitchen sink. Alas, the house “still lacks a shower or toilet.” On the other hand, the houses are built on trailers. “If [the owners] ever decide to leave the city,” writes Cook, “they can simply bring their homes along.

Hold that thought: a 140-square-foot house with wheels — no toilet, no shower — built for $35,000 to $40,000 exerts a hold on the imagination of young urbanists. Now, compare and contrast to housing innovations coming out of places like Rocky Mount, Va., home to Fleetwood Homes, or Martinsville, Va., home of Nationwide Homes.

kitchenette

Factory Expo Mobile Homes, a distributor that ships to seven states in the Mid-Atlantic region, offers an Annual Year End Sale selling a “micro” mobile home for $17,900. The 373-square foot structure contains a bedroom, living/dining room, kitchenette and a bathroom with working shower and toilet. It may not have solar panels, but it does have thermal insulation. It may not have a tank that collects rain water, but it does have a 30-gallon electric hot water heater. It also comes equipped with things like a refrigerator, electric range, light fixtures, plumbing and an electric furnace.

I’ll admit, this sucker is pretty ugly — the unadorned vinyl exterior has as much charm as a pair of old sweat socks. But when you’re paying down an $18,000 loan over 15  years at 3.5% interest rates — about $150 per month — you might have a little money left over to dress it up. And it’s a whole lot roomier than Jay Austin’s tiny home. Price is the big advantage that manufactured housing has over hand-crafted housing. (Finding land and utility hook-ups for either tiny homes or mobile homes is a separate issue.)

kingletIf you’re looking for something more stylish, consider the “Kinglet” eco-cottage manufactured by Nationwide Homes.  This bad boy packs a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen into 475 square feet. It sells for about $54,000.

Mobile home parks have a lousy reputation — but that’s mostly because of the poor and disorderly people who live in them. I’ve seen mobile-home subdivisions on the beach in North Carolina that were nicely kept up. Their owners added decks, porches and manicured gardens. The problem is that many municipalities have zoned mobile-home parks out of existence. It isn’t the housing they object to — it’s the poor people who live in them. But if you’re looking for a solution to the affordable housing crunch, mobile homes and manufactured housing should be part of the mix.

ObamaCare: Sound Idea, Bad Private Contractors

DuhBy Peter Galuszka

With all the bloviating one reads about the introductory failures of ObamaCare, a big, big point is being missed. It could very well be that the concept of ObamaCare is viable if not  admirable, but the government badly bungled how it hired an under-performing, private lead contractor for the system.

That raises an entirely new and different set of questions. The concept of ObamaCare  is solid. It seems to be so in California and Kentucky which are among 14 states that chose to go with their own state-based health care plan exchanges. Neither state had any problems signing people up. Demand is apparently there.

In the case of the federal exchange, there seems to be some uncertainty about how the Obama Administration handling bidding for the overseer of developing the so-called “Federal Facilitated Marketplace” exchange through which people could apply for health plans.

Some accounts claim there was only one real bidder, a Canadian firm named CGI Federal, while others say that the Department of Health and Human Services received four bids from 16 pre-qualified bidders. Problems have come up before with contractors handling government system design. One only look back a few years at Virginia state government’s debacle with Northrop Grumman, but more later.

CGI Federal is a wholly owned subsidiary of CGI Group based in Montreal. It has sales of about $4.8 billion and 72,000 employees, many in India and about 11,000 in the U.S.

It has had some experience designing health care website, some of it unhappy. CGI tried to design a health registry for diabetes sufferers in Ontario for $46.5 million but the province ditched the firm after three years of missed deadlines. The Washington Post reports that CGI did have more success with the U.S. government, notably helping with a system for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

CGI Federal, based in Herndon, isn’t a big player – only the 29th largest IT contractor for the U.S. government – but it does a lot of lobbying, spending $800,000 since 2006. That’s peanuts compared to what Lockheed Martin or Raytheon do.

CGI Federal got the contract to lead up to 55 smaller contractors. The bidding history is murky. The Washington Examiner says it was the only bidder,  but The Daily Caller quotes an HHS source as saying that CGI was one of four companies that bid on the deal.

In any event, after working on the project since 2011, CGI was awash with big problems as late was last summer before the Oct. 1 launch date. Subcontractors didn’t talk to each other. No one wanted blame for the growing evidence that the site couldn’t work. There were rumors that IBM, which supposedly had also bid for the CGI work, would take over, according to the New York Times.

Well, the marketplace didn’t work and an army of geeks is trying unscramble it. A really serious analysis would have to come from someone more expert on this blog, (perhaps from that NOVA IT badass, Don the Ripper).

Back to the point. Is the issue here really ObamaCare, a highly complex entity unto itself? Or are we talking about something rotten in our own beloved NOVA-land?

Not to forget Northrop Grumman. Back about a decade ago, during the craze to outsource most government services, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency handed over management of its data centers to Northrop Grumman in a 10-year, $2.4 billion contract. The deal was assigned in 2005 through the efforts of Democratic Gov. Mark Warner who had made hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s private IT sector and was a big fan of outsourcing public functions.

Under Northrop Grumman’s watch, state agencies saw massive outtages and delays which meant that Virginians could not renew their driver’s licenses for a while.

The ObamaCare site is supposed to be fixed about now. We shall see. Still, it is important to separate the issues of contracting and executing IT functions with private firms from the real intent of ObamaCare. Let’s not forget that it’s really a Republican (Mitt Romney) idea after all.

GiftGate: And the Legal Bills Keeping Mounting

mcdonnell-1By Peter Galuszka

The election is over. The transition teams are forming. And the GiftGate legal bills keep mounting.

Taxpayers are now facing $575,000 in total charges, according to The Washington Post. These include $331,000 in fees charged in July, August and September by two law firms representing state employees in the Gov. Robert F. McDonnell gift scandal.

That is on top of $244,000 in earlier bills.

White shoe Baker & McKenzie which began representing members of the governor’s staff in July is hitting the state at a $450 an hour rate.

Eckert Seamans Cherin & Merlot, including star lawyer and former Democratic attorney general Tony Troy, are a little bit more of a bargain at $250 an hour.

Among state employees benefiting from private counsel because of Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s involvement in the case are employees at Virginia Commonwealth University, which researched received grants to study products made by Star Scientific, whose soon-to-depart CEO Jonnie R. Williams gave the McDonnells about $160,000 in gifts and loans, which McDonnell has since returned. Also benefiting from private counsel is the Virginia State Police.

McDonnell, still the target of a federal probe, has a private group that is raising funds to help him out. There isn’t much available about who they are, but a group called “The Restoration Fund” has filed to become a non-profit company and has solicited funds to help pay McDonnell’s legal bills.

Among the heads of the Restoration fund is Virginia Beach lawyer Stanley Baldwin who apparently has ties to AMERIGROUP and Wellpoint that help manage the state’s Medicaid federal health money for the poor program.

Another leader is Jason Miyares, a Norfolk lawyer who graduated from the College of William & Mary Law School and blogs at the popular conservative site Bearing Drift. State employees are not supposed to make contributions to the McDonnell defense fund and the donations are not tax deductible.

I tried to look up The Restoration Fund at Guidestar but was not successful.

So, here we have the floatsam and jetsam of the outgoing and disastrous McDonnell Administration – a passel of legal bills that the taxpayers will be stuck with.

In normal times, they would have been handled by Cuccinelli’s office, but he was too busy running unsuccessfully for governor and was tied to tightly to Giftgate through some dubious connections of his own, namely to Todd Schneider, the fired executive chief of McDonnell who copped a plea for misdemeanor embezzlement charges in September.

Cuccinelli didn’t have the decency to resign from his public job when he decided to run for governor and guess who is indirectly paying the bill for that? You are, Dear Taxpayer. You might want to remember this if the Cooch makes a stab at the U.S. Senate race in the future.

As for McDonnell, well, the clock’s still ticking at the U.S. Attorney’s office regarding possible indictments. The next few weeks could be extremely interesting. It’s time to get the ball rolling for a State Ethics Commission.

A Pre-Election Reader

cooch-ageddonBy Peter Galuszka

Like many, I will be truly glad after Tuesday’s election. I don’t recall a more  tedious, uninspiring campaign. At this point it seems obvious that Kenneth Cuccinelli is going down. E.W. Jackson hasn’t a chance and if any Republican makes it it will be Mark Obenshain for attorney general.

Cuccinelli has always scared the hell out of me with his hard right policies. His staff is pugnacious and annoying. Last January after  I wrote a cover story for Style Weekly, Cooch honcho and Swiftboater Chris LaCivita had a minor dispute about a quote and called me.

A smooth pro would have been polite, but LaCivita must have thought I had been in the Marine Corps with him or was easily intimidated. No Marine Corps in my case but I did spend three years reporting under the watchful eyes of the Committee for State Security in the Soviet Union. They were pros. You can tell.

LaCivita, whom I have never met in person, cursed me out with the “F” word and then informed me that “you will never work in Richmond again.” I found that odd since I have been a reporter in and around this area since the mid-1970s and don’t exactly have a shortage of work. The man’s attitude was ample evidence of what would come with the campaign he was advising.

There are too many points to repeat here of why Cuccinelli’s campaign should be a textbook example of how not to run a political race. It should be taught in classrooms and made available through the MOOCs we love so much.

Here’s a short list: Cuccinelli thought he was smart by rigging the convention and sticking it to Bill Bolling and got stuck with Jackson; he did not resign as attorney general and was dumped on with legal conflicts in GiftGate, ChefGate and GasGate; he didn’t pay back his Jonnie Williams’ goodies fast enough; he was too quick to publicly throw Robert McDonnell under the bus; he got caught with the GOP intransigence in Washington; he never could distance himself from his anti-women and anti-gay views; he had no real economic or jobs plan; GOP business donors were revolted by him; and so on.

The biggest problem was that he thought he could ride the wave of the Tea Party that had been disintegrating months before.

I’ll stop now because this is getting boring. I recommend some excellent analysis. One is in Politico. The other ran a week or so ago in the Washington Post and is by Norm Leahy and Paul Goldman.

As far as what is next, ethics comes to mind. If you are interested, read my piece today in the Post which predicts little change and why.

I’ll be revisiting the ethics material later.

The Birth and Death of “Miner’s Revenge”

miners revengeBy Peter Galuszka

A couple of weeks ago, Scott, the photographer with whom I worked on my book on Massey Energy and the worst mine disaster in 40 years, emailed me to ask if I knew about a new Halloween amusement at Kings Dominion, the amusement park just off Interstate 95 in Doswell.

Called “Miner’s Revenge,” the maze featured garish, half skeletal coal miners holding pick axes and vowing revenge against colleagues who had abandoned them for safety after the worst coal disaster in the world.

In 2011 and 2012, Scott and I had spent days driving the narrow hollows of southern West Virginia talking to survivors and families of the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch disaster in April 5, 2010 that three investigative reports said were preventable and were the direct cause of Massey Energy’s atrocious safety policies. My book, “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets of Big Coal” was published by St. Martin’s Press in September 2012.

When you consider the “War on Coal,” remember now-defunct Massey and its former CEO Don Blankenship who made a religion of decrying “government regulation.”

First step was calling Kings Dominion. Finally, I reached their flak, Gene Petriello and told him who I was and that I planned to blog about the issue. He needed a day or two to come up with a response. When he did, I contacted The Washington Post which wanted both a blog posting and a print story.

The op-ed piece was online Friday afternoon. Within a couple of hours, I had a call from NBC12 television in Richmond which wanted an interview. I obliged.

Next day, I was in West Virginia attending the premiere screening of an unfinished documentary by Evening Star Productions and executive producer Mari-lynn Evans. Titled “Blood on the Mountain,” it deals with the coal company culture in the Appalachians, miner death and mountain strip mine destruction. About 100 people attended the movie to which I had made some research contributions and am a talking head. It is due out through PBS and the BBC next spring.

Afterwards, I went to a party in downtown Charleston and shared a beer with a retired miner. When I told him about the Kings Dominion maze, he stared at me incredulously and asked, “What?”

By then, other people were asking the same question, including the United Mine Workers of America (“insulting”) and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia (“beyond my understanding and comprehension that anybody could stoop that low for the all-mighty dollar.”)

By Monday night, NPR was reporting that Kings Dominion had decided not to include the amusement in its “Halloween Haunt” next year.

So, some justice has been done. But the news in West Virginia is bleak. Coal is truly in the pits and is unlikely to come back. Pittsburgh-based Consol plans on selling five large mines in West Virginia for $3.5 billion to Murray Energy, the Ohio company that figured prominently in Republican Mitt Romney’s “War on Coal” ploy last year.

Consol, which has been mining coal in the Mountain State for about 100 years,  wants to concentrate on natural gas.

Off to the Imperial City

capitolI’m off to D.C. for the next few days to attend the American Dream Coalition’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., where I hope to discover why some of America’s leading conservative/free-market thinkers about transportation and land use are so hostile to smart growth. Are they committed to defending contemporary suburbia? Or would their public policy prescriptions dismantle the regulatory regime that has perpetuated sprawl, the antithesis of smart growth, that has defined suburbia since World War II? Do I share common ground with my fellow conservatives and free marketeers — or am I just a renegade? Hopefully, I’ll get some answers — along with a dollop of sound, free-market thinking.

My blogging will be light, or possibly non-existent, for the next few days.

– JAB

Sunday Morning Coming Down

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Peter Galuszka

With apologies to Kris Kristofferson, this Sunday morning presents a grab bag of interesting morning newspaper stories and positions. To wit:

GiftGate Update, Getting the Stories Straight: According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Star Scientific boss Jonnie R. Williams Sr. told federal prosecutors he insisted on meeting personally with his then-buddy Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to make sure that McDonnell understood that Williams was lending Maureen McDonnell, the First Lady, $50,000 in 2011.

At the time the McDonnells were having serious debt issues because of some bad investments in vacation property. McDonnell paid back the loan, among to hers, but has consistently claimed he didn’t know about the loan to Maureen. His staff backs the claim in today’s TD story.

The Times-Dispatch also suggests that we’ll learn sometime after the election and before Thanksgiving if there will be federal indictments. Star Scientific has posted news releases saying it is in the clear. The Washington Post has reported that McDonnell’s defense has taken a blow because a judge is allowing prosecutors access to certain emails.

And, with today’s story, you have Williams and McDonnell directly contradicting each other. According to federal law, one doesn’t need a clear-cut, signed sealed and delivered “quo” for an indictment, just an attempt at doing something in exchange for something else. Some people on this blog keep saying “there’s no smoking gun,” which is a hackneyed and confusing phrase. What is the test for a “smoking gun?” It seems as if the feds are moving closer and closer to indictments.

 RTD Won’t Endorse Either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe: That’s even bigger news, showing how the staid old grey lady is changing for the better with Warren Buffett. Had J. Stewart Bryan still been publisher, you can bet they’d be for the Cooch, but maybe too much gay bashing got to the editorial board. It writes: “We find it impossible to endorse any of the 2013 candidates with even a minimal zeal.” The TD even went on a chose Democrat Ralph Northam over whack-job E.W. Jackson, another outrageous social conservative. They did go with Republican Mark Obenshain for attorney general, however.

Pouring Cold Water on the School Reform Craze: When one reads Bacons Rebellion, he or she is confronted with certain premises, Fox News style, that America’s public schools are in absolute shambles that only some weird combination of funding cuts, free market capitalism, terrorizing and shaming teachers and making a MOOC-age of our classrooms can correct.

Spin over to The Washington Post for a book review. The book, “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch, an education historian and adviser to both Bush I and Bill Clinton, pushes the idea today’s view that the problems of public schools are greatly exaggerated and solutions are being pushed by self-serving free-market types who want to make a profit somehow by “correcting” the schools.

There are problems, to be sure, but she writes: “The transfer of public funds to private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised, and unaccountable schools have opened the public coffers to profiteering fraud and exploitation by large and small entrepreneurs.”

Important stuff when you consider that some 90 percent of American’s children are in public schools. Only four percent are in charter schools. Come to think of it, Virginia has only five charter schools, which is rather incredible when you consider how much buzz they get in the right-wing echo chamber like this blog.

What “Boomergeddon?” Another common theme among conservatives that shows everything is coming apart is the general downgrade of the U.S. and not just its credit. True we had a hell of a mess this week, but it is wrong to assume that the U.S. is in some kind of death spiral, write Ely Ratner and Thomas Wright in the Post.

As the U.S. continues to recover from a terrific economic disaster, it is still making significant and steady progress. That is, compared to other companies. Anyone remember Jim Bacon’s book? It outlined the emergence of BIC (Brazil, India and China) to show just what chumps we Americans are. Turns out that Brazil’s growth is going from 7 to 1 percent, India’s economy has greatly slowed and China faces slowing growth and big inflation.

Now, that could be the real “War on Coal.” Now I’m not talking about EPA carbon dioxide regs; I’m talking about metallurgical coal exports from southwest Virginia to BIC steel mills. If their economies aren’t booming any more, maybe they aren’t using as much steel and don’t need as much met coal.

Let’s tell Jim Bacon. Anyone got his number?

Charlottesville’s Surprising Start-up Strength

University_of_Virginia_Rotunda_2006By Peter Galuszka

It may be a throwback to the glam years of the 1990s, but there’s always been an aura about bright minds getting ideas and having the fortitude and guts to push them to fruition without the warm womb of a big corporation or university to keep them nice and safe.

Finally, after years of trying, Charlottesville appears to be on the brink of being just such a place. That’s the premise of a story I just wrote for The Hook, one of the small city’s alternative weekly that sadly is about to go out of business.

The evidence appears solid. There are about 200 startups now underway, mostly in life sciences and information technology. They handle making sure that hospital laboratories have diagnostic equipment that is accurate and help understand how neonatal babies might get sepsis and die. Others tap cloud computing in new ways.

Why Charlottesville? It’s a convergence of several things. The University of Virginia attracts bright people and has excellent graduate schools in law and business plus a well-regarded medical center. The Blue Ridge area attracts free-thinking rich people who have fled Wall Street for the bucolic hills near Monticello. These “angels” have the money to give to promising startups swashbucklers and are willing and able to take risks.

One of these is Jaffray Woodriff, a hedge fund who is from the area and spent some time in New York humping quants before returning home. Described by Institutional Investor as “The Monk of Managed Futures,” he strokes checks for start-ups he likes. As a U.Va. grad, he is sympathetic to struggling Hoos and even goes for the kinds of walkable, urban landscapes you read so much about on this blog. The downtown Mall makes it easy for young entrepreneurs to stroll around sipping lattes and run into friends where they can talk ideas and hatch deals.

Another aspect is the role of U.Va. Teresa Sullivan who has recognized the importance of the school being tech-savvy and pro-entrepreneurial. This is indeed a curiosity since she was attacked for be a tech luddite by members of her board who tried to get rid of her last year.

If anyone was a luddite, it was her predecessor, James Casteen, the fund-raiser par-excellence who didn’t get tech and wanted to keep Mr. Jefferson’s University safely reading history books. Getting conservative preppies to think big and take risks is a major step forward. The progress has been noted by none-other than Richard Florida, the Big Think guy you read so much about. Charlottesville somehow ranks highly in startups per 100,000 population.

Another curiosity I found in my reporting: Richmond is far behind on the start-up curve. That’s right. The self-proclaimed “Capital of Creativity” with its very own biotechnology research park is only now starting to get it together as far as angel or venture capital funding.

Why? One reason is the research done is very heavily focused on secretive –and deadly — corporations like Philip Morris whose products will help kill 1 billion people around the world this century, according to the World Health Organization. Other reasons seem to be a dearth of rich and adventuresome people and a sense of risk aversion among its traditionally very conservative mindset.

Virginia Commonwealth University seems to be gaining some traction under President Michael Rao. But if memory serves, stud duck prez Eugene Trani actually throttled research in favor of a bricks and mortar build out. This isn’t something one is likely to read in the Richmond Times-Dispatch or in the typically mindless blatherings of promoter-in-chief Tom Silvestri, former head of the local Chamber of Commerce. So what else is new?

What could evolve is a new tech corridor linking Charlottesville, a rising Richmond and Northern Virginia, which is stuffed with tech but doesn’t get mentioned because of its reliance on the military and government.

Hoo-Ville is apparently where the Bay Area and Boston were around 1975 to 1980. That may seem a disappointment but at least it is somewhere.