Category Archives: Book review

Lost Kids of Southwest Virginia

Kingsolver, Barbara. Demon Copperhead.  Harper, 2022

 A review by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Barbara Kingsolver is an award-winning author who lives on a farm in Washington County, Virginia. Her latest novel, Demon Copperhead, is what she calls her “great Appalachian novel.” It was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year.

Kingsolver grew up in Appalachia, in eastern Kentucky. After graduating from college in Indiana, she spent several years backpacking around Europe. Upon returning to the United States, she wanted to see the West, and ended up in Tucson. She says that she did not go to Arizona with the idea of settling there, but life happens. During her two decades there, she published several well-received novels. She began to feel the pull of Appalachia and, thus, several years ago, she and her family moved to a farm in Washington County. Continue reading

Fact Checking Bill Leighty

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In my review of Bill Leighty’s memoir, I quoted at length an incident that was supposed to illustrate Leighty’s deal-making skills, as well as how things are often accomplished in state government. One of this blog’s alert readers, “how_it_works,” pointed that the timing of the events related in the story just did not work out, thereby casting doubt on the story.

I thought the objection was valid and serious enough to warrant investigation. Because the story involved legislation enacted in the late 1980’s and the on-line Legislative Information System does not have legislative history before 1994, I had to wait until the public agencies with the paper records opened after Memorial Day before I could do any checking. This follow-up article sets out the results of my research. Continue reading

Ah, So That’s What That Was All About!

Leighty, Bill. Capitol Secrets: Leadership Wisdom from a Lifetime of Public Service.  Holon Publishing, 2023.

A review by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The public sees the result of policy development.  What the public does not see is the sometimes- messy process that produced that policy nor, more broadly, what goes on behind the scenes to make government work.

In his recently released memoir, Bill Leighty has drawn back the curtain a bit to reveal some of the inner workings behind some of the activities of Virginia state government during a recent 30-year period.

Bill Leighty is not a name widely known by the general public. However, he was, and, to some extent still is, known by legislators, lobbyists, reporters, Cabinet members, agency heads, and other denizens of Capitol Square.

Bill Leighty

Through the course of his career, Leighty cut a wide swath through state government. After a stint in the Marine Corps following high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mary Washington and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University and landed a job in 1978 with the Virginia Department of Taxation. The agency assigned him to a new unit established to prepare revenue forecasts. That unit also prepared fiscal impact statements on tax bills for the legislature. Continue reading

Meet Abrar Omeish, Exhibit A in the Woke Army

by Asra Q. Nomani

Exclusive: In 2019, Abrar Omeish canvassed for support at a fundraiser for the anti-Semitic group American Muslims for Palestine and said she wanted to change the “narrative” on Palestinians. She was elected to office and launched a tirade against the state of Israel, which she smeared as an “apartheid” nation, repeating the talking points of an anti-Semitic brigade in the Woke Army. Here is the full transcript.

Last month, at Luther Jackson Middle School, parents gasped as a Fairfax County Public Schools board member, Abrar Omeish, stumbled through a clumsy speech and called the historic battle of Iwo Jima “evil,” even though the decisive victory by U.S. Marines led to eventual victory by Allied forces against Japan and Nazi Germany and its leader Adolph Hitler, ending the brutal genocide of Jews in the Holocaust.

In the days after, the remarks sparked a national outcry, even spilling over globally, with Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears, a former U.S. Marine, assailing the remarks and a pair of comedians asking indelicately: “How did this clown get elected to a school board?”

Editor’s note: For Asra’s twitter conversation on the event see here.

I know the answer because I witnessed it happen, and the answer reveals an unholy alliance that I expose in my new book, Woke Army, between the Democratic Party and rigid anti-Israel, anti-Semitic establishment Muslim leaders in the United States. These establishment Muslims include activists, politicians, and academics — from Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), University of California at Berkeley academic Hatem Bazian. and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

What is particularly disturbing is that this Woke Army set its sights on K-12 schools and their children. School board member Abrar Omeish is Exhibit A in this dangerous alliance in K-12.

I saw it first-hand one Saturday night on Sept. 7, 2019, documenting the evening in video shared here for the first time.
Continue reading

A Virginia Novel of Politics and Scandal in the Age of Wokeism

by James A. Bacon

David Shephard, publisher of The Virginia Gentleman blog, has followed politics in the Old Dominion for many years, and he has long admired the Garrett Epps novel, The Shad Treatment, a fictional rendering of the 1973 gubernatorial contest between Mills Godwin and Henry Howell. Shephard’s recently published book, Elections Have Consequences, is his effort to follow in the Epps tradition.

Set circa 2021, the election Shephard recounts is a contest between Democrat Ronnie Norton and Republican Angela Parrish. It’s not a spoiler to tell the reader that Norton wins, for Shephard devotes the second half of his tale to what follows: the newly-elected governor is engulfed in scandal — a yearbook photo surfaces of Norton in blackface standing next to someone in Nazi regalia. To survive politically, he capitulates to the militant left wing of the Democratic Party and presides over a wave of social-justice legislation.

In his preface, Shephard swears that Ronnie Norton (initials R.N.) is purely a figment of his fertile imagination, thus waving off any comparisons with Ralph Northam (initials R.N.). He makes the same claim of his dean of the capitol press corps, Steve Cohen, who bears passing similarities to the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff Schapiro. Presumably, we are to view as no more than coincidental resemblance his introduction of Republican campaign consultant Mark S. Boyd, whose name bears a remarkable resemblance to Republican campaign consultant Boyd Marcus.

But the deliberate similarities — mixed with innumerable references to real governors such as Jerry Baliles and George Allen; to real Virginia cities, towns and places; to real Virginia higher-ed institutions from Hollins and Mary Baldwin to the University of Virginia; and to uniquely Virginia effluvia from the Ask the Governor radio show to the burial of Stonewall Jackson — are all part of the fun. Continue reading

Race As a Political Construct

by James A. Bacon

Race is a social construct, as the Wokesters endlessly remind us. It’s one of the few observations from the left that I mostly agree with… or, at least, I did agree with until reading, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America, by George Mason University law school professor David E. Bernstein.

Now I’m more inclined to say that in the United States race is a political construct.

According to the U.S. Census, here’s the breakdown of Virginia’s 2020 population by race:

  • White (non-Hispanic): 60.3%
  • Black (non-Hispanic): 18.6%
  • Asian: 7.1%
  • Two or more races: 8.2%
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0.5%
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.1%
  • Some other race alone: 5.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino origin: 10.5%. (When categorized by race, Hispanic individuals generally are designated either White or Black.)

What does it mean to be “White”? What does it mean to be Black or African American? Or Asian? Or Hispanic? Who defines these racial/ethnic classifications anyway, and who decides how to classify individuals when disagreements arise?

Unelected federal bureaucrats and unelected judges make the decisions based upon a combination of evolving ideology, case law, and political pressure from racial/ethnic advocacy groups. The resulting classification system influences the allocation of billions of government dollars, and in so doing reinforces racial/ethnic constructs of how Americans think of themselves. Continue reading

A New Classic on Thomas Jefferson and Public Education in Virginia

Courtesy University of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a group of Nobel Prize winners at a dinner in their honor at The White House.

Kennedy, raised patrician, classically educated and fired in war and politics graciously toasted another such man.

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

The polymath Jefferson saved the indulgence of a great passion, public education, and the creation of a new style of American university, until his last years.

Influenced early by the writings on education of Sir Francis Bacon and John Locke, he completely re-imagined higher education in America from what consisted in 1800 largely of a few colleges teaching religion and the classics under church leadership and funding.

Jefferson’s idea of the university was an institution publicly funded and teaching republican ideals for the preservation of the form of government he and the other founders had labored so hard and risked so much to bring about.

His idea emphasized education in history, languages, the principles of the Enlightenment and the sciences, with graduate schools in law and medicine. Of these disciplines, he thought history to be the most critical of all to the preservation of freedom.

He banned the teaching of religion in his university. The powerful evangelical Christian churches in Virginia were not amused. They and the Federalists fought him endlessly and nearly won.

Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy has written a vivid and lively account of those contests and Jefferson’s indomitable skill and endurance in facing and overcoming opposition to his vision. Continue reading

The Continuing Transformation of Virginia Politics

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Toscano, David.  Bellwether:  Virginia’s Political Transformation, 2006-2020.  Lanham:  Hamilton Books, 2022

In this book, David Toscano, whose prior work was Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives (2021), turns his focus on Virginia.  The author is a former Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates (2006-2020) from Charlottesville and served as the House Minority Leader from 2011 to 2018.

The book can be viewed from several perspectives.  At the highest level, it is an analysis of the changes in Virginia’s demographics and corresponding changes in its electoral politics in the first two decades of this century.  On another level, it is partly a political memoir.  Finally, it is an insider’s account of the legislative personalities and process in Virginia.

It needs to be said up front that this is not a nonpartisan account.  Toscano is a liberal Democrat and he does not try to disguise that fact.  He revels in the expansion of Medicaid, Democrats taking control of the House, and the legislation enacted in the 2020 and 2021 Sessions.  However, he does not demonize Republicans.  His attitude is that Republicans’ positions are legitimate and sincerely held, but generally wrong-headed. Continue reading

“The Dreadful Frauds” — a CRT Take-Down

by James A. Bacon

As Wokeism plays an increasingly dominant role in our society, conservatives and even  liberals have begun subjecting the ideology to close scrutiny. Perhaps the most brilliant dissection comes from John McWhorter, an African-American and an old-school liberal. In Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, McWhorter makes the case that Woke doctrine is an unfalsifiable, philosophical jumble that is embraced as a matter of secular (godless) religious faith.

Other indispensable readings are the Madness of Crowds and The War on the West, by gay English journalist Douglas Murray. In the latter volume, Murray argues that wokeism is part of a larger assault on reason, the Enlightenment, indeed all of Western Civilization. The movement to topple Confederate statues morphed into a movement to demonize and de-memorialize slave holders, and then anyone else (which includes just about everyone before the mid-2oth century) who held views on race that are now regarded as retrograde, all the while giving a pass to genocides and mass murders committed by Marxists and non-Westerners.

If you have an interest in the intellectual forces tearing our society apart, I recommend those works highly. While reading McWhorter and Murray, you might consider also a slender volume, The Dreadful Frauds: Critical Race Theory and Identity Politics, by Philip Leigh. Where McWhorter and Murray delve deeply into the ideology of wokeism, Leigh provides a useful survey of its application in the United States. Continue reading

An Exclusive Interview with the Author of “Dust Mites”

Bacon’s Rebellion was lucky enough to snag an interview with “Dust Mites” author Jim Bacon. As he is the blog contributor most familiar with the book, Bacon interviewed himself. — JAB

JAB: Thank you so much for granting this interview, Mr. Bacon. First, let’s dispense with formalities. Do you go by James?

JAB: Jim would be fine.

JAB: Your novel is set in the year 2075 when there are numerous American colonies on the Moon. The colonies — one in particular, Galileo Station — is chafing under the imperial rule of an out-of-touch Congress and imperial presidency in Washington, D.C. Do you think that’s a plausible scenario?

JAB: I picked the year 2075, only 53 years from now, for literary reasons. I was deliberately playing on the parallels with the American Revolution. The incident that precipitates the action in the novel — the dispatch of the U.S. Marshal’s Special Operations Group into the underground city of Galileo Station to arrest its governor to stand trial — plays a role analogous to the events at Lexington and Concord in sparking a rebellion.

While the date may be arbitrary, let me advance a few propositions: (1) human exploration of the Moon will be commonplace by the end of the decade; (2) colonization of the Moon for scientific, military and economic imperatives will soon follow; and (3) tensions inevitably will arise between the U.S. colonies and the imperial power. It is not implausible to think that the central government in Washington, D.C. will continue to accumulate power over the next half century, and become more assertive and more authoritarian than ever. Continue reading

1619–A Portentous Year. A Book Review and Summary

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Horn, James. 1619:  Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy.  New York: Basic Books, 2018.

Notwithstanding the title, this book is not part of the controversial 1619 Project.  The author is currently the most prominent and knowledgeable scholar of early colonial Virginia.  He is the president and chief officer of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, which is responsible for the management of Historic Jamestowne, the original site of the first permanent English colony in America.  As a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal put it, “If anyone today knows colonial Virginia, it is James Horn.”

Relying heavily on primary sources, Horn provides a brief summary of the early years of the colony of Virginia, culminating in  1619, when the “Great Reforms” were instituted.  Although coincidental, Horn declares the meeting of the first representative government and the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619 was “portentous.”  His thesis is that  “1619 marks the inception of the most important political development in American history, the rise of democracy and the emergence of what would in time become one of the nation’s greatest challenges:  the corrosive legacy of racial stereotypes that continues to affect our society today.”

As Horn describes it, the early history of the Virginia colony can be divided into four phases:  1606-1609, the early unruly years; 1609-1619, the military rule years; 1619-1622, the Great Reform; after 1622 and the dissolution of the Virginia Company. Continue reading

Dust Mites Book Review: “A Surprisingly Creative Effort.”

by Peter Galuszka

Jim Bacon has released a self-published novel that is wildly imaginative. He envisions the politics of a U.S.-related colony on the moon in the year 2075.

At Galileo Station, a semi-autonomous outpost, residents live and work in underground spaces while they work to harvest various important minerals as well as a helium isotope used to power the intergalactic universe. The miners are called “Dust Mites,” hence the title.

The 500-plus-page whopper of a novel relays a power struggle between Washington politicians and liberty-loving Galiletians who resemble American Revolutionary patriots standing up to King George III.

During a dispute over mining, things get so out of hand that U.S. Attorney General Alyssa Reyes (an apparent look alike for Vice President Kamala Harris or U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez) orders U.S. Marshalls to blast off for the moon and charge Alexander Macaulay, the Governor of Galileo Station, with sedition. Continue reading

“The Last Romantic War,” a Review

by James Wyatt Whitehead V 

In the spring of 1986, I was given an old foot locker with the name Charles Faben Redd and V.M.I. emblazoned on it. Uncle Charlie had just died and the family had gathered in the stately parlor of his home in Studley, Virginia. At the age of 15, I had never inherited anything before and I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of this gift. Aunt Liz made a big production about how the contents of the foot locker were Uncle Charlie’s most prized possessions and he wanted me to have this. I waited until I got home to open that foot locker  I expected to find items of great monetary value. What a surprise! Inside the foot locker were very carefully arranged memorabilia from a long time back. A pair of black polished leather boots, a shako, trousers, a thick high collared blouse and coatee. A small box containing VMI collar tags, brass buttons, and a tarnished belt buckle. There was a mouth harp, a bundle of letters, a size-16 pair of track cleats, an old-fashioned Kodak camera, a thick scrap book, and a shoebox full of pictures. My initial disappointment gave way to wonder. I had a perfectly preserved snapshot into Uncle Charlie’s early manhood. The foot locker even smelled like Uncle Charlie. I now had answers to questions about Uncle Charlie I never got around to asking.

Author Robin Traywick Williams offers readers a priceless time capsule in her new book, “The Last Romantic War: How two members of the Greatest Generation survived love and war.” The story centers on the courtship of Flo Neher and United States Army Captain H.V. “Bo” Traywick with the backdrop of World War Two. In the spring of 1942, a young prom trotting girl meets a dashing Army Captain on a blind date at Fort Benning, Georgia. A handful of dates and a daring proposal on April Fool’s day, launch a romance with a fairy tale finish. A three-year pause between proposal and matrimony is punctuated by a roller coaster ride in the events of World War Two. Continue reading