Commentary #91: “Appalachia has a new story to tell, and it’s not an elegy” (Editorial)

Ridgeview High School Robotics Team

This is the championship Ridgeview High School robotics team from Southwest Virginia. Way to go! Image Credit: Dickenson County Public Schools

This was a fascinating editorial that one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, shared on Facebook a while ago. Mr. Lin used to be a teacher at my local elementary school, but has since created an impressive career in school administration. He has been an assistant principal and a principal in the Roanoke County Schools, Floyd County Schools, and now in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original post:


On The Roanoke Times’ website, the caption with the photo I used states: “The first team from Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County to win a state championship was its robotic team in 2018. That team went on to the world championship in Detroit, where it placed 9th out of 64 teams. Our editorial at left looks at how J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ perpetuates negative stereotypes of Appalachia. There’s a different story the region ought to tell, and the engineering skills of students in one of the state’s most rural localities ought to be part of that new narrative.”

Every time I read something new about Appalachia, whether it’s an editorial or not, I always learn new things or discover something different. This editorial was no exception.


When I first heard about Hillbilly Elegy on NPR’s Fresh Air, I was immediately intrigued. I kept telling myself I was going to read it, but here we are, in July 2019, and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I didn’t realize Ron Howard is planning to make a movie about the memoir, either. I admire Howard immensely. However, I’m hesitant to see it, whenever it is released. I don’t appreciate negative stereotypes, whether they’re implied or not.


Maybe my feathers are ruffled because of my own Appalachian “history.” Much of my mom’s extended family hails from West Virginia. I have fond memories of many family reunions in Ripley and Beckley. I loved visiting my great-grandmother, Laura Bethany Powers, whom I am named after. She lived to be 102!

In addition, I started researching Appalachia on my own in high school and throughout college.

This editorial opened my eyes to the progress that has been made and seen in Southwest Virginia. Since it is the Roanoke newspaper, I understand why they focused on their own region. Still, seeing the positive statistics made me happy, and hopeful.


I still plan to read Hillbilly Elegy, eventually. I have another 15 or so books I want to read first.

But, after I read Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll likely look up the other two books that were mentioned in the editorial:

  1. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte
  2. Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

I found one other part of the editorial to be striking:

“Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.”

An interesting thought, and that needs to be explored much further.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #90: “9-year-old boy raises nearly $80K to give bulletproof vests to police K-9s”

I stumbled upon this story on Facebook recently. Way to go, Brady!

Here’s the link to the post from my local news station:


In Ohio, the local news has been following Brady Snakovsky for nearly a year now. At that point, in November 2018, Brady had raised enough money to donate more than 50 vests to K-9s in nine states. That’s incredible!

Picture

Image Credit: Brady’s K-9 Fund

Bulletproof vests for police K-9s can cost more than $1,000. Brady got the idea when he and his mom were watching an episode of “Live PD,” where a K-9 did not have a bulletproof vest. With his mom’s help, Brady started a GoFundMe.

As of June 2, 2019, Brady has raised enough money to donate 85 vests. Currently, there’s a waiting list of 57 officers whose K-9s need the vests.

Now, Brady’s K-9 Fund is officially a non-profit organization.


The most recent dogs to be vested are K9 Mike, K9 Lemm, and K9 Hoss. They all serve with the MTA Police in New York City.

Other dogs have been vested in Ohio, Connecticut, California, and South Carolina.

I think Brady is an awesome kid! I’m so happy he was inspired to help these amazing dogs, his mom was willing to help him get started, and how his message has spread. Way to go, Brady!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #89: “He’s a disabled Gulf War veteran with a new purpose: Save birds nearly wiped out by pesticides”

Injured veteran finds purpose

Vallieres shows an owl to a veteran during a demonstration at the New Hampshire Veterans Home. Found on CNN.

Around the middle of April, I stumbled upon a fascinating headline whilst browsing CNN.com, as I do nearly every day:


Robert Vallieres served our country. He came home from the Gulf War broken, and nearly died. He’s battled a traumatic brain injury (TBI), chemical exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other things.

However, he’s channeled his recovery into volunteering with the New Hampshire Audubon Society.

He’s helping to track and rehabilitate peregrine falcons and bald eagles.


What started it all? His son, who was three at the time. He asked his dad what type of bird he saw. Vallieres bought a bird identification book, binoculars, and they started learning together near their home in Concord, New Hampshire.

In the newspaper, he saw an ad for a birding trip in the state’s White Mountains. He signed up. What stunned him was when a falcon grabbed a bird in mid-air. And it helped him appreciate and enjoy the outdoors – Using all your senses.

Unable to work, the New Hampshire Audubon Society was looking for volunteers to count and track peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Both were nearly wiped off the map due to the pesticide DDT, now banned, which killed unhatched chicks in the 1960s.

The New Hampshire Audubon Society was thrilled to have Robert come on boarding. With his military training, a lot of the same skills applied to counting and tracking these birds.

“Finding rhythm or purpose in life besides myself,” says Vallieres, “Not to get stuck on myself, to have an outlet and be semi-physically fit.”


In addition to volunteering, Robert built a nesting box for kestrel falcons in his yard. It worked. He now has breeding pairs.

He also works to rehabilitate birds for Wings of Dawn, a local wildlife hospital.

He also takes birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home monthly. The home was so impressed with Robert that they applied for and received a grant to get dozens of binoculars for residents to observe the birds on the property. They also purchased more bird feeders so the less-mobile residents can experience the visitors.

He still struggles with migraines and painful scar tissue. Seeing birds take flight, however, helps him lift his own wings.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth

Commentary #87: Thoughts on “Flint Town”

Flint Town

Image Credit: IMDb

I was off work on a recent Friday, and it was so nice to have a little bit of a break. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to watch. This title kept popping up in my Netflix profile, so I figured, “Why not? Let’s try it.”

Before Al came home from work that day, I’d watched the entire season. All eight episodes.

At first, I thought the documentary series was going to be about the police force in Flint, Michigan. It was certainly about that, but also so much more.

Flint Town is a real, gritty, almost unedited profile of these officers and their lives. I got so invested in the story, especially the emotional side, it’s no surprise I plowed through all eight episodes in one day.

In addition to being police officers, you ride along with them as they deal with the continuing water crisis, limited and dwindling resources, and changes in the city administration. Both good and bad.

I wrote Hot Topic #19: The Water Crisis in Flint, and Others in March 2017. The series started before that. And it was compelling, and pretty sickening, to watch.

My heart went out to everyone in Flint. Seeing these interviews – Officers, officers’ family members, city officials, local activists, and members of the community – It’s beyond obvious this city has been struggling for years.

At the same time, toward the end of the series, I started thinking beyond Flint. There are THOUSANDS of other cities in the U.S., not to mention so many others places on this planet of ours, that don’t have safe, clean, acceptable drinking water. I started thinking about my own city – Portsmouth, Virginia – and my water, my city administration, my police force.

Just before I watched this series, the story broke one morning that our own police chief in the City of Portsmouth, Tonya Chapman, had suddenly resigned. When she was hired in 2016, she was the first female, African-American police chief of a municipal force in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Currently, Angela Greene, the former Assistant Police Chief, is serving as interim Police Chief until a replacement is hired. But we don’t know when that will be.

And, there continues to be finger-pointing, frustration, and controversy from many different sides, including the city administration, citizens, the local NAACP chapter, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Flint Town is a story that can easily resonate with many across the United States. It’s a tough one to watch, but it’s a series that is relevant, and thought-provoking.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #86: “Reforestation Drones Drop Seeds Instead of Bombs, Planting 100,000 Trees Per Day Each”

Reforestation Drones

Image found on Return to Now.

This is a really intriguing idea. I first saw this story on Facebook, through Return to Now.

The U.K.-based BioCarbon Engineering (BCE) has developed a relatively simple, two-step process for accomplishing this:

  1. Send the drones into the target area to create a detailed, 3-D map.
  2. Send the planting drones back to the mapped site to fire “agri-bullets” into the ground.

In addition, the engineering firm has committed to biodegradable seed pods, and planting multiple species simultaneously. That is awesome!

In June 2017, BCE planted 5,000 trees in one day in coal mine-ravaged Dungog, Australia. The company has also worked in South Africa and New Zealand. They also started working in cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, working to replace destroyed mangroves.


Other websites have published similar accounts within the last year:


For more information, check out the links below:


What do you think about using drones to help fight deforestation and climate change? Let me know in the comments!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #85: “My Journey Through the Marvel Universe”

My Journey Through the Marvel Universe

Image Credit: The Book Raven

I love Tiana, who is the awesome author of The Book Raven, wrote an incredible post about the Marvel Universe!

Here’s the link to Tiana’s post:


I love how Tiana watched all the Marvel movies, and then decided to make separate blog posts to discuss each movie individually.

Inspired by her, I wanted to give my take on these movies here, together. We’re only about a month away now from the premiere of Avengers: Endgame and I CANNOT FREAKING WAIT!!!


Iron Man (2008)

The film's title is shown below juxtaposed images of Tony Stark and Iron Man.

I’ve seen every single Marvel movie in theaters, several of them multiple times. I know superhero movies aren’t for everyone, but I’ve really enjoyed what Marvel and the variety of directors have done with these movies!

Iron Man was a big deal in 2008. It got a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. To me, no one else can play Iron Man other than Robert Downey, Jr. He’s pretty much perfect for the role.

Initially, Gwyneth Paltrow bothered me, but I like her as Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges was great as the eventual villain. This was our first introduction to Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. I love how Jon Favreau played Tony Stark’s bodyguard and chauffeur Happy Hogan, as well as directed this movie.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk poster.jpg

I wasn’t a huge fan of this one. Edward Norton was okay as Hulk, and I enjoyed Liv Tyler.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Tony Stark is pictured center wearing a smart suit, against a black background, behind him are the Iron Man red and gold armor, and the Iron Man silver armor. His friends, Rhodes, Pepper, are beside him and below against a fireball appears Ivan Vanko armed with his energy whip weapons.

I’m always slightly skeptical of sequels. However, banking on the massive success of the first Iron Man movie, this one was pretty good. I was sad to not see Terrence Howard, but thought Don Cheadle was a good choice. I enjoyed seeing Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell. Mickey Rourke wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked.

Thor (2011)

Armor clad and wearing a red cape, Thor is crouched, holding the handle of his hammer to the ground, and rock debris is being blasted away. In the background are four panels showing the faces of Jane, Loki, Odin, and Heimdall.

Thor was a tough character for me to get behind. However, Chris Hemsworth was a great choice to portray him. I loved Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. And Idris Elba was a perfect choice for Heimdall, the sentry of the bifrost bridge. Asgard is a magical, amazing place!

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America The First Avenger poster.jpg

Unlike Thor, Captain America was an easy sell for me. Captain America has become my favorite Marvel character. Chris Evans is incredibly handsome, and portrays the super solider so well! Plus, anytime history is incorporated into a movie, I’m there. I really enjoy 20th century history, so it’s no surprise I’ve seen this movie multiple times. In addition, I loved Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter.

The Avengers (2012)

TheAvengers2012Poster.jpg

I love it when a team comes together! While other Marvel movies are my true favorites, this one is near the top of the list, easily in my top five. Joss Whedon did a FABULOUS job with this movie!

All the previous movies to this point come together here. The noticeable difference is The Incredible Hulk is now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, but I appreciated that change. We also see Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, which was another great choice. I also immensely enojyed seeing Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill.

This movie ends Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Tony, as Iron Man in his battle damaged suit sitting with water around him, while his house behind is destroyed. Stark's Iron Legion is flying, while the Marvel logo with the film's title, credits and release date are below.

This was not my favorite. This movie is a good example as to why I’m skeptical with some decisions about sequels and additional movies. The only true exciting part for me was recognizing several locations in Miami.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor - The Dark World poster.jpg

This one was also okay. Not my favorite. I did enjoy Kat Dennings and Rene Russo.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America The Winter Soldier.jpg

This one almost outranks The First Avenger, but not quite. However, I loved the spy angle and espionage feel! Seeing Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson was awesome. And Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter was nice addition as well. Seeing Robert Redford was great, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The five Guardians, sporting various weapons, arrayed in front of a backdrop of a planet in space with the film's title, credits and slogan.

This movie! Holy freaking cow. This is definitely in my top five, next to Captain America! I’m not usually one for space adventures, but this cast, plus the EPIC soundtrack did it all for me. It was FABULOUS.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers Age of Ultron poster.jpg

The gang is back together. This one was good, but it’s hard to top the first Avengers movie. The additions of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen were cool. And seeing Paul Bettany on screen was great, too.

Ant-Man (2015)

Official poster shows Ant-Man in his suit, and introduces a montage of him starts to shrink with his size-reduction ability, with a montage of helicopters, a police officer holds his gun, two men in suit and tie and sunglasses and the film's villain Darren Cross is walking with them smiling, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and Evengeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne with the film's title, credits, and release date below them, and the cast names above.

I wasn’t sure about seeing Ant-Man on screen, but Paul Rudd was a great choice for this role! This movie is hilarious, and I appreciated adding comedy and humor to a relatively dark and brooding series of movies. Not to say this movie doesn’t have darkness, but seeing the heist plot and Ant-Man’s origin story was great. Paul Rudd and Michael Pena are tied for my favorite characters here, and Michael Douglas is a close third.

This movie ends Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Official poster shows the Avengers team factions which led by Iron Man and Captain America, confronting each other by looking each other, with the film's slogan above them, and the film's title, credits, and release date below them.

Cap is back! This isn’t anywhere close to the other two Captain America movies, but still good. Seeing the division among the team – Not cool, but it certainly drives a good story. And seeing Spider-Man’s and Black Panther’s character debuts were awesome!!

Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange, wearing his traditional costume, including his red cloak coming out from a flowing energetic portal, and around him the world and New York turning around itself with the film's cast names above him and the film's title, credits and billing are underneath.

Like Thor, I was initially skeptical of Doctor Strange. However, I really enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch in this role. Seeing this world, and how it connects with the rest, was exciting.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The Guardian members in front of a colorful explosion

Unlike some of the other sequels, this one was AWESOME! The soundtrack didn’t disappoint, either. I high enjoyed Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, and Kurt Russell in this movie.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man Homecoming poster.jpg

Tom Holland is awesome as Spider-Man! One of the best casting choices yet. I also enjoyed seeing Zendaya, Michael Keaton, and Marisa Tomei here. As many of you know, I’m a sucker for movies set in New York!

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor Ragnarok poster.jpg

This is by far my favorite of all the Thor movies. Period, end of story. The soundtrack is epic. Also, seeing Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, and the alien Korg were great.

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther film poster.jpg

Seeing this world of Wakanda was stunning. Everything about this movie was visually spectacular! Is it in my top five or top ten Marvel movies? No. But it is a spectacular addition to the MCU. I think my two favorite characters were Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri (Letitia Wright)!

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War poster.jpg

Holy freaking cow. This movie destroyed me, along with everyone else. But it’s so good. It’s a great culmination of all the other movies to this point. But, it’s a soul-crusher for sure. The great battle in Wakanda was one of the most amazing battles / fight scenes ever!

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp poster.jpg

Seeing this after the trauma of Infinity War was a pleasant change. This is a really good sequel, and what’s not to like with comic relief! I wasn’t super fond of Hannah John-Kamen and Laurence Fishburne, but it worked.

Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel poster.jpg

This movie was super kick-ass! Brie Larson was a great choice to play Carol Danvers. Plus, the total 1990s nostalgia was spot-on! And the cat literally stole the show.


I’m mentally preparing for the destruction that Endgame will bring on April 26th. I think I’m ready?

Also, Endgame is the movie that marks the end of Phase Three of the MCU.

I’m looking forward to Spider-Man: Far From Home in July. This is the start of Phase Four of the MCU.


What about you? Do you have a favorite movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂