Magdalen Hsu-Li: Impressive Talent

Magdalen Hsu-Li was born in my home town of Martinsville, VA, (long after I was gone). I’ve only listened to a few of her songs, but I like. She appears to be talented on many dimensions: songwriting, singing, performing, painting, business. Below are some excerpts from an interview.

If you visit her website at

you can hear her music. Please leave a comment and let me if you like it.

Link: Collected Sounds – Interview with Magdalen Hsu-Li.

I love breaking the myth of the starving artist. That is such a lie that people tell artist from the day they are born and it’s so sad that so many artists psych themselves out with this myth. There is always a way to make a great living from music or any art form if you are willing to use your creativity to the business aspect. People think that creativity should only be in art and the business should be in business. But the most successful business people use their intuition and creativity to problem solve and figure out how to make things work. It’s important to work from both ends using your creativity. I also would like to break through the glass ceiling for Asian Americans in the American music industry. People don’t think it can be done right now but I know it can and it should happen soon!

Huge Uranium Deposit in Chatham, VA, Creates Controversy

I grew up in Martinsville, 30 miles west of Chatham. In that area, the local economy has been devastated by the loss of factory jobs to Asia. Energy independence in the U.S. is a top priority. Uranium mining is very "dirty", especially to the ground water.

This could be a heated battle involving some powerful players bringing national attention to a small town in rural Virginia. For example, in a July 26, 2008 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Max Schulz (senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute) concluded with the following:

If the U.S. is to expand nuclear power’s role in a time of energy insecurity and climate change worries, we will have to confront the hysterical antinuclear pronouncements that have been the currency of environmentalists for nearly 30 years. The Old Dominion could be a good place for a new start.

Below are some excepts from an article in the Washington Post by Anita Kumar.

Link: Uranium Lode in Va. Is Feared, Coveted –

CHATHAM, Va. — Underneath a plot of farmland used to raise cattle, hay and timber in south central Virginia lies what is thought to be the largest deposit of uranium in the United States.

Now, three decades after the deposit was found, landowner Walter Coles has set his sights on mining the 200-acre site despite concerns of environmental groups and residents about unearthed radioactive material that could contaminate the area’s land, air and source of drinking water.

As the United States searches for alternative energy sources, Virginia has a geological discovery in its back yard that could drastically change the nation’s reliance on foreign oil. The estimated 110 million pounds of uranium in Pittsylvania County, worth almost $10 billion, could supply all of the country’s nuclear power plants for about two years.

There’s a hurdle to clear before an ounce of the element can be mined: It’s illegal to dig for the stuff in Virginia. But the General Assembly is considering changing that.

Coles, 69, who recently retired from the federal government and moved from the Washington area back to the family farm, said mining companies have been offering to buy his land. Instead of taking the money, he decided to stay. He said he wanted to make sure that the mining was done safely and that it would benefit the community through jobs, taxes and economic development.

"There’s too much uranium here. Somebody’s going to mine it," Coles said. "I felt like while I was alive, it was my duty to make sure it was done right."

This month, Coles’s company, Virginia Uranium, will try to persuade the General Assembly to take the first step — approving a $1 million study that will explore whether uranium can be safely mined in Virginia. If the study shows that it can be done, the company will ask the legislature to lift a state ban on uranium mining.

The issue is dividing lawmakers, who will begin their 60-day session Jan. 9, but company officials have reasons to be optimistic.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) supports a study, and a state energy report released this fall recommends one. Coles’s brother-in-law, Whitt Clement, who served as a legislator and as state transportation secretary, is heading what is expected to be a strong lobbying effort. Henry Hurt, an investor and a childhood friend of Coles’s, has a son Robert, a Pittsylvania delegate who won a state Senate seat in November.

Virginia banned uranium mining in 1982, but Coles’s company recently got a state permit to drill 40 holes to examine the material.

A growing coalition of environmental groups and concerned residents, some of the same residents who helped institute the ban 30 years ago, have started spreading the word about their opposition and are planning to travel to Richmond to fight Coles. 

Uranium has never been mined in Virginia or on the East Coast, confined instead in the United States to drier, less populated areas such as Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Uranium mining is more common in Canada, Australia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Support for a Study

Two uranium deposits, which begin at the ground’s surface and run about 800 feet deep, were found in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a town of 1,300 residents where old Victorian houses line the streets. Tobacco was once a booming business on nearby farms but has given way to soybeans, hay and cattle.

Virginia Uranium wants to mine and mill uranium that would eventually be sold to companies for use at nuclear power plants.

The company was formed about a year ago by the Coles and Bowen families, which own adjoining property. Norman Reynolds, a former Marline president, was hired as chief executive.

Safety Concerns

Environmental groups, including the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center, say uranium should not be mined in Virginia’s highly populated areas and relatively rainy climate. They say they are worried that radioactive materials could contaminate natural resources, cause cancer or other illnesses and have long-term effects on plants and animals. The Coles Hill area supplies drinking water locally and to parts of Hampton Roads and North Carolina.

No matter how the uranium might be mined, it would need to be processed at a local milling facility. The result, a sandy substance called "yellow cake" uranium, would be packed into 55-gallon drums for shipping. Company officials say the processed uranium is not hazardous. It doesn’t become dangerous until it undergoes a later process that would be done elsewhere.

Coles, whose family has lived in a historic brick house on the property for two centuries, said he and his family have never had health problems, although tests show the area has higher than normal levels of radioactivity.

He said he plans to continue living at Coles Hill regardless of whether the uranium is mined.

Frank Lacy, Virginia Gentleman

Frank Lacy, a fine human being who was a good samaritan in my home town, recently passed away. I first knew Mr. Lacy as a neighbor who let the neighborhood kids play football in his yard. Later we played basketball in his driveway.

As a teenager I often saw him at the golf course. Not even the tortuous game of golf could anger him or affect his mild manner. He appeared to exist in a remarkably even state of being, neither pulled down by the setbacks in his life nor inflated by his considerable success in business and status in the community. Here’s a link to Virginia State SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 346, celebrating the life of Frank McCormick Lacy.

I last saw him at the Kings Grant Retirement community when I was visiting my father in 2001. Even though he was in his 90’s and hadn’t seen me in 20+ years, he remembered who I was.

The Frank Lacy that I knew did not seek attention or the bright lights of publicity. He was dedicated to doing the right thing quietly, nicely and politely. He was truly a Virginia Gentleman.

John Bryant composes soundtrack for movie about Texas politics

Note: I went to elementary and high school with John. We’ve stayed in contact over the years.

John has been working on this project, The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress, for many months. When Delay unexpectedly resigned from the House of Representatives, the producers and their team had to adjust the film accordingly.

Are the buzzards circling Tom Delay or is that my imagination?

Type: Documentary
Distributor: Brave New Films

Rating: NR
Directed by: Mark Birnbaum, Jim Schermbeck

U.S. slaps big tariff on exporters of bedroom furniture from China

More economic news that may help my hometown of Martinsvillve, VA.

washington—The U.S. commerce department slapped tariffs of as much as 198 per cent on imported bedroom furniture from China yesterday, a decision that could cut the $1 billion (U.S.) a year of imports and raise prices for consumers.

Most of the largest exporters of furniture will pay tariffs of 24 per cent or less, with 82 of the companies paying an 11 per cent tariff, the commerce department said in a statement.

The thousands of companies not singled out will pay the 198 per cent, and they “are going to be put out of business,” Mike Veitenheimer, a vice president for furniture retailer Bombay Co., said in an interview. Still, “the duties could have been a whole lot worse,” he said.

The case is the largest trade dispute of its kind between the United States and China, and could spark a new round of complaints by manufacturers who say business has been hurt by cheap imports from China. Bassett Furniture Industries Inc., Stanley Furniture Co. and other U.S. producers support tariffs, arguing Chinese companies are selling their products at unfair discounts, and the preliminary decision backed up their claim.

…Bedroom furniture imports from China increased 121 per cent from 2000 to 2002, and another 54 per cent in the first six months of last year. Furniture makers, such as Bassett, Stanley and Hooker Furniture Corp., say that increase threatens to put them out of business.


Virginia plans to build telecom system to boost rural economy

I hope my hometown can start recovering from the collapse of the textile industry.

DANVILLE, Va. — Virginia will build a $12 million fiber-optic network throughout its struggling manufacturing belt along the North Carolina state line to spark an economy decimated by factory layoffs.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said Friday the project will connect five cities, 20 counties and 56 industrial parks with a new communications network that will be the largest publicly funded system in the state.

“Being left off the information superhighway is just not something rural communities can afford to overcome,” Warner said.

State officials hope the project, known as Regional Backbone Initiative, will eventually create 1,500 jobs and lure $143 million in private investment to the region. It is funded with $6 million of Virginia’s share of tobacco settlement money and a $6 million federal grant.

When the network is completed in two years, a private nonprofit management agency called Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative is expected to offer Internet service to businesses at a 20 percent discount.

Service providers also will be allowed to connect with the network at a reduced price in hopes that they will pass the savings along to customers, said Mid-Atlantic’s interim general manager, Tad Deriso.

Virginia’s “Southside” manufacturing region has been ravaged by thousands of factory layoffs during the past decade.

The labor market area that includes Henry and Patrick counties and the city of Martinsville had an average unemployment rate of 14 percent in 2002 and 2003, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. It jumped as high as 16 percent in July.

Community leaders see telecommunications capability as the key to jump-starting the region’s lagging economy. They believe a massive Internet network would do as much to lure companies to the region as a major interstate or airport.

Link Virginia plans to build telecom system to boost rural economy

A Good Life: Ray Charles

RayCharlesAndJohnBryantI always felt like I had inside information on Ray Charles from the stories that childhood friend John Bryant told. Ray was a true American success story. Where else could a blind boy from rural poverty rise to a multi-millionaire musical force by combining great talent with hard work?

The plane was about 30,000 feet in the air when John Bryant leaned up in his seat and peered in the cockpit. And there sat his pilot — Ray Charles.

It sounds like the punchline to a tasteless joke, but this was no joke to Bryant. Back in 1975, it was just another concert date to the then-23-year-old drummer and the blind pianist.

“Ray was always good with machines,” Bryant said nearly 30 years later, from his music studio in Dallas, Texas. Bryant recalled how Charles often would direct his private jet in the air while licensed pilots would direct the musician.

Bryant, a Martinsville native, still chuckles at the memory, one of hundreds he has of his former boss who died Thursday at the age of 73.

Charles, the raspy-voiced soul icon behind such staples as “Hit the Road, Jack,” “Georgia on my Mind,” and “What’d I Say,” died of complications from liver disease.

Link Drummer recalls life with ‘The Genius’