Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: Hearts, ashes, and cigarettes

Good morning, RVA! It's 37 °F, but, today, highs are back into the 60s. I dunno, sounds great to me!

Water cooler

Hello friends, it is both February 14th and the Wednesday after Mardi Gras. This means that it is simultaneously Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. So do not be alarmed if you see people declaring their love for each other in picturesque place around town while also sporting somber ash crosses on their foreheads.

Councilmember Agelasto’s proposed cigarette tax to fund public school facilities (ORD. 2018-031) has hit the City’s website and you can read it in full (PDF). It’s a $0.04 per cigarette tax, which, and I had to look this up, means $0.80 per pack. According to the staff report accompanying the ordinance (scroll all the way down to the last page), this would raise about $5.35 million annually. That same page also lists some of the cigarette taxes levied by other independent cities in Virginia: Alexandria, $1.26; Hampton, $0.85; Newport News, $0.85; Norfolk, $0.85; Virginia Beach, $0.75; and Chesapeake, $0.50. I definitely do not know enough to say if passing a cigarette tax like this will allow us to borrow more money for school construction and renovation, but the Mayor seemed to think it was an unstable and declining source of revenue. Even if that’s true, let’s pass this thing and suckle on that sweet, sweet cigarette revenue while we can! There are so very few revenue options open to us, we should take advantage of them all. Last time City Council tried to past a cigarette tax, it failed with Councilmember Trammell (and others) unwilling to further tax one of the City’s largest taxpayers (who also happens to be in her district). The Finance and Economic Development Standing Committee (its members include an interesting mix of folks who voted for and against the meals tax: Gray, Larson, Agelasto, Robertson, Newbille, and Jones) will discuss this ordinance tomorrow at 5:00 PM.

The Hanover County School Board met to approve their budget and also briefly discuss renaming schools named after Confederate Generals. Unsolicited advocacy advice: These meetings are boring, but if folks in Hanover do want to see these names changed, there needs to be people signed up to speak at every possible public comment opportunity. Also, high fives to Justin Mattingly for the sick burn in response to a Lee-Davis student who spoke in favor of the current names. The student says, “Yes, what happened over 150 years ago is awful, but you cannot change history and you cannot change the history of Hanover County,” to which Mattingly immediate follows with “The School Board is the body that has the authority to change the names.” Mooring man-on-the-street comments in reality is a thing the paper should do more of!

Style Weekly has a love letter to a really solid list of Richmond things/people. I kept scrolling and kept going “Oh yeah! I do love that thing/person!”

In Richmond BizSense, J. Elias O’Neal says both Scott’s Addition and the Southside are getting new Don’t Look Back taco joints? Dangit. I mean this is awesome for Forest Hillers and folks riding the BRT, but I want a new taco joint in my neighborhood. #iwantitnow

Last night, the Henrico Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the Topgolf location in the Scott’s Addition-adjacent neighborhood that I never know what to call. Michael Schwartz at Richmond BizSense has more details.

You may have heard about Trump’s plan to infantilize and dehumanize SNAP recipients by giving them a box of dried goods instead of the freedom to spend SNAP benefits as they see fit (within the ultra restrictive guidelines already put in place by the program, of course). Here are two twitter threads, one by @jonathanpkatz and one by @hugwins, that do a great job of working through the reasons why this is a really, really terrible idea.


  • Rams host Davidson tonight at 7:00 PM.
  • Spiders fell to Rhode Island, 67–85.
  • Hokies take on Duke tonight at 7:00 PM.
  • Wahoos beat the Hurricanes, 59–50.

This morning's longread

He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About An Information Apocalypse.

Uh oh.

As these tools become democratized and widespread, Ovadya notes that the worst case scenarios could be extremely destabilizing. There’s “diplomacy manipulation,” in which a malicious actor uses advanced technology to “create the belief that an event has occurred” to influence geopolitics. Imagine, for example, a machine-learning algorithm (which analyzes gobs of data in order to teach itself to perform a particular function) fed on hundreds of hours of footage of Donald Trump or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which could then spit out a near-perfect — and virtually impossible to distinguish from reality — audio or video clip of the leader declaring nuclear or biological war. “It doesn’t have to be perfect — just good enough to make the enemy think something happened that it provokes a knee-jerk and reckless response of retaliation.”

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This morning's Instagram

Good morning, RVA: Housing, General Assembly update, and a shameful list

Good morning, RVA: Mardi Gras, schools stuff, and a reminder to stay out of the river