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Untangling the Urban Myths Behind Shoe-Tossing

Posted on 14 September 2010 by admin

Fear not, gentle readers and citizens of Richmond. Those shoes often seen suspended high from power lines do not mark gang territory or availability of crack-cocaine.

At least, that is the final word from the Richmond Police department.

“Richmond police, through the intelligence that we have gained has found no correlation between dangling tennis shoes and criminal activity,” said a spokesperson for the police department.

On the other foot, from Gang Reduction & Intervention Program (GRIP) at the attorney’s general office, is word that dangling shoes have several meanings, and those meanings change over time. A spokesperson did confirm that the shoes can indicate gang activity.

“Currently, shoes hanging from telephone wires can indicate gang presence or a drug territory, or it can simply be a youth prank,” said Amy Kube, program director for GRIP, whose information came from law enforcement partners at the Virginia Gang Investigator’s Association (VGIA).


The number of urban legends surrounding these cultural artifacts rivals the shoe collection of Imelda Marcos. All around the globe, people use shoes to decorate power, cable and phone lines. Except for the places where they don’t have powerlines. Or shoes. Or in Iraq, where shoes, especially the soles, are considered unclean. In Arab culture it is rude to even show someone the bottom of your shoe.

There are explanations that range from victorious to menacing. Sometimes the well-heeled participants are simply celebrating.

“I have heard that it means that someone has achieved something lofty, like graduating from school,” Heather VanderPas said, a former Richmond resident who has explored many a local neighborhood.

Hightops could adorn the blacktop as covert flags for illegal drag racing.

“The guys in Henrico County use them as markers for drag racing,” Samantha Fotovat said, who first heard of this when in high school and she knew some people who knew some people who illegally drag raced.

“Territory markers is all I have ever heard, ” said local hairdresser Meredith McGlohon.

And she isn’t talking about Sacagawea’s moccasins.

Sometimes, it’s just because. Just because they outgrew their shoes. Just because they were drunk. Just because they were bored.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Alison Stokes said, who sees the shoes frequently in her neighborhood off Carytown. “Just that kids are goofing off but there are no drugs sold right in this area.”


Although Ronald Savage, founder of United Coalition Association in the Bronx, N.Y. didn’t return my calls or emails, he has previously gone on record declaring a connection between sneakers and criminals.

Savage, who works with gangs in N.Y., spoke on film last year to the BBC and confirmed that tossed shoes serve as a memorial to fallen street soldiers, or, “that another gang has gone into someone else’s neighborhood and they beat him up…and after they beat him up they threw his sneakers up.”

In 1999 Beth Shuster (shoe-ster, seriously?) reported that Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden so earnestly believed gang members used shoes as territory markers that he tried to have a law passed for their quick removal.

Like many other policemen around the nation who have been pumped for information on the correlation between gangs, drugs and sneakers, LA police did not believe Holden’s theory.


In 2005 Ed Kohler coined the term “shoefiti” and started a website that “chronicles Shoefiti from around the world while trying to find meaning in this common act.”

Kohler’s first reply to my inquiry on foreboding footwear was a bit evasive.

“Clearly, there are a ton of reasons why shoes end up on power lines,” said Koheler. “For example, I think it’s safe to assume that soccer cleats near a stadium are either hazing or a post-season celebration situation.”

I persisted, asking if he ever had a direct “tie-in” from a detective or police officer.

“I haven’t heard of any police confirming a tie-in,” said Kohler. “Our gang strike task force head in Minneapolis has said there is no relationship, which may be true.”

“Or, he may be trying to avoid alarming citizens who’d then view ALL Shoefiti as gang related,” added Kohler.


Poke around on the Internet and ask your friends what the shoe-tossing represent. You will find a mixed-bag of responses. In most cases, what is worse than there being an actual problem is the perception there is a problem.

Fear not those shoes decorating the Powhite Parkway for the past 15 years. The only gangs on that road are the toll collectors.

Wikipedia calls the act of shoe-tossing a “folksport.” Sort-of a universally shared tradition without a universally shared intention.

“It’s been around since I was a kid,”  Mark Holmberg said, a local reporter tall enough to perhaps remove the decorative shoes himself.

While nobody seems to agree on what they really mean, most concur that it’s best to leave the removal to the experts.

Dominion Virginia Power removes the shoes only if they pose a safety issue or interrupt service to customers. Don’t try to get them down yourself.

“This could allow the electricity in the power line to flow through them to the ground, hurting or even killing them, ” said Jim Norville, spokesman for Dominion.

I’ll keep my eyes out for suspicious activity, in case. A pair just went up last week behind my house.

Help us understand this folksport of shoe-tossing. Tell us what you know.


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Chance of acceptance plummets as grad school applicants increase

Posted on 03 April 2010 by admin

It is the time of year when, with bated breath, graduate school applicants await acceptance letters. Daily, eager eyes scan mailboxes in anticipation, as this could be THE day.  Bills and notices dressed in small, flat envelopes cause momentary panic, until further inspection reveals they aren’t fateful rejection letters.

You’ve done it all. Some have rushed. Some have been too meticulous. You’ve spent hours studying, brushing back up on algebra and geometry, hounding down your best references, editing and re-editing your cover letter, as well as tweaking your resume.  With sweaty palms you clutched the GRE score sheet and breathed a triumphant breath there in the Kaplan test center.  You’re qualified. You’re ready. You’re willing to go into debt.  You’re unemployed and see grad school as a great way to survive a recession–oh, and to get some new skill sets.

And you’re not alone.
Which increases the odds of that foreboding, simple, white, rejection letter showing up in your mailbox.

The nation’s unemployment rate is still at 10 percent.  There are thousands of other applicants with the same intent as you;  weather the financial drought by taking refuge in an academic oasis. But a tight economy means that funding for university programs is going down, even as applications increase.

How bad is the spike?
Well, some universities have seen a 42% jump in applications.  This lowers the acceptance rate and as a result, normally qualifying applicants can drown in the pool of competition.  What can you do?

At this point in the game, it’s too late to get your application in early. Hopefully you did and hopefully you really fortified the weaker points on your resume.  Did you consider Tier 3 schools when sending out applications? Do you have the flexibility to relocate?

Tier 3 schools range in the 50-75th percentile. This means that 50% of other schools are better, and 25% are worse.  Your decision to attend a Tier 3 school should depend on several factors.  If you want to practice law, business, or politics in Washington D.C., you will eventually be competing against Tier 1 and Tier 2 applicants. Yet, if you live in Florida, there are an abundance of Tier 3 schools.  You need to score at the top of your class if you go into a Tier 3 school. You will also need to acquire solid experience that enhances your resume enough to stand out in the pack.

Consider the alternatives.
Suppose you don’t get into your school of choice. Do you have time to wait a year?  Use the time to boost your GRE, or GMAT scores.  Search for an internship situation in your field. The Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences claims that a quarter of humanities students will end up more than $30,000 in debt. More than 14% will owe–gasp–more than $50,000.

In consideration of that figure, here are three questions to ask yourself.

Is grad school in your field worth the debt? Can you justify accepting alternatives to your original school of choice, if it means lowering your chances of employment–while accruing debt?  What out of the box scenarios will sharpen your skill set and resume while  keeping debt at a minimum?

For example, suppose you want to go to grad school for mass communications.  Unless you go to a top notch school where you pick up a lot of contacts and prestige, you might able to acquire some impressive skills on your own at a reduced cost.  The biggest challenge will be discipline.

The internet is teeming with free resources and tutorials. Some, like Lynda, W3schools, and Poynter seminars have a price tag,  but offer tremendous amounts of information. Attend conferences that have a heavy emphasis on teaching skills.  The networking opportunities will also be beneficial. Buy some programs, for example, movie and photo editing, and start teaching yourself. Unless you go to a school with a heavy emphasis on production, you’re basically going to have to teach yourself this stuff anyways. Use Google and research the syllabus for Tier 1 and 2 schools. Read what they are reading. Prove that you are a writer by starting your own website and blogging frequently. You will have greater control over the content than if you were in school anyhow.

That’s just a specific example, but apply the framework to your field of choice, especially if it is in the humanities.  Getting a flat, white envelope might not be a kiss of death after all.  The economy will be resuscitated, and with the right focus and fervor you will find employment.  You might even be able to breathe easier without debt choking you. Some consider grad school to be like signing on in the minor leagues,  “Many get signed, but few make it to the big leagues.”

Let’s not forget that higher education is a business, and not one that always serves the students interest.

*photo thumbnail used under Creative Commons licensing.

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College weight gain can be avoided

Posted on 19 March 2010 by admin

Fat Superman

Photo by swruler9284, used with CC licensing

Graduate students often report a noticeable change in weight during their first year back at school. The causes are similar to those of the notorious, yet fabled, “Freshman 15,” which refers to a claim that freshman usually lose or gain up to 15 pounds in their first year. In all reality, researchers have found the weight gain, or loss,  is around 5-7 pounds.

Instead of thinking with their noggins, many students think with their stomachs and fall victim to the temptation of carbohydrate rich foods, copious snacking, fat saturated “goodies,” and sometimes, excessive drinking. A decrease in time or willingness to exercise only exacerbates the weight gain. Even worse, these habits can stick around, contributing to obesity later in life. Common sense, education, time management, and deliberate lifestyle choices can prevent or help shed bulging waistlines.

The National Institute for Health recommends dairy, meat/beans, fruit, vegetables, grains, and oil as the food sources for a well-balanced diet. Oil? Yea, oils actually help to provide energy, insulate our bodies, protect our organs, and absorb important vitamins. The good oils, or fats, that is, like vegetable oil, canola, or olive oil. You shouldn’t run out and buy a bucket of fried chicken. Instead, get your intake from mono- and polyunsaturated fats–not saturated or trans fat.


  • Fast foods: fried chicken, biscuits, fried fish sandwiches, French fries, fried apple or other pie desserts
  • Donuts, muffins
  • Crackers
  • Many cookies
  • Cake, cake icing, & pie
  • Microwave popped corn
  • Canned biscuits

Oh, the obstacles.
College students very often have meager finances, and tend to purchase the cheapest foods possible, which are likely to be high in saturated fats. Moving away from the parental sponsored and stocked commissaries, as well as structured eating patterns, also presents a challenge. A heavy course load, often balanced with work contributes to erratic eating patterns. Seems like a never-ending cycle, eh? Lack of money and time creates poor diet and lack of time means no money to create the good diet and then a bad diet can’t create the right energy to make more time to use to go create money. Not to mention–stress also triggers the compulsion to eat. It’s easy to scarf down a bag of potato chips and bundle of Oreo’s while studying for an exam, or doing project research on the computer. In between classes, 7-11’s kitchen is always open, peddling saturated fats for just the right price. But at what cost?

Sleepless nights and a decrease in exercise contribute to weight gain. Lack of sleep lowers your lepitin levels, and exercise helps to regulate them. A lepitin deficiency, caused by lack of sleep, or exercise, actually increases the appetite and is directly related to obesity. Sometimes it seems more beneficial to pull an all-nighter or skip a work out, but studies prove the exact opposite. Exercise also helps stimulate blood flow to the brain, and even develop new brain cells. What college student doesn’t want to improve their memory and ability to learn?

There are several ways that college students can incorporate healthier patterns that ultimately enable peak performance and a healthy BMI. Evaluate the snack foods and meals you turn to in a pinch. Replace them with healthier ones, like nuts, hot-air popped popcorn, peanut butters & crackers, bananas, or dehydrated fruit (yum pineapple). Try hummus with carrots, or tortilla chips instead of nachos, french fries, or junky food. Plan ahead for your busy week by grocery shopping and preparing meals ahead of time. Pack a lunch to bring on campus, instead of visiting the local sub shop or 7-11. Buy some frozen veggie burgers to skillet cook a meal in about the same time as heating up one in the microwave. Buy bulk foods, available at most grocery or health food stores, to save money. Reward yourself with snacks after a certain amount of your workload is finished, instead of just mindlessly snacking. Mindfulness, after all, is the ultimate “life-hack,” and can apply to everything.

Be mindful and create time to go the gym, take a nap, or call it an early night. Even if the day seems too short, maximizing your health will ultimately help you maximize your time, because you will always be in your prime. If you can’t fit in a trip to the gym, take several breaks and simply walk around the block, and do some stretches/push-ups/sit-ups.  Dog owners always find a way to squeeze in three walks a day, so can you. Dick’s Sporting Goods sells cheap weights that will help you keep, or build, muscle without leaving the house. Just take 10 minutes away from the computer, and do it.

The obesity problem in America is on just about everyone’s radar. Education can prevent future weight and health problems. As you become an adult, and step into the hectic pace of college life, make sure to get an early grip on what could be a potential problem. If you find yourself at Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, definitely take this advice to heed. You won’t be allowed to graduate if your “Freshman 15,” moves into the upper levels!

P.S. If you feel like slamming down a drink after reading this post, first take a look at the alcohol calorie counter.

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The Grad Beat: Hire Us!

Posted on 06 March 2010 by admin

“You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.” ~President Obama

Long Road

Photo/Alix Bryan

Graduating college during a recession can be daunting, and sixty-four percent of college seniors surveyed have anxiety about finding employment. The unemployment rate has held at 9.7 percent, while the underemployment rate has risen recently. The latter includes people with part-time employment, who need full-time positions.

A student graduating with a degree in journalism will have more anxiety about job prospects than, say, a student of veterinarian science. Since 2001, daily newspapers have lost an estimated 17 percent of their news staff, with 15,000 jobs eliminated in just 2009. Rather than throw in the towel paper and switch careers, especially if journalism is your passion, just be prepared for the rocky road ahead–with deliberate effort it can turn into a long, prosperous road.

Certain steps will likely make your job search more successful, and possibly motivate you to get ahead of the curve with the latest in social and new media. No journalism career could possibly ignore Web 2.0, so if you don’t already have an online presence, get started–as soon as you finish this! Social media will enhance your job search, and the web is also a great place to network with other creative individuals, as well as to promote your talents.

Here are some resources.

Twitter is not only a place to curate your network by following the leader’s and thinkers in your industry, it can be a powerful job searching tool.

What it takes.
Interacting. Twitter is not merely about self promotion. Only 10-20 percent of your Tweets need to be about you. The rest needs to be information that benefits you & your followers. Also tap into your local Tweeters, and get to know them, which can lead to an “in” on local events and opportunities. As with any social networking site, potential recruiters can view your account. Keep it free of curse words, and less than savory viewpoints. Use the account to show how you are immersed in your industry, and up-to-date on the latest trends. Some people suggest maintaining two accounts. One for more personal interaction with acquaintances, a second account for professional purposes.

Follow people with experience and ask them questions, most likely they will respond back. When you engage in conversation, ask intelligent questions, and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. By nature journalists are curious and chatty.

On Wednesday’s, at 5pm PT, you will find fellow journalists participating in a conversation about web journalism, and the industry in general. As with all topics and conversations, they can be found by labeled hashtags, like #wjchat. The topic this past week was “Young Journalists Breaking into the Industry,” and it brought together college students, job seekers, and professionals–from some pretty big names in the industry.

The conversation is archived, and contains valuable suggestions. One shared viewpoint among the employers present was that the old school resume doesn’t carry the same weight it once did. Journalism employers also want to see that you have your own domain, website, blog, and Twitter account–and that they have good content. As one participant said, “Demos, not Memos.” That means showcasing a variety of subjects, media, and well developed articles, not just single-source ones.

Another consensus was that who you know is how you get someone to look at a resume or profile. Networking will always be important to a journalist.

How to make it effective

Step one, get an account. Step two, make sure your profile is optimized, which means it needs to be 100 percent complete. This will require getting three recommendations–testimonies to your character and work ethic. Try to return the favor when possible. There are several features to showcase your work, like current blog posts. LinkedIn offers a deeper dimension than just the paper resume, as a recruiter can see what other people think of you, and also get a view of your Twitter feed and blog posts without having to hit several URL’s.

Don’t get overly detailed, just put an emphasis on what you’ve accomplished and use specific numbers when possible. You can attach a more detailed resume to your profile, for managers to download and share.

Join some of the numerous groups on LinkedIn. These are another way to put yourself out there, ask questions, and be recognized. You can get a scoop on trends and access to jobs posted in the forums. You can opt to receive email notifications anytime from posts in your forum.

Be selective on LinkedIn. Never forget that you will be known by the company you keep, and here quality reigns over quantity. You don’t have to accept every request to join your network.

Wired Journalists
What it is.

Wired Journalist is a Publish2 network, and they are both collaborative platforms. Publish2 provides free tools to help curate the web, aggregating useful news and information. Use it to see who is in the field and what other journalists are following and creating. Wired Journalist is a growing community with forums to host conversations about the craft. You can join a group of colleagues interested in the same topic and mutually share your expertise. Job listings and internships are posted on WJ.

Be published

United Press International is more than another social network. The editors review and publish student submissions daily, including multimedia.  It is a great outlet to not only get your work published, but a network to receive feedback and ratings, which can help you improve your craft. They work with universities around the globe.

While you are in school, use the many resources available to strengthen your craft. Produce, produce, produce! Learn new applications, but never forget the importance of writing, and critical thinking. Attend conferences. Get an internship, or two and work beyond what is expected of you. Internships can lead to future employment, and sometimes you can create a position there for yourself.

Don’t be dismayed
Keep looking. Have several cover letters and tailor each one to the specific organization. Employers say they pay more attention to the cover letter, it helps them decide whether to look inside or not. Make your job search efficient by organizing your contacts, applications, resume, portfolio samples into one document. That will help you remember who you already contacted, and be sure to follow-up. Despite all this online networking and job searching, a phone call can be the best way to follow up with someone.

Other platforms that post job openings and internships are:

Poynter Careers
Journalism Jobs
Online News Association
Media Bistro
Cub Reporters

Remember, recessions end and news is always happening. Stay ahead of the curve in order to stay on a long, prosperous road.

For more resources, read “How To Elevate Your Journalism Career,” and “Social Media Resources for Job Seekers.”

And of course, please share your resources here for others.

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