Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Living in the Moment


 "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ... Four dead in Ohio"

April 30, 1970: President Richard Nixon announced on television that he had authorized the invasion of Cambodia. This escalation outraged the burgeoning anti-war movement.

May 4, 1970: Four students were shot to death during a anti-war demonstration on the Kent State campus. They were: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheue and William Schroeder.

May 9, 1970: Two friends rode from Richmond to Washington D.C. with me in my 1956 baby blue Cadillac. We wanted to be there to protest the specter of the government waging war on students. Other than that, we had no plan. The photos accompanying this piece were taken with my then-new Ricoh 35mm single lens reflex.

As the crowd was being funneled into the grassy ellipse south of the White House, the designated demonstration area, the morning’s temperature had already risen into the mid-90s. The blistering heat added to the growing sense in the air that anything could happen.

The White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by D.C. Transit System buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards.

 

Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. In those days crowd-estimators frequently let their politics color their numbers, so there may have been 200,000 there. Home-made signs were everywhere, including a sprinkling of placards that denounced the mostly young war protesters. Before the program of speakers and singers began, the distinctive smell of burning marijuana gave the gathering a rock ‘n’ roll festival feel.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations of that era, which were planned well in advance, this time it all fell together spontaneously. Many of those who were there had never before marched in protest or support of war, or anything else. Nonetheless, they had felt moved to drop whatever they were doing, to set out for Washington, D.C. — to live in the moment.

As a convoy of olive drab military vehicles drove into the park area many in the crowd booed. When it turned out the uniformed troops were bringing in bottled water for the thirsty, the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem that cloudless day.


After the last speaker’s presentation, thousands of citizens marched out of the park area into the streets, to stretch a line of humanity all the way around the wall of buses. The idea in the air was that whether he liked it or not, the commander-in-chief hiding inside the White House, would at least hear the crowd’s anti-war chants.

The demonstration flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctively squat D.C. buildings. Fully-equipped soldiers could be seen in doorways, awaiting further orders. Many of them must have been afraid they might be ordered to fire upon their fellow Americans.

Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look. A few minutes later a cheer went up because a determined kid had managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag triumphantly. When the cops hauled the flag-waver off a commotion ensued. Soon the scent of tear gas spiced the air...


The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured live music. Information booths and displays were set up by the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Voter Registrar’s office and Planned Parenthood.

Although it was not a political rally to protest anything, the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was rather similar in its overall look to the one the day before in Washington. As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- a 17-year-old boy -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

The photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the next day, May 11, 1970, is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the convergence of strong feelings from the extraordinary week that had preceded Cool-Aid Sunday had worked to set the scene. Shortly before Donivan fell, I remember seeing him on the fountain, seemingly caught up in much the same spirit as the hippies climbing on statues the day before.

Without that week’s unique momentum Donivan may not have felt quite so moved to demonstrate his conquest of that old fountain. Witnesses said he was rocking it back and forth, just before it crumbled.

The way that Sunday afternoon’s be-in ended with tragedy was burned into the memory of hundreds of young people who had gathered outdoors, to celebrate being alive and free to pursue their happiness peacefully.

In those days the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Every night on the televised news the death counts were announced -- numbers appeared next to little flags on the screen that represented the armed forces at war. In the spring of 1970 living in the moment had the potential to kill off the young and unlucky, wherever they were.

*

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bijou Reaches Membership Goal at Hardywood


The Bijou Film Center's second annual springtime live music show at Hardywood took place on Saturday (April 16). This one was called a Leap of Faith party because it will built around a membership drive. The turnout was impressive. In general, it seemed everything went over well.

During the event, The Bijou reached its goal of signing up 360 of founding members -- "originals" -- in 45 days. Yes, on the last day. Attendees were treated to a pleasant variety of sounds created by three bands: Big Boss Combo, Grass Panther and The Green Hearts. A good time was had ... the leap of faith was a pure success.

For more about The Bijou click here.


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Wilder the Ringmaster

The mayor-elect on election night 2004
As a former-governor of Virginia and former-mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder knows a thing or two about campaigning. At 85, he's still at it. For a couple of hours during the evening of April 6th, in a jam-packed hall on the Virginia Union University campus, Doug presided.

My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.

So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?

Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's faithful sidekick, as the headliner didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several occasions, although he sometimes cloaked his commentary in the form of questions. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.

The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when the attendees laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe a few of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how the circus evolves.

The most interesting moment of the night happened like this: During the Lighting Round candidates were asked a series of six or seven questions, the last of which inquired about whether they were for or against removing any of the statues memorializing Confederate heroes from Monument Avenue. Stonewall Jackson was offered as an example. (This question interested me, in particular, since I've recently written about it.)


Eight candidates said, "no." Two candidates said, Yes," meaning they would approve of removing a monument, or maybe more than one. They were: Lillie Estes and Joe Morrissey.

Alan Schintzius dodged the question by saying the people ought to decide. Or, maybe he was really calling for a referendum. The last one to answer was Chad Ingold, who said, "Bring your own hammer!" It seemed Ingold was more than ready to lend a hand to the work crew to start dismantling statues, tomorrow.

The crowd erupted. Laughter, cheers and boos. Wilder promptly sang, softly, but right dead into the microphone, "If I had a hammer..."

Yes, Wilder was using a line out of a Pete Seeger folk song (as popularized by Peter Paul and Mary). The ringmaster sang on key and he got a laugh from those who caught it. Then the moment passed. I was amazed at how deftly the man could still steer a spontaneous crowd reaction to what another person had said to his own advantage ... for those who noticed.

To sum up I'm assigning a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.

The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.

No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one earned an “F” for totally embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
  • Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
  • Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
  • Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.
Bottom line: The whole shebang went over so well, it's hard to image that Ringmaster Wilder didn't thoroughly enjoy himself.

-- Photo and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Coldest Warrior

Note: Below this note I've posted a piece I wrote for Richmond.com in 1999; did the illustration back then, too. The reason to post it now is that some revealing quotes from John Ehrlichman have been in the news in the last week. Ehrlichman was one of President Richard Nixon's top aides who went to prison following the Watergate scandal. The following Ehrlichman quote is about Nixon's infamous War on Drugs and the real reasons for it: 

Ehrlichman: "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

*

August 9, 1999: August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon-fed anniversaries to contemplate: Hiroshima’s 54th; Woodstock’s 30th; it was 25 years ago that Pres. Richard M. Nixon took the fall. The entire culture shifted gears the day Nixon threw in the towel.

The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building. August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate’s storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were still legion.

Either way, Richard Nixon’s departure from DeeCee left a peculiar void that no personality has since filled in anything close to the same way. For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late-‘40s, Dick Nixon suddenly had no clout. 

Upon Nixon's departure, concern for social causes went out of style for a lot of young Americans. It was time to party. Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the ‘60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in basements.

Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration’s chance of instituting national health insurance. On top of that, many people have forgotten that he was also rather liberal on environmental matters, at least compared to the science-doubting Republicans who have followed. Although he was a hawk, Nixon was moderate on some of the social issues.

Nixon's opening to China and efforts toward détente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of his ability to maneuver deftly in the realm of foreign affairs. No doubt, that was his main focus. Still, at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the president who was driven from office. And for good reason.

Nixon’s nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon looked at ex-Beatle John Lennon and instead of a sarcastic musician, in his view he saw a raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that imagined potential, the sneaky Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country.

Nixon deliberately drove a wedge between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War, he sought to expand the division between World War II era parents and their baby boomer offspring. The families that never recovered from that time's bitterness were just more collateral damage.

However, Nixon’s true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people have no longer felt drawn into public service. Since Watergate the citizens who’ve gravitated toward politics for a career have not had the intellect, the sense of purpose, or the strength of character of their predecessors. We can thank Tricky Dick for all that and more.

So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did. On top of that, Nixon had 20 years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn’t do it. He didn't even come close. In the two decades of his so-called “rehabilitation,” before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

So, spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon White House years. Tricky Dick's humiliating downfall should be a lesson to us all -- he surely got what he deserved.

*

Note: Reading what Ehrlichman had to say about the War on Drugs, it's still damn hard for me to summons up much forgiveness for Nixon. But given what Ehrlichman said about the platform of lies the War on Drugs rested upon, it should make us all wonder about some of the disinformation that's being promulgated today by politicians seeking ever more power. Shouldn't we be now be thinking about what long-term effect the worst of it could have on the years to come

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Propaganda in Bronze

Lee Monument on Monument Avenue (2007).

Note: "Propaganda in Bronze" (as edited) by STYLE Weekly can be seen here. It is the Mar. 16 issue's Back Page. What appears below is the copy I submitted. (The differences are small but real.)

*

Officials in New Orleans, Baltimore and Austin recently came to the realization that monuments glorifying the Confederate States of America (1861-65) may no longer have a proper place on public property. Consequently, in those three cities a few statues honoring the Confederacy are in the process of being removed.

On Mar. 7, by passing HB587, a proactive group of legislators in the General Assembly moved to prevent that trend from spreading to Virginia. The bill empowered the state government to seize control over the fate of war-related monuments standing on public property. It wasn't immediately clear whether the bill's language would also block historically accurate signage from being placed near the statues of Confederate heroes on Monument Ave, as has been suggested by some Richmonders as a way of providing a context for the memorials.

Given what had happened in the three aforementioned cities, it seems Virginia's lawmakers decided it was time to take the “public” out of public art. Anyway, whatever their intentions were, for the immediate future that won't matter. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed HB587 on Mar. 10.

Nonetheless, going forward, the discussion over what to do about Confederate memorials on public property is hardly going away. Virginians still tethered to yesterday's thinking about the Civil War might not like it, but times have changed. The propriety of making heroes out of men who are now seen by many as having been traitors in their day is being questioned like never before.

What was once unthinkable in Central Virginia is now possible. Want proof?

Henrico County just decided to take Sen. Harry F. Byrd's name off the front of a public school. Some people will surely squawk, saying the renaming of the middle school amounts to rewriting history. But given Byrd's association with the Massive Resistance movement of the 1950s and '60s, that move may have been long overdue.

Most of the monuments honoring the Confederacy that stand today in at least 20 states were put in place during the late-1800s/early-1900s. It was an era in which Lost Cause misinformation was being promulgated by stubborn sympathizers of the Confederacy. Plainly, they sought to paint over the haunting politics of the Civil War. Which was a propaganda campaign, if there ever was one.

Fast-forward to 2016: Whether it's in Richmond or New Orleans, propaganda cast in bronze is still propaganda. Today that propaganda's useful life as a political tool has faded into the mists. Now Monument Avenue's row of statues have to stand on their own as worthwhile art that has outlived its original purpose. That's one of the differences between the statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson F. Davis.

The solemn Lee Monument passes the art test, even for many who have no warm regard for the sentiments of Lost Cause thinking. Whereas, for me, the awkward assemblage that is the Davis Monument represents bad medicine.

It should be remembered that the three Confederate generals with statues on Monument Avenue – Lee, Stuart and Jackson – were Virginians. Say what you will about the Civil War, they served their home state. However, since Davis was not a Virginian, the main reason to honor him in Richmond is that he served as the president of the Confederacy. More than anything else, doesn't the Davis Monument celebrate the Confederate States of America, itself?

Speaking of public art and politics, the simmering brouhaha over removing a beloved live oak tree from its home at the triangular intersection of Adams St., Brook Rd. and Broad St., in order to place a statue of Maggie L. Walker there, is another example of how public art can get entangled with politics. Mayor Dwight Jones apparently wants it done, pronto, but there are plenty of locals who oppose him.

Some want to protect the tree. Others would like to see a Walker memorial created, but placed elsewhere. Which leads me to ask: How about where the Davis Monument sits today?

Maybe putting a Walker statue on the fringe of Jackson Ward is best. Still, I'm not the only one who thinks new monuments should be added to Monument Avenue. Moreover, if putting a Walker Monument on Richmond's most famous street would feel like a righteous step toward atonement for Richmond's role in a war to protect the slave market business that once thrived here, what's wrong with that?

The story of the unveiling of such a statue on Monument Avenue would make worldwide news. It would be good news about how Richmond is changing. And, why stop with Maggie Walker? Surely there are other Virginians who deserve to be considered. How about Justice F. Lewis Powell?

Finally, let's stiff-arm the absurd notion that dismantling an old statue, to ship to it off to a museum, amounts to rewriting history. No one is suggesting that Jefferson Davis should be banished from history books. Davis was a key player in an important period of American history. Still, the public's view of his worthiness to be elevated to the status of a hero is just not the same in 2016 as it was when the Davis Monument was unveiled in 1907.

New Orleans already did the right thing. So did Baltimore and Austin. How long will Richmond's City Council members wait to face the music? In the meantime, thank you, Gov. McAuliffe.

-- My words and photo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Greatness in the Rear-View Mirror


For all his bluster, Republican hopeful Donald Trump doesn't really say much, not in any depth, because he repeats the same catch phrases over and over. Ask him a probing question and he frequently answers with another slogan to bat the question away.

Routinely, when Trump says he will “make America great again,” he doesn't say much about what era(s) of greatness he is looking at. He doesn't make it clear when America was enjoying its greatest time. Or even when it was great enough to suit him.

Does Trump see America's peak of greatness in black and white on a 1950s Zenith? Maybe something like the USA Lonesome Rhodes saw in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (1957)?

Or, was America's last day of greatness the day before Sen. Barack Obama was elected president in 2008? 

Uh-oh, economic meltdown and costly unwinnable wars marked that somewhat less-than-great time. And, as Trump likes to point out, 9/11 happened on the last president's watch. Then again, Trump likes the torture-the-Muslims policy as articulated by the previous administration.

So, for real greatness, perhaps Trump means much further back, like before President Ronald Reagan got caught secretly selling missiles to Iran to finance an illegal war in Central America? 

Maybe before the Civil Rights movement? 

Before Social Security? 

Before women could vote?

Before modern art? 


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Best Place for a Walker Monument?

Sure, I can understand the sentiments that would place a Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934) monument in the heart of Jackson Ward, or on its fringe. Then again, maybe other locations should be considered, as well, before settling on one treatment.

After all, public art-wise, planning to erect some sort of appropriate and permanent remembrance of Maggie Walker in Richmond, Virginia ought to happen as soon as it can be done.

Done right.

So I hope a committee of interested parties with community leaders, art experts, etc., will form and make some recommendations. Maybe VCU could help with the process. In any event, I hope there will be plenty of public discussion. Choosing the right artist/designer will be essential.

By the way, I'd rather see the Walker Monument on Monument Avenue. Let's think bigger than something modest in a public park. As a significant figure from Richmond's history, who would be better than Walker to add to Monument Avenue?

Her credentials are second to none. Plus, I see hope that some Richmonders would see a step being taken toward atonement in such an installation. Its unveiling would create a news story that would draw international notice. Meanwhile, here's a quote from an OpEd piece I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer, which, among other things, suggests just such a new monument.
“... Add signage around the monuments to put them in a context, which would turn Monument Avenue into a museum of sorts. Add more monuments to the stately avenue, statues of Virginians who we now want to celebrate; maybe less emphasis on war. Two of the first names for new monuments that come to mind for me are Maggie Walker and Lewis Powell.”
The RT-D piece also suggests the removal of one of the existing monuments in the row of Confederate luminaries. That's another, but related, matter. To read the entire piece, click here. 

Furthermore, I don't see the value of removing a cherished old tree from its little triangular plot of natural land at the intersection of Adams, Brook and Broad St. in the Arts District, in order to stuff a statue into its place and perhaps dampen some of the charm of that neighborhood.

So when I happened upon a demonstration there yesterday (Feb. 20, 2016), a gathering of citizens calling for saving that same tree, well, it put a smile on my face. As it was a pleasant afternoon, I stopped to take a few pictures and talk with a couple of the demonstrators.

Jennie Dotts, a well known local preservationist, put the purpose of the demonstration in a nutshell: “Save the tree and save historic Brook Road – the oldest turnpike in Richmond.”  

Please note: Having grown up in Richmond, I know there are still some folks in our midst who would surely rather see any sort of Walker Monument in what they would view as a more appropriate neighborhood than Monument Avenue.

Which, to me, is all the more reason for us to think more deeply about the atonement angle of this story. 

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Monday, February 15, 2016

Picturing the Greater Good

As I've written about the nettlesome baseball stadium issue lots of times, it's no secret that I have been staunchly opposed moving baseball to Shockoe Bottom. That hasn't changed. Furthermore, today I see no good reason to remove professional baseball from The Boulevard. To me, there seems to be plenty of city-owned land around The Diamond, land that's not being used for much now. Land that could be developed for mixed use -- retail, residential, etc.

The puzzle to me is why City Hall has held onto all that land for so long. One day, maybe a Freedom of Information request will shed some light on that mystery. Anyway, here's an excerpt from my most recent rant on this topic:
After the awkward attempt to stifle voices went on for a few more minutes, reluctantly, the microphone and podium were given over to allow for some reactions to the presentation from individuals who hadn’t been paid to be there to be heard. Among other things, this freewheeling finish for the meeting revealed that nearly everyone in attendance stood against banishing baseball from The Boulevard. Thus, the transparent plot to deny the working press easy access to unfiltered push-back from the attendees was thwarted.
Click here to read all of "Picturing the Greater Good," my piece on this topic that appeared on the OpEd page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Feb. 13, 2016.

-- My photo

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

McGovern Would Have Been a Good President

Don't remember the first time I thought that my baby boomer generation connected to the thinking of its grandparents more than the thinking of its parents. That must have been some time in the late-'60s. No doubt, I was looking at the similarities between that generation's ways and times and those of my own. 

A cultural explosion followed the end of World War I. A lot of young men came home from the war much less naïve than their parents in many ways. A popular song, "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)," ushered in The Roaring 20s. 

The 1920s in the USA were marked by an explosion of modern art, which leaked into the fresh products being cranked out by filmmakers and magazine publishers. Women were voting and taking jobs outside of their homes. The popularity of speakeasies underlined the defiance in the air. And, speaking of air, radio contributed plenty to the minting of a national popular culture. 

As I became more aware of all that history, I saw that my own time's way of challenging establishment customs was similar in some respects to an attitude that seemed to have skipped a generation. The handiest example of that was how they stood on the Vietnam War. My parents' generation seemed much more pro-war than were their parents.

Maybe I also noticed all that because, to no small extent, I was raised by my mother's parents. Anyway, now I'm noticing that a lot of young people are supporting Bernie Sanders -- who sounds like an old hippie at times. Their current support of Sanders reminds me of how thoroughly I was all for Eugene McCarthy at this time of the year, 48 years ago. In February of 1968 I was an anti-war sailor, who was too outspoken about it for his own good. 

Four years later, when George McGovern got the Democratic nomination, I was more passionate in my support of him than I've ever been for any presidential candidate. By this time I was the manager of the Biograph Theatre, so I helped to stage an event there to benefit McGovern. My bosses in Washington D.C. supported it without reservation. (The button I designed for the McGovern campaign is pictured below.)

Now my granddaughter, Emily, is a Sanders supporter. Since she's away at school (JMU), she's voting by way of an absentee ballot. I wonder how many of her peers will push through whatever it takes to make sure they vote this year. A lot of people in their parents' generation are expecting them to lose interest in the election as the weather warms up.

Therefore, I sure hope Emily's generation does more to support Sanders than mine did for McGovern. One of the biggest misconceptions about the hippies and young liberals of my salad days is how many of us there really were. While the most visible of us seemed caught up in the so-called "revolution," in truth, it was way less than half of the baby boomers. 

Most people my age stayed on the sidelines during the cultural upheaval that is so fondly remembered by movies and television programs looking back on that time. They were spectators who were only too happy when the culture shifted into reverse gear with the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. 

Then came a steady drift to the right, politically, that continued for decades. The Democrats of the 1990s bore little resemblance to their counterparts of the previous generation. The drift ended during George W. Bush's presidency. Bush left the White House with "conservatism" in shambles. It's hard for me to see anyone on the GOP landscape who can fix that any time soon. 

So, in my view, the Democratic nominee should have an advantage in November. Consequently, barring catastrophic game-changing events, I think either of the Democratic contenders would win the general election. But I think Bernie would beat the Republican nominee by a wider margin than Hillary would. And, I think he would be more help to down-ballot Democrats. 

However, for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination it's going to take a huge turnout of young volunteers and voters. Clinton is still the more likely betting favorite to be at the top of the ticket. It's going to take unprecedented turnouts in the upcoming primaries to change that. It may even take a last-stand turnout of every old hippie who remembers what a great president George McGovern would have made. 


-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Emperor Trump 's Clothes

One way to look at the biggest political story of the 2016 presidential campaign is to see that Donald Trump sure as hell knows how to play the press. Hasn't he proven he's chock full of savvy about how to capture the spotlight? Isn't everyone impressed with his skill for holding its attention? 

Conveniently, those rhetorical questions set up the concept that Conductor Trump has orchestrated his big lead in the opinion polls. Not votes. Polls. While that is a good story, it's not the complete picture. 

Front-runner Trump is competing with a particularly unattractive and bumbling group of rivals. Jeb Bush's zillion-dollar ineptitude has been stunning.

On top of that, a lot of Americans now hate the federal government and they aren't so happy with whoever seems to be in charge of Team Elephant, either. Yes, Trump is good at appealing to the passions that fuels those grievances. Plus, there's another angle to consider. 

The establishment media presenting the story of the 2016 campaign have a big stake in creating the impression that they can still have a lot of impact on the making of a president. They want us to blindly believe in the credibility of their polls. Their polls results are frequently at the top of the news. They also don't want us to question whether political advertising is still working as well as it ever did. Thus, stories about clever or ham-handed political ads also fill up time and space.

Those stories about polls and ads work together to boost us into buying their crafted in-house truths. They also help to promulgate a sense that today's editors and news directors and adverting executives have as much influence on society as their predecessors did.

But my take on this scam-in-progress is that the advertising world is desperate to reverse a dangerous trend. Every day more people can tell the advertising industry just isn't producing such predictably profitable results. Ask Jeb Bush how well the fortune that's been spent in advertising on his behalf has boosted his campaign this year. He's not the only candidate whose ads are not delivering. And, who hasn't noticed that today's press-release-driven news business has lost its charm on consumers? In well appointed board rooms, both entities' fear of the potential of social media has to be escalating.

So the manufactured story the establishment media are selling this chilly season is that Emperor Trump's fascinating success is living and breathing proof the folks who brought us our lovable consumer culture are still in charge of shaping perception. After all, haven't they just put front-runner's clothes on the newest poobah? 

As always, readers are advised to believe what they will.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Recollections in High Contrast

 

Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow makes the world around us resemble a high contrast black and white photograph, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. It's a look we don't see every year in Richmond, Virginia.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

Maybe the best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off-hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not know it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; she pitched for the Biograph's women's softball team had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the face ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper abruptly quit his stance and retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the radically sloped park down to Main Street below, next to Poe's Pub. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison Macdonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track as slick and quick as greased lightning.

Eventually, that night, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding, which wasn't a problem for those of us standing around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Chuck Wrenn still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death. After a snowfall a few years ago he and I laughing recalled that night. The sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a big shaggy dog down the chute was cited. For whatever reason, the dog happily went along with the gag each time Duck hoisted him up. Please note Duck didn't really ride the dog down the hill, but that pair of comics had us laughing so hard, it's still funny thirty-some years later.

Of course, to fully appreciate this story, you should be standing in snow up to mid-calf ... drinking Irish whiskey.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Color Radio (1982-84)


On August 26, 1982, Color Radio began beaming its signal to what its creators hoped would be an eager listening audience in Richmond and Henrico County. Those listeners needed to have a TV hookup via Continental Cablevision. That was the day Color Radio became the soundtrack behind Continental's color bars test pattern at Channel 36 ... so watching the television screen was optional.

To launch the station’s journey, Les Smith signed on with his show -- Music Appreciation 101. In his college days Smith had been a disc jockey (1969-72) at WJRB, VCU’s radio station. Then he performed the same role (1972-75) at WGOE, the daytime AM station that owned the hippie audience in Richmond for most of the 1970s.

Smith probably had the most on-air experience of the original cast of characters who breathed life into the venture, which was the brainchild of Burt Blackburn. He had been a program director at Virginia Tech’s radio station (1977-79). In Blacksburg the cable TV provider had carried Tech’s station on one of its blank channels. Color Radio's first studio was in Blackburn's Fan District basement. It was linked to Continental’s facility by an ordinary telephone line.

“In June, 1982 [Burt Blackburn] conceived the idea of a ‘radio station’ utilizing one of Continental Cablevision’s empty channels,” wrote Smith in a 2001 remembrance of Channel 36. “He approached Continental’s Virginia marketing manager, Matt Zoller, who liked the idea and encouraged Blackburn to proceed. Zoller himself had been involved in college radio [at William & Mary].”

By the time I came aboard as a disc jokey in October the station had situated its studio on the second floor over The Track, a popular Carytown restaurant (1978-2009) owned by Chris Liles. The studio was made up mostly of secondhand audio equipment acquired by donation or from yard sales.

While all the staff members were volunteers, it was really more like you had to be asked. Donna Parker asked me to come aboard to alternate with her for one shift every other week. Subsequently, my show, “Number 9,” was on the air, I mean cable, for three hours, on alternating Thursday afternoons.

Later, when Donna changed the time for her show, I asked Chuck Wrenn to replace her.

In April of 1983 the studio was moved downtown to the second floor of 7 E. Broad St. As the station had been acquired by the corporation that owned Throttle magazine (1981-1999), the two entities began awkwardly sharing a huge office space over what was then the Neopolitan Gallery (1983-85).

Along the way, I eventually took charge of advertising sales and promotions for the station. The handbill above was for a 1983 fundraiser that I booked into Rockitz, to benefit Color Radio. The headliner, 10,000 Maniacs, was a group out of Jamestown, N.Y. The band had been building a following from its well received appearances at two of the most popular clubs in the Fan, Benny’s and Hard Times. The lead singer was a 19-year-old Natalie Merchant.

A few weeks prior to the live show at Rockitz, I taped an interview with Merchant for my Number 9 program. What follows is the text of the beginning of that 1983 interview; Merchant starts by answering my question about what it was she and her friends in the band were looking to gain from touring and recording their music. Was it all for fun, or did they want to spread some message, or get rich, or what?

With a pleasant mixture of shyness and confidence, she laughed, then dealt with the question.
Merchant: We haven’t yet assumed our adult responsibilities. We don’t have enough income to live away from our parents yet. Sure, I’d like to be independent of my parents. After that, anything … any success that comes, I’ll accept that. I’m not intimidated by the mass media. I think it would be a great tool to reach more people.

Rea: Reach them with what?

Merchant: With what we’re saying … with what I’m saying.

Rea: What are you saying?

Merchant: I write the words. Most of what I’m saying is that music should be instructive.

Rea: Instructive?

Merchant: It should teach you something, even if it’s just building your vocabulary and making you realize you feel good when you dance. Anything you can learn … I don’t know (she laughs). Probably by the time we can reach more people, I’ll be more sure of what I’m trying to say.
Later in the interview, I asked Natalie about the name of the band. She said one of the guys took it from a movie, a 1960s low-budget gore fest. Ever the incurable movie expert, I laughed and suggested the actual name of the film was “2,000 Maniacs.”

Natalie barely smiled and almost shrugged, as if to say — 10,000 sounds better, so who cares?

Others I interviewed for the Number 9 show included movie director Penelope Spheeris and former adman and WGOE personality, now known as the Pope of Peppers, Dave DeWitt.

We didn’t know it then, but Color Radio was an aspect of the last gasp of the Baby Boomer-driven, live music scene that had been centered in the Fan District for nearly 20 years. That time spanned the sunset of the Beat Era, through the heyday of the hippies, to the last of the punks at the party. As the 1980s wore on Shockoe Bottom became the happening part of town for clubs featuring live music.

At Color Radio, when the microphones were switched on there was no filter. Authorities at Continental Cabelvision seemed unconcerned with what went on. It was wilder than WGOE had been in its rather freewheeling days in the early ’70s, before it got busted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unlike WGOE, Color Radio had no FCC oversight.

The programming at Color Radio was left totally to the DJs, many of whom were connected to the local live music scene in some way. It was sort of like an offshore pirate station; the ride lasted two years. That nobody got sued or went to jail was amazing.

The format, in unrelated blocks, ranged from Punk to Funk, from Rock to Bach and beyond. Some shows were all talk. There were comedy programs and, yes, sometimes things got raunchy, or weird. What follows is a list of the shows that made up the 92 hours of programming a week that Color Radio offered its listeners in February of 1984.
Sunday
9 a.m. – 10 a.m.: World Watchers International
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: World Traditions
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Out to Lunch
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Kaleidophonic Merry-Go-Sound World
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: The Bedlam Broadcast
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Fontana Mix

Monday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Like What You’re Told
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Bubba Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Mark Mumford

Tuesday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Down on the Collective
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Big Music
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Heavy Metal for Housewives
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Beef Lips Special

Wednesday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Life in the Gladhouse
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: All My Tapes
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Tommy the Rock
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Blood Blister, alternating w/ Georgeann
1 a.m. – 2 a.m.: World Watchers International

Thursday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: D-Virg Anti-Fascist Radioshoe
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Number 9, alternating w/ Rockin’ Daddy & the Cold Ones
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music Appreciation 101, alternating w/ Test Bands
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Arash Show

Friday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Hiding from Suburbia Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Hour of Power
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Down on the Collective

Saturday
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Two-Tone Tony’s Lost Highway
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Frontline
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Chasin’ the Bird
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music I Like
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Kenny Substitute Show
*

One of the things Color Radio did, much more so than any other local station, was to support local bands. So low-budget recordings were played and musicians were interviewed. Thus, Color Radio contributed to the feeling there was an authentic scene with a keen awareness of itself. It was a loose scene that orbited tightly around VCU.

Some of the locally-based bands that were heard on/promoted by Color Radio were: Awareness Art Ensemble, Beex, The Bop Cats, The Bowties, Burma Jam, The Dads, Death Piggy, The Degenerate Blind Boys, The Good Guys, The Good Humor Band, The Fabulous Daturas, The Heretics, Honor Role, L’Amour, The Megatonz, The Millionaires, The New York Dux, The Non-Dairy Screamers, The Offenders, The Orthotonics, The Prevaricators, Shake and the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Surrender Dorothy, Ten Ten, The Tom and Marty Band, The Toronados, White Cross.


All rights reserved by the author.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Note from Rebus: In 1978 and 1981 Rea was dispatched to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, to work on projects for his bosses. They owned a couple of other theaters and sometimes acted as regional sub-distributors of independently produced American movies, as well as some foreign films. And, they had other movie-related interests.

This story is about another business trip, this time to New York City. To get there Rea drove his Volvo wagon to Washington and took the train to New York. That way he got to visit a grand old train station and he avoided using the sad little station in Henrico County. Which, in 1981, was a good idea for anyone wanting to take along an appropriate supply of already rolled reefers.


'Napoleon' in Manhattan 
by F.T. Rea
A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met a couple of years ago brought to mind a special movie-watching experience of mine. Later, I laughed to myself about the related eye-pain memory it had dusted off.  

The conversation was with Chapin Cutler. He told me he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge in his youth. In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with that famous movie theater’s manager (I don‘t recall his name). Occasionally I talked with my counterparts at repertory cinemas/art houses in other cities about shipping prints back and forth, etc. The Orson Welles was known as a trend-setter.

Cutler also said he was working in the booth at Radio City Music Hall when I saw Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon” on October 24, 1981. He had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece in a fashion that was faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some color.

The restoration of the film was a great story, itself. It had been a 20-year project supervised by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Then the film, which had been released over the years at various lengths -- with versions that ran over five hours and some that ran under two -- was edited down to a four-hour version by Francis Ford Coppola, whose company, American Zoetrope, released it.

Just as the French filmmaker had originally envisioned, a live orchestra accompanied the silent film. It played a new score that had been written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power the music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. It cost a theater a lot of money to install all the equipment it took to present it properly, with three projectors working in unison. So its first run didn’t go well. Talkies soon came along and silent films, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although he kept working on film-making projects, Gance sometimes spiraled into dark periods of despair. There was a point when he was said to have burned some of the footage from his original cut of “Napoleon.” Who knows what its true running time ought to be? I’ve read accounts that suggest Gance wanted it to run nine hours. And, he wanted to make sequels.

Eventually, Gance became somewhat obsessed with re-editing “Napoleon,” perpetually trying to transform some version of it into an important film that could be watched and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers must have seen him as a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.  

To get to Manhattan I drove to DeeCee and took the train to New York. During the Metroliner trip from Union Station to Penn Station I read several Charles Bukowski stories from a paperback edition of “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.” It had been purchased at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco eight months earlier that year, but I hadn‘t read much of it since the airplane trip home.

Reading several of Bukowski’s tight, briefly-told tales back-to-back on a fast-moving train really knocked me out. The feeling I had about the story called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” is still easy to conjure up. To top it off, the whole trip was part of a business project -- I was traveling on other people’s money!

My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential of “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. 

Then, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye during my walk to the theater. When the movie started I couldn’t watch it because I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my eye. It felt like a sharp-edged boulder. Since my mission was to WATCH the movie I had to do something, fast, so I went out to the lobby.

Corny as it sounds I asked the first Radio City Music Hall employee I encountered if there was a doctor in the house.

The answer was, “Yes.”

Hey this was Manhattan. Of course there was a doctor on duty to take care of medical emergencies and yes, to flush blinding cinders out of the patrons’ eyes; although the cinder had packed quite a punch, the thing actually weighed less than a pound.

The movie was spectacular. It was overwhelming. I returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters in the region.

Unfortunately, the notion of playing Gance’s greatest film in cities all over the country, accompanied by live orchestras, withered and died. When it went into general release the sound was put on the film in a conventional way. Cinemascope was used to show the triptych effect.     

So the deal my bosses had in mind never materialized. Still, the new four-hour version of “Napoleon” did run at the Biograph in February of 1983, to mark the theater’s 11th anniversary. It was still impressive, but not at all what it had been like at my first viewing. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.  

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He had lived long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon.” Once again, critics were calling him a genius. Which, to me, represents a happy ending to this meandering story. 

*

Fan Free Funnies

About this time of year in 1973, I was working on the inking of my page in the first issue of Fan Free Funnies. It featured a nine-panel strip starring Rebus and at the bottom of the page I did a political cartoon hammering Nixon. At the time I was playing a lot of chess, so I used that context. What follows is an excerpt of Biograph Times -- a work in progress.
Note from Rebus: During the spring semester of 1973 the student newspaper at Virginia Commonwealth University published three tabloid supplements that were inspired by the underground comix of that age. The first of these issues featured my breakthrough role in an edgy strip in which Rea presented me for the first time as just Rebus, an everyman character apart from the Biograph spokesdog persona. A version of this story appeared in STYLE Weekly in 2009. 
Fan Free Funnies
by F.T. Rea
Rebus was having a bad day; detail from the first
Rebus strip in Fan Free Funnies.
The timing was perfect for Fan Free Funnies, as this was the zenith of the hippie era in the Fan District neighborhood VCU's academic campus is part of.  

In the Fan, in the early-1970s, there was a group of young, mostly VCU-trained artists, who created paintings and prints in a style that owed much to old animated cartoons. Some of them were also making short films in Super 8 and 16mm and hung out at the Biograph.

Due to his well-honed talent for drawing cartoons, the most obvious of this pack was Phil Trumbo. “We were all influenced by the amazing work of sixties underground cartoonists," said Trumbo, “like Robert Crumb, Rick Griffith, S. Clay Wilson and Trina Robbins.”

R. Crumb was the most celebrated of the underground artists from the days when cartoonists bitterly lampooning the tastes and values of middle class America were having a noticeable impact on popular culture. Spontaneously, Crumb launched the movement in 1967, selling his Zap Comix No. 1 out of a baby carriage on San Francisco sidewalks. 

"Ed Slipek, the editor of VCU's student newspaper, Commonwealth Times, approached me to help create an underground-comix-style supplement,” said Trumbo. “I suppose he contacted me because I had done some independent comics and was exhibiting paintings influenced by comics imagery.” 

Slipek asked each of the invited artists to create a full page, drawn to proportion, in black and white. Some submitted a page of images set within traditional comic strip frames; others wandered into loose, more avant-garde styles.

For me, it meant creating the first strip for Rebus. Before Rebus even had a name, he had been appearing in my flyers touting midnight shows at the Biograph Theatre. I went to school on how R. Crumb used Mr. Natural as a spokesman, sometimes like a carnival barker.  But Rebus wasn't a holy man, he was a schlemiel with a dog's head.

Not long after the first issue of Fan Free Funnies came out, my three-year-old daughter, Katey, asked me a question. Pointing at her most recent birthday card pinned to her bedroom wall -- with Rebus on it -- she asked, “Is Rebus real?”

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

She said, “Like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck.”

“Sure,” I said, “Rebus is real. But only the cool people know about him.”

Phil left Richmond in 1984 to pursue a career in animation, which eventually led him to the West Coast and being the Art Director of Entertainment Media at Hidden City Games. Along the way he picked up an Emmy Award for his art direction on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. 

Charles Vess was another of the artists who participated in the Fan Free Funnies project, who has made a name as an award-winning illustrator. Vess’ art has been seen in Heavy Metal and National Lampoon. He has worked for comic book publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Epic.

The other featured FFF artists were: Bruce Barnes, Damian Bennett, Eric Bowman, Michael Cody, Jeff Davis, Joanne Fridley, Stanley Garth, Gregg Kemp, John McWillaims, Nancy Mead, Dale Milford, Bill Nelson, Trent Nicholas, Alan R. O’Neal, Ragan Reaves and Verlon Vrana.

“Fan Free Funnies was a really diverse collection, representing vastly different graphic styles and inventive, experimental approaches to sequential storytelling,” said Trumbo.
Phil Trumbo's cover art (from VCU Libraries) 

Monday, January 18, 2016

VCU and Its RPI

Unlike the AP Poll, which is based on supposedly expert opinions, the computer-generated RPI numbers are calculated to reflect the relative strengths of the 351 college basketball teams in Division I. By their nature the numbers are expected to steadily become more reliable as the season wears on.

At the end of the regular season in March, those numbers will weigh heavily on decisions to invite 36 at-large teams to the NCAA championship tournament. At-large, in this context, means teams that didn't win their conference's championship but are nonetheless deemed worthy, based on their records and the perception of their conference's strength among the 32 conferences in D-I.

So 68 teams get to go to the Big Dance. Every season pundits stimulate fans to argue about which teams have been unjustly snubbed. And, so it goes...

As of today, VCU (13-5, 5-0 in A-10) is sitting at No. 71 in the CBS Sports RPI. If it's still about the same place in March that won't bode well. To date, the Rams have only beaten two teams with a better RPI – Mid. Tenn. St. (No. 56) and St. Joe's (No. 33). VCU has lost to three teams with a better RPI – Duke (No. 19), Fla. St. (No. 49) and Georgia Tech (No. 60).

Beating teams with a worse RPI doesn't reward you much in this game, it might even hurt your rating, because strength of schedule is a big factor. So convincing wins over the likes of American (No. 336), Prairie View (No. 342) and Liberty (No. 343) don't convince the NCAA powers that be of anything that helps the Rams' cause. However with VCU riding an eight-game winning streak, its RPI has slowly improved during that stint. Slowly, because for the most part the Rams haven't been beating more respected teams.

Soon the opportunity to change that factor will present itself. Upcoming match-ups with St. Bonaventure (No. 54) and Dayton (No. 10), and two games apiece with George Washington (No. 34) and Davidson (No. 35) will be watched closely by the selection committee.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Obama Was Too Happy

When I watched Obama's speech on Tuesday night I was struck by one thing more than any other and it wasn't anything in particular he said. It was his relaxed tone. How much it reflected his state of mind and how much of it was projected – a performance – I'll resist speculating about. 

However, Obama's words weren't nearly as sharply partisan as they have been at times. He wasn't as entertainingly sarcastic as he can be. I think that may be part of why we aren't hearing Republicans complain so much about his proposals. Obama seemed more a president and less the Democrat's top dog. And, so far, the fury of the GOP's spokespersons and presidential candidates has been directed at Obama's manner more than the substance of his speech. 

Obama didn't use his last State of the Union speech to fume at opponents and it pissed some of them off. He seemed optimistic, almost lighthearted. He wasn't threatening enemies, real and imagined; he wasn't issuing ultimatums.

Moreover, Obama seemed so genuinely comfortable in his shoes that it provided a rather stark contrast to how uncomfortable and phony most of the Republican hopefuls seemed last night. So, I'm guessing Obama isn't much surprised that Republicans are inventing apologies to Iran that were never made.

It makes me think that with his mild-mannered speech Obama deliberately set up the angry Republicans he figured would jump at the bait 48 hours later. Interestingly, with her response, the poised Nikki Haley didn't.

As time goes by we'll see how that plays out, but I think Haley was wisely looking at the future – when some of the trash-talking Republican on stage in South Carolina last night will have been assigned their proper place in the dustbin of history. 

In the meantime, we'll all have to put up with Republicans on the make who are outraged about Obama's speech, because he was just too damn happy.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Enter Eugene Trani

This time columnist Mark Holmberg is right -- whether Eugene Trani's train station becomes a part of what happens, or not, for several sound reasons baseball should stay on the Boulevard.
Enter Eugene Trani, the grizzled warrior who has saved Richmond before. He is revered by many and reviled by others, so his 76-year-old voice carries across the battle lines. This week, his opinion piece on the matter — published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch — got lots of attention. He proposed renovating The Diamond on the Boulevard, but make it a state-of-the-art multiuse facility so we can have concerts and other events there.
Click here to read the entire piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (and as painful as it might be, glance over the comments under it).

The train station component sounds interesting, but I'll have to see more information about it before I hop aboard the bandwagon for that aspect of Trani's proposal. However, the notion of making that neighborhood into a transportation hub makes sense to me.

Beyond its apt commentary, Holmberg's column (online) offers a chance for all of us to see an aspect of why this debate has gone on for over 10 years. Take a look at the blustery comments section. Yes, it's typical, in that much of what appears under the article amounts to useless venting by people who post the same sort of guff under any article. However, one comment, in particular, stands out as a perfect example of why many of the people in Richmond who agree with Trani about where to play baseball haven't been able to build a consensus, to work in concert to settle this controversy.

Please note: the writer of the aforementioned comment under Holmberg's piece couldn't resist bashing Eugene Trani (pictured above), even if the commenter basically agrees with the thrust of Trani's proposal to keep baseball on the Boulevard. The commenter says Trani's support for keeping baseball on the Boulevard is late in coming. Problem is, that's simply not true. Beyond that false charge, this commenter is suffering because Trani didn't give activists – like him! – credit for opposing baseball in The Bottom; then the sufferer digresses into pure character assassination.

This sort of pettiness poisons the debate. And, it's been going on for most of the 10 years this brouhaha has been underway. If this particular commenter were the only one dwelling on his own personal grudges, under the guise of community activism, it wouldn't matter all that much.

Unfortunately, the baseball stadium issue has drawn so many vociferous poisoners to it – on all sides of the issue – that the Save The Diamond movement has been somewhat tainted by the splatter of poison. Likewise, the movement to build a museum devoted to telling the story of Richmond's slave market has been slowed by that same sort of poisonous splatter.

In no way should my observations here be construed to be anti-activist. What I'm against is hurling poison into debates, based on one's personal grudges. Calling such mean-spirited mischief "activism," sometimes puts a bad face on the sincere efforts of a lot of good people who are working in earnest to solve problems, rather than perpetuate them.   

-- 30 --

Monday, January 04, 2016

Saying Goodbye to the R-Braves

 Paul DiPasquale's "Connecticut"

Reading former-VCU president Gene Trani's piece in yesterday's RT-D was interesting. Wisely, Trani seems to think baseball ought to stay on The Boulevard. While reading it, I chuckled thinking of some regular bashers of Trani and all things VCU, who now find themselves on the same side of the stadium issue.

Rather than the frustrating politics of the longstanding brouhaha, sometimes mulling over the baseball stadium issue brings to mind memories of particular games. In 2008 I covered the last game the Richmond Braves played at The Diamond. Here’s what I wrote for Richmond.com:
Saying Goodbye

F.T. Rea
Richmond.com
Tuesday, September 02, 2008


On a warm sunlit Labor Day afternoon, before a nearly packed house (12,167 officially), the Richmond Braves put on a crowd-pleasing display, soundly defeating the visiting Norfolk Tides by a score of 9-3.

After the second out of the ninth was recorded the fans came to their feet in anticipation of the final out. Braves pitcher Brad Nelson walked Brandon Fahey. Then leftfielder Scott Thorman lost a routine popup in the sun and there were two on base. The last putout was made by R-Braves centerfielder Carl Loadenthal, who caught a fly ball off the bat of Luis Terrero.

With that last putout, 42 years (43 seasons) of Braves baseball on the Boulevard ended. Basically, the team’s owner, the Atlanta Braves, decided it would rather its Triple A farm club play its home games in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta.    

A sign of the change was in the press box, as a reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post, Guy Curtwright, was covering the game.  

Leonard Alley, who was the official scorer for Braves games for 30 years (1977 to 2006) sat to my left. Alley’s familiar presence added to the sense of history that was in the air throughout the stadium. There were lots of reminders in the signage. Sitting to my right, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Paul Woody recalled the last game played at Parker Field in 1984.

That night fans were allowed to grab souvenirs, because the grandstands were going to be demolished soon, anyway, to make way for what became the Diamond. Lots of people walked out of there carrying old wooden seats, signs and so forth, they had liberated. We laughed remembering the mood of that bizarre scene, which may have been somewhat wilder than the Braves management had imagined it would be.

After a few innings in the press box, I left to walk around the stadium to take in the sights from different angles. Behind home plate, next to the camera platform, a young woman wearing a No. 18 Ryan Klesko jersey walked by, which for one fan brought to mind the night at the Diamond 15 summers ago, when Klesko (who played for the R-Braves in 1992-93) won an extra-innings game with a home run.

"It was my birthday," said Jack Richardson.

Naturally, longtime fans were waxing nostalgic. Charlie Diradour said he’d been coming to Braves games since the late ‘60s. His favorite player, or moment?

"Seeing Chico Ruiz play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played," said Diradour, "at his age! That’s what Triple A baseball is all about. Players on their way up ... and, on their way down."

Ruiz was an extremely popular R-Brave who played here for what was most of his career (1973, 74, 76-84). While he wasn’t on hand for the occasion, several other popular former R-Braves were. Among them were: Ralph Garr (1969-70), David Justice (1988-90), Dale Murphy (1976-77), Tommy Greene (1988-90) and Johnny Grubb (1988). There were long lines to get their autographs.

There was a silent auction underway during the game. Autographed baseballs and jerseys drew bids from fans, with the proceeds going to Children’s Hospital. Murphy’s jersey beat Lopez’s $435 to $425.

After the game some of the former Braves players came onto the infield to unfurl a banner for the fans to see.

"Thanks for the memories," it said.

Many fans lingered as the shadows lengthened, clearly not wanting the day at the ballpark to end. Kids crowded up the fence just behind the Braves dugout, hoping to pick up souvenir bats or balls. A few of them were rewarded. Invited guests posed in groups on the field for pictures.

The Diamond’s giant sound system switched from its usual peppy pop music to "Auld Lang Syne."

The Governor’s Cup is the International League’s prize which goes to its champion. The R-Braves won it five times: 1978, 1986, 1989, 1994 and most recently in 2007.

Richmond’s two winners of the circuit’s Most Valuable Player award have been Tommie Aaron in 1967 and Brett Butler in 1981. Winners of the Rookie of the Year award were Dale Murphy in 1977, Glenn Hubbard in 1978, Brook Jacoby in 1982, Brad Komminsk in 1983 and Chipper Jones in 1993.

Winners of the Manager of the Year award were Eddie Haas in 1982 and ‘83; Grady Little won it in 1994.

How long the City of Richmond will go without a professional baseball team to call its own is anybody’s guess. At this point the regional cooperation it will take to make that happen seems out of the picture. Tomorrow the fiberglass Indian figure (a sculpture by Paul DiPasquale) that has peered over a concession stand roof for all of the Braves games at the Diamond will watch the franchise pack up its balls and bats, and fade into the sunset.

Richmond finished its final season on the Boulevard with a 63-78 record.

Note:  Here's a short list of some of the standout players who have worn the uniform of the Richmond Braves: Tommy Aaron, Sandy Alomar, Steve Avery, Dusty Baker, Jim Beauchamp, Steve Bedrosian, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Blauser, Curt Blefary, Jim Breazeale, Tony Brizzolara, Brett Butler, Paul Byrd, Francisco Cabrera, Vinny Castilla, Bobby Cox, Mark DeRosa, Joey Devine, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Estrada, Darrell Evans, Ron Gant, Jesse Garcia, Ralph Garr, Marcus Giles, Tom Glavine, Tony Graffanino, Tommy Green, Johnny Grubb, Albert Hall, Wes Helms, Mike Hessman, Glenn Hubbard, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Brad Komminsk, Javy Lopez, Adam LaRoche, Mark Lemke, Rick Mahler, Andy Marte, Kent Merker, Dale Murphy, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Larry Owen, Gerald Perry, Chico Ruiz, Paul Runge, Harry Saferight, Jason Schmidt, Randall Simon, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Brad Woodall, Tracy Woodson, Ned Yost and Paul Zuvella.

-- My photo.