Monday, October 15, 2018

Truth and Context

On May 29, 1890, the unveiling of the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee began Monument Avenue's telling of a story. According to published reports, the ceremony drew over 100,000 spectators.

Over the next 39 years four additional memorials honoring heroes of the Confederate States of America were added along Richmond's most celebrated thoroughfare. Since those five monuments were installed their shadows have slyly promoted what has come to be known as the Lost Cause version of history. In our time they also serve the cause of white supremacists.

On June 22, 2017, Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney, called a press conference to announce the establishment of a new commission to study Monument Avenue's history and make constructive recommendations to deal with the longstanding problems its Confederate memorials have posed and the relatively new ones they invite.

At that presser Stoney stopped short of calling for the consideration of monument-removal. But 51 days later came the shocking riot in Charlottesville, which prompted Stoney to instruct the Monument Avenue Commission to include examining the possibility removing statues. Obviously, after that riot the worries for City Hall had escalated beyond just removing graffiti and coping with occasional noisy but peaceful demonstrations.

Following roughly a year of work, on July, 2, 2018, the MAC issued its 117-page report. Highlights of the report's recommendations included adding contextual signage adjacent to the statues' pedestals. Such displays would offer a viewer an accurate picture of who those men were and how they came to be memorialized. However, the MAC's most attention-getting recommendation called for removing the Jefferson Davis Monument.
Naturally, that suggestion made the headlines. Yet, it must be noted that until some legal hurdles are cleared, actually removing the Davis Monument from its current site remains unlikely, because laws passed by the General Assembly to protect war memorials, statewide, forbid it.

It should also be noted that of the 168 war memorials in Virginia, 136 of them are associated with the Confederacy. So, it's not hard to see what's being protected today by the Republican majority in the General Assembly – a majority that may soon, itself, be history.

Meanwhile, given the news-making recommendations in the MAC report, together with the legal barriers in place, what can we look forward to in the next chapter of the Monument Avenue story?

Here's Mayor Stoney's response to that question: “We know that the Confederate monuments are more than physically symbolic; they represent the manifestation of racism and Jim Crow within almost every aspect of our society. They do not reflect the values of diversity, inclusion, and equity that we are diligently working toward in today’s Richmond. The immediate goal is progress toward an accurate and holistic reinterpretation of the existing monuments. We must continue to move forward, and we will.”

The MAC formally presented its report to City Council on October 1, 2018. Although the Planning Commission still needs to weigh in, it appears contextual signage is probably on the way, unless, of course, politicians would find it safer to just do nothing. Therefore, it's important that Stoney shows the political will to keep the process moving.

Meanwhile, Stoney's mention of "reinterpretation" will surely not please two camps. On one side will be those who will go on insisting that all five of the monuments must be pulled down tomorrow. On the other side will be those who will go on proclaiming that any changes whatsoever to do with Monument Avenue will amount to trampling on sacred turf.

Moreover, those predictable reactions will be consistent with politics, in general, these days. Today so much of the political energy is concentrated in the extremes that instead of the consensus-building politics of the melting pot we have politics of the centrifuge. Ironically, the current political landscape bears some resemblance to the atmosphere leading up to the Civil War, when moderation and compromise were seen as passionless and useless.

By the way, the MAC's information gathering process found that among its participants who responded to poll questions, most want change in some form. Now it will be up to Richmond's elected lawmakers to decide how to answer that call.

Yes, adding the contextual signage recommended by the MAC will be called “incrementalism,” or worse, by some folks clinging to an all-or-nothing approach. Nonetheless, at this desk it's hoped that most Richmonders will see that adding historically accurate contextual signage will be a sensible first step toward real progress.

Maybe best of all, it will be a step out of the shadows cast by untruths. It will be a step toward recognizing that context is integral to the appreciation of the difference between the truth of the whole story and stale propaganda.

– 30 –

Monday, September 10, 2018

Will Trump Quit to Launch MTVG

Maybe Trump will quit. After all, wouldn't he be happier making his own schedule, again? Just doing what pleases him all day? No cabinet meetings with little pissants like that traitor, Sessions?

Or was it Kellyanne?

Instead, what if he could host a couple of daily, live talk-shows? Isn't that what he was really born to do? Wasn't Johnny Carson more important than most presidents?

Rather than having to do the president's dreary job, how about if could dole out a morning show and an evening show -- for his fans to lap up -- every day? Or at least every damn day he feels like it. Some days he'd have guests, other days not.  Basically, the format would be totally elastic.

Of course, Trump would have a sidekick/stooge, like Ed McMahon, who'd laugh on command and smoothly shrug off all manner of humiliation from the host. There would also be three or four scantily-clad, young and large-breasted women on hand, serving as decorative go-go dancers who also laugh on command, etc. The stooge and the go-gos would do the show on days Trump chooses to play golf, or whatever.

Every so often, Trump would fire and replace the sidekick or a go-go, to freshen up the picture. Rather than pay his guests, Trump will charge them handsome fees to appear, because the massive exposure -- never anything like it, before! -- will help them to no end, to promote their schemes.

To liven things up, sometimes the host will have the go-gos roughly escort a disrespectful guest off the set. If necessary, Trump's personal body guards will help out. 

Home base would be at Trump Tower and he would broadcast the show from that Manhattan set frequently, or when he so chooses. But a full-blown portable set could have him traveling to other Trump properties, to broadcast on location. Plus, Trump would also take the program on the road to anybody's location for a broadcast, as long as they pay him royally.

The Trump talk shows would run on the Make TV Great cable television network – MTVG – owned by Trump and his well-heeled partners. No names.

When Trump's not on the air with his signature program the network could fill up the rest of the time by running straight-to-video action movies, classic professional wrestling videos from yesteryear, and Christian programming.

And here's what may turn out to be the best part -- at the drop of a hat, Trump could always scoop up the whole talk show shebang and fly it off to a friendly country, meaning one that won't extradite him back to the USA.

Dear reader, if the Republicans lose both houses of Congress in the nationwide elections coming up in November, maybe Trump will think a lot about quitting, so he can get to work building a new unregulated empire. Just think of how many MTVG baseball caps and golf balls he can sell. Then there could be MTVG wine and maybe MTVG steaks...

Will Trump quit the White House to launch MTVG? 

As our squatting president likes to say, "We'll see." 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Anonymity and Amorality

Well, here we are, going too fast down the road to hell, hoping desperately we haven't passed the last off-ramp. It's still hard to tell what effect the publication of the much-discussed New York Times OpEd, with Anonymous on the byline, is going to have on our trip.
It's noteworthy that its release prompted instant reactions, from both the left and the right, calling the writer a “coward.” Yet, the more I hear people branding the author of the OpEd as a coward the more I wonder what else is still hidden. Righteous indignation aside, was the OpEd a one-off? What's the next move in the game for Anonymous? 

Meanwhile, this new twist is reminding me of a big difference between two of the most important whistle-blowers of the early-'70s:

1. Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. 2. Mark Felt, who, as a whistle-blower was known publicly for many years as “Deep Throat” -- was the man who secretly coached Bob Woodward about Watergate skulduggery.

Ellsberg stood behind his revelations; he bravely faced the music. That, while Felt seems to have been a man who was acting on a grudge; he stayed in the shadows. His identity was revealed decades after his dropped dimes. Still, regardless of Felt's motives, by facilitating the downfall of Richard Nixon, he surely did the nation a service.

Then, to be fair, Felt was surely more than a coward. Nonetheless, those observations about whistle-blowers are being made with plenty of retrospect.

So, I'm going to wait to label this new whistle-blower. While I can certainly understand why many people would like to have seen the OpEd writer(s) put his/her/their name(s) on the byline, I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that today I know all the reasons why that choice was made.

For one thing, I'm pretty sure the OpEd has gotten much more attention from the get-go, because of the mystery and the speculation about who wrote it. What all it will prompt Trump or others in the White House to do isn't known, yet. And, when the identity of the writer(s) becomes known, what else might that trigger? The other shoe may turn out to be a lollapalooza.

After all, this OpEd was probably planned for several days, if not weeks, or even months. Here's a brief excerpt of what the anonymous author left us to think about:
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Maybe this OpEd bombshell was penned by a coward (as Charlie Pierce writes in Esquire), but let's not rush to judgment. Why leap to shout "coward," before we look?

Anyway, "amorality" is a apt word that should have been associated with the self-absorbed squatting president, all along. I'm glad to see it happening now.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hank's Cadillac

Constructed of Indiana limestone, New Union Station opened for 
operation in 1919. It was later renamed Broad Street Station. 
The building now serves as the Science Museum of 
Virginia. The image is from the VCU Library’s 
Rarely Seen Richmond postcard collection.

The first train is said to have pulled out of the station at 1:07 p.m. on January 6, 1919. Designed by John Russell Pope, what was originally known as New Union Station was constructed on the site of what had been the Hermitage Country Club. A partnership of two railroad companies, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line, built the station to satisfy the growing city’s needs. Later the station was renamed Broad Street Station and the Norfolk & Western line also came to use it.

Directly across the street, at 2501 West Broad Street, the William Byrd Hotel opened in 1925. The 12-story hotel catered to travelers heading north and south. At the other end of the block the Capitol Theater opened for business a couple of years later. It was the first movie theater in Richmond to be equipped for sound, to screen the new fad -- talkies.

Boasting a first class train station and the new businesses that popped up close by, the area became a cosmopolitan neighborhood. After all, in those days residents of the Fan District lived within easy walking distance of direct access to the entire East Coast.

The William Byrd’s barber shop opened in 1927. Legendary barber Willie Carlton (1926-2013) began looking out of the barber shop’s windows at Davis Avenue in 1948.

Carlton bought the business in the 1950s. Recalling that for many years automobiles parked on the 800 block of Davis at a 45-degree angle facing the barber shop, Carlton chuckled as he described a visit by singer/songwriter Hank Williams (1923-53), who was asleep in a convertible when it was time to open the barber shop.

“Well, he was taking a little nap, out there in his Cadillac,” Carlton the storyteller recalled in a warm tone that seemed to signal that he could still see the picture he was describing.

Apparently, after the hard-living country music great finished sleeping off his road weariness, he got out of his snazzy ride and came inside for his haircut. Carlton says the price of a haircut in those days was 60 cents. Lunch in the hotel’s busy dining room cost about the same.

Although he sold the business in the mid-1990s, until May of 2013 Carlton continued to work at his same barber chair ... when he wasn't playing golf. He died two months later at the age of 87. 

During the station’s peak use, the years of World War II, an average of 57 trains passed through Broad Street Station on a daily basis. During the ensuing decades, rapid outward growth of the city combined with the withering of America’s passenger rail system to gradually change the character of the neighborhood.

In 1975 Broad Street Station was no longer the hub of metropolitan life it had been; the last passenger train left the station at 4:58 a.m., on November 15 of that year.

In 1977 the distinctive building’s second life as the Science Museum of Virginia began.

The photo of the clock on the face of the building is mine 
(circa 2004).

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Coldest Warrior

Note: Below this note is a piece I wrote for 19 years ago; did the illustration back then, too. So the anniversaries mentioned in the first graf date from 1999.


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 D.C. 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 Nixon 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.

*   *   *

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Sorry, wrong number

My art has been appearing in print for over 50 years. My first caricature (of Hubert Humphrey) was published in 1965. And, I began inflicting my writing on the public in the 1970s. In all that time, most of the people who have bothered to speak to me about my work have been complimentary, or at least they seemed to mean well enough.

The vast majority of the time I've enjoyed their comments, even when they disagreed with me or didn't even get the point. Every now and then, it has gotten too weird. Such was the case when a man called me out of the blue on a Saturday night in the early 1990s. (In those day my phone number and PO Box number always appeared in SLANT.)

He said he had just read an issue of SLANT and had to talk with me. Right then. Naturally, the man was calling from a bar. Don't remember which one, but I think it was in a hotel. As far as I knew we had never met.

Well, I was watching a movie with my then-girlfriend, Gayle, so I didn’t want to have a long conversation. It was late and the more this character talked, the less comfortable I felt about hearing him out. He kept saying he had a story he had to tell me. It was about a scandal he thought I should write about ... and I was such a good writer and so forth.

Then he started babbling about religion. Uh, oh. So, I interrupted and told him I would not come to the bar to meet with him that night.

Still, experience had taught me to avoid setting this sort of oddball off. So I thanked him for the compliment and told him to call back during business hours, should he want to talk again. I don’t remember his name, now, but I did when I told the story of his unsettling phone call to some friends a couple of days later at happy hour at the Cary Street Cafe.

One of them promptly recognized his name. “You remember him,” he said (approximately), “that was the crazy guy they found on the Huguenot Bridge, maybe in February, about a year ago. He was bleeding to death.”

My friend said that according to the story in the newspaper, my Saturday night caller had apparently bought into one of those Biblical axioms. It was something like -- if thy right arm offends thee, cut it off.

My fan, obviously a religious man, went down to the wooded area north of the bridge. The account said he put his offending arm into the canal water to numb it. Then he chunked his arm into a fork in a small tree’s limbs, took out his hacksaw, and he sawed that bad arm off … just below the elbow.

Those gathered at the bar chucked. But not me. It wasn’t funny to me, because I was already wondering why in hell such a madman would want to talk to me about anything? What had I written that had set him off? Would he call back?

It was hardly the first time I’d been approached by a creepy reader, but this one -- he sawed his damn arm off! -- was especially disturbing.

Blogging and Facebook open the door to all sorts of possibilities. While I am happy to discuss reactions to my posts, there has to be a limit to what I will put up with. The story above is just one of the reasons I won’t suffer fools of a particular stripe but for so long. And, I won’t put up with bullies at all.

Furthermore, I urge others to be careful how much you engage, on the phone or online, with unreasonable people who don’t really mean well. Most of them are just a waste of time. They will try your patience. But, every now and then, one of them may be out of control in a dark way you don’t want to know about.

Fortunately, the one-handed man didn't reach out to me again.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Fan District's Goddess of Democracy
In May of 1989 the original Goddess of Democracy was erected in Tiananmen Square. Made of chicken wire, papier mâché and plaster, it was built by art students. It symbolized their call for democratic reforms in China. The protest in Tiananmen Square had begun in mid-April; tension was mounting.

Subsequently, on June 4, 1989, following orders, the People’s Liberation Army put an end to the demonstration. Mayhem ensued. Although reports varied widely, hundreds, if not thousands, were killed.

The Goddess of Democracy was destroyed during the routing of the protesters that had remained to the end, in defiance. As the drama played out on television, via satellite, the events shocked the world.

As their art student counterparts in China had been murdered in the shadow of their 33-foot-tall sculpture, in Richmond a group of VCU-affiliated artists heard the call of inspiration to stand with those who had fallen. They decided to build a replica of the lost Goddess.

The impromptu team of the willing and able worked around the clock for the next couple of days to give form to their tribute to the courage of those who had perished for the sake of freedom of expression. While the project was not sponsored by the school, wisely, VCU did nothing to discourage the gesture.

The Fan District's Goddess of Democracy (pictured above and below) stood the same height and was made of the same basic materials as the one in China had been. Facing Main Street, it stood as a memorial for about a month in front of the student center. CNN had a report on it, as did many other news agencies. Its image was on front pages of newspapers all over the world.

The little placards on sticks that surrounded the sculpture were added a few days after the Goddess was completed. While it was easily one of the coolest things ever to happen in the Fan District, art-wise, but to my knowledge, nobody made a penny out of it. It was constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers.

It was also a wonderful illustration of how traditional right and left, liberal and conservative, characterizations of all things political don’t always do justice to the truth of a situation. Was the stubborn and heavy-handed Chinese government standing to the right, or to the left, of the upstart students calling for reform? When communists are the conservatives clinging to the old way, how does that play out on a spectrum of left-to-right thinking?

In 1990 I published a piece in SLANT to commemorate the first anniversary of the contruction of VCU's Goddess. In the article I inserted the text of a handbill that I had found posted at the site of the memorial the year before:
"On May 13, 1989, Beijing University students began an occupation of Tiananmen Square to call for democratic reforms and an end to official corruption. The ensuing peaceful and often festive protest drew world attention and gained support from the citizens and workers of Beijing. On Sunday, June 4, at 3:30 [a.m.] Chinese time, troops of the 27th Division of the People’s Liberation Army entered the square with orders to disperse the students. At approximately 6 a.m. these same troops attacked the protestors with automatic weapons, tanks, and bayonets. According to government estimates only 300 students were killed, but local medical estimates put the death toll between 500 and 1,000.

"The brutal suppression of unarmed students by a powerful totalitarian government has moved the world’s conscience. Many of the Tiananmen victims were art students who aspired to same basic freedoms which we enjoy daily. As American artists we cannot overlook, and we must never forget, the suffering and sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in Beijing. Their peaceful struggle was a cry for human rights everywhere, and their symbol, the Goddess of Democracy, was the highest artistic tribute they could pay to humanity’s noblest ideal -- freedom."

Also in that week's issue of SLANT were stories of a lighter nature. There was a piece about the then-bubbling NEA/Mapplethorpe controversy that had Sen. Jesse Helms flapping in the breeze. There was coverage of the Fan District Softball League -- the Bamboo Cafe led the Mars Division; Chetti’s led the Jupiter Division. Among that issue's advertisers were: 353-ROCK, Blab Television, the Brass Knocker, Brown Distributing, Bug Haus, Chetti’s, the Fan Market, Paradise Cafe, Price’s Market, Soble’s and South of the James.

The Goddess of Democracy on VCU’s campus in 1989 was the most successful piece of guerilla art I have seen in my travels.

-- My photos.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Finishing on 'Solid Ground'

Ask anybody. Making a living in the music business in Richmond isn't easy. Nonetheless, during the last five decades a good number of noteworthy musicians have called Richmond their home. Some for a while. Some for good.

It's fair to say Robbin Thompson (1949-2015) started out as a natural troubadour who enjoyed performing on the road. Nonetheless, he chose to make his home in Richmond, even though he meant to make his living through music. Thompson was born in Boston and grew up mostly in Melbourne, Florida.

Local live music aficionados are grateful to Robbin and other gifted musicians who've resisted the temptation to move to a city with a larger music scene. The ones who stayed have helped make Richmond's live music scene what it has been since hippie times and the days of Mercy Flight, Robbin's band when he was a VCU student.   

Occasionally, some of the musicians who've moved on to other places come back to town for reunion type shows, or playing as sidemen with national acts. Then there are the rare times a group of pros are prompted to return from all over the map, just to do a one-off show. The Robbin Thompson tribute presented on the National's stage on the afternoon of February 28, 2016, was such an occasion. Every song performed at Robbin Thompson's Real Fine Day was written by Robbin. 

A well-engineered CD – “Final Encore: A Live Tribute to Robbin Thompson.” – produced by Thompson's bandmates, featuring recordings of the live performances, has become available today. Listening to the colorful intros by various performers helps this commemorative CD speak to the good life Robbin and his wife Vicki put together here in central Virginia. 

Every now and then something happens to remind me of what a privilege it has been to have shared so much of my time over the years with friends who've been part of Richmond's music and art scene. Such was the case when I was listening to the last cut on the CD. That song, “Solid Ground,” is the only one on the new CD that wasn't recorded live at the National.

It is listed as a “bonus track.” It was the last song Robbin wrote; he recorded a lean demo of it. At a recent conversation at the Bamboo Cafe two of those who lovingly fleshed out that recording, Velpo Robertson and Bob "Rico" Antonelli, described the process of turning it into a full-fledged Robbin Thompson Band encore – the last encore.

Listening to “Solid Ground” a second time I began to imagine what it must have been like for Robbin's longtime bandmates to craft that recording, using their collective feel for how to fill around his voice and guitar on the demo, I was struck with the thought that I'm glad I know these guys.

As the song ended, for an instant, I was taken back to being at that tribute show at the National, blessed with a pass, to cover the event as a journalist. The all-access badge allowed me to take in what happened from various perspectives. Getting to see such an unusual show being rehearsed and then presented, from the inside out, was a rare treat.

Still, most of the time during the performances I was backstage in the stage-right wing, which was where the musicians waiting to go on and those who had already done their bit watched one another perform ... and take turns telling old stories about life on the road.

It's also fair to say there were some excellent yarn-spinners on hand. All in all, what a show it was! The uplifting vibe in that ancient theater inspired the performers, some of which had traveled a good ways to be there, just to do one song, maybe two.

Stay tuned for a more complete telling of the story about the making of that bonus track. It's in the process of being written. In the meantime, this is a good time to note there's no business like show business. Ask anybody who knows. 


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Shockers at Rams on Dec. 22

VCU basketball news from Chris Kowalczyk:

VCU has added some shock value to its schedule the next two seasons.  The Rams have agreed to a home-and-home series with Wichita State that will kick off this year at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

VCU will host the Shockers, who reached the Final Four in 2013, on Dec. 22, 2018. The Rams will play a return game at Koch Arena in Wichita, Kan. on Dec. 21, 2019.

The Shockers have played in the last seven NCAA Tournaments and finished 25-8 last season, their first in the American Athletic Conference.  VCU and Wichita State have met four times previously, but this will be the first contest between the programs since the 2012-13 season. The all-time series is tied 2-2.

The Rams and Shockers played three hotly contested games from 2011-12. In 2011, VCU’s Joey Rodriguez hit a pair of free throws with 0.8 seconds remaining to give the Rams a 68-67 win at Koch Arena. That win helped propel VCU to an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, which culminated in the Rams’ unforgettable Final Flour run. The following year, the 12th-seeded Rams toppled the fifth-seeded Shockers 62-59 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in Portland, Ore. thanks in large part to a late floater by Darius Theus, now VCU’s director of player development.

VCU’s full non-conference schedule will be released shortly, but previously released games include road contests at Texas and Virginia, as well as a match-ups with Temple and either Cal or St. John’s in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Donald Q. Trump

Yesterday's bizarre performance by Donald “Q” Trump has presented an opportunity, a gift, to Democrats. By the way, the “Q” is for “quisling.”

First of all, I'm hoping the Democrats national spokespersons and its 2018 crop of candidates don't find a way to squander this fresh opportunity. It's not about fundraising, or votes in Congress, or what legislation to call for. It's about crafting an uncluttered message and driving its points home.

This is a time when good leadership is essential. And, more than the usual geezers need to be in the war room. Democrats should assemble a crackerjack team of speech writers and other propaganda experts.

Today, if not sooner, words need to be selected to frame what has just happened in such a way the unvarnished truth is plain to see – our ship of state has drifted far into uncharted, dangerous waters.

America needs a course correction, pronto.

Treating Trump's Quisling Press Conference in Helsinki as just more Trump dishonesty, just more evidence of something, is the easiest damn way to squander this gift.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Queen of Claptrap

Laura Schlessinger
If you write about certain public figures or particular hot topics it can bring on reprisals that can be startling. In 2000, when I took an assignment to write an opinion piece about
Laura Schlessinger (better known as Dr. Laura) for, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of that column was "Queen of Claptrap."

Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were affiliated with a group known as Free Republic

Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. At first I attempted to answer some of the angry emails but soon enough I realized that was a waste of time. I asked a veteran journalist who was a colleague just what the hell to make of it all. He just chuckled and said, "It means you're doing your job." 

Here's the 18-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.

Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.

To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.

However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.

Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.

From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.

Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out

Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too:

"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?

Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.

The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.

While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.

Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.

It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.

Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.

Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.

By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.

It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.

With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.

In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.

Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.
There you have it. That's what it took to set off a bunch of creeps who were hoping to make me back off. What I didn't understand then was that I was seeing the future.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tillman to play with Miami Heat in the NBA Summer League

From VCU's  Chris Kowalczyk:
Justin Tillman will continue his quest for the NBA this summer.  The 6-foot-8 forward, known for his dynamic skill set and on-court flair, says he has agreed to play for the Miami Heat in the NBA Summer Leagues. Tillman worked out for a number of NBA teams this spring, including the Spurs, Celtics, Nuggets, Thunder, Pistons and Lakers.

The Heat are scheduled to field a summer league squad in Sacramento, Calif. July 2-5 and in Las Vegas, Nev. from July 6-17.

A four-year standout for VCU, Tillman was named First Team All-Atlantic 10, A-10 All-Defensive Team and NABC All-District as a senior in 2017-18 after averaging a team-high 18.9 points and a league-best 9.9 rebounds per game. Tillman’s 18 double-doubles this season were the most by a VCU player since the 1995-96 campaign.

In four seasons, Tillman compiled 1,415 points, 18th-most in program history and 922 rebounds, third-most by a Ram. He also ranks third in school history in double-doubles (34) and second in career field goal percentage (.573).

Tillman will look to become the 11th former Ram to play in the NBA and the sixth since 2009. Last season, VCU alums Treveon Graham (Charlotte), Troy Daniels (Suns) and Briante Weber (Rockets, Grizzlies) saw time on NBA rosters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

VCU to face Temple at Barclays

Note: The following information comes via VCU's Chris Kowalczyk

VCU will face Temple in its return to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as part of the Championship Round of the 2018 Legends Classic, presented by Old Trapper. 

In all, the Rams will play four games in the prestigious event, including a pair of match-ups at the E.J. Wade Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. VCU and Temple will square off on Monday, Nov. 19 at Barclays following the completion of a contest between St. John’s and California that tips off at 7 p.m. VCU will advance to meet either St. John’s or Cal on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at Barclays. 

VCU will also host regional round contests with in-state foe Hampton on Friday, Nov. 9 and Bowling Green on Monday, Nov. 12. Game times for those tilts will be released at a later date.

The Rams previously participated in the 2015 Legends Classic at Barclays, where they topped Oregon and fell to a ranked Villanova squad. VCU’s history at Barclays Center also includes the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament from 2013-16. The Rams won the league crown over Dayton on that floor in 2015. The A-10 Tournament is set to return to the arena in 2019.

VCU has not faced Temple since the 2012-13 season. The Rams topped Cal 83-69 last season at the Maui Invitational and defeated St. John’s during the 2016-17 campaign at the Battle for Atlantis. Hampton and VCU have met eight times previously, but this will be the first game between the two programs since the 2009-10 season. The Rams are 7-1 all-time in the series. VCU and Bowling Green have never met.


Presented by Old Trapper (VCU Schedule)

Friday, Nov. 9
Hampton at VCU (Richmond, Va.)

Monday, Nov. 12
Bowling Green at VCU (Richmond, Va.)

Monday, Nov. 19
Temple vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Tuesday, Nov. 20
Cal or St. John’s vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

*   *   *

Friday, June 08, 2018

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A few years ago, a chat with a master projection booth technician I met brought to mind a unique movie-watching experience. The conversation was with Chapin Cutler; we were talking about old movie houses when he told me that 40-some years ago he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. 

In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with the manager of that famous movie theater (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 (1969-86) was known then as quite 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 told me he had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece. It was no easy task to present it a fashion faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some splashes of 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 over the years, was edited into 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. The new score was written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power that music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, a visionary, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. In 1927 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. Because few theaters opted to install such a system for one film the first run engagements were limited. Talkies soon came along and silent movies, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although Gance kept working on film-making projects, he 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, maybe 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 seen and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers considered him to be a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to D.C. 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 flight 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. My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential for “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. So I was traveling on other people’s money!

Then, during my walk from the hotel to the theater, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye. 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, 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. Back in the auditorium, the movie was spectacular.

I left the theater overwhelmed and returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the same movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters with orchestra pits 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 viewing in Manhattan. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He lived just long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon,” during the run promoted in the 1-sheet above. At the time of his death in 1981, once again, critics were calling Gance a genius. Which provides a happy ending to this meandering story.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Prayer or Protest?

The photograph above (lifted from the Internet) shows three men in Philadelphia Eagles uniforms. Unless it's a doctored photo we can probably assume they are real professional football players at a stadium. Why they are on one knee isn't exactly clear.

So we can't say for sure what they are doing. Which means President Donald Trump can't tell if he should applaud or attack the trio with his next tweet. To cut to the chase: Are they praying or protesting?

Hard to say without more information. This morning it seems Fox News used it as a photo to document three Eagles players protesting during the playing of the National Anthem with the familiar take-a-knee gesture that so outrages Trump.

Then Fox News soon had to apologize, because it turns out the photo documented three Eagles players praying. Which means that what's in the minds of the kneeling men, in the moment, is what matters in the long run. Their intentions and perhaps the context.

Were those three Eagles players exercising their freedom of religion, or their freedom of speech?

That dilemma reminds me of the flag-burning issue that used to rile situational conservatives and prompted a drive to create a Constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning.

And it reminds me of a piece I first wrote on that issue in SLANT, back in the day: This link will take you to a shorter version of it, a 2006 rewrite I posted on SLANTblog entitled “The Third Man.” Note: Four days after this June 23, 2006, post the effort to pass the anti-flag-burning amendment in the U.S. Senate failed by one vote.

-- 30 -- 

Friday, June 01, 2018

2018 GRFGA T-shirts

The art for the 2018 GRFGA T-shirts is above. For what it's worth it's the ninth in the series I've designed. The ink colors will be black and white. So what you see above as black will be that on your short. The fabric colors will surround the white circle (an imaginary golf disc).

The new T-shirts (100% heavy duty cotton), long sleeve and short, will be available in three familiar colors – the red, blue and athletic gray that was used for the last T-shirt (Where the Frisbees Landed). Color swatches are shown below. 

 The prices are:
  • short sleeves: $18.
  • long sleeves: $21
  • sweatshirts: (crew neck, gray only) $28
They are all available in S, M, L and XL. Add $2 for XXLs. Add $3 for XXXLs. 

Please note: As before, these friendly prices are based on the customer paying in advance and picking up the T-shirts, as per usual, once they are available. Last day for placing an order is June 25. Thanks.

 My email address is:

Labels That Don't Stick

This illo by STYLE's art department ran with the piece.
Note: The piece that follows was published as a Back Page by STYLE Weekly on April 7, 2004. Thinking about today's ideology-defying brand of politics brought it to mind. In 2004, I didn't certainly see Trump's presidency coming. While I could easily have imagined a television celebrity might one day pull it off, in that time I saw Trump mostly as a buffoon and I was ignoring "reality television" as a genre. 

Still, in this 14-year-old piece I was seeing the coming of a different way of framing politics in the USA. The old definitions of left and right were being blurred beyond recognition, curiously, even as Americans seemed to be becoming all the more label-conscious. In hindsight, now I have to say I was seeing the cynical poison that the "branding" concept was injecting into the culture.
Labels That Don't Stick
by F.T. Rea

The terms “liberal” and “conservative,” as used by many of today's chattering pundits and campaigning politicians, are as outdated as your Uncle Dudley's lime green leisure suit ... or that open can of beer you left on the porch railing yesterday afternoon.

In the turbulent 1960s, such convenient left–right labels may have been misnomers at times, too, but at least they made some sense. In the context of the Cold War Era – with explosive issues such as the Vietnam War and civil rights in the air – it was useful to see a left-to-right political spectrum.

In those days, segregationists and hawks derisively called their most vocal opponents “liberals” and “pinkos.” Civil rights demonstrators and doves didn’t mind calling their opposites “right-wingers” and “fascists.” And in spite of how the circumstances and issues have changed since then, the same threadbare labels have remained in use.


Well, it’s mainly because it has suited the people attempting to cash in on conditioned reactions to words such as “left” and “right,” “liberal” and “conservative.”

Howard Dean is best described as a political maverick. His record as governor of Vermont was hardly that of a left-winger. Yet because he was for a spell the most effective critic of the Bush policy in Iraq, the feisty doctor was branded by pundits and Bush apologists as an extreme leftist from a silly state that might as well be part of Canada.

In 1991 a radio news story described a political brouhaha in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard, the stubborn communists — who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.

No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.

The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” When considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political — capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left — the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.

George W. Bush likes the tag “compassionate conservative.” It’s a label that served him well in the 2000 election. But Bush’s steering of the nation’s economy, his unprecedented accumulation of debt, have hardly been conservative in the traditional sense. Nor has Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy been in the least bit prudent or conservative.

Being aggressive and being conservative are altogether different things. Leading up to World War II, the conservative Republicans wanted to keep America out of the fray much longer than did the FDR Democrats.

When Bush eschewed the idea of nation building in his first presidential campaign he was talking like a traditional, somewhat isolationist conservative. Now he walks like anything but a conservative with what is going on in Iraq — whatever that is.

In the contemporary American political game, when players call themselves or their opponents “liberals” or “conservatives” they are probably just trying to jerk you around by what they see as your shallow understanding of the situation.

Today’s political issues divide along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences that split generations, classes, lifestyles and you-name-it. Trying always to frame such issues in a left-right context tortures the truth.

In this election year, the wise voter will brush aside the labels and remember that neither conservatives nor liberals have ever had an exclusive on two considerations that matter a lot more than labels — honesty and competence.

-- 30 --

Friday, May 18, 2018

Shills Protecting Thrills


Don't tell me most of America’s mass-murdering shooters would simply have switched over to bombs, or poison, if they couldn't have gotten a hold of their favorite tools. Those killers craved the raw thrill of shooting rapid-fire weapons at living people so much they finally did it.

Killers they were, but they weren't bombers or poisoners. They weren't sword-wielders or stranglers. They were shooters.

While Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North and the rest of the shills for the firearms industry talk about protecting constitutional rights, the angle they don't want to discuss is protecting thrills. Owners of assault rifles love the thrill of shooting those weapons of war. As we've seen, for the most evil of rapid-fire gun owners, the thrill of shooting at terrified school children is irresistible.