Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebus is Against Shooting Cartoonists

But, of course!

From my OpEd piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Sunday Commentary section (Jan. 25, 2015):
With its dark ironies and sarcastic jabs, satire stretches us. It’s never been everyone’s cup of tea. History tells us it’s always been dangerous. Since one person’s freedom of expression can be another person’s enemy of peace, some attempts at satirical humor bend us out of shape. The debate that’s been underway since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on Jan. 7 has served to remind us that the edge of mockery can cut two ways. Maybe more than two ways.
Note: Rebus is and always has been against shooting cartoonists. Click here to read "Cream Pies for Bullies: The Importance of Satire." 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chez Roue' signed for Feb. 15 Bijou event

Chez Roue' will play live at the New York Deli, 
9 p.m. - 11 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 15. 


























The Academy Award nominee, "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014), is being presented by the Bijou Film Center, in conjunction with the our partners for this occasion: The Byrd Theatre Foundation, Candela Book + Gallery and the VCUarts Department of Photography and Film.

Show time for the movie is 7 p.m. Admission at the box office will be $7.00. Advance tickets for $5.00 will be available soon at selected locations. Advance tickets are already available online at Eventbrite for $5.00 (plus $1.27 handling fee).

Chez Roue' will perform live on stage following the Richmond premiere screening of “Finding Vivian Maier” at the Byrd Theatre. Please note, there will be no cover charge for the live music at the Deli.

In the photo above, left-to-right, Chez Roue' are: Debo Dabney on piano, Roger Carroll on saxophone, Johnny Hott on drums. Brian Sulser (seen only in the mirror) is on bass. For Chez Roue' fans it's important to bear in mind that this gig will be Roger Carroll's next-to-last performance in Richmond, before he moves to Chicago.

Please note: James Parrish and I are still polishing some details for the event, including lining up prizes for the raffles, but the schedule is now set for our second Bijou at the Byrd fundraising event. As before, film-wise, there will also be a wee surprise. Stay tuned for more information soon.

-- Photo credits: Chez Roue' by Scott Elmquist. 
Vivian Maier's selfie by herself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ballpark Bandwagon Breakdown


http://citizensreferendumgroup.wordpress.com/

Between January and September of 2014 Richmond witnessed the coalescence of a significant resistance to the notion of building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. In May the volume of the opposition chorus apparently surprised Mayor Dwight Jones (pictured left). Now it seems unlikely Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan, as originally advertised, is ever going fall into place.

However unpopular with the voters the mayor’s plans for Shockoe Bottom and North Boulevard have become, shifts in the thinking of some on City Council may animate makeovers in 2015. What effect the rearranging of councilmanic chairs will have on the ballpark issue isn't known, yet. As we wait for that drama unfold, it's worthwhile to organize the 2014 record of the brouhaha for the sake of facilitating a clear perspective.

What came to stifle the mayor’s stadium-building scheme last year began gathering over the winter. Although no single entity was coordinating it, by early spring the escalating criticism of the Jones plan was pouring in from several directions.

However, now it seems there was one standout event that proved to be the tipping point. It appeared out of the blue on Apr. 28. On that Monday morning a group of students from Richmond public schools appeared at City Hall with a purpose. The majority of them were from Open High.

Whether one called it a "flash mob," or a "walkout," the protest march had obviously been prompted by a couple of telling Style Weekly articles ("Caving In" and "Filling Holes") published earlier the same month. The stories revealed dreadful conditions in some local public schools; the students acted on their own volition. They carried signs with messages for all to see. Some messages decried dilapidated school buildings. Others protested the Shockoe Stadium plan.

The next surprise came later that same fateful day. Instead of dispatching a brief note to congratulate the kids for their civic-minded moxie, and to say he was too busy to meet with them, Hizzoner decided to smooth the students’ ruffled feathers with his practiced mayoral patter. Well, in baseball parlance, Jones "booted" his chance to make a play. His painfully awkward response to the students' questions about the city's skewed spending priorities was worse than inadequate.

Naturally, the local media were all over the story of a flummoxed mayor. The kids looked good on TV.

*

Pre-turning point:

When Mayor Jones rolled out his large-dollar plan to “revitalize” the city on Nov. 11, 2013, he presented the building of a baseball stadium in the Bottom as an essential component. He spoke of how it would create jobs, enlarge the city's tax base and get a slavery-related museum built, too.

No doubt, 2014 began with the perceivable momentum on the mayor's side. Jones’ Chief Administrative Officer and top salesman, Byron Marshall, appeared more than up to the task of ramrodding the taxpayer-backed project through Richmond’s nine-member City Council.

As the baseball-in-the-Bottom bandwagon chugged through the first month of the 11th year of baseball stadium debate in Richmond, dissent to the mayor’s plan couldn’t be heard over establishment media-amplified boosterism. Venture Richmond’s ubiquitous LovingRVA public relations campaign was pumping high-test fuel into the bandwagon’s tank.

That, while no person or organization was speaking for the scattered opposition. Some wanted to protect Shockoe Bottom from an outrageously inappropriate development. Some saw another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making. Others stood against what they believed to be an impractical plan, a plan that turned a blind eye on what baseball fans seemed to prefer.

Leading up to 2014, The Virginia Defender, published by Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto, had been focused on the issue for years. Owing to that effort and those of other activists, in February the resistance to baseball-in-the-Bottom continued gathering. STYLE Weekly stayed on the stadium beat with a series of news stories and several Back Page OpEds.

Social media’s role was snowballing. Facebook pages dedicated to opposing Shockoe Stadium included: Referendum? Bring It On!Save the DiamondSay No to a Stadium in Shockoe BottomShockoe ResistanceA Stadium RVA Can Love!. Outdoor billboard signs went up. Yard signs were posted. Activist Farid Alan Schintzius headed up the signage approach.

In March and April the Citizens Referendum Group held meetings at the City Library to discuss crafting a strategy to put a baseball stadium referendum on the ballot. Although that ad hoc group’s ambitious petition-signing campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to force such a referendum, the connections the undertaking created could come into play again. Many names and addresses of registered voters were collected. (An archive of published notices and articles on this issue is here.)

Other petitions were circulated. Boycott strategies came also into play. Political gadfly Paul Goldman weighed in with an avalanche of opinion pieces for WTVR.com. Although his message meandered over the year, Goldman was relentlessly hard-hitting with his many objections to pursuing the mayor's Shockoe Stadium concept.

In the wake of the notoriety of the Oscar-winning movie, “12 Years a Slave,” on March 25 the Hollywood Reporter weighed in: “Where the jail that held Solomon Northup once stood, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium may soon rise. That’s if the mayor of Richmond, Va., has his way.”

http://slantblog.blogspot.com/2014/08/accordions-helped-me-keep-promise.html

Post-turning point:

On Apr. 29, Preservation Virginia announced its Most Endangered Sites List for 2014, which included Shockoe Bottom. At this point three members of City Council were on record as being opposed to the mayor’s plan. They were: Parker Agelasto, Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell.

The first of May brought news of an alternative stadium proposal, one for the Boulevard from a new developer. A week later Doug Wilder stuck his thumb in Jones’ eye by announcing his intention to revive his much-traveled slavery museum concept and locate it a couple of blocks from where the mayor wanted to put a similar museum.

On May 23, City Council members Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles put out a joint press release announcing their decision to let the sputtering Shockoe Stadium bandwagon pass them by. Joining with their three colleagues already prepared to vote against the mayor‘s plan, a new five-member majority was thus created. The bandwagon screeched to a sudden halt.

Four days later, Mayor Jones’ office announced his development plan for the Boulevard and the Bottom was being temporarily withdrawn from consideration. It was then anticipated the plan would be re-worked and introduced at a Council meeting before the summer was over.

Nonetheless, inside City Hall during June the stadium issue languished. In July Trammell suggested a referendum might be the best way to go. Her fellow Council members didn’t see it her way.

On August 3 a group of merry Richmonders paraded around The Diamond to mock the notion of demolishing it, only to build a replacement in the Bottom. As the accordion music swelled -- playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- some paraders may have wondered, once again, what the point of the LovingRVA campaign had been in the first place.

Was it to persuade the public? Or perhaps certain members of City Council?

In September, without much in the way of an explanation, Byron Marshall resigned. In the absence of a freshened up presentation from the mayor's office Council went on with other business.

*

If rumors are to be taken seriously, it now seems one member of last year's five-member-majority may flip this year. Time will tell. Still, what the mayor and any potential flip-flopping politicians should take to heart is this plain truth:

The opposition that swelled up in 2014 won’t be difficult to reanimate. It hasn’t gone anywhere, even if some politicians and rainmakers twist all the arms they can reach. After years of this issue flapping in the breeze, most voters have their minds made up. More salesmanship isn't going to change those minds much.

Moreover, last year’s coalescence of factions created something bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s something that isn't likely to ever stand aside for that old ballpark bandwagon. Nor is it likely to forget flip-floppery. For 2015, one thing is a safe bet: Dwight Jones wants no more face-to-face meetings with sign-carrying students at City Hall.

-- 30 --

-- Photo of Dwight Jones from Richmond.com. Photo of parade by WRIC Channel 8.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Je suis Rebus Charlie

But, of course!

It's not a matter of whether those cartoons in France were good art, or bad. Not whether they were clever commentary, or plain silly. Not whether they were overly offensive, or too provocative. It's about whether we've gotten so scared of bullies that we're afraid to laugh, or not afraid. 

Satire has always been dangerous. Rebus ain't scared.  

-- My art. Take it, or leave it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Dangerous Cartoons

Note: This post is from 2006. In the spirit of Je suis Charlie, I'm re-posting it.

*

The meanderings of international affairs have at last strayed into my bailiwick, my natural field of expertise -- unreality.

Cartoons by sarcastic European artists, designed to ruffle feathers, have flushed out a shockingly angry response that seems to be feeding on itself. Peace-loving folks everywhere are bewildered, wondering how far this absurd momentum will take us. It's 2006, already, and adults are killing each other over cartoons. What’s next?
The Cartoon War:
"Ye gods and little fishes!" Rebus exclaimed. "Called up from the cartoon reserves at my age!"
Most Americans are probably surprised by riots over edgy art. Not me. There’s plenty of precedent for it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known since the third grade that a cartoon mocking a thin-skinned bully can start a fistfight.

As a kid, I was a self-appointed cartoon critic who adored Heckle and Jeckle. Loathed Chip ‘n’ Dale. Loved Pogo. Hated Peanuts. Dug salty Popeye. Cringed at wimpy Mickey Mouse. Cartoons were close to my heart. Growing up in Richmond I had the good fortune to see Fred O. Seibel’s elegant work on a regular basis, as he was the world class political cartoonist in residence at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Subsequently, at 17, my first published work was a caricature of Hubert Humphrey.

So my fascination with political art was stoked at an early age. Eventually, I came to admire renown political cartoonists such as Herbert Block (Herblock), Bill Mauldin, Thomas Nast, Honore Daumier and other masters of the genre. My favorites list is too long for this space, however, the father to all of them was Francisco de Goya. He stunned viewers in the early-1800s who had never seen war portrayed as horror, set in an un-glorious context.

Political art, by its very nature, has always stirred passions. It has galvanized movements and spawned flare-ups of violence aplenty. How Goya got away with his unprecedented depictions of blood-lust and lost souls during the French occupation of Spain baffles me. Take a look at some of it, you’ll see what I mean. Daumier was thrown in jail six months for mocking the king with his deft pen.

OK, so what’s my cartoonist’s take on the controversy raging over depictions of a certain Middle Eastern prophet, you-know-who? Like, whose side am I on?

Ha! The cartoonists, of course, but they are hardly blameless.

What about the big picture? Who is right, or wrong? The provocative publishers of the cartoons? Or those who call for restraint in that area? What about those laughing at, or those taking offense from, or those ignoring the infamous cartoons in question?

Well, it appears to me all sides have legitimate points worth considering. Since real consideration would call for actually listening to the other guy -- the rube, the infidel, the jackanapes -- that's not happening. Thus, the cauldron of ill humors bubbles across the pond, while cynical Americans awash in culture of casual rough talk and obnoxious information are baffled.

Yet, in America, we have our share of violent gangs and lathered up religious extremists, too. You can get killed in some neighborhoods for wearing the wrong color. So the first thing America ought to do is get off its high horse when viewing this curious story, one that may evolve into a larger story.

Should the European publishers simply back off? Is that still a possibility? They may be in a position called “zugswang” in the game of chess. The term means it is your turn and any move with any piece only makes matters worse.

Perhaps the determined publishers should get more creative, find a way to use levity to promote a better understanding of the beauty of both freedom of speech and good manners. Still, the cartoon publishers do have a valid point when they claim religious hardliners are trying to chill freedom of expression.

To go secular, America's never-ending brouhaha over flag-burning may shed some light on an aspect of truth. To me, the burning of Old Glory in protest of government policy is obviously an act of political speech, so our national custom allows for it. The Constitution still protects it. OK, burn the flag at your anti-war rally. If, on the other hand, you schlep it over to the American Legion Hall to set it ablaze in the parking lot, don’t ask me not to laugh if an old veteran rolls up his sleeves and makes you sorry you did it.

However, the offended vet is hardly justified to beat the rude flag-burner to death. Enough is enough. So, if the outraged Muslims want to hurl insults across borders at the publishing provocateurs, or organize an economic boycott, or even throw up a picket line somewhere, that’s fine. But killing people over insulting cartoons can’t be justified by serious people in a civilized world.

An impartial witness might ask: where are the moderate Muslim leaders, cool heads who could do much with this opportunity to demonstrate the difference between the troubling fringes of the vast Islamic world and its calm center? A sincere peacemaker might ask: why such universal virtues as “prudence” and “civility” seem lost to all sides in this noisy clash of cultures? A good detective might ask, who stands to gain from inciting more riots?

An artist at the drawing board might ask how to inform the viewer it’s supposed to be a picture of you-know-who without a caption? So is the problem really more with words than pictures? Otherwise, it could be a picture of Mr. Natural or a cat in ZZ Top.

Some say the cartoon riots have peaked and the controversy will all blow over fast. We’ll see, but I doubt that. I suspect this rhubarb has too many players still convinced they can profit from perpetuating, even exacerbating it.

Hopefully, after the cartoonists’ ink, mixed with the blood of the zealots and the unlucky bystanders, is hosed off the streets, the witnesses left standing will have developed a greater appreciation for tolerance. That, and the eternal value of a sense of humor.

-- 30 --

Thursday, January 01, 2015

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 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 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 open in 1927. Legendary barber Willie Carlton 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 signaled 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 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).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Night the Earth Stood Still

In December of 1999 the editor at Richmond.com, Richard Foster, asked me to do something on the much-in-the-news Y2K scare. After we talked about it for a few minutes, he was happy to let me play around with a satirical approach. The gig had me filing the story a few days before New Year’s Day, to be published on January 3rd.

This is what I came up with 15 years ago:
The Night the Earth Stood Still
F. T. Rea
Richmond.com
Monday, January 03, 2000

To Whom It May Concern: Greetings from the waning hours of 1999 in Richmond, Virginia, USA. And, in case it matters, on Earth.

Sitting at a table outside of Puddn'Heads Coffee House on an Indian Summer morning in November, I read a Y2K paranoia article with smug satisfaction as I consumed my daily dose of black coffee.

When I noticed a woman walk by with a mischievous Jack Russell Terrier at her side, I paused to think - who actually believed that anything significant was going to happen just because another page of the Christian calendar was about to be removed and tossed into the cosmic trash bin of time?

The woman looked a bit like Patricia Neal, which brought to mind "The Day the Earth Stood Still," the 1951 sci-fi classic that anticipated a modern society's panic from the sudden loss of all electricity.

Alas, that was only a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, when I felt so unconcerned about Y2K bugs.

Now my nonchalance about this Y2K business has evolved into something else. Tonight, sitting at my keyboard on Dec. 16, I've started to get spooked by contemplating what's actually going to go down when zillions of pulsing gizmos sense that we have crossed the border between 1999 and 2000.

While I am anything but knowledgeable about matters pertaining to computers and the Internet, the fact is I use them both all the time. Frankly, I don't like to think about a world without word processing and e-mail.

At this point, I don't even know whether my computer will be of any use to me once we cross the great divide. I've been told on some good authority, there is a chance my old 486 may just seize up.

Of course that's a practical fear. Being a writer, I'm naturally concerned about my livelihood.

What is this I'm reading? You ask.

It's days after Y2K. We all know by now that (pick one) a) the Earth has been reduced to a still-glowing fireball; or b) it was all a big bore and we'll never fall victim to mass-hysteria again.

Well, reader, you're one up on me. The real problem looming as I type these words is that I have no idea that modern civilization isn't going to melt down over this splendidly ironic glitch in the system. I'm still weeks behind you, still left to wonder if the lights really will go out at midnight, Jan. 1, 2000. Still left to wonder if it's possible that our whole deal could go down the drain.

So think of this piece as a quaint time capsule beamed into the future - January, 2000.

Despite my Y2K blues, however, I believe that this article will almost certainly appear online as scheduled. I fully expect that you are sitting in front of your monitor reading this on richmond.com.

Then the laugh will be on all the people who admitted they were preparing for all manner of catastrophe. And, I suppose to some extent that will mean me. Fine. I'll be laughing then too.

I hope.

Nonetheless as I sit here, sipping on a bitter Pale Ale, I have no trouble imagining that roving bands of thugs could be out the first night without electricity. Looters could come out of the woodwork. If our toilets won't flush, our phones don't work, and all forms of mass communication are kaput, people could wig out big time.

Then, anything from the familiar post-apocalyptic menu could happen. Yes, I admit it - I'm getting a little worried.

In fact, I'm not at all sure when, or even if, anyone is actually going to read this. It has already occurred to me that maybe the only real point to my writing these paragraphs is to keep my squirmy consciousness occupied.

For that matter, every time a wordsmith plies his trade there is some leap of faith involved: Yes, it will be published. And yes, someone will read it.

Fetching yet another perfectly chilled ale, it just struck me that, for all I know, the entire power grid has gone down hard by the time you're supposed to be reading this.

And you, my dear reader, you could be someone who has stumbled across this material decades into the future. You could be an archeologist studying the artifacts of what remains of civilization circa 1999.

Or, perhaps you are reading this less than a month into the new millennium.

You are huddled in a icy bunker. Your generator-powered PC's monitor is providing the only light for you to pry open the precious can of beans you found in a pile of rubble.

And, with good reason you are reading this little essay with one eye peeled on the only doorway. Your revolver, as always, is at your side. You still have three bullets left.

You could even be the last human being alive. On the other hand, maybe you are not human at all. You could be from ...

Maybe everything is still, frozen timelessly in place.

OK, calm down.

If that is the case, there still could be one last chance. I know it sounds silly, but try saying the following phrase aloud: "Klaatu Barada Nikto."*

How could it hurt?

"Klaatu Barada Nikto!"

From 1999, this is F. T. Rea, over and out ...
-- 30 --
Note: *The key line from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" that commanded the all-powerful robot Gort to switch the world's machines back on.

A Lucky Break

The 1981-82 Biograph Naturals

Each year the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament is a blessing during the month of March. It helps get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter.

Of course, to be a junkie in full bloom one must still play the game. Since I quit playing basketball in 1994, I suppose I’ve been a junkie in recovery. Yes, I’ll always miss the way a perfectly-released jump shot felt as it left my fingertips. Nothing has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbled over his hubris.

The years I spent covering college basketball, as a writer, helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball has always appealed to me, from my seat on press row my inclination was to pay particular attention to players who had a special knack for seizing the moment.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, there are brutal truths to be reckoned with. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I’ve not completely forgotten what it felt like to dislocate my right ankle on the afternoon of April 20, 1985; I was undercut finishing a one-on-five fast break lay-up. I'd love to say the ball went in the basket, but I don't remember that part.

What I do remember is flopping around on the hardwood, uncontrollably, like a fish out of water for a minute or so. Take it from me, dear reader, popping your foot off the end of your leg hurts way too much to forget -- think James Cann in “Misery” (1990).

Three years before that injury, my then-34-year-old nose was broken in the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a team in a league called the Central Basketball Alliance. Other teams were sponsored by the Track, Soble’s, Hababa’s, the Jade Elephant, etc. Personnel-wise, it was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters ... and, I do mean characters.

The morning after my nose was bashed in by an opponent’s upwardly thrust elbow, while I was coming down from a failed attempt at snatching a rebound, I went to Stuart Circle Hospital for treatment.

My nose wasn’t just broken, it had been split open at the bridge in three or four directions. The emergency room doc used Super Glue and a butterfly clamp to put it all back together. This was before such glue had been approved for use in this country, so he asked me not to tell anyone what he had done; I hope the statute of limitations has run out.

Then, while I was waiting around in the lobby to sign some papers, my grandmother -- Emily “Villa” Collins Owen -- was wheeled by, stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same shock effect as accidentally seeing one’s parent in such an abrupt context.

We spoke briefly. She said she was feeling a little weak from a cold and had decided to spend the night in the hospital. She lived just a few blocks away. Pretending to ignore my gripping sense of panic, I calmly assured Nana (pronounced Ny-nuh) I’d be back during visiting hours, to see how she was doing.

That evening I took my then-12-year-old daughter, Katey, with me to see Nana. The doctor came in her room and told us she’d be fine with a good night’s rest. Katey and I spent a half-hour making our 83-year-old Nana laugh as best she could … feeling a little weak. Six decades before she had trained to be a nurse at that same hospital, which has now been converted into condos.

Nana died later that night; it was in the wee hours of March 5, 1982. Had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak, Katey and I probably wouldn’t have had that last visit with her. Which means I have to say the palooka who elbowed me in that basketball game did me a favor. Perhaps in more ways than one.

In order to keep playing in the Biograph’s games in that season, I needed to protect my nose while it healed. So, I got one of those protective aluminum nose-guards I’d seen players wear. It was a primitive version of the clear plastic masks in use today.

As a kid, I saw NBA great Jerry West wearing such a broken-nose-protector when he was playing his college ball at West Virginia. It impressed the 12-year-old version of me to no end; I marveled at how tough and focused West was.

Wearing what was to me a Jerry West mask, I played the rest of the CBA season -- maybe five more games. Now I believe that period was about the best basketball I ever played. Not wanting another whack to the nose made me a little more careful.

The team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. It has taken the passing of time for me to realize that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West tested his, I had been living out a dream.

It seems some lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror.

-- 30 --

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Napoleon in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met last year 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 than ran under two -- 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. 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 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.

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.   


This story is part of a series of stories at Biograph Times
All rights are reserved. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Warren Has Drawn a Line

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not only a bona fide liberal and a star on the rise, she’s been playing her cards extremely well lately. She’s picked the cause she was born to champion. She’s picked the right time to draw a line on an issue that voters are likely to remember. 

On top of that Warren has been smart enough to bat away all attempts to make her current outspokenness about a particular issue instead about running for president in 2016. This is hardly the best time for Warren to begin striking the limiting pose of a presidential hopeful. (She doesn’t need to.) This way, right now, she owns the Wall Street issue. For Warren to suddenly pivot into a fundraiser mode would be a huge mistake. The line Warren has drawn is clear -- which side are you on?

If Warren eventually does become a candidate for the Democratic nomination, it should happen within the right context. She would be best served by being a late entry, drafted by a nationwide movement. Some aspects of that movement should probably be independent of the Democratic Party.

In other words -- portable. It would be fueled by a burgeoning liberal populism -- get-tough-with-Wall Street and anti-war -- and frustration with the so-called “inevitability” of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The movement would depend more on social media than establishment media.

Maybe something like that will play out next year. Who knows when Clinton will make her announcement? Maybe other candidates will emerge that will change the dynamics. Next summer we'll have seen what the Republican majority in both houses of Congress will have wrought.

But for right now, with the Senate poised to vote, I’m delighted to see Warren focused on an issue in a way that has the potential to make proper regulation of Wall Street a populist cause modern Democrats will embrace more enthusiastically.

Update (8 p.m.): Warren on the floor of the Senate: "Enough is enough!" 

-- Image from Facebook

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Head-on-a-Pole Solution

OK, poisoning a schizophrenic in Texas, by way of lethal injection, might satisfy that particular state’s need to deal out old world punishment to the apparently guilty. And, executing a black marketeer in New York, by way of a chokehold, might prompt resisters of arrest to consider being more submissive. Still, as temporarily useful, or perhaps even entertaining, as those executions by the authorities might appear to be, no big problems are addressed in a way that offers any solutions.

However, if I could show you how to solve some of the most daunting problems we face today -- without costing the taxpayers a cent! -- wouldn't you be interested in hearing about it?

Of course you would. My plan would call for just one public execution a year. Its purpose would be to cure diseases, educate the poor, prevent wars, while erasing America's red ink problem. To do all that just one person would be put to death by the federal government each year. Although I'm ordinarily opposed to capital punishment, here's how it would work:

First we would make a list of all the American billionaires. Their names would then be put on a ballot. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the country. The same ballots would be available online, as would virtual ballot boxes. Each citizen, 18 or older, would get to vote for the billionaire they see as the absolute worst super wealthy citizen in the USA.

All year long, we'd all be eligible to vote once a month. The billionaire who gets the most votes for being the most hated billionaire of the lot would be arrested by a SWAT team and executed by guillotine on last second of Dec. 31st.

Naturally, America's cities would bid to stage the execution, like the Olympics, with the money going into the Social Security trust fund. The execution and the mammoth party that would surround it would be carried live on television. Big budget commercials would bring in more dough.

Afterward, the billionaire's head will be put on a tall pole for all to see, where it would stay for one year. Then, for the next new year the new head would go up. Out of respect for the dead, the old head would be turned over to the billionaire's family after its year on a pole is over.

Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires everywhere would take note, no doubt. They would have a couple of choices to prevent their own head from being selected to be the next to sit atop the people's pole:
  • Turn enough money over to the federal government to escape the list of billionaires. That money could go to public education and building a fast train national railway system.
  • If they want to remain a billionaire, then they need to use their money to do good works and curry favor with voters, especially those who hang around convenience stores or tend to stay online all day.
So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got a cool $50 billion, or so. Then you could choose to give away $49.1 billion to get off the hook. Or, you could take a chance on spending a few billion on curing cancer, or AIDS. Or, you could throw some large money at feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast. Maybe you’d pick a particular line of work, say all the musicians or artists in a state, and pay their rent for one year.

Busy billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to promote what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their heads on their respective shoulders. So, this deal could save our favorite inky wretches from extinction, too.

Accordingly, crime rates would drop. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. Every kid who wants a new puppy would get one. And, publishers would have enough money to pay freelance writers a decent fee for their work.

Each year would end with an execution of just one richly deserving person. Each year would start out with a visible symbol atop that special pole, showing everyone why we should be good to one another.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A Tradition Rather Bereft of Honor

While children stretch their faculties to develop their mindsets toward generosity and the appreciation of fair play, it’s also a good idea to encourage them to develop self-control. Self-control greases the wheels of civility, especially when one’s reserves of generosity and honesty might be running low. It also helps to keep the peace, all around.

Likewise, self-control is a trait that helps grown-ups avoid trouble, sometimes. Peace is good.

Beyond self-control, self-regulation is another thing, altogether. Self-regulation is mostly an oxymoron. And, the entities that demand self-regulation the most -- banks, energy companies, police forces, maybe universities, too -- continue to flinch noticeably at every mention of increased scrutiny of their ways of operating.

Hey, I might want to believe chemical companies in pursuit of the almighty dollar aren’t dumping poison into the James River, but given Virginia's history in such matters, I need to know it. Who, other than diehard government-haters, doesn’t want regular testing of the people’s water?

Furthermore, the archaic notion that self-regulating colleges in Virginia ought not to have to report rapes to the police is about as wrongheaded as it gets. Unfortunately, it's a notion recently validated and supported by Virginia lawmakers. 
There, after studying the issue, [the General Assembly] decided not to require colleges to report deaths and rapes to the locality.
Click here to read, “U.Va. Rolling Stone Article Shines New Light on an Old Problem,” by Cheylen Davis.

Although I might like to believe that a code of conduct handed down from one generation to the next promotes a classic sense of honor that is a boon to society, I'm bewildered by U.Va.'s apparent sense of what constitutes "honor" in 2014.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Misogyny as Ideology

When liberals squawk disbelief of what conservatives say about politics that doesn’t surprise me much. The same goes for the other way around. Nothing new. Most of us know that some partisans think their opposites in the game don’t mind lying, when it comes to framing political issues. As a liberal, myself, I happen to think most liberals have a firmer grip on reality than most conservatives, but that’s not really the same thing as honesty or reliability.

As a longtime observer of matters political, I have considered the so-called “war on women” to be mostly a useful slogan to characterize a series of throwback positions taken by right-wingers that, when taken as a whole, could be seen as anti-female. But that view hardly pointed me toward expecting conservatives/Republicans would leap before looking to defend the frat tradition from charges of facilitating gang rape at the University of Virginia.

No, I wanted to believe conservative men love their daughters just as much as do liberal men.

If you’d have asked me a week ago whether this snowballing scandal would divide along ideological lines, knee-jerk-style, I think I would have said something like, not so much, because there will be plenty of conservatives worried about rampant "lawlessness" in Charlottesville. But I would not have said that men who vote Republican will be more likely to doubt women who say they’ve been raped.

Today, I’m absolutely sure of this -- suspending activities at UVa’s frat houses isn’t a matter of punishing the innocent for the crimes of a few. Not at all. It’s a matter of stopping the bleeding … literally. Moreover, when we’re talking about The University’s traditions, shielding gang rapists doesn’t exactly jibe with the concept of living up to an “honor code.”

Given what has come out in the last week, temporarily shutting down fraternity activities, while proper investigations determine which individuals and groups are guilty of what, makes a lot of sense. Not partisan sense. Real sense.

Bottom line: If a goodly number of conservative men in Virginia (and elsewhere) -- can it really be most? -- now feel that defending the archaic institution of college fraternities is more important than getting to the truth in this case, then the “war on women” has been validated as more than a slogan. And, the “war” is being escalated in a most telling way. It substitutes misogyny for ideology.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

In a discussion with a group of friends yesterday, talk of the upcoming ‘Hoos at Hokies football game led to a guy mentioning the now famous Rolling Stone article about UVa, penned by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. As it turned out, I was the only guy in the group who had read the article, but that hardly stopped any of them from expressing disbelief about what they had heard. Although I had planned not to bring it up, I couldn't stay quiet on the topic.

One man laughed and said what others may have been thinking, "I don't need to read it."

After some discussion, it turned out much of their disbelief was based on simply not wanting to accept what they had heard. One guy surprised me by defending the fraternity system, itself, as a worthy part of the overall college experience.

Well, since I was a kid I've always thought the frat-house and sorority culture was weird. At 16, I couldn't grasp how it was cool to beg to be in a social group, to go through a groveling ordeal. Never did it, and I still can't understand why self-respecting people do. Likewise, for a good many years I’ve wondered why modern universities associate themselves with randy social clubs with Greek letters for names.

This morning I read a defense of the Greek scene in comments on Facebook. The defender cited his own membership in a fraternity in his college days, which he remembered fondly. He asserted that his frat brothers weren't rapists and I don't doubt him. 

However, defending the archaic world of college fraternities by saying the vast majority of fraternity members aren’t rapists doesn’t work for me. Not when that vast majority has apparently been helping to perpetuate a system designed to cover up serious crimes under the guise of tradition.

Hey, in the 1960s, I suppose most Ku Klux Klan members didn’t murder freedom riders. Most didn’t bomb churches to kill little girls. But like today’s party-hardy frats, the KKK of 50 years ago operated with the tacit blessing of the people in power. The KKK’s secrecy provided cover for a few people to commit terrible crimes. Expecting the Jim Crow era authorities to turn a blind eye on those crimes, that secret society's membership routinely did the same. Like today's frat boys, the members of the KKK didn’t denounce the sickos in their midst.

If we are to believe what we read in Rolling Stone, and elsewhere -- click here to read Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent analysis in SLATE -- it seems fraternity parties are providing opportunities for serial rapists to operate with cover, behind Rugby Road's closed doors. While most frat bros might cringe at the very thought of a gang rape, nonetheless, they seem to have been systematically averting their eyes from what they don't want to see. That’s a tradition that deserves no defense.

At the very least, sepia-toned memories should not stop folks who want to cast aspersions at the Rolling Stone article’s disturbing charges from taking the time to read it first.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

After 51 Years, It’s Time to Let Sunlight Change Our Ways

Camelot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave lasted 1,036 days. For the children in school on Nov. 22, 1963, the murder of President John F. Kennedy was stunning in a way nothing has been since.

On Nov. 24, 1963 a live national television audience witnessed the murder of the assassination’s prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. There was no doubt that Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, was the triggerman. What made him do it is still being questioned.

Shortly after JFK’s death, columnist Mary McGrory expressed her dark feelings to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “We’ll never laugh again.”

Moynihan, who was an Assistant Secretary of Labor then, famously replied, “Heavens, Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”

The cynicism the cloaked-in-secrecy aftermath of the JFK assassination spawned has tinted everything baby boomers have seen that November. However, I’m not at all convinced there had to have been a complicated conspiracy to kill the president and cover up the tracks. After he was dead, just because some people deliberately obscured related information, we don't necessarily know why.

In some cases it was probably people trying to cover asses hither and yon for a myriad of reasons. On the other hand, I’m not saying there was no conspiracy that led up to the murder of President Kennedy.

For this piece I’m skipping past the argument over whether Oswald acted alone. Not going to speculate about whether Oswald was a dupe, or one of the greatest marksman who ever lived. The point to this screed is that the secrecy that rushed in to obscure what happened in November of 1963 poisoned the American culture in a way that we need to recognize, so we can learn from it today.

Tomorrow we need to do something about it.

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24, 1964: Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin. Which immediately unleashed the questioning of the Commission’s findings. Was its famous “single bullet theory,” which had one projectile traveling circuitously through two victims, great sleuthing? Or was it an unbelievable reach?

*

In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an auditorium in Manhattan. Three years later Martin Luther King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by a sniper. Two months after that assassination, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel.

Unfortunately, the official stories on those three shootings were widely disbelieved, too. In the ‘60s more public scrutiny of how those assassination probes were conducted might have led to different conclusions. Even if more sunlight into those probes failed to produce different outcomes, at least Americans might have felt better about the good faith of the processes.

Instead, it seemed then the authorities generally believed the citizenry didn't really have a right to see the whole truth, and nothing-but-the-truth. Too often it seems to have been decided that the public was better off not knowing some things, as if we were/are all children. Of course, such secrecy can hide everyday malfeasance, as well.

Shielding the citizenry from such information is the sort of thinking that went with world wars, with spies lucking about. And, in the ‘60s the United States wasn’t just in the scariest part of the Cold War, the culture was still languishing in last days of the post-WWII era.

Therefore the public had come to expect its government to routinely withhold all sorts of secrets. It took the rudest of revelations to snap us out of blithely tolerating an over-abundance of secrecy:
  • The My Lai Massacre horrors.
  • The publishing of the Pentagon Papers.
  • The Watergate Scandal hearings.
  • The Iran-Contra Scandal hearings.
  • The bogus justification for invading Iraq. 
As those events paraded by, America steadily morphed into a nation of cynics. Now, those of us who recognize the damage that's been done by official lies know we were wrong to ever have accepted such skullduggery in the name of keeping America safe.

Today, to trust official conclusions, we need to see into the investigations. That means more public hearings. Now for democracy to have a chance of working properly, we need to know whose money is behind this or that politician. We, the people, can’t allow the fundraising and sausage-making to continue to be done in the dark.

Moreover, in 2014, we, the people, have no privacy. Our governments and plenty of large corporations already know all they want to know about us. They monitor our moves as a matter of course. To level the playing field we need more scrutiny of their moves.

*

In 1997 Sen. Moynihan’s book, “Secrecy: The American Experience,” was published. In the opening chapter he wrote:
In the United States, secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined. There is a formidable literature on regulation of the public mode, virtually none on secrecy. Rather, there is a considerable literature, but it is mostly secret. Indeed, the modes of secrecy remain for the most part -- well, secret.
On inquiry there are regularities: patterns that fit well enough with what we have learned about other forms of regulation. But there has been so little inquiry that the actors involved seem hardly to know the set roles they play. Most important, they seem never to know the damage they can do. This is something more than inconveniencing to the citizen. At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm's way.
In the C-SPAN video here Sen. Moynihan and a panel discuss the book in 1998. 

Sunlight should be THE political issue for 2015. Fifty-one years after the murder that we baby boomers can still feel in our guts, it’s high time to stop tolerating unnecessary secrecy in government at all levels.

To bring it home, we Richmonders should start with calling for an end to secret deals cooked up behind closed doors at City Hall. Mayor Dwight Jones has used secrecy shamefully to mislead and abuse his tax-paying constituents. I can tell you from experience that getting information out of Jones top aides, to write an accurate news story or OpEd, has been more than a little difficult at times. The Jones administration has a paranoia about it that's been there from the start.

Sunlight could discourage more of the same. Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote: 
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Single bullet theory, you say?


Great name for a band.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Is Jones the dumbest mayor Richmond has ever had?

Just got an email from Mayor Dwight Jones. But it wasn’t about the City of Richmond. The email was about supporting Democrats on election day. If you're on the same list of likely Democratic-leaning voters, some of you may have gotten the same missive. While I don’t necessarily mind being reminded of such matters by the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, I don‘t see how it properly has anything to do with Jones being the mayor of Richmond.

Here’s the text of the email:
Friend,

Election Day is almost here. Do you have everything you need in order to vote?
Your 2014 Election Day Checklist: 
  • A valid photo ID
  • Know where to vote
  • A list of Democrats to support
  • A contribution to the Democratic Party of Virginia
So, are you missing anything?

I AM MISSING A FEW THINGS – Then click here right now to fix that.

I AM READY FOR TOMORROW – Share this link on your Facebook page to make sure your friends are ready, too.

When Democrats turn out, we win. Don’t let anything stand in between you and your vote!

Thanks,

Mayor Dwight Jones
Chairman
Democratic Party of Virginia

PS We’re doing everything we can to turn out Democrats on Tuesday. Do your part and chip in $5, $10, $20 or whatever you can to help us buy last minutes supplies so we can keep at it until the polls are closed.
Unfortunately, I get fundraising emails regularly (every day!) from Democrats. When Vice President Joe Biden is the sender he signs it as being from “Joe.” Likewise, Sen. Mark Warner closes with “Mark,” when his office sends me that sort of a partisan message. That's how it's done. Warner knows the difference between acting as a senator representing all Virginians and acting as a well-known Democrat. 

Although it might seem picky to complain about this, I feel like it fits into a pattern of ineptitude. Jones doesn't seem to have any idea of where his powers and responsibilities as mayor start and stop. Remember his endorsement of the cheesy Loving RVA promotion that was obviously designed to buffalo members of City Council as part of a scheme to enrich certain favored real estate speculators?

At times Jones has seemed to have no sense of propriety, either. Remember when he stiff-armed the student demonstrators at City Hall six months ago? And, his ham-handed self-promotion has been annoying at times. Remember when he had his name put on signs posted at city-financed construction projects, as if he was personally responsible for the work?  

Now, in this case, he is acting simultaneously as Mayor Jones and Chairman Jones. An email with a partisan fundraising request should not appear on its face to be a message from a person acting as an elected official. I don’t know if it violates any laws, but one might think a person of ordinary intelligence who's been an elected official for 20 years would know better. Or, at least he should know enough to hire an adviser who knows better. I could go on, but instead I'll get to the point:

When you add up all the blunders and stupid things he's said, it makes Jones look rather unintelligent. All of which make me wonder if Mayor Dwight Jones qualifies to be the all-time dumbest mayor Richmond has ever had. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Could Foreign Policy Unravel the Inevitability, Again?

Which Virginia senator is the more 
likely Veep candidate in 2016?
My photo (2004)

In 2016, although Virginia will not have a senatorial or gubernatorial contest making headlines, once again it will probably be considered a battleground state in the race for the White House. With no Republicans holding statewide offices it’s hard to say who will emerge as the leader of their effort to put the commonwealth back in the red column. Still, as far as headlines to do with the next presidential election go, it will be the maneuverings of prominent Virginia Democrats that will bear watching the most.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a longtime Clinton confidant and can be expected to be playing a high profile role in the campaign of the Democrats’ most likely nominee, Hillary Clinton. My guess is the announcement about her intentions will come in early 2015. Sen. Tim Kaine couldn’t wait, so he’s already endorsed Clinton.

As a former governor, Kaine will probably be high up on Clinton’s possible Veep list, which will keep his name in the news. Sen. Mark Warner, another former governor, will also be on that list.

However, Kaine’s predecessor in the Senate, Jim Webb, may turn out to be the Democrat who will play the most interesting role in this story, at least in the early going. Webb has been appearing on news talk shows promoting the possibility that he might seek the nomination, himself.

On Oct. 5, Webb appeared on Meet the Press to answer questions from Chuck Todd about war and peace, and -- of course -- whether he will challenge Clinton for the nomination. In responding, Webb pointed out that the USA hasn’t really had a clear foreign policy for the last 20 years. Regarding the conflicts of the Arab Spring, Webb cited the lack of a clear articulation of the mission as a factor in mistakes that were made in Libya, when Clinton was Secretary of State. 

Regarding Iraq and Syria, Webb said, “We now have a situation where we're asking these freedom fighters, or whatever you want to call them, who were going after Assad, to help us go after ISIS ... And the elements that are fighting there are very fluid in terms of the people who declare their alliances. I would be willing to bet that we had people at the top of ISIS who actually have been trained by Americans at some point.” 

When asked about running for president, Webb kept his cards close to his vest. For the time being, he appears happy to provoke questions about his aspirations, without feeling obliged to answer them. It's safe to say he wants to force the early discussion within the Democratic Party to include the possibility of a peace candidate. Webb decried America’s Cold War-footing of maintaining military bases in too many places. 

Too much of that sort of talk could a problem for Clinton. Her 2002 vote as a senator, supporting then-President George W. Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, came back to haunt her in 2008. It opened the door for President Barack Obama to wrest the nomination from her.

Then, by serving as Obama’s Secretary of State for four years, it put her in harm‘s way to take the fall for any foreign policy mishaps on her watch. That played out most obviously with the howling aftermath of the 2012 raid in Benghazi. In weighing what she should and shouldn’t say about the current troubles in Iraq and Syria, in particular, Clinton is in a bind. She wants to own as little of what’s most scary in that region as possible. She wants to project a muscularity about her approach to the region that plays as right of Obama. But she doesn’t want to remind voters of her 2002 vote that authorized war in Iraq.

Moreover, I suspect some Democrats who are imagining other candidates are also watching to see how the polling goes in reaction to Webb's points about how and how not to use America's armed forces. With the shape of foreign policy as a front burner issue in 2016, one of the possible alternative candidates could be Massachusetts' Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet another might be our own Sen. Warner.

Is Hillary Clinton’s "inevitability" starting to unravel again? Is the first pulling of the thread happening here in Virginia?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Campaign Inkbites: The 1994 Senate Race

In the summer of 1994 O.J. Simpson-related material was on television round-the-clock. Meanwhile, a four-way race political race developed in Virginia, as three candidates emerged to challenge the incumbent Chuck Robb for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Republican Ollie North was nominated by a convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, threw his hat in as an Independent. Finally, Marshall Coleman, a Republican former attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, ran as an Independent, too.

Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen immediately as spoilers by many observers. The national press that wasn't assigned to the story of Simpson's soon to begin trial was all over the circus-like story of the quartet of candidates in Virginia. Although Robb was the incumbent, North was easily the biggest celebrity in the group. Wilder might have argued that point.

In late August, I issued what was then my fourth set of collectible cards -- “Campaign Inkbites: The ‘94 VA Senate Race.”

After swearing he was in the race 'til the finish, the mercurial Wilder withdrew in October. The wooden Coleman stayed the course, with stubborn Sen. John Warner as his chief backer. North, ever the checkered-shirted dandy, raised and spent over $25 million; what was then a new record for the most ever in a U.S. Senate race ... any state. In the end the awkward Robb outlasted them all and won reelection.

Beneath the 1994 newspaper article about that card collection are scans of 12 of the 15 original cards from the set. With 20 years of dust on the cards, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully the caricatures are still fun to look at. As I produced these cards, it was an interesting challenge to try to write lines for the dialogue balloons that would hold up for a month or two, no matter what the developments.

Right out of the gate, this edition was lucky with publicity, the article reprinted below started it:
Sept. 6, 1994: David Poole and Dwayne Yancey (Virginian-Pilot)
Odds and ends from the past week of Virginia's U.S. Senate campaign: I'll swap you two Doug Wilders for a Tai Collins. The colorful U.S. Senate race has spawned a set of trading cards featuring the four candidates and a host of supporting characters - including the former Miss Virginia who gave a nude massage to Chuck Robb in a New York hotel.

There’s U.S. Sen. John Warner sounding defensive about his hand-picked candidate, Marshall Coleman: “Why should I strain to name an office he hasn't sought, or an abortion stance he hasn't taken? The point is: Marshall isn't Ollie.”

There’s conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assessing the race: “The choice in Virginia is simple. You’ve got a stained, lap-dog liberal, a bleached and petulant liberal, a fair-weather conservative, and a genuine, world-class hero.”


There’s political pundit Larry Sabato reporting on the latest poll results: “Fifty-one percent said the race is so embarrassing they plan to leave the state.”
The “Campaign Inkbites” are the brainchild of F.T. Rea, a Richmond artist who a decade ago issued a similar deck of cards commemorating a massive death-row escape at Mecklenberg Correctional Center [by the notorious Briley brothers and four others]. The set of 15 Senate cards is available at Biff’s bookstore [also at Chickens, the snack bar in the State Capitol] in Richmond for $12 a pack.

The most unflattering likeness in the set is that of Sabato, whose green skin gives him the look of a vampire.

“Ironically, he’s my best customer,” Rea said of Sabato. “He bought 12
packs.”
Then an AP story written by Martha Slud ran. Lots of newspapers (1, 2, 3) picked it up and printed various versions of it. Some ran the whole piece, as shown below, others edited it down. Click on the cards or the article to enlarge them.
Then came a five-minute report on the card set by Bob Woodruff appeared on CNN. Woodruff had done a report on a previous project of mine and I just happened to run into him and he asked what I was up to. All that led to political memorabilia collectors from far and wide buying the cards through the mail.

All of this led to STYLE Weekly asking me to do a cover and a five-page spread of cartoons on the same campaign (Oct. 18, 1994).

It was a wild ride.