Sunday, December 26, 2004

Maybe Rosebud

Fiction by F. T. Rea

October 11, 1985: Waiting for the veterinarian to call back about his cat, Pal, Roscoe Swift sat at his old wooden desk. His breath was shallow. He stared at a blank sheet of paper as he struggled to listen to a radio report about one of his heroes, cinema luminary and champion prankster Orson Welles, who had just died.
As the tension gripped Swift's neck and radiated into his arms, he sought refuge from his mounting sense of dread in the realm of memories and imagination. Closing his eyes he saw the foreboding scene that sets the mystery in motion in Welles' masterpiece, "Citizen Kane." There was the mansion, Xanadu, and inside it publishing mogul Charles Foster Kane was dying alone in the shadows.

With his pen Roscoe sketched Kane's slumped body, but with the head of a cat. The artist drew a dialog balloon next to the cat's face. In it he put Kane's ambiguous last word: "Rosebud." He had fashioned the cat's look after Zig-Zag, the little stray Roscoe and his ex-wife, Julie, had taken in a few weeks after their marriage in the summer of 1970. A neighbor on his way to class tossed the kitten in Roscoe's Studebaker to save her from a pack of dogs. Later, Roscoe found her hiding under his seat.

Four years after Zig Zag's unexpected arrival, she disappeared. Eventually, Roscoe found her under a bush in a back yard down the street. Her latest paramour, a black tomcat, scampered off as Roscoe approached. Lying on her side, Zig-Zag was stiff and her eyes were glazed over. Maggots were having at her guts. Patting her head and whispering her name, he carried the body home on a unfinished plank he found.

Through the kitchen window Julie saw him coming. She rushed out onto the back porch and began to sob. Without a word Roscoe placed the board on the porch. Then, as Julie crouched and touched poor Zig-Zag, quite unexpectedly, the cat moved. She was alive!

Roscoe ran inside to call a veterinarian. But seconds later, with Julie holding her, Zig-Zag cried out, arched her back, and gave up the ghost for good. Julie seemed comforted by the notion that Zig-Zag hadn't died alone in another yard. Roscoe mentioned her tomcat friend had been nearby when he found her.

The next day Nixon resigned. Three summers later Roscoe and Julie split up. The sound of the radio broke through his time-trance, abruptly, so he switched it off. Then he noticed loud footsteps, overhead, in the apartment above him. His new neighbor, a woman in her mid-30’s, had a heavy-footed walk.

*

Pal had made her first appearance at Roscoe's English basement apartment shortly after his longtime job as manager of the Fan City Cinema evaporated on the last day of 1982. Virginia Commonwealth University bought the old converted church building and dismantled it to build on the lot. He and his sometimes-live-in girlfriend, Tess Dailey, were having breakfast on an unseasonably warm winter morning, when a peculiar noise got their attention. They discovered a determined gray cat squeezing its way through the chicken wire stretched across the outside of the window.

Roscoe didn't want to encourage the animal to stay around, but playful and charming Tess insisted on feeding it something, which turned out to be his leftover pizza. The next day, ignoring Roscoe's wishes not to name the cat Tess started calling it "Rosebud."

Well, it turned out Rosebud was smart and would eat anything Roscoe would eat. Then, only a month later, Tess, the kid-sister of his old friend, Finn, announced she had given her notice on her art gallery job. Beyond that, she had decided to move to New York to pursue her career as a dancer/choreographer.

"I gotta go before I'm too old and scared to do it," Tess explained.

They hadn't had any sort of squabble, but Roscoe, 35, knew the drill well. She'd seen all his moves and heard all his jokes. Smart, pretty girls her age, 23, know when to say, "when."

Later, in the airport parking lot she leaned her back against his Volkswagen bus, as they kissed goodbye. Roscoe held her chin and couldn't resist using his Bogart imitation: "We'll always have Paris, Schweetheart."

Tess laughed, cried and made him promise to reconsider keeping Rosebud. And, that he did, except he renamed the cat "Pal."

Ultimately, Pal proved to be a good companion. Their morning ritual at the kitchen table, as Roscoe slowly drank his coffee, was rarely changed for any reason until she got sick. Pal always insisted on curling up on the parts of the Richmond Times-Dispatch he had finished reading. She would get up each time he needed to put another section on the used pile. Then she would park herself on the newspaper stack again, to doze. Pal was waiting for him to push his cereal bowl toward her, so she could drink the milk at the bottom.

Taking a break from the numbing fog of nostalgia Swift opened the door, to step outside and check his mailbox. It was noticeably colder than it had been earlier in the day. He found only junk mail and his telephone bill. "It'll keep," he muttered, shutting the box.

He decided to take a walk around the block. Swift breathed deeply, the crisp autumn air smelled good. A pair of pleasant, fragile-looking old ladies offered him a religious tract. He politely said, "No, thank you." Red, orange and yellow leaves were blowing about the street as he considered, once again, the role of irony in the grand scheme of things. Fresh thoughts began to fall into place, his stride quickened.

Back inside, the artist and occasional no-budget filmmaker -- who for his income depended mostly on a part-time position as special events coordinator for a charity -- pulled out a few blank sheets of paper. After a flurry of writing he put the pen down and went to the refrigerator. Breaking his new weekday rule -- no beer before 5 p.m. -- he cracked open a green can of Heineken.

Staring into a poster of a Degas ballerina painting, which was over his desk, another bubble of realization popped: Yes, it had been far too long since he had gotten laid. Roscoe sighed/chuckled, as he reached for the paper to read over what he had just written:

It would be easy to continue to see all of life itself as God. For me that's been a comfortable notion for many years. I have thought of it as a soft-edge brand of existentialism that avoids dwelling on doubt and debate. However, at this particular sad moment I find it more interesting, perhaps more useful, to see God in a different light. What about The Creator as the totally unpredictable random factor that causes change?

Thus, I submit – the ironic God. This God is itself another dimension – fifth, sixth, take your pick. Since it has no form or action we are capable of corralling to measure, it remains beyond the grasp of our reason. Perhaps we sense it most when we take risks, when we are in uncharted waters.

In many ways the biggest risk we take is falling in love. The playful, musical laughter of young lovers -- off, in their own dimension -- may be as close to being at one with this mysterious force as human beings are likely to get.

Putting the page down, the author rubbed his eyes. The text before him seemed to have been written by another hand. It excited him. After another swig of beer he grabbed the pen. Again, the words poured out, effortlessly:

The spark that set life in motion on this planet stemmed from the magic of the aforementioned force -- a force that creates anomalies as it wafts its way, hither and yon, and into the cosmic gears of order.

Why?

Who knows? Who knows if it cares about what it does? Who knows what else it can do, if anything? Preachers say they know, then they ask for money. I say nobody even knows what entity created order, in the first place, so it could then be tweaked by this ironic force of change? We just know that nothing stays the same, and payback is a bitch.

What the hell does that mean?

Maybe everything, or nothing. Maybe Rosebud. If there is inevitably a yes, no, and maybe aspect to all earthly propositions, then perhaps God is a kaleidescope of ever-changing maybes.

Change -- a big bang? -- caused mass to emerge from what had been only energy. Then came more change. We move from single cells, to dinosaurs, to mammals, to whatever is next in line; no doubt, something that will thrive on the poisons my species has unleashed on nature.

No matter how comforted people are by their worshiping of order and predictability, the existence of the species is owed to mutations through the ages. Without the random changes which fall like leaves one time, and a ton of bricks the next, the short life we struggle to live wouldn't even exist.

The phone rang. Walking like a zombie, Roscoe picked up the receiver: "Hello."

He listened to the vet's report: Pal's infection was so massive it was a medical wonder she was still alive. She had not responded to the antibiotic, nor had she regained any interest in eating. Fluids had been pumped into her. She was only getting weaker.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," said the careful male voice, "but the quality of, ah, your Pal's life, in whatever time she has left, is only going to continue to deteriorate. Do you want to take her home for the night and see what happens? Or, you might consider putting her down today. It's your decision. Mr. Swift."

"There's no good in prolonging her suffering, " said Roscoe, "if the situation is hopeless. She must be so confused, and..."

"I understand," the vet said. "If you want, we can take care of it in about an hour, including disposal of the remains. But you can still come to see her to say good-bye, or whatever..."

"How do you," Swift cringed, "I mean, will it be lethal injection?"

"Yes," Roscoe heard from the receiver, as his heart sank.

"OK, I’ll be there in a half-hour," said Roscoe. "And, yes I'd like to spend a few minutes with Pal before you put her to sleep. And, well, I’m not so sure about the rest, because I can't... After she's kaput, I'll take her body with me."

"That's fine, I understand," said the man. "And, I'm sorry we couldn't make her well."

"Thanks," said Swift. He hung up. Tears spilled onto his cheeks as he sat at his desk again. He began connecting to other sad times, disappointments, losses, deaths, melancholia. The phone rang, again.

On cruise-control, Roscoe listened to an artificially perky woman he didn't know.

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible to win an all-expenses-paid vacation in HAWAII. That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for two in paradise. How does THAT sound to you Mr. Roscoe?"

"What on earth are you talking about?" protested Roscoe. "Ah, listen, my last name is Swift, not Roscoe."

The anonymous voice began again, "That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for..."

"You shouldn’t have called," Roscoe advised. "This is a ... Look, I'm trying to work. Whatever list I'm on, please just take my name off of it."

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible..."

Roscoe shouted, "Believe me, I don't qualify! You've got the wrong guy. Look! I never buy anything, and I don't even give a happy Shinola about Hawaii, much less whatever you're selling!"

Swift hung up and walked back to his desk to cut the radio back on. Mercifully, "Rhapsody in Blue," was playing. Pen in hand, he went to work, again:

Shrill voices and strident blather. Relentless telemarketing and talk-show crackpots. Constant accusations. Constant denials. Aggressive promos and seeping disinformation. When you add them all up, the combination becomes a cacophony that stands like a wall of noise, separating us from whatever quiet truths we might discover, but for it.

The wall of noise is more than a mean-spirited abuse of our sense of hearing. It's a greed-driven abuse of the most cherished of rights – Free Speech. In such a maddening condition one of mankind's basic universal pursuits – peace of mind – is all but out of reach.

*

During the fifteen minutes Roscoe spent alone with Pal, in the quiet pale green room in which she would soon die, he found the courage to push through his lifelong needle-phobia. He simply couldn't abide the idea of Pal having to go out without her only true friend at her side. So, he opted to stay on for the execution.

Roscoe gently stroked Pal's head as the vet, Dan Yost, prepared to shoot poison into the animal's veins. His assistant, Sally, held Pal in position by her striped legs. Swift avoided looking at the syringe, hoping to suppress the queasy, lightheaded sweats the sight of an injection -- anyone's injection -- always brought on. To block out his powerful desire to turn away from the nauseating specter, he focused totally on Pal's face, on her eyes that looked so weary.

"Easy there girl," Roscoe said, scratching behind her ears as she flinched from the prick of the needle. "Easy Pal," he said in a low tone that would ordinarily make her purr up a storm. Pal had never liked anybody fooling around with her feet. She struggled weakly to free herself from Sally's grip.

Panic made Roscoe's heart race as he saw Pal's dignity being compromised. Then she slowly turned her head to the side and sank her teeth into his right thumb. Roscoe didn't react. Seconds later, she was motionless.

When Roscoe's thumb began bleeding Dan was shocked: "I've never seen that happen. Hey, I'm so sorry, man. I didn't think there was any way."

"It's OK," said Roscoe. "She never liked being held down. She protested, even if she was ready to go, and she left me something to remember her by. I'm glad."

Dan was greatly relieved and said so. He cleaned and dressed Roscoe's wound and continued to apologize. Roscoe watched Sally's gentle hands as she carefully wrapped the lifeless cat in a white towel. Dan cautioned him to watch for infection and to go to the doctor if there was swelling.

Remembering he needed to call a friend about borrowing a shovel, Roscoe asked, "May I please use your telephone for a short call?"

"Sure, not a problem," said Dan. "And, watch that thumb."

At sunset, Roscoe and two of his oldest friends, Rusty Donovan and Zach Collins, buried Pal under a large oak tree in Byrd Park. Each of the three took turns digging the grave. The oak was located at a dogleg in the middle of the ninth fairway of their unmarked Frisbee-golf course, where their small group had been playing for ten years.

Roscoe showed off his bandage as he told them about what happened when Pal died. He opened the towel and put the lifeless cat into the fresh hole in the ground. After they covered the grave the men toasted Pal with a ceremonial beer. Rusty, who was still always holding, broke out a joint. Stories about favorite pets were exchanged.

The three agreed to meet there the following afternoon for a round of golf. Starting with that next round's play, they began treating Pal's grave site as hallowed ground. It became routine for the players to meow and hiss, out loud, whenever a drive inadvertently smacked into the "Dead Cat Tree."

On a bright morning almost three weeks after Pal's burial, Roscoe saw Sally sitting alone in a new coffee shop that he'd been meaning to try. She invited him to sit at her table. As they lingered over coffee, they shared his Washington Post. She pointed out a funny article about a wild celebration of the 47th anniversary of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio prank. He told her a funny version of the story of Pal's name-change.

* * *

(Illustration by F. T. Rea)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Exit The Masterpiece

After 40 years of lazy lunches and stretched happy hours Frank Chiocca closed his place down .

"...Chiocca's Park Avenue Inn was known for its time-capsule atmosphere and its made-to-order sandwiches; the signature sandwich was called "the Masterpiece." It featured an anchovy sauce based on Frank's mother's recipe. Watching his hands carefully constructing a sandwich and arranging the presentation on the plate was always worth studying; he was a polished craftsman."


Read F. T. Rea's account on Richmond.com.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Harvey backup

This section consolidated links from earlier posts, it was started at 3:09 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2007
Last Update: Fri., Feb. 10, 12:30 p.m.
The Latest Posts

R-TD: Gag Rule Might Expand

Links to other web sites offering background or reactions to the story of the slain Harvey family have been added and removed, as needed, since this post went up in the wee hours of January 3rd. Readers should feel free to comment, report broken links, or make suggestions. And, thanks to those readers who are helping with the updates.

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Harvey Family Remembered (its entire collection of articles)
Forum: Harvey forum (many pages of comments from readers)
Deadly week in Richmond

Other News & Commentary
John Sarvay's Buttermilk & Molasses (a number of posts)
Don Harrison at Save Richmond
Hollywood Reporter
Rolling Stone
LA Times: Death of a Skyrocket
CNN: Men Charged in Slaughter
N.Y. Daily News: Pals of slain rocker find solace on Net
WRIC: Harveys Remembered
AP: Police consider suspects concerning other crimes
TimesOnline: Obit
Richmond Democrat: Suspects Arrive in Richmond; Charges Explained
Richmond.com: Where do we go from Here?
NO-IDEA: Farewell, Harvey Family
Three Wheels: All Things Must Pass
The Blue Raccoon: World of Tears
Washington Post: Brutal Slayings Shock Richmond
Sarvay at Buttermilk & Molasses: Holding Onto the Memories
SLANTblog: Harvey Segment on Dateline

Photos
Oz Geier's photo gallery
House of Freaks @ GAPD (four pages of late-80s publicity photos)

Background & Tribute
9X: House of Freaks: Remembering The Great, Original Guitar/Drum Duo
Work Magazine profile of Kathryn Harvey
Richmond.com profile of Kathryn Harvey
World of Mirth
Also Also: Bryan Harvey and the New South Gothic
Richmond.com: In Remembrance
bluecricket.com: Ask Bryan (fanzine interview)
Jalpuna: Please remember him well
Trouser Press: House of Freaks
Save Richmond: Bryan Harvey interviewied by Andrew Beaujon (2004)
Elizabeth Cougar for STYLE Weekly: Kathryn Harvey's Imaginative Eye
Greg Weatherford for STYLE Weekly: A Real-Life Love Song
National Review: Remembering Him Well
Henrico County Leader: Devoted father
Rhino Magazine: Bryan Harvey Remembered Well
Rhino (2004 reissue): "Monkey on a Chain Gang" (w/audio samples)
Rhino (2004 reissue): "Tantilla, Plus" (w/audio samples)
Pop Matters: Review of House of Freaks' 2004 reissues
Rhino: Remembering Byran Harvey by Steve Wynn

Memorial Endowment
SLANTblog: Harvey Memorial Fund Established
Radio PSA's to Spotlight Memorial Fund

email condolences to: condolences@bryanandkathrynharvey.net

Monday, October 25, 2004

Unvarnished Schizophrenia

by F. T. Rea

Now 350 tons of explosives, give-or-take a ka-plooey, have turned up missing in Iraq. The best guess is that the stuff was snatched in the early days of the American operation there, which is at 19 months and counting. Perhaps it's a good thing we didn't find any WMDs, because the local hoodlums would probably have stolen them, too.

Which leads to a cold question that should be considered in the hours leading up to the election: Since he took office, what the hell has George Bush done right?

For a man who campaigned as "a uniter, NOT a divider," as "a compassionate conservative," and to be a president who would not use American troops in arrogant missions of "nation-building," how does today's unvarnished reality jibe with Dubya's 2000 campaign promises?

Uh, oh, there I go again -- I was thinking in a pre-9/11 fashion. According to the Bush post-9/11 gospel, asking awkward questions of the Commander in Chief is forbidden. Continuing with the flashback theme, in 1998, when Clinton bombed Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan, the same Republicans blaming poor Slick Willie for 9/11 were branding his effort to strike at al Qaeda as a mere distraction from the then-all-overshadowing Lewinsky scandal investigation.

However, without blaming Bush for 9/11 it is possible to criticize his reactions to it. His administration has used fear like a monkey wrench to grab power so shamelessly that it has shocked the rest of the world. Furthermore, Bush's 2000 campaign promise to govern in such a way as to heal the divisions was pure baloney. So, too, was Bush's alleged compassion; his signature education program has fizzled -- the taxcut agenda won out.

Bush's so-called "conservatism" is counterfeit, too; let's face it, he's breaking the bank with his spending. And, other than "nation-building" what would you call the on-going operation in Iraq? OK, maybe "failed-nation-building" is more on the money.

George Bush is the most dangerous president of modern times. He's off the chart! Bush's neoconservative advisers see a window-dressing of democracy and unfettered corporate capitalism as a sort of new-style religion to be spread by their armed missionaries to enlighten the backward masses of the Middle East.

It says here Bush's twisted policies and outright incompetence are making the world, including the USA, more dangerous every day. That while tough-talking Dubya claims God speaks to him directly -- rather than to TV evangelist Pat Robertson -- about what to do in Iraq.

Uh, oh! What would you call that sort of claim -- deeply felt religion or schizophrenia?

-- 30 --

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Addicted to Choice

by F. T. Rea

"Whatever gets you thru the night
‘salright, ‘salright.
It’s your money or your life ‘salright,
‘salright.”

-- John Lennon

Obsessions, compulsions and addictions have always been in play. Now we see a somewhat new twist in driven behavior: In a time of plenty, many Americans seem to have become addicted to the act of choosing between this and that. This group has unwittingly developed what amounts to a jones for choosing from a smorgasbord of options.

Yet, as with any buzz, when it subsides the anxious feelings it allayed return with a vengeance. Thus, choice addicts find themselves living in a continuous loop of making choices in order to cope with their habit. This is beyond consuming, it's just about choosing.

Of course Madison Avenue, great facilitator in this shop-’til-you-drop scenario, has long depicted “choice” as utter bliss — Yowser! Yowser! Yowser! These wonderful widgets come in five, I say five, designer colors.

Choice has also been a hot political buzzword for some time. To a person wanting to express a belief that a woman is absolutely entitled to opt for an abortion, choice is a useful word for a slogan. It implies that ending the pregnancy is a matter of a person having dominion over her own body, rather than submitting to an authority claiming to represent society’s collective will. Of course, those calling for “choice” in this case see the individual’s right to choose an abortion as trumping whatever damage, if any, might be done to society by the abortion.

The notion that it should be fine for any citizen to pull his tax money out of the funding of public education, in order to finance sending his own child to private school, is called “choice” by its advocates. While this argument appears to be resting on a brick-hard logic, it ignores the long-held American tenet that everyone in the community has a stake in public education, regardless of how many children they have.

In both cases, the sloganeers show a telling awareness of the lure the word “choice” has today. Perhaps this is due to some new collective sense of powerlessness in the air. Or maybe the scam aspect of selling folks their own freedom is as old as dirt.

In “One-Dimensional Man,” German-born philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) warned us in the 1960s about illusions of freedom: “Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear.” Marcuse’s keen eye saw the counterfeit aspect of the processed brand of freedom wielders of easy credit felt, even then, as they exercised their prerogative to select one set of time-payment obligations over another.

Marcuse’s hard-nosed take on what he saw as controls over modern society is out of style today. But his view of how language is predictably used by a few of us to manipulate the rest of us is still as valuable as ever.

French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord’s (1754-1838) words on the topic of language remain crisp today. Talleyrand offered, “Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.” British philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) went further: “Speech was given to man to prevent thought.”

OK, so tricky lingo has long been used to shape perception. However, as a true believer in the unfettered streaming marketplace of ideas, I expect tortured language and agenda-driven slogans to come and go. My point is that the act of choosing should not be so highly valued that it comes at the expense of appreciating what happens after the choice is made.

For example, can constantly switching TV channels for hours be a more satisfying experience than watching one interesting program? Well, the answer probably depends on whether you value what comes after the choice. After all, in order to be able to surf 200 channels, as opposed to only 50 or 100, customers gladly pay extra, although many of them never watch any program in its entirety.

Much of television’s most popular programming feeds its audience a steady flow of information about people who happily act as if they have genuine clout — rich celebrities who cavort about with enough bread to buy anything. Then, quite conveniently, every few minutes, commercials interrupt the celebrity news to offer the viewer a chance to unjitter his jones.

Choices! Schmoices! Anytime your options are limited to what’s on a menu put together by someone else, by choosing from that prepared list you are surrendering some control to the list-maker.

And, the mountain of disposable schmidgets grows, evermore, as choice addicts cast off yesterday’s quick-and-dirty urge, to grab after today's fresh urge, just to get through the night.

-- 30 --

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Buy Nothing Day

The zany folks at adbusters have designated November 26 as Buy Nothing Day, a 24-hour period to avoid making a purchase. In order to stage a boycott that mocks/protests the ugly side of today's consumer culture adbusters has picked the day after Thanksgiving -- the tradional launching of the frenzy that is the holiday shopping season -- for the stunt. In print or online the plucky braintrust at adbusters has always good for cooking up a laugh, and sometimes much more.

"For 24 hours, millions of people around the world do not participate -- in the doomsday economy, the marketing mind-games, and the frantic consumer-binge that's become our culture. We pause. We make a small choice not to shop."

The handbills promoting this collective pause to imagine a life less devoted to defining one's self by what one buys are already up on utilty poles in the Fan District. Click here to learn about the Buy Nothing Day Action Pyramid.

Friday, October 15, 2004

God and Man at Tempe

The always erudite Richard Reeves writes a nice piece that reacts to the discussion of religion that took place during the most recent debate in Tempe. Here's an excerpt:

"...If memory serves, I had heard the phrase [born again] only once before. I was sitting on an airplane, and the guy next to me said, "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes," I said. But I don't talk about it with strangers.

"Are you born again? Have you found Jesus in a personal way?"

I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought about saying I didn't know Jesus was lost. Forgive me. But I decided just to change seats."

Click here to drink in the rest of Reeves' thoughtful words on religion and politics.

Click here to read on Reeves' impressive background.

Imperial Dreams

Georgie Anne Geyer is a legendary journalist/columnist whose analysis of international politics has been required reading for decades. Furthermore, Geyer is anything but a liberal. Her take on what Bush or Kerry would face if elected, and how they would most likely proceed, should be required reading today.

"...If the president wins again, he will oversee an even more radical administration than his first. With his all-or-nothing temperament, he will take re-election as carte blanche to go ahead with his program of pre-emption and imperium. Rather than pulling back from future Iraqs, he will rush ahead, feeling ordained by history. In a second Bush administration, virtually all the moderates will disappear."

Click here for the rest of Geyer's penetrating analysis.

If you are interested in Geyer and her credentials click here for a brief biography.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Over There

by F. T. Rea

President George W. Bush has warned the voters that his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, is not tough enough to face down America's most dangerous enemies. In stump speeches Bush repeatedly has said that he will not "wilt" or "waver" in prosecuting the War on Terror, the suggestion being that Kerry lacks the manly rigidity it takes to act decisively in matters of national defense.

For example, it was President Bush who swelled up to protect America from Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) by having him snatched off of an airplane in Bangor, Maine and promptly deported. On the other hand, Kerry probably listened to Cat Stevens' wimpy pop music when he and the comely but commie-coddling Jane Fonda were smoking banana peels.

It seems the sitting president's boldness to protect America is boundless. So, too, is his subtle shrewdness. Both traits are well illustrated by Bush's trumpeted assertion that he would rather fight the terrorists over there than here. "Over there" meaning Iraq, and "here" meaning the USA. By invading Iraq -- for whatever reason, like, who cares? -- now, if we squint just right, we can see that Bush has created what amounts to a siphon to draw out terrorists from wherever they have been hiding and sucker them into whatever it is that's going on in Iraq.

Who knew it would be so easy to trick al Qaida sleeper cell operatives into throwing off their secret identities and long-planned missions in cities the likes of Buffalo, Fresno, and Tupelo to book passage to Iraq, so they could fight America over there?

President George W. Bush, that's who.

Would a wind-surfing John Kerry have been willing to launch a war on false claims, over the objections of most of our allies, in order to cleanse America of all the potential crop-duster-stealing, anthrax-mailing, power plant-sabotaging, water supply-poisoning, dirty bomb-exploding, suicide mission cats that were hiding in our midst?

Because the quagmire in Iraq is getting bloodier by the minute, the potential to draw every terrorist in the world -- regardless of his creed or cause -- into the fray is growing. Would a President Kerry be willing to spend enough of whatever it takes to keep the battle in Iraq going long enough to snooker all the terrorists into leaving Afghanistan, Japan, Russia, Israel, Ireland, Indonesia and Idaho to fight an American army waiting for them over there?

Where to fight is the key.

Young John Kerry apparently misunderstood where to fight the Vietnam War, as well. Looking to win medals, he traipsed off to Vietnam. While the visionary George Bush opted fly beneath the radar to smoke-out the Viet Cong operatives possibly hiding in Texas and Alabama. Bush was even willing to disappear for a while for an off-the-record mission that was apparently so secret he still won't talk about it.

With less than a month until election day it's important to remember that both Texas and Alabama made it through America's longest war unscathed by communist terrorism. As an undergraduate at Yale Bush learned what would prove to be a valuable lesson about war, while serving proudly as a varsity cheerleader: Some games must be played on the road, others are best played at home.

Ever the stalwart cheerleader, it was Bush who bravely donned a flight suit, stuffed a King James version of the Bible into his jock strap, faced the pitiless cameras, and declared, "Bring it on!"

Which now we know must have sounded something like this to the terrorists -- Hey, all you evil-doers! Drop whatever you're doing in this country. Go to Iraq and blow up anything you like. Yes, cut off some heads, scare American voters out of their wits, and my reelection will be assured.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

From Baghdad

Written by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, here's the story of how hollow a pharse like "Freedom Is On the March" must sound to anyone close to the sad truth:

"Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference..."

This is a compelling story that everyone should take the time to read, and then tell others to read. Click here to see the rest of it.

George "Wired" Bush?

From Zogby: "Photographs of [Bush's] first presidential debate with Democratic challenger John Kerry show the outline of what appears to be a small box underneath his suit. Within hours of the pictures being released at the weekend, there was intense speculation that the president was wired with a secret radio receiver so that aides - hidden off stage - could tell him how to answer questions.

"The White House has been quick to shoot down the rumour, with Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel claiming it was 'ridiculous'. But it could explain the peculiar performance of Mr Bush, who lost out badly in the first of three televised debates on October 1. The president stopped speaking several times in mid-sentence, as if he was waiting for someone to tell him what to say next. And he complained twice about being interrupted when no one had said a word."

Click here to read the Zogby piece.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Yesterday's Labels Don't Stick

"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."

F. T. Rea examines the use of old labels in today's campaign. Do they still work? Read the STYLE Weekly Back Page.

"...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."

Friday, October 08, 2004

President George Bush and the Gilded Age

Yoshi Tsurumi, (Professor of International Business at Baruch College, the City University of New York) has known George Bush since he got that early-out from the National Guard.

“At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that ‘people are poor because they are lazy.’ He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to “free market competition.’”

The professor has something to say about today’s Dubya, too: “President Bush and his brain, Karl Rove, are leading a radical revolution of destroying all the democratic political, social, judiciary, and economic institutions that both Democrats and moderate Republicans had built together since Roosevelt’s New Deal.”

Read the piece on Glocom Platform.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Art: What It Is

This is a scan of a cheaply-produced handbill I created and posted on
utilty poles in 1982 to underline the blur between ordinary litter and
what might be political art which provokes thought.

by F. T. Rea

In a Virginia courtroom about 20 years ago I witnessed an entertaining scene in which an age-old question -- what is art? -- was hashed out in front of a patient judge, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the attorneys put before him. The gallery was packed with paint-speckled-blue-jeans-wearing art students, gypsy musicians, film buffs, and various other stripes of weekend anarchists.

At the crucial moment a popular college art professor was testifying, as an expert witness. He was being grilled over where to draw the line between what should be, and what should not be, considered as art. The Commonwealth’s Attorney asked the witness directly if the beat-up piece of paper in his hand was actually art.

“Probably,” shrugged the prof. “Why not?”

The flyer, promoting a midnight show at an area cinema, had been posted on a utility pole near a college campus. Rather than pay the small fine for breaking the city’s law forbidding such posters on poles in the public way, the defense attorneys attacked the statute itself. They asserted that their client had a right to post the handbill and the public had a right to see it.

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that the flyer was no more than “litter.”

Eventually, having grown weary of the high-brow vernacular being slung around by the witnesses supporting the theater manager, the prosecutor tried one more time to trip the clever witness up. As soup cans (Warhol’s) had just been mentioned by the art expert, the lawyer asked, “if you were in an alley and you happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that be art, too?”

“Well,” said the witness, pausing Jack Benny-like for effect, “that would depend on who tipped the can over.”

The line went over like Gangbusters!

The courtroom erupted into laughter. The obviously amused judge bit his lip, while he allowed the laughing to continue long enough to convince the crestfallen lawyer to drop that line of questioning. The city lost the case.

Although I got a kick out of the crack, too, I’ve always thought the prosecutor missed an opportunity to hit the ball back across the net.

“Sir, let me get this right,” he might have said, “are you saying the difference between art and randomly-strewn garbage is simply a matter of whose hand touched it; that the actual appearance of the objects, taken as a whole, is not the true test? Furthermore, are you telling us that without credentials, such as yours, one is ill-equipped to determine the difference between the contents of a trashcan and fine art?”

Yes, the prosecutor gave up too soon because, whether the wise-guy professor admitted it, or not, that is where he was coming from. A smart lawyer could have exploited that angle.

Still, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert witness could be compelled to rise up to brand a green piece of paper, with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. So, maybe the wily artist would have one-upped the buttoned-down lawyer, no matter what.

Perhaps the fundamental question really shouldn’t be – what is art? After all, any town is full of bad art, and good art, and all shades of in-between art. Name your poison.

Rather, it’s probably better to ask – what is worthwhile or useful art? Then you become the expert witness.

-- 30 --

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Picasso and Powell

by F. T. Rea

With protests of America's policy in Iraq swelling in many precincts, fresh anti-war propaganda is sure to be moving into public view to compete for attention with the output of the Bush administration's propagandists, who've been spinning like whirligigs since the prisoner abuse scandal broke. Interestingly, one member of the Bush team, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- a former four-star general, who, unlike some of his neoconservative teammates, has seen war from the inside out -- not only knows his battlefield strategy, it seems the Secretary knows something about art history and the propaganda side of waging war, as well.

In some ways little has changed at the heart of arguments concerning so-called "preemptive" war in the last 200 years, when France's army -- as driven by the empire-building vision of Napoleon Bonaparte -- was an occupying force in Spain.

Accordingly, today’s anti-war propagandists, with their powerful tools at hand, owe a great debt to one particular artist -- Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Documenting what he saw firsthand, the ghastly images Goya hurled at viewers of his paintings and prints parted from tradition.

Overwhelmed by the brutality of France's campaign of terror to crush the Spanish will to resist, Goya -- a well-connected artist who had much to lose -- took it upon himself to remove the romantic veil of glory that had always been draped over portraits of war in European art. Instead of heroic glorification Goya offered horrific gore, as he spoke out on behalf of the nameless victims slaughtered systematically in the streets, so as to send a message that would have legs. Goya’s work along these lines became widely distributed, due to then-recent advances in printing, so for the first time the masses looked into the face of all-out war.

Following in Goya’s footsteps artists such as Honore Daumier (1808-1879), Georges Rouault (1871-1959), Frans Masereel (1889-1971), Otto Dix (1892-1969), among many others, created still more haunting images illustrating the grittier aspects of modern war. In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with the storm clouds of World War II gathering, Spaniard Pablo Picasso created history’s most celebrated piece of anti-war art.

On April 27, 1937, to field test state-of the-art equipment, Adolf Hitler loaned a portion of Germany's air force, the Condor Legion, to a fellow fascist dictator -- Spain’s Francisco Franco. The mission: to bomb a small town a few miles inland from the Gulf of Biscay; a Basque village that had no strategic value whatsoever. The result: utter terror. Bombs rained on Guernica for over three hours; cold-blooded machine gunners mowed down the poor souls who fled into the surrounding fields.

Four days later with grim photographs of mutilated corpses on the front pages of French newspapers a million outraged Parisians took to their streets to protest the bombing of Guernica. That same day Picasso, who was in Paris, dropped everything else and began sketching studies for what became “Guernica.” As Spain’s government-in-exile had already commissioned him to create a mural for its pavilion in the upcoming Paris World’s Fair, the inspired artist already had the perfect place to exhibit his statement -- a shades-of-gray, stylized composition made up of a terrified huddle of people and animals.

When the fair closed “Guernica” needed a home. Not only was the Spain of Generalissimo Franco out of the question, Picasso decided it couldn’t stay anywhere in Europe. Thus, the huge canvas was shipped to the USA and wound up calling Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art its home for over four decades.

In February of 1981 I saw “Guernica” with my then-11-year-old daughter. When the MOMA elevator opened the sight of the 25-foot wide masterpiece stunned this scribbler; the elevator doors began to close before the spell was broken. A few months later it was packed up and sent to Madrid, Spain, upon the 100-year anniversary of Picasso’s birth (1881-1973).

A large copy of “Guernica” now hangs on the second floor of the United Nations building. On the occasion of Secretary Powell’s February 5, 2003 presentation -- underlining his president's impatience with U.N. members seeking to avoid, or delay, war in Iraq -- the aforementioned copy was conveniently covered by a blue drape (not unlike the strategic drape Attorney General John Ashcroft had thrown over a statue to hide a marble breast that seemed to vex him).

Alas, it seems Powell did not have enough clout to slow down Bush's years-in-the-making plans for war in Iraq. So, instead of resigning Powell caved in and used up his reputation as an honorable man in order to present a bogus case for war.

Still, Powell realized that even a faithful replica of “Guernica” (a tapestry donated to the U.N. by Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in 1985) simply had to be avoided as a backdrop for any photographs of him on that fateful day of betrayal.

Yes, the savvy Powell was worldly enough to know better than to lie through his teeth -- “We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities...” -- while posing before an image with such a rich history.

Six weeks before the invasion of Iraq Powell apparently retained a firm grasp on the propagandistic potential of art to cast a telling light upon his utterances, even as he lost his grip on what had been his honor.

No doubt, both Goya and Picasso would get a chuckle out of that blue-drape strategy.

-- 30 --


Saturday, October 02, 2004

On the Record

Mother Jones offers a handy timeline chart (1966-73) of the military service records of both John Kerry and George Bush. Although both men were born into similar situations, they certainly played their cards differently. While Kerry was winning medals for bravery under fire, Bush was in various parts of the South, busy doing something, or another.

To read about how young John Kerry won his Silver Star click here. Then decide if you want to accept the GOP’s characterization of Kerry as a liberal wuss.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Dancing with Dogs

by F. T. Rea

Since the White House has decided to launch a drive to amend the Constitution, so as to ban same-sex marriages, maybe things in the USA really are coming unglued.

So maybe it's about time to put aside old grudges and help the beleaguered president out. One doesn't need to be a strategist in the league of a Karl Rove to see that with the Donkey Derby trampling all over George Bush's approval rating, as it has moved its attention-getting act from state to state, it's time to fight back.

"...Activists courts have left the people with one recourse," the president is reported to have said. "If we're to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America."

With that, the president pinpointed his view of the central issue today. It's not bleeding Iraq. Not even fleeting jobs. Not the swelling deficit. Not the environment. Not health insurance. No, dear reader, it's not even Osama bin Ladenism.

It's the threat to America posed by same-sex marriages.

OK, by Sodom and Gomorrah, if America really needs to alter its Constitution to establish the secular definition of the word "marriage," or to stave off the avalanche of terrible problems same-sex marriages are imposing on society -- whatever they may be -- what else is out there?

There must be other practices that need to be banned by way of Constitutional amendment and preemption is the key that unlocks the door to appropriate action.

The first thing that comes to mind is flag-burning. There have been efforts made toward a Constitutional amendment to prevent such pyromaniacal mischief in the past. But in those instances the measure failed to pick up steam because so few American flags were actually being burned in the USA. Folks naturally asked: Why do we need an amendment, when hardly anybody ever burns the Stars and Stripes?

Well, citizen, that was before 9/11 and the subsequent requisite thinking about preemptive action. Who knows when jobless slackers, or tree-hugging clowns, or anti-war sissies, might resort to burning flags to vent their bitter nonconformity? Although it hardly needs asking, can we afford to wait?

What if some of the above-mentioned usual suspects watch a terrorist yahoo in another country burn an American flag on CNN? What if someone decides to imitate the act? What if Old Glory gets torched in front of an elementary school during recess?

Obviously, to be safe, we either need a Constitutional amendment to prevent television networks from showing such incendiary acts, in the first place, or we might be forced to send troops to that country and put a stop to it. Since such police action could prove to be expensive, to say the least, the total prohibition of flag-burning footage on television is the most practical solution.

Moving on to the next logical preemptive step, there's the potential problem of crazy men putting party dresses on dogs, or pigs, and dancing with them in public places, such as outdoor concerts or nightclubs. Obviously, that sort of thing would undermine the fiber of this nation's sense of morality and decorum. Sensitive children exposed to such species-bending displays could be twisted for life.

Not my kid!

If we don't put a stop to men dancing with dogs in dresses, then how long would it be before a woman puts on pants and dances in public with an animal wearing a lady's dress? What that could lead to is anybody's guess. And, just because it isn't happening all that much, yet, that doesn't mean it can't happen here.

We thought we were safe from terrorists in this country until the truth blew up in our faces. And, don't think this whole same-sex phenomenon isn't pleasing the evil-doing terrorists, utter zeroes that might encourage almost anything to dissolve the glue that fastens American mores and confidence to their origins.

They also might do much worse with dogs than merely dance with them. Arrrgh! One shudders to think.

Not my pooch!

-- 30 --

Byrd-Watching

(reprinted from a June 2004 piece that ran on Richmond.com)


by F. T. Rea

"Today was a good day," said Tony Pelling, referring to the $4,000 in contributions that had arrived on June 28th in the mail. That brought the total in the Byrd Theatre Foundation's growing kitty to $82,000.

"The City is making a grant for $150,000," chimed in Bertie Selvey.

The Byrd Theatre Foundation, with a 501(C)(3) status that makes donations to it tax deductible, has a clear mission: "... to implement and support the procurement of funds for the purchase, renovation, and ultimately the operation of the Byrd Theatre and to insure its continuation as a movie palace."

Pelling assumed the role of the foundation's president in January 2004. He and Selvey are two of 22 board members. Selvey also heads up the Byrd Watchers, a lively group of volunteers that stages fund-raising events -- auctions, concerts and you-name-it -- to benefit the foundation.

"We've started to negotiate with the heirs [the family that inherited the building]," said Selvey, with obvious satisfaction. She explained that several options are being discussed.

The foundation's reason for wanting to buy the Byrd Theatre as soon as possible -- with its 16-by-36-foot movie screen, its two-and-a-half-ton Czechoslovakian chandelier, its Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ and its 1,396 seats -- is that the current operator Duane Nelson is not in a position to guarantee the Byrd's future. Although Nelson, who has operated the cinema since 1984, generally takes in enough revenue in box office receipts and concession sales to get by day-to-day, he has not been able to put aside the kind of money it would take to stave off an emergency; let alone restore the 76-year-old cinema.

So, as it stands today, with any bad luck involving the Byrd's ancient equipment, or the roof, etc., and the screen could go dark. Hopefully, for the sake of the theater's regular audience for second-run movies, the foundation will get its ducks in a row before anything like that happens.

The total price tag to buy the building and equipment, then to restore it to its original splendor is $3.5 million. Among other things that would include a new roof, refurbished seats, new carpets, repairs to the pipe organ, a thorough cleaning, and putting its neon marquee back in place.

The Byrd Theatre, at 2908 West Cary Street, was built in 1928 for $900,000 by Walter Coulter and Charles Somma. During its initial four decades of operation the Byrd was considered to be the premiere movie house in Richmond.

In the '70s the Byrd fell onto hard times when national trends essentially moved the motion picture exhibition business to the suburbs in every town. During that time most of the Byrd's remaining counterparts, urban movie palaces built just prior to the Depression, closed. Many were destroyed.

Today the Byrd's Mighty Wurlitzer is one of only two still being played for American audiences on a regular basis; the other is housed in New York City's Radio City Music Hall. In addition to special events Selvey's Byrd Watchers have a number of plans to accommodate film buffs who want to hop on board the bandwagon to rescue and restore the Byrd.

Meanwhile, Pelling looks forward to seeing more good news arrive in the mail. Their optimism is both refreshing and contagious. The show must go on.

*

To contact the Byrd Theatre Foundation call (804) 342-9100, or email gjw1995pel@aol.com. The Byrd Watchers can be reached at (804) 358-9901, or by emailing bertieselvey@earthlink.com.

-- 30 --

Monday, February 09, 2004

Denial City

After President Bush’s strange interview on Meet the Press yesterday morning, does the D.C. that follows Washington now stand for Denial City?

Then comes the New York Times to weigh in on Bush's performance:

“Yesterday, in an interview with NBC's Tim Russert, after a week in which it became obvious to most Americans that the justifications for the war were based on flawed intelligence, Mr. Bush offered his reflections, and they were far from reassuring. The only clarity in the president's vision appears to be his own perfect sense of self-justification.”

“Mr. Bush’s explanation of how he reconciled the current activities in Iraq with his 2000 campaign rejection of ‘nation building’ was simply silly. (American troops are building a nation in Iraq, he said, but they are also ‘fighting a war so that they can build a nation.’) And it’s very hard to take seriously Mr. Bush's contention that he was not surprised by the intensity of the resistance in Iraq.”

The one thing that I noticed most about Bush’s performance from the Oval office -- his obvious discomfort -- the Times neglected to mention. The usual presidential smirk had faded into an odd expression that made him look as if he was sick to his stomach. Perhaps he's had to eat so much crow in the last week that he was suffering from a touch of the avian stomach flu.

Click here to read the Times editorial.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Remember the Alamo?

"Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq," President Bush is reported to have said today to an audience of military personnel and cadets in Charleston, South Carolina.

Then, according to unnamed Internet sources, Bush went into a rant that made Howard Dean sound like Mr. Rogers (if Mr. Rogers was still alive, of course):

“Hey, Spider Hole Saddam was such bad man that he had to go, WMD’s, or not. After all, didn’t the Hitler of the Middle East grind up and eat Iraqi children by the millions? How disgusting is that? Now, do you want us to let him go, so he can eat our babies, too? Didn’t the man bury left-handed people alive? Don’t you know someone who is left-handed? Didn’t he mock me -- me! -- the president of the greatest nation in history? Didn’t he try to kill my daddy? Remember how he gassed the nerds, er, Kurds?

“Hey, forget about what liberals say about my missing National Guard records. They’re gone. Gone! And, who cares? Don't side with Saddam. Remember the Alamo!”

Meanwhile, AP reports: "In his first public defense of prewar intelligence, CIA Director George Tenet said today that U.S. analysts had never claimed Iraq was an imminent threat, the main argument used by President Bush for going to war.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Mirth of a Nation

Mark Katz once had a rather unusual job; he used to write jokes to be sprinkled into the speeches of a sitting president. Now Katz has penned a book about his adventures at the White House called “Clinton & Me.”

Washington Monthly has published a piece that features excerpts of the book. In it Katz writes, “He opened the door and I jumped to my feet. Watching the president of the United States enter the room is always a startling sight. Of course, the sight he encountered might have caught him off-guard too: a nervous guy in a tuxedo secluded in a dimly-lit holding room with a stack of pages in one hand and an egg timer in the other. Although this was the fifth humor speech I had prepared for President Bill Clinton since he'd taken office, we were about to have our very first one-on-one meeting.”


Friday, January 30, 2004

Progressives Weigh In

“National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice took to the airwaves yesterday as the latest Administration official to defend the White House’s hyping of intelligence, inflating of the Iraqi ‘imminent/urgent/immediate/mortal threat,’ and failure to find the WMD it said there was ‘no doubt’ Iraq possessed.”

Yet, she repeatedly rejected calls for an independent investigation.”

The Center for American Progress is a good source of info if you’re running short of reasons to distrust President Bush and his merry band of neocons and Neanderthals.




Thursday, January 29, 2004

Kerry Keeps On Keeping On

John Hall, a veteran reporter based in DeeCee, is the senior Washington correspondent for Media General News Service. He’s hardly a flaming liberal and his regular columns, which appear in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, are known for their uncluttered and penetrating analysis. In Hall's piece today (Jan. 29) he recalls being in the room in 1971 when a passionate 27-year-old Navy officer in green fatigues, who was the head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“[John] Kerry was articulate and spoke in complete sentences. A product of St. Paul’s prep school and Yale, Kerry had volunteered for the Navy in the age of the military draft and survived the most hazardous kind of mission that the service had to offer -- leading a five-man crew patrolling the Mekong Delta in a small craft.

“[Senator] Symington identified, one by one, each of the ribbons on Kerry's chest. This was no campus radical, but a highly decorated service member who had turned against the war.”

That was the day now Sen. John Kerry began his career in national politics by asking the gathered senators this question: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Treading in Red Ink

It sure is a good thing George “Bring-It-On” Bush is an avowed fiscal conservative, who consistently calls for a smaller, less intrusive federal government. Or, else we the people might wake up to find ourselves drowning in blood red ink.

As we, the aforementioned, tread mightily to stay afloat in the drink, the Bush administration’s version of a lean and mean conservative machine only missed balancing the books this year by about a half a trillion bucks.

Yikes! USA Today reports, “The federal budget deficit will reach $477 billion this year, the biggest ever in dollar terms, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.”

Still, the sitting president -- who has been eagerly spending the people’s money like a drunken sailor on liberty -- is calling for more tax cuts for his super wealthy campaign contributors. If the prez gets his way that will ultimately mean more states and cities will be forced to raise their taxes to cover their shortfalls.

So, the bottom line puts the bite on the chumps in this story -- America’s middle class. Let’s see, just which of the three nutshells of disinformation did President Bring-It-On put the dried pea of fiscal conservatism under?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

More of Kay's Say

Former chief weapons sleuth David Kay has testified that Iraq documented the destruction of its WMD’s, well before the pre-invasion threats issued by President Bush. Naturally, that has put the White House on the defensive. Since Kay’s resignation on Friday, he has basically said that Bush's chief justification for launching the war was bogus. Like, the Democrats who have suddenly found their backbone, Kay is calling for a full scale investigation into what went wrong.

‘“If the weapons programs existed on the scale we anticipated,’ Kay said, ‘we would have found something that leads to that conclusion. Instead, we found other evidence that points to something else.’ Kay reiterated his view that 85 percent of the Iraq Survey Group’s job has been completed and that ‘the major pieces of the puzzle’ have been covered.”

Unlike the Dems, Kay still holds Bush blameless, nonetheless. Read more in the Washington Post article summing up Kay's comments.

Clues in the Numbers?

For a look at the Washington Post’s table of exit poll info on the New Hampshire primary results click here.

Monday, January 26, 2004

More News About the News

Opinion polls and focus group numbers have gained the sort of sway over our lives that we would not have willingly given up. Stories about the results of political opinion polls substitute for news of events every day. Such desk-bound reporting, for the most part, is news about the news industry itself. In other words, you don't have to go out and search for the news if you can whip it up in your own shop.

All of which leads to the definition of the word “news.” And, in this case the news industry is perfectly situated to establish the most accepted definitions for most of the words that are in the pop political lexicon. The same news industry is the largest player in branding all fresh ideas and positions on new issues as being “liberal” or “conservative.” Which, of course, does much to shape the discussion.

Yet, scoff at polls as we might, such surveys still record an on-the-fly grainy snapshot of a moment that will pass as evidence of a quick and dirty truth. So, we grumble about polls, remind readers of their evil and we watch them avidly. And, we do our part to shape the argument, when we can.

Readers can keep up with the Donkey Derby's latest poll numbers at the pollster's own web site Zogby International.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Neo-Con-Men

To gain more insight into the rather twisted history of the neoconservative movement in America this piece by Brian Giles is useful. Wouldn't you like to know more about where the likes of Rove and Wolfowitz got their ideas?

Surprisingly, in the 1960s, Richmond’s own much-admired Supreme Court Justice, the late Lewis F. Powell, Jr., played a role in the story, according to Giles.

"The term 'neoconservative' makes less and less sense the more it is explored. Conservatism is based on preserving the status quo and opposing progressive changes, but the neocons were radicals at heart, defying the very meaning of 'conservative.'"

Read the story on the Weekly Dig: The Best Little Paper in Boston.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Politics Is Fun Again!

So far the best line I’ve heard on the Howard Dean Iowa meltdown rant has come from the movie critic, Tom Shales, who appeared on MSNBC to characterize the lathered up doctor as, “Yosemite Sam as Captain Ahab.”

Along those cartoon lines I can see Dean as an exasperated, red-faced Elmer Fudd reacting to one of Bugs Bunny’s carrot-crunching, got-you-last, “Neyahh… What’s up doc?” cracks.

Ray McAllister hits the headlines-to-satire ball of opportunity out of the park with his column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The premise has politicians, local and national competing on an imaginary TV show in which they sing various songs. The fun is in sticking the right pol with the most appropriate pop hit.

“‘Howard Dean scores big with "Dancin' In The Streets" and its memorable chorus:

“They’re dancin’ in Chicago, down in New Orleans, up in New York City. Not only are we dancin’ in New Hampshire, we’re dancin’ in South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico. . . . And don’t forget the Motor City.’”

There’s more on Dean and others. Check the column out for more comic relief.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Internet Reaction to Dean in Iowa

Popular blogger Kos has been a Howard Dean supporter of the first order. To see the reaction to Dean’s Iowa concession speech on that site click here.

“Dean’s biggest problem right now is his high negatives. Those stem in large part from his Rebel Yell, but also from his reluctance to show his private side. In modern politics, people need to peek behind the veil to make the necessary emotional connection with their candidate. And meeting the spouse is a critical component of making that connection.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Blather and More Blather

President George Bush’s State of the Union Address was a good example of a strategy that football fans may recognize. As the incumbent, Bush is not unlike a team with a big lead, early in the game. And, last night he seemed to be a guy who was playing not-to-lose.

Bush said nothing that mattered. He was boring and the old smirk was back.

Did the Democrats recognize his “prevent defense” and take advantage of the opportunity it presented?

No. The Dems' response, delivered immediately afterward by Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle, was so tepid that they made Bush’s tack look smart. Perhaps the candidates in New Hampshire will do a better job of taking him to task. If they don't they deserve to lose.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Going for Broke

One of the most articulate voices being raised, these days, against the smoke and mirrors being used by the Bush administration to befuddle the public is that of Paul Krugman. Krugman, a prize-winning economist and Princeton professor, writes regular OpEd pieces for the New York Times.

Here’s part of his Times piece anticipating George Bush’s speech tonight:

“Mr. Bush's relentless partisanship has depleted much of the immense good will he enjoyed after 9/11. He is still adored by his base, but he is deeply distrusted by much of the nation. Mr. Bush may not understand this; indeed, he still seems to think that he's another Lincoln or F.D.R. "No president has done more for human rights than I have," he told Ken Auletta.

“But his political handlers seem to have decided on a go-for-broke strategy: confuse the middle one last time, energize the base and grab enough power that the consequences don't matter.”

Click here to read the rest of it.


Monday, January 19, 2004

After Iowa

by F. T. Rea

With Iowa's results in, it seems Howard Dean may be playing the role in 2004 that Eugene McCarthy played in 1968. McCarthy was the insurgent then. And, his candidacy changed history, but surely not in the way he would have wanted or imagined.

Senator McCarthy (D-Minn) was out in front of most in his party in his outspoken criticism of the Vietnam War policy of his fellow Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson. Then McCarthy had the temerity to run against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary in that pivotal year.

It was McCarthy’s remarkably strong showing in N.H. that prompted Robert Kennedy’s sudden entry into the presidential sweepstakes, only days afterwards.

All that set in motion the events that led to Johnson announcing he would not run for reelection, which came as a shock to many. Then Sen. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), originally from Massachusetts, began to pick up momentum like a runaway train. RFK seemed well on his way to winning the Democratic nomination until the train flew off the tracks in California, where Kennedy was shot to death immediately after winning the primary there.

Post-Iowa it seems Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), a decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam, may be the biggest benefactor of Dean having defined the anti-war issue.

Running against Bush, legitimate war hero Kerry would be in a good position to underline the absurdity of the sitting president's flight-suited pose while declaring victory in Iraq.

Perhaps, too, now Kerry needs to watch his back.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

McGovern Likes Clark

The Democrats' defeated peace candidate of the 1972 presidential race, former-senator George McGovern, has endorsed former-four-star general Wes Clark. It’s interesting to note that McGovern, who was characterized by his Nixon-following opposition as an utter wuss because he opposed the war in Vietnam, was a decorated bomber pilot during WWII.

"I am here to endorse, with all my heart and strength, General Wes Clark," the three-term senator from South Dakota told about 500 people gathered at a pancake breakfast at Keene Middle School. McGovern said it was "important" for Democrats to "recover" the White House from President Bush, a Republican.

Read the CNN story.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Bloggers Changing the Rules of Politics

“They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.”

Kathy Kiely examines the blogging phenomenon in USA Today.

Friday, January 16, 2004

What Is Al Qaeda?

Peter Bergen is the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" and a fellow at the New America Foundation. In a piece penned for the Washington Post, Bergen asserts that the best known terrorist outfit in the world has, "successfully turned itself from an organization into a mass movement -- one that has been energized by the war in Iraq."

Bergen's insight into the "dense web" that is known as Al Qaeda seems much more in touch with reality than the various pictures painted by the so-called "experts" employed by the Bush administration. Hopefully some of them read the Post, too.


Thursday, January 15, 2004

City in Denial

At the time America remembers Martin Luther King, and anticipating Black History month in February, I want to recycle another piece that I wrote (this is fun!). It ran in STYLE Weekly in 2002.

“With payback being heaped upon payback, progress didn’t stand a chance. Now, every time a controversy that touches on race pops up the oh-so-familiar cries are heard: ‘Oh Gawd! Let’s hope this business dies down before it makes the national news.’ Like a dysfunctional family in denial, we don’t want the rest of the country to catch on that Richmond is still trapped in yesteryear’s snare.

“Well, take it from me dear reader -- they already know. Everybody knows. Even in other parts of Virginia they know Richmond is frozen in time when it comes to race.”


Wednesday, January 14, 2004

When Was the Bull's Eye Put on Baghdad?

In light of former-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s revelations this week about when the Bushies started planning to invade Iraq, I must take this opportunity to post an excerpt of an OpEd piece I wrote for Richmond.com at the beginning of the Bush reign:

“Foreign policy-wise, I'm not at all sure what Bush's European policy will be. But I've got a tip for Saddam Hussein: It's time to pack up the palace etchings and that mint-condition collection of Playboy magazines. This is a good time to stock up on those familiar essentials for sustained life in the deep-down deluxe bunker. You know the drill: potted meat, canned beer, plenty of batteries for the TV and boombox.

It won't surprise me if America's new president wastes little time in finding a compelling reason to lob something more than words toward Baghdad. My hunch is that mopping up that dangling bit of unfinished business is high on the Bush team's list of what-to-do ASAP.”

To read the rest of the piece click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Ted Rall's View

Read columist/cartoonist Ted Rall on Bush's search for those missing WMDs.

"Once again Bush and his top officials are responsible for an outrageous scandal whose monumental scale and grotesquely terrifying implications for our democracy make Watergate look like a fraternity prank. Yet the miscreants are getting away scot-free.

As usual.

The Bush Administration, reported The New York Times on January 8, "has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to scour the country for military equipment. The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March."

Monday, January 12, 2004

Reading His Lips

You say you like a conservative approach to money matters? You say you want to hold the line on taxes? Well, someone is listening. And, he's telling you what you want to hear, but...

"Rather than take responsibility for our common future, Bush has shifted costs to states and communities, who then pass them on to you."

Visit The Bush Tax to get a wider perspective on Bush's brand of fiscal conservatism.


Saturday, January 10, 2004

Political Humor

Laugh enough during 2003? No political humor is not an oxymoron.

After all, in order to put up with all the guff politicians sling at us, don't a few laughs at their expense help? Visit the Political Humor site for plenty of jokes, satire, ‘toons, and lots of links.

No. 2 on the PH list of 10 dumbest quotes for 2003 is this tidbit: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know." -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

From their list of jokes about the capture of Saddam Hussein: "It was like Ground Hog Day. He popped out of a hole, and we got four more years of Bush." -- Bill Maher

From the Borowitz Report: "Just moments after former Vice President Al Gore endorsed former Vermont Governor Howard Dean for President in Harlem yesterday, the Supreme Court overturned his endorsement by a 5-4 margin.


Friday, January 09, 2004

The Character Myth

Writing for The Nation, Renana Brooks, a clinical psychologist who heads the Sommet Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion in DeeCee, skillfully examines the use of language and image-making by the Bush administration. And she gives the Democrats some good advice: To counter Bush, they must present a different version of what a safe world should look like.

“Some Americans find a certain comfort in Bush's thoughts, because they feel that dominance implies moral order and establishes God's moral authority in the world. They believe there is a natural hierarchy in which those who enjoy dominance have the right to do so. Just as God has dominion over man and man has dominion over animals, the imagery of the moral order assumes a world in which people dominate those who are below them.”

Read Brooks’ excellent analysis.


Thursday, January 01, 2004

Bloggers Changing the Rules of Politics

“They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.”

Kathy Kiely examines the blogging phenomenon in USA Today.