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,

-- 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 --


(reprinted from a June 2004 piece that ran on

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 The Byrd Watchers can be reached at (804) 358-9901, or by emailing

-- 30 --