Monday, October 31, 2005

Reality Calls for Kaine

Tim Kaine (right) exchanges views with a fellow Richmonder
at the Easter Parade on Monument Avenue

(Photo Credit F. T. Rea, 2001)

With only days remaining in Virginia’s 2005 gubernatorial race, if you believe the polls of late, the trend is going Democrat Tim Kaine’s way. Those same polls that have Kaine ahead of Republican Jerry Kilgore by a couple of points now were calling Kilgore the front-runner not long ago.

Hopefully, after all the surveys and the candidates' political advertising campaigns are said and done, behind the voting booth curtains voters will ask themselves which nominee is more likely to be able to govern effectively.

Accordingly, candidate Kilgore has given us little suggesting he knows how to lead. About all we’ve heard from Kilgore’s own mouth in several weeks are his taglines acknowledging that his campaign’s massive war chest paid the tab for his low-road commercials. When you sweep aside the threadbare platitudes and bumper sticker cliches, could it be Mr. Kilgore has nothing of substance to say?

If this style seems familiar, it should. It was the same smug mindset -- no taxes, no how, know nothing -- that guided former-Governor Jim Gilmore in his four mean years of fiscal folly. So, when Kilgore claims to be this year's conservative, what does that mean? Say a Gilmore-like, thick-as-a-brick conservative? (Probably not.) Or, is the prissy conservative Kilgore saying that he's cut along the scary lines of Neocons Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby? (Ha!) Or, is Kilgore claiming he's more of a macho, Libertarian-type conservative, such as Arizona's John McCain? (Snicker.) Or, perhaps the more buttoned-down, traditional lines of Virginia’s John Warner suit him? (I don’t think so.) How about the bible-thumping, to-hell-with-science stance of wacky Pat Robertson? (Yikes!)

When attorney Jerry Kilgore hides behind his dark TV ads -- depicting grieving family members of murder victims accusing attorney Tim Kaine of "standing" with monsters, and being soft on Hitler -- who actually takes such malarkey seriously? Is that sort of thing actually what thoughtful, fiscal conservatives are worrying about? Not roads? Not education?

Tim Kaine plainly says he will not substitute his personal judgment for that of a Virginia judge/jury in a death penalty case. Since he has promised not to trump verdicts with his own beliefs about the downside of capital punishment, I see no reason to doubt his word.

In spite of all the hit-and-run Kilgore ads saying we shouldn’t “trust” Kaine, I’ve never seen/heard a whit of evidence that suggests Kaine is dishonest. The Kansas City native has lived in Richmond a couple of decades now. If you don’t know him, haven't met him, it’s not hard to find people in Richmond who know and respect Tim Kaine. Ask around.

Furthermore, Kaine’s governing style, as mayor of Richmond, was marked by his ability to settle squabbles between groups with quite different agendas. As Lt. Governor he demonstrated the same rare ability to work both sides of the aisle to get things done. Turn off the TV and ask around. It's true.

Kaine has experience governing with genuine success in the real world, where red meat slogans and attack ads have no place. A vote cast for Kaine will be a vote to continue Gov. Warner’s pragmatic progressive approach to governing this commonwealth. Since another bogus conservative, Republican Jim Gilmore -- who all but broke the bank -- left Capitol Square, the Warner years have been good to most Virginians. Do you really need to ask around about this?

You want labels? Kaine is a problem-solver; Kilgore is a poseur.

-- 30 --

Friday, October 28, 2005

Marquis de Cheney

If Dick Cheney makes you uncomfortable, this is a good time to take in Georgie Anne Geyer's latest effort -- The Dark Heart of Dick Cheney -- because it will be a fun read. If Dick Cheney doesn't bother you, uh, oh, Geyer's piece is a must-read.

"[Cheney] rarely speaks, running things quietly and secretly from behind the White House's closed doors, where he maintains his own administrative staff (roughly 60 persons, almost as many as the president's). When he does speak, it is usually either a sarcastic observation or rejoinder.

"... this week, the vice president took a turn into the deepest heart of human darkness. This week, unprecedented in history, an elected vice president of the United States of America proposed that Congress legally authorize the torture of foreigners by Americans. The Washington Post titled its devastating editorial 'Vice President for Torture.' I would say that the deceptive man from sunny Wyoming has become the Marquis de Sade of America. Think about it -- he is insistent upon making torturers of many of our young soldiers -- your children."

('Toon by F. T. Rea)

Update (NOV. 2): And, speaking of the unspeakable, this Washington Post story suggests that what we already know about illegal/immoral tactics being used by the USA in prosecuting its War on Terror is but the tip of an iceberg. It seems the problem now is what the hell to do with prisoners who have been hidden in secret prisons and perhaps roughed up a bit along the way. If you decide they really don't know anything useful, how do you let them go?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gibbs' Critics Stiff-Armed

Joe Gibbs is now in the second year of his second stint as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Successful NASCAR team-owner Gibbs won three Super Bowls, retired in 1993, and was subsequently inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 1996. Upon his return to Redskins Park last season, many observers asserted he was woefully out of touch with modern pro football. Then the team finished with a 6-10 record, which didn't help much. However, this year the retooled and resurgent Redskins seem to be developing into contenders.

The improvement can be seen on both sides of the line of scrimmage. After six games the Redskins are 4-2 and tied for the lead in the NFC East with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Is it a fluke?

The numbers say “no.” Excluding the 1-5 just-beaten doormat, the San Francisco 49ers, the combined record of the other five opponents the ‘Skins have met is 21-12. So the schedule has not been all that easy. In offensive yards gained Washington currently ranks 2nd among the league’s 32 outfits. In defensive yards allowed it ranks 4th. In points scored it is 17th, and in points allowed it is 7th. Although Gibbs was widely criticized for benching his strong-armed starting quarterback in the course of this season’s first game, young Patrick Ramsey’s replacement -- the veteran Mark Brunell -- has played well and is statistically rated as the NFC’s top signal-caller. Brunell and Gibbs seem to be on the same philosophical page.

On Sunday the Redskins will travel to the Meadowlands to meet the New York Giants at 1 p.m. (FOX). At this writing the home-standing Giants are seen by the bettors as a 2.5-point favorite. It says here -- take the 'Skins and the points.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Poll: More Political Power for Women

According to a new poll by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the U.S. News & World Report, 73 percent of Americans lack confidence in their leaders. Furthermore, a majority thinks the country would be better off with more women in power; perhaps surprisingly, a larger percentage of men than women say they believe this -- 69 percent to 61 percent.

Click here to read the story on Reuters.

Rosa Parks, a Civil Rights Saint

With the death of Rosa Parks it reminds us there was a time when doing the right thing was more than striking a pose at a contrived Photo-Op. It was more than mouthing platitudes. It could mean taking a chance by risking a beating or getting arrested, or worse, because somebody had to do it.

In 1955, in Alabama, Parks' courageous and very public move to refuse to give up her seat on a bus to a white man -- as dictated by Jim Crow laws -- was quite dangerous and absolutely the right thing. That Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress, was not murdered like Emmett Till had been in Mississippi that same year was lucky/remarkable. That she went on to live to the ripe old age of 92 was pure karma.

Shaula Evans at tsuredzuregusa ??? opines fittingly with bite about opportunistic/insincere reactions from GOP spinners to Parks' death:

"Today Bush and other prominent Republicans will exploit the occasion of Parks' death to promote their ongoing campaign to hijack, whitewash, and rewrite history; they will co-opt the language of the civil rights movement in order to be seen as racially sensitive by white soccer moms; all the while that they attack and undermine every inch of progress accomplished by Rosa Parks and her generation of civil rights activists."

Evans also offers some good links to read more about the quiet woman who launched a revolution, Rosa Parks. Click here to read the post.

Obama Coming to VCU

This item about a 2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. rally on Sunday, Oct. 30, is from VCU Young Democrats:

"Join rising star Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-3rd) and Virginia's next governor Tim Kaine for a rally hosted by the VCU Young Democrats in the Commons Plaza. Show your support for Virginia's Democratic ticket to keep our commonwealth moving forward. All eyes are on Virginia in this nationwide event!"

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Post Backs Kaine

On election day (Nov. 2, 2004) Tim Kaine (right) is introduced
to a late crowd at the Canal Club as, "Virginia's next governor,"
by the Guv, himself, Mark Warner.
(Photo Credit: F. T. Rea)

On Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005, the Washington Post endorsed Tim Kaine in Virginia's too-close-to-call gubernatorial the race. What follows are selected excerpts of the editorial:
  • Possessed of an agile, incisive mind and slightly allergic to the allure of sound-bite politics, Mr. Kaine is the kind of politician who is impressive in small groups but can fail to inspire on the campaign trail. A former city councilman and mayor of Richmond, he is a policy wonk in the best sense of the term -- probing, analytical and at ease with the broad implications of competing choices as well as the details of how government works. He commands respect on both sides of the partisan divide in Richmond, an increasingly rare trait among elected officials.
  • Mr. Kilgore has taken the path of least resistance in this campaign, adopting doctrinaire GOP positions, brandishing the word "liberal" as a weapon directed at Mr. Kaine and opportunistically trying to exploit hot-button issues that come his way -- illegal immigration and the death penalty, in particular. His record as the state's secretary of public safety in the 1990s and, more recently, as attorney general, is solid if unremarkable. But he has given Virginians no reason to believe a Kilgore governorship would be anything beyond pedestrian. In the event of an economic downturn, he could leave Virginia as bereft of public funding, and flirting with fiscal disaster, as did the state's last Republican governor, James S. Gilmore III.
  • [Kaine] acknowledges his long-standing qualms about the death penalty, while pledging to carry out the law on capital punishment if elected. He embraces Gov. Mark L. Warner's sizable tax increase of 2004 (or "tax reform," as he prefers to call it). And he insists that as a devout Catholic who spent a formative year in his youth as a missionary in Central America, he will not concede the "values" issue to the Republicans
  • Mr. Kilgore positions himself as an unyielding opponent of new taxes. He proved it last year by opposing Mr. Warner's tax package, which bailed out the state's fragile finances and buttressed public schools -- and was backed by more responsible members of his own party.
  • In the end, the race may have been dispiriting, but the choice is easy. Mr. Kaine has the potential to be a remarkable governor -- a responsible, forward-thinking, unifying, principled politician with brains, guts and know-how.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Milk or Juice?

With the World Series underway, and the opportunistic Chicago White Sox up 2-0 over the frustrated Houston Astros, the state of California has found a way to still make headlines with no dog in the fight. A new installment of an old ad campaign is apparently ruffling feathers in baseball czar Bud Selig's office, as reported by AP.

"The latest 'Got Milk?' commercial hit a little too close to home for Major League Baseball. Poking fun at the league's steroid scandal, the television ad for the California Milk Processor Board talks about a player getting pulled from a game 'after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.' In the next scene, a coach pulls a carton of milk from the slugger's locker.

"'There is nothing humorous about steroid abuse,' said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business for the league."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blog Tricks and Clock Ticks

Daily Kos busts the Kilgore camp on its semi-tricky blogging strategy:

"When we saw this blog post asserting that VA Gov. Mark Warner was finished campaigning for candidate Tim Kaine, we did not make too much of it. After all Warner was just on the campaign trail with Kaine in NoVA on Monday and the two are slated to join forces again tomorrow in SW VA. But when some GOP officials started circulating the post to the media, we thought we'd check it out. 'Nothing could be further from the truth,' says Warner political adviser Mame Reiley."

"...This is the tactic the GOP developed in the South Dakota senate race last year -- leak damaging information, irrespective of the truth, onto blogs."

The clock is ticking down to election day and the race is too close to call. When will the Republicans start planting stories about Kaine having a black illegitimate child stashed somewhere? Click here to read the rest of the analysis by Kos.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bush's Sinking Numbers

With the smell of election fraud mixing in the always smoky air in Iraq, and yet another hurricane heading toward America the beautiful, SurveyUSA's October 18th national poll on the dis-approval rating for President George W. Bush is in: Thumbs-up was 38 percent. Thumbs-down came in at 59 percent.

Click here to see a 50-state breakdown.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Riding for a Fall

An Open Letter to Tim Kaine
by F. T. Rea

OK candidate Tim Kaine. Take a deep breath. This is for your own good. It has been written by a guy who has written in support of you in the past and who supports you now. I believe you would make a splendid governor. That said, if you don’t change the direction of your campaign this warmed-over scribe fears you are riding for a fall, and so is Virginia.

Not unlike many a losing candidate, or general, or coach, you seem to be doubting your own instincts at crunch time and listening to the wrong advice.

Alas, it appears to be the Democrats' pattern these days: They nominate a decent, smart candidate who can think for himself, someone who would likely do a good job. Then they -- whoever they are -- convince him to try to broaden his appeal by emphasizing certain things they pulled out of a focus group. Eventually his natural rhythm and confidence give way to a contrived image that was spawned a committee room.

Then another election gets flushed down the drain, and another Republican who mostly wants to make his pals richer gets elected. Now, in the stretch run of this contest, you’ve been attacked by a low road series of television ads. Who didn’t know that was coming?

What’s been your response? You duck the punch and protest. Then you attack back, but in a lighter manner. We all saw how effective that Republican-Lite, try to seize the middle by being righteously bland, strategy was for John Kerry.

It’s said you have played a little basketball and are a decent athlete. Well, I ask you as a competitor, can’t you see how weak the strategy outlined in the paragraph above really is?

On the basketball court -- with his ads -- Kilgore has just shoved you hard with his hip, moving you a couple of short steps, as the two of you jostle for position near the basket. Your lame strategy has been to shove him back hard enough to take back only one of the two steps he took away from you. Well, if you played much basketball you know that can’t give ground to an opponent. You must shove back hard enough to get the two steps you lost, and perhaps a little extra, or you go around him to establish a new position.

So, I’m not necessarily saying you must hit him back with a meaner ad than his was. No. My point is you have to either do that, or you have to go around him. By going around him I’m asserting that you have to set the agenda rather than react to his.

For instance: You could swear off attack ads, altogether. Rather than be Republican Lite you could push off from Kilgore’s recent spooky/dark style and try to be as different from him as you can. Make and show commercials of you speaking with confidence about the bright future at massive sunlit rallies. No studio stuff, no long self-aware looks at the camera. All documentary-looking shots. Lots of familiar faces on the podium -- politicians and others with a following.

When you served as mayor it seemed you wrote most, if not all, of your own copy. You had a style that was recognizable and that style is no longer evident to me in your campaign literature or your remarks. In interviews your answers seem canned. And, when you use that talking-points style in speaking, it takes away from your natural spontaneity. It makes you seem more like the cardboard candidates who can’t think on their feet.

Although it is unthinkable that I could support Jerry Kilgore, looking at today’s political landscape I suspect that while your potential base is wide, it is not all that deep. I also sense you are losing momentum. Then again, who’s going to get but so excited about voting for what appears to be a Republican Lite kind of liberal-in-denial, who is losing an ad war because he’s getting outsmarted and out-toughed by a lightweight like Jerry Kilgore?

Bottom Line: Tim, trust your basketball instincts. Either shove your opponent back harder, or roll off the screen and go around him. Either way, please start writing your own copy again. Virginia needs you to win this election.

Latest VA Poll

Edited Results of SurveyUSA Election Poll #7263

Geography Surveyed: Virginia
Data Collected: 10/14/05 -- 10/16/05
Release Date: 10/17/05; 11:10 a.m
Sponsoring News Organizations: WSLS-TV (Roanoke), WUSA-TV (Washington, DC)

Analysis: Three weeks to the vote, the outcome between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore is too-close-to-call, according to a SurveyUSA poll of 750 likely Virginia voters. Kaine gets 47 percent of the vote, up four points from an identical SurveyUSA poll four weeks ago. Kilgore gets 45 percent, down one point in four weeks. Independent Russ Potts is unchanged at 4 percent. In four polls since June 30, Kilgore has steadily declined, going from a 10-point advantage in June to a two-point deficit today.

Click here to see the whole report.

Anger or Holmberg

Writing on his blog, Jimmy Page's Sweater Vest, Andrew Beaujon reacts to some of Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Mark Holmberg's recent purple pieces to do with violence. Beaujon offers a game that asks a provovative question: Is it (Ed) Anger or Holmberg?

Click here for background.

Click here for the game's questions.

Then click here for the answers.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Hitler Debate

By F. T. Rea
(Warning: Read with caution, this piece may contain satire.)

Jerry Kilgore:
Admit it Tim, you routinely defend fiends. For money you stand
with murderers. Why, you’d probably be Adolph Hitler’s lawyer if he was alive today. Failed Mayor Tim Kaine: way too liberal to be trusted to execute Hitler.

Tim Kaine: Jerry, since Hitler would be 116, he’d probably be in a coma with tubes running into his face. His girlfriend, Eva Braun, would be just 93. If she tells the doctor Hitler said he never wanted to be kept alive artificially, would you rush in to the hospital room to insist that Hitler’s feeding tube not be removed? Would you force the taxpayers to pay the bill to keep Adolph Hitler alive?

That’s an absurd hypothetical. But, I’d still set fire to his moustache in a Gate City second.

Kaine: Jerry Kilgore can’t be trusted with Hitler’s moustache, or even his own moustache. What really happened to that failed moustache of yours Jerry?

Kilgore: Liberal Tim Kaine can't even be trusted to keep Hitler alive -- the worst mass-murderer in history -- so I could have him drawn and quartered when he wakes up.

Kaine: So, you'd go medieval on him?

Kilgore: Coddling criminals never works.

Kaine: Speaking of standing with criminals, what about Karl Rove's soon-to-be jailhouse moustache? By the way, why’d he stand you up for dinner the other day?

Kilgore: He called to say he was busy fending off partisan liberal attacks. Actually, Karl had a sassy little blonde moustache in the day. But that has nothing to do with me winning the election because you're against capital punishment for dead dictators.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Brileys

by F. T. Rea
Now decades into the copycat Postmodern Era, we wonder, when the hell did the news of the day become just another product to be processed and squeezed into a profit-making shape? Recent coverage of the Hurricane Katrina story demonstrated how far the networks are willing to go, reckless-wise, to make a hot story glow even hotter. But before O. J. Simpson’s whacky trial, and talkative Monika Lewinsky's mischief, and dead Laci and smarmy Scott, and so forth, we weren't used to the pounding of the 24-hour news cycle.

Richmonders experienced an abrupt change in the standards by which news was gathered and presented 21 years ago: Having terrorized the town with a series of grisly murders five years before, on May 31, 1984, brothers Linwood and James Briley led the largest death-row jailbreak in U.S. history. In all six condemned men flew the coop by overpowering prison guards, donning the guards’ uniforms, creating a bogus bomb-scare and bamboozling their way out of Virginia’s supposedly escape-proof Mecklenburg Correctional Center.

While their four accomplices were rounded up quickly, the two Brileys remained at large for 19 days. The FBI captured the duo at a picnic adjacent to the garage where they had found work in Philadelphia. Linwood was subsequently electrocuted in Richmond on Oct. 12, 1984; likewise, James on Apr. 18, 1985.
All the images in the series were based on what
were then well reported stories.

While the Brileys were on the run and for some time afterward the media coverage, both local and national, was unprecedented. During the manhunt the Brileys-mania led to stories about them being spotted simultaneously in various locations on the East Coast from North Carolina to Canada. When I noticed kids in the Carytown area were pretending to be the Brileys, and playing chasing games accordingly, that was just too much.

My sense of it then was the depraved were being transformed into celebrities so newspapers and television stations could sell lots of ads. Once they were on the lam, if it came to making a buck it didn’t seem to matter anymore what the Brileys had done to be on death row.

“OK,” I said to a Power Corner group in the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe on a mid-June evening, “if the Brileys can be made into heroes to sell tires and sofas on TV, how long will it be before they're on collectable cards, like baseball cards? (or words to that effect).” To illustrate my point I grabbed a couple of those Border logo imprinted cardboard coasters from the bar and drew quick examples on the backs, which got laughs.
Later at home, I sat down at the drawing table and designed the series of cards. To avoid race humor entirely I used a simple drawing style that assigned no race to the characters. The sense of humor was sardonic and droll. I elected to run off a hundred sets of eight cards each, which were put into small ziplock plastic bags, with a piece of bubble gum included for audacity's sake. I figured to sell them for $1.50 a set and see what would happen.

Traveling about the Fan District on my bicycle it took about three days to sell the first press-run out of my olive drab boy scout backpack. New cards were designed, more sets were printed, more plastic bags, more bubble gum. A half-dozen locations began selling “The Brileys” on a consignment basis. Sales were boosted when the local press began doing stories on them. For about a week I was much-interviewed by local reporters. The Washington Post ran a feature on the phenomenon and orders to buy card sets began coming in the mail from Europe.

Reporters called me for easy quotes to fill articles on death penalty issues, as if I was an expert on the subject. That I was opposed to the death penalty seemed to strike them as odd. Moreover, finding myself in a position to goose a story that was lampooning the media’s own overkill presentation was delicious fun. I announced on the air that T-shirts commemorating the Brileys' 1984 Summer Tour were on the way soon.

Apart from my efforts, the hated Briley brothers’ chilling crime spree and subsequent escape inspired all sorts of lowbrow jokes and sick songs, and you-name-it, which did indeed fan the flames of racial hate in Virginia. Naively, I felt no connection to that scene until a stop at the silk screen printer’s plant suddenly cast a new light on the fly-by-night project that summer's effort was. Walking from the offices to the loading dock meant passing through a warehouse full of boxes, stacked to the ceiling. Suddenly, I was surrounded: Four young men closed in and cornered me.

Some of them, if not all, had box cutters in their hands; all of them were definitely black. At that moment I felt whiter than Ross MacKenzie. No direct threats were made, but the mood was extremely tense when their spokesman asked if I was the man behind the cards and T-shirts.

As it was not the first time I’d been subjected to questions about the cards, I quickly asked if they had seen the cards, or had only heard about them. As I suspected they hadn’t seen them. Luckily, I had a pack in my shirt pocket, which I took out and handed to the group’s leader. As he studied them, one by one, his cohorts looked over his shoulder. I explained what my original motivation had been in creating the cartoons. They didn’t laugh but the spell was soon broken. I let them keep the cards.

Later I was in a drug store, restocking one of my dealers for the cards, when a white lady with blue hair approached me. She worked there and had seen the cards, which she found unfunny. She told me her husband was on the crew that had cleaned up the crime scenes after some of the Briley’s murders. Then she said if I was going to profit from all this I should be man enough to hear her out. I did. She gave me specific details. It was mostly stuff I had known, or suspected, but the way she told it was brutal.

At this point the success of my performance art project seemed to be going sour. I got a call from a reporter asking me what I had to say about Linwood Briley having made some disparaging remark about my cards. I got peeved and asked the scribe what the hell anybody ought to care about what such a man has to say?

Like it or not, I had become a part of what I had been mocking in the first place. Shortly afterward the cards and T-shirts were withdrawn from the market. Three years later I was in the Bamboo Cafe, standing at the bar at Happy Hour, having a beer and talking with friends about sports (probably). A middle-aged man I didn’t know stepped my way to ask furtively if I was the guy who “drew those Briley cards.”

After I said “yes,” and introduced myself, he asked me a few questions about the cards. Then he spoke in a hushed tone, saying something like, “What about those missing cards?”

“Missing cards?” I returned. “Are you asking why I skipped some numbers?

He nodded and reached in his pocket to pull out a full set of The Brileys, still in its original plastic bag.

Wanting to end the conversation quickly -- that he had the cards with him was too strange for me -- I put it plainly: “OK. First, I wanted to imply there was a vast series out there, without having to create it. Then, I wanted the viewer to maybe imagine for himself what the other cards might be.”

The collector put his cards back in his pocket. He stepped away, plainly disappointed with my rather easy answer, which gave him no dripping red meat to savor. It seemed that night the mild truth was of little use to my public, such as it was.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Sam Knox, held by his mother Katey Knox, studied a party decoration, of sorts, near the park house in Libby Hill Park at High on the Hog 25 (in 2001). The beer trucks and stage, etc. are in the background.

On Saturday, Oct. 8, from 12 noon until about 7 p.m. High on the Hog 29 will unfold in the same park, located on Church Hill at 28th and East Franklin Streets. As always, free. Live music on stage outdoors all day. BBQ plates, draft beer and soft drinks are available at crowd-pleasing prices.

Featured acts at this year's annual reunion/music festival are: Johnny Houston and the Legends; Mo DeBree; Dale Watson and his Lonestars; Brad Spivey's Honky Tonk Experience.

Unplugged: Waking Up the Day After

by F. T. Rea

Hurricanes Isabel (2003) and Gaston (2004) gave Richmonders an expanded capacity to be drawn to the compelling story of New Orleans' ordeal with the wrath of Katrina. Although Richmond didn't get redecorated anything like what used to be called The Big Easy just did, we did get a taste of flooding and powerlessness here. In October of 2003 STYLE Weekly first published a version of the piece below in a special section about Hurricane Isabel.


On the Friday morning after Hurricane Isabel blew through town, the sky was blue and the air smelled clean. The residents of the Fan District, at the heart of Richmond, Va., woke from an uneasy sleep. Day One of the unplugged life was underway.

Before the worst of the storm passed, about midnight, Isabel tossed huge trees around like a handful of pickup sticks. Power lines snapped. Cars were crushed. Roofs caved in and basements flooded. As the shocking devastation dealt out by the previous night’s onslaught of wind and rain was revealed to the stunned urbanites in the Fan, so too did the reality of widespread electricity deprivation.

Still, faced with all sorts of uncertainty and disconnected from the doings in the rest of the world, many wandering the streets like zombies on that morning faced the immediate problem that there was no hot coffee to be had.

For hundreds of his neighbors, Manny Mendez, owner of Kuba Kuba, took care of the coffee shortage on that surreal morning. Boiling water on the restaurant’s gas stove and pouring it over sacks (improvised coffee filters) in a big colander, Mendez and his staff doled out tasty Cuban coffee to anyone who stopped by.

While opportunists in other parts of town were marking up prices on candles, batteries, ice, generators and anything else for which the supply was short and the demand was great, Kuba Kuba was pouring strong coffee for one and all at no charge -- free!

"What are we going to do [under these circumstances], charge people for coffee?" Mendez asked rhetorically with a shrug.

When word got around that Kuba Kuba -- at Park Avenue and Lombardy Street -- had hot coffee, the crowd on the sidewalk outside the small restaurant swelled. Into the afternoon the size of the gathering fluctuated between 20 and 40 people at a time. Many neighbors met for the first time. By the time the coffee-making effort shut down in mid-afternoon, 100 gallons of free coffee had been served in paper cups.

By then several of Manny’s tables were on the sidewalk, with chairs arranged around them. Out came the boxes of dominoes.

The marathon dominoes scene continued for hours under the lights of a borrowed generator. Players sat in for a while, then sat out. Neighbors appeared with what they had in the way of libation. They swapped stories and the laughter from what had become an impromptu party drove off the demons that lurked in the eerie darkness, only 50 yards away.

Dominoes shark Manny Mendez was all of 6 years old when he boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to a totally uncertain future in the United States. In 1968, for people such as the Mendez family, getting out of Cuba was worth the risk of fleeing into the unknown.

The day little Manny left Cuba, his father was thought to be in Spain, as he had been deported. His mother was crestfallen when told that there were no flights going to Spain on the day her family was offered its chance to flee what Cuba had become. Recently released from 13 months of confinement at an agricultural labor colony, she opted to board the Red Cross-sponsored Freedom Flight for wherever it was going.

On Aug. 2, 1968, that airplane took Judith Mendez and her two children, Manny and his sister, Judy, away from Cuba. It landed in Florida. Upon touching down, Judith Mendez called her relatives, who lived in Richmond, to tell them the good news.

To her surprise she was told her husband, Manuel, was already in Richmond.

After a spell in an apartment building at Harrison Street and Park Avenue, the Mendez family moved to the 3400 block of Cutshaw Avenue, where several other Cuban families had settled. There was one car, a ’56 Chevy owned by his uncle, for the whole group to share.

Manny’s father had been an accountant in Cuba; in Richmond his first job title was "janitor." As time passed, Manuel Mendez improved his situation and became a leader of the growing Cuban community in Richmond by making regular trips to Washington, D.C., to buy the essentials for Latin cooking and other imported goods unavailable in Richmond.

"Papi, how often did we used to lose power in Cuba?" Manny asked of his father during one of the dominoes games.

In his distinctive accent, with the timing of a polished raconteur, Manny’s father rolled the "r" as he said, "Oh, about two or three times ... a night!"

Those gathered laughed, having instantly gained a wider perspective of coping with bad luck. Manny’s mother and the Cuban employees of Kuba Kuba laughed the loudest. Then, too, that may account for why Kuba Kuba routinely carries candles for sale along with other sundries.

The dominoes party broke up about 1:30 a.m. Most of the crowd returned to homes without power -- with strange noises in the anxious quiet -- no televisions, no Internet, and refrigerators full of risky food. No doubt, some of those dominoes players that unusual night carried away a new appreciation for people who can handle hardship with grace. Some may have even gained a new sense of how it must be in places where millions do without power, in one way or another, most of the time.

-- 30 --

What About Immigration?

World class columnist Georgie Anne Geyer weighs in on the USA's mounting immigration woes:

"Other specialists, like the prescient political economist and author Pat Choate, convincingly developed the idea that along with the massive immigration over the last 40 years, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which was supposed only to accelerate trade between the two Americas, has 'released corporate America from its stakeholder responsibilities within the U.S. Today its only responsibility is to shareholders, not to workers.' And Doug McIntyre, popular host of Talk Radio 790 in Los Angeles, said it even more clearly: 'We have allowed Third World labor to set the standards for American workers. What we have is in-sourcing -- bringing in cheap labor -- Darwinian capitalism -- the belief that the U.S. is just a market. 'A nation that does not control its borders,' he concluded, 'is a nation in name only.'"

Click here to read the column.

Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch A. Barton Hinkle skillfully examines some of the confusing angles of the illegal immigration issue. It's getting harder to pin politicians down -- including our gubernatorial hopefuls -- these days on what to do about it. Meanwhile, it seems the Bush administration is content to allow as many Hispanic illegals to sneak into the USA as the construction industry is willing to hire, which, for one thing, seems to turn the notion of "homeland security" on its head.

Hinkle opens with: "The rising number of illegal immigrants in Virginia -- a number that has tripled in less than a decade reflects "federal failure on a grand scale" either to "enforce immigration laws" or "to change them to reflect" reality. Those are not the words of some cross-burning yahoo with more fingers than teeth."

Click here to read the rest of his OpEd piece.