Wednesday, April 20, 2005

SLANT Interview for April: Tim Kaine


Tim Kaine (by F. T. Rea, 2005)

Gubernatorial hopeful Tim Kaine, 47, grew up in Kansas City. Upon graduating from the University of Missouri, Kaine earned his law degree at Harvard. Note: He took a year off from law school (1980) to work as a Christian missionary in Honduras, where he taught welding and woodworking to underprivileged children. Kaine has lived in Richmond since 1984. Working as an attorney, for his day-job, Kaine served on City Council for seven years; from 1998 - 2001 he was Richmond’s mayor. For six years Kaine taught a course in legal ethics at the University of Richmond’s law school. In 2001, Kaine, a Democrat, was elected Lt. Governor of Virginia. Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton -- the daughter of former Virginia governor Linwood Holton, a Republican -- is a juvenile court judge. Their three children, Nat, Woody, and Annella, attend Richmond’s public schools.

It has been said many times that Virginia’s quirky politics seem rather insulated from national trends. Here’s an example: Through seven election cycles, going back almost 30 years, whichever major party has won the presidency, the following year the other major party has captured the top office in Virginia. All the way back to Democrat Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, followed by Republican John Dalton in 1977, to George Bush (R) in 2000, followed by Mark Warner (D) in 2001, Virginia’s voters have consistently marched out of step with the nation’s. If this opposites trend continues Tim Kaine will prevail in November.

SLANT: Given the results of the last seven gubernatorial elections, why have Virginia’s voters been so at odds with the national trends?

Kaine: Virginia voters are not at odds with national trends: They set national trends. Our voters are well-informed people who share strong values and a solid focus on that which will improve their schools, neighborhoods and livelihoods. They demand strong leadership from their elected officials, and they want to know what positive vision candidates offer for the future. Virginia currently has the second fastest job growth rate in the nation and Governing Magazine says Virginia is the best managed state in the country. We have achieved that success by bringing people together to make record investments in our public schools while protecting our business-friendly reputation by salvaging the state’s sterling credit rating. That’s the type of performance Virginia voters expect and deserve.

S: With all the controversy over redistricting we've seen in Virginia, and elsewhere, how would you like to see Virginia's political districts drawn in the future?

K: There are no angels in the redistricting process. Both major political parties in Virginia, and other states, have abused the process to benefit incumbents and dampen competition. By creating the districts as they do, lawmakers give themselves a nearly iron-clad opportunity to retain their seats for as long as they like without the hassle of having to spend time and money on re-election campaigns. But the cost to voters is simply too high. I have long advocated that Virginia follow the lead of other states like Utah who use a non-partisan or bipartisan panel of non-elected experts to draw political maps with an eye toward maximizing competition. Our Commonwealth would benefit greatly from the more vigorous campaigning and greater choices on Election Day that such a system would generate.

S: How will your religious/personal beliefs about the death penalty, abortion and other life-and-death issues come into play -- or not -- if you are elected as Virginia’s next governor?

K: When it comes to the death penalty, I will enforce the law the same way Governors of Virginia have for years. I have a personal, faith-based objection to both abortion and the death penalty. However, I understand what it means to put my hand on a Bible and take an oath of office. I take that oath very seriously, and will uphold the law.

S: Where do you stand on the current proposal, as it has been presented, to build a new baseball park in Shockoe Bottom?

K: There are so many factors that play into the stadium debate including: How much taxpayer money should be used? Where exactly should a new stadium be built? How will it impact the local neighborhood with regards to traffic congestion and impact on historic structures and places? With regard for public financing, I don’t believe taxpayers should be asked to pay any more for a new facility than they would pay for a reasonable renovation for the existing Diamond. And, I believe more questions must be asked and answered before decisions are made on the current proposal.

S: At this point of the 2005 campaign what do you think voters should see as the most important differences separating you from your presumed opponent, Jerry Kilgore?

K: I am a strong leader who is not afraid to make a tough decision. And when you compare Mr. Kilgore and me, you will see that I am the only candidate with experience in small business, and the only candidate with on the job experience dealing with the challenges faced by local government and the General Assembly. I grew up working in my Dad’s small iron welding shop, and I’ve managed a law firm. I am the only candidate who has ever cut taxes. I am the only candidate who has ever put together an economic development deal. I am the only candidate who has a tangible record of fighting crime successfully. And I am the only candidate with a record of bringing people together across lines of race, region and partisan affiliation to get things done.

S: Where is your favorite vista in Richmond, or your favorite place to walk to have a private talk, or to think something over?

K: That’s an easy question. I am happiest when I am on the James River with my family. We spend a lot of time outdoors and particularly enjoy kayaking and rafting. I think the rare opportunity to shoot through Class 5 rapids while in the shadows of downtown’s skyscrapers makes Richmond a unique and special place.

-- 30 --

The Second Coming Blues

F. T. Rea

Washing in on what Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might have called a "blood-dimmed tide," the specter of true evil suddenly emerged from the periphery of modern life on one particular morning. Let’s face it, for most of us, before 9/11’s transmogrifying sucker punch the notion of "evil" had a rather Old World air about it.

As the smoke of 9/11 cleared a bitter lesson was being absorbed: No. Evil never went away. It had merely gone out of style in some quarters, as a concept, because times had been so easy for so long. Absolutes had enjoyed no seat at the table of postmodern thinking.

Living in the land of plenty, it had gotten easy to avert our eyes from evil-doings in lands of want; especially doings connected to making life easier for us at someone else’s expense.

If that last sentence was a bummer, sorry, but the gasoline was relatively cheap for a long time, compared to the price in most other places. Speaking of style, little cars and bicycles may be making comebacks soon.

The last American president to get much mileage out of the word evil, itself, had to be Ronald Reagan. His "evil empire" characterization of the USSR and its sphere of influence had punch. Two decades later we have a president who sees an "axis of evil" -- an alleged phenomenon that puzzles most of the world’s leaders, or so they say.

President George W. Bush apparently has had little use for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stalwart advice to a shaken nation then-needing a boost in confidence -- "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Rather than urge his people to rise above their fears, Bush has chosen to color-code it.

Moreover, the Neocons around Bush have been asking us to accept the architects of 9/11 as the most evil cats, ever. Like, Osama bin Laden has made Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot look like amateurs.

Whether evil exists in some pure form, off in another dimension, is not my department. What’s known here is that in the real world evil is contagious. Lurking in well-appointed rooms or hiding in caves, evil remains as it ever was -- ready to spread, ready to use whatever grudges are in the air.

Then again, evil, like beauty, has always been in the eye of the beholder. Generally, Americans used to believe torture was beyond the pale. Now, we hear our government officials defending its proper use in prosecuting the War on Terror.

So, evil needs a context to be measured. OK. In the 1970s wasn’t it evil to deliberately dump tons of potent pesticide into the James River to make a greedy buck? Yet, once they got caught, the Hopewell businessmen who did it only received slaps on the wrists. Once it was in Virginia’s water, it turned out Kepone wasn’t much different from a bio-terror agent in the same water.

Evil?

With the news that has seeped out of the cloisters about child-molesting priests and the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-ups, whose betrayal was more evil, the molesters, themselves, or the higher-ups who hid and facilitated heinous crimes that we know full-well act as poison in our society?

Today’s evil is the same as our forefathers faced in their wars and in their neighborhoods. Evil hasn’t really changed, but technology has. With modern machines and chemicals in their hands the fanatics of the world have the potential to wreak havoc like never before. What’s changed is the extent to which the bloodlust of the world’s payback artists and would-be poobahs can be weaponized.

It’s worth noting the weapons that are scaring us the most now were developed during the arms-race days of the Cold War by the game’s principal players.

So another question arises, who’s more dangerous to civilization in the long run, the schmucks who spent their treasure to weaponize germs, or the schmucks who want to steal the same germs and do you know what? Decades ago this same scenario was worried over by some in the disarmament movement. Its scary list of what-ifs always included the likelihood that the so-called super powers would eventually lose track of a few of their exotic weapons.

Meanwhile, America is still very much a first-world land. And, many Americans are still averting their eyes from righteous grievances in third-world lands.

No doubt, the poet’s "slouching" monster in the desert is traveling on the back of technology of our own making. It is probably feeding on the pollution we’re dumping into the environment. Not to worry, while crackpots the likes of me sing the blues, the official fear color is still set at yellow.

-- 30 --

Cool's Stretch

by F. T. Rea

The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain a collaborator held one end of the contraption, as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Squinting to sight along the taut line to take aim, finally, I let go. The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder.

The released tip smartly struck a target several feet beyond the holder. While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching felt transforming. Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it was determined how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the room were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild -- dubbed the Stretch -- the spitballs that routinely flew around classrooms in 1960 at Albert H. Hill junior high were strictly old news.

The following morning, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had with me an updated version of the previous day’s invention. It was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch.

Soon boys were shoving one another aside just to act as holders. Most of the time I did the shooting. Occasionally, one of the guys from my inner circle was permitted to be the shooter. As the wonder whizzed by it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by the holder was a thrill, too. On the asphalt playground behind the yellow brick school building an enthusiastic throng cheered each flight.

The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its operators established to the delight of the audience that cheerleaders could be zapped on their bouncing butts with impunity from more than 25 yards away. After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, again, I significantly lengthened the chain of rubber bands.

But the new version -- about 100 rubber bands long -- proved too heavy for its own good. It was not as accurate or powerful as the previous model. Then came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players weren’t content with taking a single turn with the new Big Stretch. Although there was a line behind them they demanded another go.

Surrounded by devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground and refused. But my entourage -- mostly fair weather friends -- was useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted. They fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered.

By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so, I gathered my dignity and shrugged off the whole affair, as best I could. I didn’t choose to make another version of the Big Stretch. A few other kids copied it, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze ran out of gas. It was over.

At that time the slang meaning of "cool" had an underground cachet which has been stretched out of shape since. We’re told the concept of cool, and the term itself, seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. That may be, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.

Wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker wasn’t cool, who the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, constructivism, and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.

Cool’s zenith had probably been passed by the time I became enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Widespread exposure and cool were more or less incompatible. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class. Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy.

The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool. However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce.

By the ‘70s, the mobs of hippies attuned to stadium Rock ‘n’ Roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a buzz and gave up.

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed baby boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go. Now people say, "ku-ul," simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.

The process of becoming cool, then popular, pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the experimental aspect of it was over it got to be just another showoff gimmick, which was less-than-cool, even to seventh-graders in the know.

-- 30 --

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Bounce

Baseball on the Boulvard
by F. T. Rea

If the Richmond Braves do abandon their current baseball stadium on Richmond’s North Boulevard to play home games in another part of town, or perhaps another city, no doubt, some local fans will grumble. Others will shrug it off and be content to reminisce about favorite memories set at Parker Field (which was demolished in 1984), then The Diamond, which replaced the former in 1985.

Parker Field, which opened in 1954 to serve as home for a new minor league club -- the Richmond Virginians -- once seemed to be no less than a baseball temple to this scribe. At seven I began going to games there with my grandfather. Eagerly, I breathed in the magic in the air, especially stories told about legendary players and discussions on the strategy of the game. When my grandfather and I cheered the clutch hits and acrobatic plays we witnessed, and we rose for the seventh inning stretch, and we always stayed until the final out, I took comfort in being enveloped in the game’s lore and traditions. Naturally, we pulled for the home team, the pinstripe clad Virginians, or V’s, for short.

As I got older I went to Parker Field with my friends. We usually took our baseball gloves with us to the games. I still have my glove from that time -- a Nakona (Don Mossi model), which was purchased at Harris-Flippen (then at 6th and Main Streets).

As the V’s were the New York Yankees’ International League (AAA) farm club, in those days the Bronx Bombers paid Richmond an annual visit in April. Just before Major League Baseball’s opening day Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and the other great Yankees of that era played an exhibition game -- a dress rehearsal -- at Parker Field vs. the V’s. It was always a standing-room-only affair. After the 1964 season the V’s left to become Mud Hens, of all things! in Toledo. Then in 1966 the Richmond Braves arrived. A few seasons before Parker Field’s wooden stands were removed, to allow for the current setup, I attended an evening ballgame with my daughter, Katey. We went as guests of neighbors who had comps from a radio station (WGOE-AM).

To Katey, at seven-years-old, the bright lights were dazzling. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. Nonetheless, by the middle of the game she was getting tired of sitting still and baseball’s charm was wearing thin. During the sixth inning I tried to entertain her by telling her more about baseball, about seeing the one and only Satchel ("Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you") Paige pitch from that same mound when I was a kid, not much older than her, and so forth.

It didn’t help. Soon rambunctious Katey was climbing across seats, again, and this time she knocked an unlucky fan’s tub of beer into his lap.

As the visitors began their turn at bat, in the top of the seventh inning, I felt obliged to rein Katey in, so, I got a sudden inspiration and subsequently asked whether she’d like to be in on a magic trick which would move every single person in the stadium.

Of course she did. I pulled her in close to whisper my instructions: The gist of it was that she and I -- using our combined powers of parapsychology -- were going to telepathically will everyone to stand up at the same time.

Katey was thrilled at the mere prospect of such a feat. Next, I told her to face the on-going game, close her eyes, and begin concentrating. After the visiting team made its third out, I cupped my hand to her ear to remind her that we both had to think, over and over, "stand up, stand up…"

As baseball fans know, when the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning of every game, the spectators get up from their seats, ostensibly to stretch their legs. It’s a longtime tradition known as "the seventh inning stretch." (There’s a mention of the practice in an 1869 report about a game played by baseball’s first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.) When Katey turned around, and opened her blue eyes to see thousands of people getting on their feet, it was pure magic in her book.

No one in the group gave me away when Katey breathlessly recounted what we had just done. She wanted to recreate the stunt in the eighth inning, but I somehow distracted her from that notion. As I remember it, though, she stayed true to her
word and was quite well behaved the rest of the game.

Years would go by before Katey came to understand what made for the magic that night. And, today, I still have a pair of those old blue, wooden, general admission seats from Parker Field (third base side). Those artifacts were gathered firsthand, 21 years ago, after the last game played there.

The first International League game was staged in the City of Richmond in 1884, it's said to have been played at a ballfield somewhere near Stuart Circle. And, now the 40th season for the R-Braves playing baseball on the Boulevard just began. Who knows? After all the hits, runs and errors, maybe there’s a trace of magic still in the air.

-- 30 --