Friday, June 30, 2006

The Brileys

by F. T. Rea
Now decades into the copycat Postmodern Era, somewhere along the way the news of the day became just another product to be processed and squeezed into a profit-making shape. 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. Now it's routine.

Richmonders experienced an abrupt change in the standards by which news was gathered and presented 22 summers 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 brothers Briley 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 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 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. Unfortunately, now, without the context of the 1984 news stories, the humor aspect of the cards is somewhat arcane.

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 --

Saxophonist without health insurance

An old friend of mine, Buzz Montsinger, has absorbed a dose of bad luck. He injured his neck/spine in a fall (April 30, 2006) and is slowly recovering. As Buzz has been a well-known musician for a long time in Richmond, the community of local musicians is pulling together in his time of need to show their spiritual support. And, to raise some money.

There’s a benefit show in the works. Some of the names already onboard are: Steve Bassett, Billy Ray Hatley, Ron Moody, Bruce Olsen and Robbin Thompson. Soon, I’ll have more on this story. In the meantime, for information here’s the link to Give the Love to Buzz.

Time Capsules

As a jack-of-all-trades paid-by-the-word freelance writer for, in its first few years of existence, I wrote about politics and sports every week. Then, sometimes, I’d be asked to write about subjects to which I had some connection; that sort of assignment usually had to be turned around in a couple of hours.

Here are six obituaries, of a sort, that I wrote on such a basis. They were for four bars and a couple of local show business luminaries. For a little Richmond history click on the links.

“Last Call at the Border”

“The Sun Sets on Moondance”
“Soble’s Sold to the Devil”
“Master Of The Mighty Wurlitzer” (Eddie Weaver)
“Freeze Frame: Remembering Carole Kass”
“Exit the Masterpiece” (Chiocca’s Park Avenue Inn)

Note: Sorry about the lack of formatting in three of them; I don't know why it's that way in some of their old stuff.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cat People

In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially. RKO, founded in 1929, stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television’s Desilu Productions.
Acting as the manager of the Biograph Theatre, 24 summers ago I booked a festival of 24 titles to play at the Biograph, all from RKO, which still operated then as a distributor of its original library.

The 12 double features in this festival were: “Top Hat” (1935) and “Damsel in Distress” (1936); “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939) and “The Informer” (1935); “King Kong” (1933) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949); “Suspicion” (1941) and “The Live By Night” (1948); “Sylvia Scarlett” (1936) and “Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948); “Murder My Sweet” (1945) and “Macao” (1952); “The Mexican Spitfire” (1939) and “Room Service” (1938); “Journey Into Fear” (1942) and “This Land Is Mine” (1943); “The Thing” (1951) and “Cat People” (1942); “The Boy With Green Hair” (1948) and “Woman on the Beach” (1947); “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Fort Apache” (1948); “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944) and “The Body Snatcher” (1945).

One feature, “Cat People” -- which was later remade as a vehicle to present a young Nastassja Kinski’s lithe form in all its glory -- was a low-budget black-and-white thriller. Unlike the remake, the original was a lean and subtle production that left much to the viewer’s imagination. Still, any film of that genre can be disturbing to a sensitive viewer.

For some reason “Cat People” got under one such viewer’s skin. He was a solitary man who walked around the VCU neighborhood during the day. He stayed in some sort of subsidized group home at night. Night or day, he was always medicated to the hilt. At the theater we used to let him in free. Then, of course, he would complain about everything. We laughed about him, and imitated him, when he wasn’t there. But we treated him with respect when he was, always at matinees.

Anyway, the movie scared him. “Are there really any cat people?” he would ask, in his distinctive, almost cartoon way of speaking.

“No,” he would be assured. Then a few minutes later he would ask again, his hands would flex and twitch, his eyes would wander. Same answer. Then he’d take his free popcorn and go into the dark auditorium to watch the movie for a while.

Well, I saw him recently. He’s totally gray now, he must be at least in his mid-60s. He still walks around the neighborhood, with his strange gait. There are no movie theaters in the Fan District now. When I created the image above -- of a cat named Zeke in a coat and tie -- for a calendar in 1996, I thought of that same man, and smiled. I bet he still remembers that movie.

Yes, sometimes, there are cat people. But they aren’t all mean. Some of them just look at you, like they know something you don’t know.

Supremes reject Gitmo military tribunal

Reuters: “In a major defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the military tribunal for a Guantanamo prisoner cannot proceed because it violates the Geneva Conventions.”

This rebuke won't be easy for the White House spin machine to blow off. It also means the Defense Department now has got to figure out what the hell to do with all those prisoners at Gitmo, not to mention the ones being held in other dungeons, in nameless places.

Can’t you hear the bellyaching about “activist judges,” already? Now, let's see how Sen. George Allen and other Bush yes-men in Congress react to this ruling. Can Allen campaign against a Supreme Court packed with conservatives? This development is going to put Allen and his ilk in a very difficult position.

Update: What’s next? Here’s an AP story that speculates on that.

“Defense lawyers and human rights activists praised Thursday's Supreme Court decision rejecting military war crimes trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but most felt it likely won't force a quick shutdown of the prison...”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kos, the netroots kahuna

A fresh-faced talking head has recently begun to appear on television's political talk shows, and in daily newspapers’ OpEd pages: Markos Moulitsas Zuniga.

Branded as “Kos” to those who’ve followed his rapid ascension in the world of politics -- using a blogging format over the Internet -- he has a keyboard-stroking following today that is busy promoting his agenda.

Whatever that agenda is, Kos and his flock are as passionate as the day is long about promoting it. The mainstream media seem to want to portray the phenomenon of “netroots” politics, as espoused at Daily Kos, as on the extreme left. It’s clearly against the war in Iraq. But at this desk, it seems more of a mixed bag of tricks, more populism than ideology. Still, it's definitely not at all conservative, in the contemporary sense of the term.

Whatever it is, it is snowballing. If the reader thinks young adults today are all sort of nonchalant about politics, this post is meant to open your eyes.

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner is one of Kos’ favorite politicians, for now. Warner’s presidential run is being promoted at Daily Kos in a way that brightly underlines the blur between journalism and blogging. It may also be underlining another blur: Like, what's the difference between being an official part of a candidate's campaign, and in running along beside the official camp -- outside of regulations -- but being paid to do it?

The netroots thing -- with Kos as the face of it -- has some of the feel of a flaky movement that could soon self-destruct; the cracks are already showing. At the same time, it also has the feel of a genuine new groundswell of activism. It could be something that is becoming a serious player in Democratic Party politics, or something that will eventually become a third party movement.

Here’s the link to a Newsweek feature story by Jonathan Darman, “The War's Left Front.”

“...Moulitsas is aggressively talking up the party's challengers in Senate races in Virginia, Montana, Ohio and Nevada. As in 2003, when he rose to prominence filling Howard Dean's Internet piggy bank, he's funneling followers to sites where they can give money to candidates online; only now he has several hundred thousand more readers to hit up and a better network of informants in battleground states. At the same time, he's taken on the task of party-loyalty enforcer, backing candidates who wear their partisanship proudly and assailing those who seem too cozy with the other side on a range of issues.”
Image: from Slate

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Waldo's 24 things

Waldo Jaquith: 24 things Republicans apparently believe should be legal to burn.

Note: The joint resolution that had been pending in the Senate on the flag-burning amendment was defeated at 6:14 p.m. today. YEAs: 66; NAYs: 34. Thus, the measure failed by one vote.

Dancing with dogs in dresses must be stopped

Since flag-burning and same-sex marriages aren’t exactly causing any discernible problems yet, as in war, we see that President George “Mission Accomplished” Bush believes in a strategy of preemption, to nip trouble in the bud. Thus the White House wants new amendments on flag-burning and same-sex marriage.

Once the Republicans, and some opportunistic/cowardly Democrats, pass the bills calling for new constitutional amendments to ban burning the American flag as a protest and outlawing same-sex marriages, what’s next? If it really is high time to rewrite the Constitution, itself, to eliminate certain types of annoying speech and lifestyles that make us nervous or gross us out, what should be the next thing to outlaw?

Well, moving along with the same brand of bent logic about using preemption to cure nonexistent problems, there’s always this -- the potential problem of crazy men suddenly putting party dresses on dogs and dancing with them in public places.

If we fail to stop those crazy men from dancing with dogs in dresses, how long would it be before a crazy woman dances publicly with a dog wearing a man's business suit, or -- horrors! -- a lady’s pants suit?

Then what if an even crazier man puts on a dog costume and dances with another man wearing a dog costume, or -- horrors! -- a cat suit?

Then what happens if the whole crazy town puts on dog costumes and they take to the streets to dance? What if one of the dancing dogmen burns a pair of his boxer shorts to protest people lording it over dogs? Whoa! Boxer shorts desecrated in the public way.

Don’t say it hasn’t happened. The point is, it would be an affront to the mainstream of the American way of life if it did. Most people don’t want to have their children see such depravity even once.

What that sort of gender-and-species-bending spectacle could lead to is just anybody’s guess. Dancing with dogs in dresses must be stopped before it gets started. Then, speaking of preemption, there’s…

Update Note: As it says at the top this page, below SLANTblog -- This page may contain satire, so please don't let it scare you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Runaway Train

Tonight, listening to a pissed off Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) obfuscate was too galling. Watching him on PBS, taking the Bush side of yet another worrisome story about the power-grasping White House abusing more time-honored American principles -- in the name of fighting a permanent war on terrorists -- pushed me over the top.

In this case the patter and jive was about the just-outed program, to do with tracking funds, by stories in the New York Times and other newspapers.

Well, enough is enough: There’s no denying it, the presidency of George W. Bush is a runaway train.

So, let's forget about who you voted for. Forget about conservatives vs. liberals. This is no longer a matter of ideology, or religion, or democracy. It’s about pure incompetence. This is an administration that craves/demands total power, forever, without any questioning of its methods or goals, whatsoever.

If you question this rigid mindset, Karl Rove claims you’re a wuss.

That's rich, the prissy Karl Rove calling anybody a wuss. Of course, his ilk asserts they're so damn conservative and so utterly masculine, they're about to explode out of their skins.

No, they don’t want the New York Times letting us know what's what. So, angry Curt Weldon played team-ball on television and semi-convincingly spewed faux righteous indignation, on cue.


I can't stand it, anymore. Democrats should all run their campaigns this year on the importance of taking over control of congress, so they can immediately impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney. Enough of half-steps.

Enough of playing it safe, and trying to be Republican Lite: It’s time to push all the political chips to the middle of the table. Scared money never wins.

Until now, I’ve stayed away from the movement to impeach George Bush. I've thought it was mostly to pay back the Republicans who impeached Bill Clinton, and subsequently stole the election in 2000. That seemed mostly like sour grapes to me.

But after watching they way the Bush White House has reacted in recent months to the working press merely doing its job, I’m convinced the impeachment and conviction of both Bush and Cheney will be good for America. Let's clear the air. Frankly, I’ll take what follows.

This strategy would make George Bush the issue in every race, coast-to-coast. That, instead of who's a liberal, or a true bible-thumper, or a flip-flopper, or more of an insider, etc. There should only be one basic issue this fall -- impeachment. Let's see Rove deal with that.

Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, let’s seize the moment. It’s there. Let’s restore the balance of powers, while we still have a bloody Constitution.

Calling all clichés

Sen. Bloew V. Aeighting paused, he closed his eyes. He lifted his chin and said, “At the end of the day, I say, day ... this should not be about partisan politics.” One person behind the senator, a young woman on his staff, started to applaud, then stopped abruptly; an awkward silence followed. The press corps shrugged and scribbled.

That imaginary speaker joined two of the most obvious phrases that, to me, are dead giveaways a political speaker has little or nothing to say.

Of course, when all one has to offer are the most popular clichés of the moment, in the spin game the words must be uttered with as much faux passion as can be mustered. Eye-squinting and jowl-jiggling being two of the popular devices used by politicos to provide emphasis.

OK, now, what other similar phrases do SLANTblog’s readers hear the most, and dismiss the easiest as tip-offs the speaker has nothing of any substance to say about an issue? Or, which clichés annoy you the most?

Look, I’m not trying to bash liberals or conservatives with this. It’s just about language and how quickly a phrase can move from fresh to stale with today’s communications. That, and today’s rather shameless copycat style, that serves mostly to dumb-down any discussion.

At SLANTblog, I’d like to put together a top-ten list of the most-used clichés by politicians and their rent-a-mouth spokespersons.

If the reader has a phrase beaten to death, a tip-off to stop reading, or change channels, please use the comments option below to send it my way. At some point I’ll post the best of what comes in. (If you’d rather use email send it to the address in the profile to the right, under the little photo.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Webb chose not to pose

In today’s Washington Post, Rosalind S. Helderman writes on Jim Webb’s statement about a proposal by Sen. John F. Kerry, to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within a year, in “Webb Opposes Withdrawal Plan For U.S. Troops.”

“Virginia Democratic Senate candidate James Webb said Friday that he would have voted against a proposal by Sen. John F. Kerry to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within a year...”

“...‘James H. Webb Jr. is not only trying to have it both ways on Iraq, he has taken three or more contradictory and vacillating positions,’ said Dick Wadhams, Allen’s campaign manager, in a statement. ‘If you disagree with something James H. Webb Jr. says about Iraq, just wait a few hours, and he’ll change his position.’”

“Well ... isn’t that special?” as Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character used to say on Saturday Night Live.

Yep, Mr. Wadhams gets paid the big bucks as a campaign consultant for such original material. By the time we get to November, how many times do you think we’ll have heard the stale term “flip-flopper” fall out of his rent-a-mouth?

In the summer of 2006, a big part of the Democrats’ problem with the war in Iraq, as an issue, is something that was also a big problem in the fall of 2002. That's when President George Bush buffaloed most of them into giving him the blank check authority he's been cashing in ever since. Sadly, the Democratic Party lacked leadership in 2002, on matters of war and piece. Today it's still a problem.

So, Jim Webb is saying he can help provide that leadership, if he is elected. Sounds good to me. I think he’s saying the Democrats need a new senator who is an authentic military expert.

It surely helped when the Dems had Georgia's Sam Nunn in the Senate, to ask tough questions at crucial times. Webb seems to be saying that all of America’s military/diplomatic experts weren’t in favor of launching the war in Iraq. It wasn't so much a matter of being willing, as it was being smart.

Yet, the White House scoffed at anyone who questioned its plan, anyone and everyone. It was going to be a "cakewalk," Bush’s experts with no military experience promised then. Now those same failed experts -- some might call them “swindlers” -- speak less of cakewalks, and more of flip-floppers.

Webb seems to be saying that some of America’s military/diplomatic experts, today, aren’t happy with the Bush Defense Department’s swaggering style, nor with its dangerous incompetence.

If Webb says he just doesn’t like artificial timetables for withdrawal, that’s OK by me.

My support of him says I trust Jim Webb to do the right thing for America’s military personnel, and its best overall interests, in matters of war and peace. I’m not going to ask him to support a bill he doesn’t like, simply to create a little news story to harass Bush. And, to me, that’s most of what Kerry's measure was.

It was a pose Webb chose wisely not to strike. That's leadership, regardless of what Wadhams might like you to believe.

Bottom Line: I have to wonder if either Bush's yes-man, Sen. George Allen, or his hired gun, Wadhams, has ever had such a thing as an original thought. So-o, who's doing their thinking? Uh, oh, could it be ... Satan?

Friday, June 23, 2006

As the Boondoggle Turns

When Save Richmond says something "smells funny" here, Richmonders should take a deep breath and see if they get a whiff of something troubling, too. At this point, Save Richmond’s credibility should be top shelf.

In “Paging Michael Shear” Don Harrison is once again stirring the pot. I think he’s right, if he’s saying a lot of “journalists” turned a blind eye to the story of what was wrong with the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation’s scheme for a long time. And, now some are still doing it. Perhaps we should now ask why?

Note: I know from personal experience that some publishers in Richmond were quite skittish about running any story that so much as even questioned the wisdom of the VAPAF in 2004, and early 2005. Were it not for the work of Save Richmond, I truly wonder if the shaky aspects of the VAPAF’s far-flung scheme would have come to light in time enough to stave off another 6th Street Marketplace-like disaster.

If Michael Shear is in Richmond to cover state politics for the Washington Post, why wouldn’t he be all over a new story about VAPAF Boondoggle II, funded by Virginia tax dollars?

If Save Richmond is worried, so am I.

The Third Man

You, the reader, are a police officer in the not-too-distant future.

During your shift you see three men are standing around a fire barrel in an alley. You get out of your cruiser and walk over to them. When you look in the barrel, you see that an American flag is on fire. Since the new Constitutional amendment forbidding the desecration of the American flag passed, and the new law based on that amendment took effect yesterday, you are obliged to question the men.

The first man says, “This is my flag. I just bought a new one for the front of my building. I am retiring this one because it became tattered with age. From my Navy training I know that when one disposes of an old flag it should not just be thrown away like trash. It should be burned.”

The second man is waving his arms and chanting anti-American slogans. He is praising America’s enemies in past wars. He mocking everything American by bellowing, “Long live Fidel Castro, long live Osama bin Laden!”

The third man says nothing. He smiles standing close to the barrel, warming his hands.

So how many men should you arrest?

The first man is right about the proper procedure to retire a flag. So he’s off the hook. The second man is obviously breaking the new law that forbids the desecration of the flag because of his behavior; so he's busted. But what about the third man?

He is present while an American flag is being both retired and mocked. As long as he says nothing, how do you determine his intent? Do you ask him which man’s fire is warming his hands? If flag-burning is conduct, rather than speech, as some say, what does the third man’s conduct say?

My point here is that enforcement of such laws will be always be a problem because the intention of the flag-burner, not the act itself, constitutes the difference between honoring or desecrating the flag.

Meanwhile, below are excerpts from and links to a couple of short pieces which decry the absurdity of the Republican-led Congress wasting its time with this poseur’s issue, while it ducks facing up to dealing with real problems. By the way, Sen. Hillary Clinton has come out as siding with those poseurs for the amendment.

Washington Post:
“...The amendment would soil the First Amendment's command that Congress shall ‘make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.’ Flag burning is an odious form of expression. But there are lots of odious forms of expression the First Amendment protects: Holocaust denial and swastikas, racist rants and giant Confederate flags, hammers and sickles. The amendment’s power is in its self-confident sweep: Speech, including expressive acts, will not be censored. Government cannot punish ideas. Members of Congress who would protect the flag thus do it far greater damage than a few miscreants with matches.

The Register-Guard
“If anyone needs further proof - not that anyone does these days - that the Republican leadership in Congress is both desperate and clueless, it's the election-year revival of that mother of all non-issues: flag desecration. The U.S. House passed this tread-worn measure last year, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it last week. Even though Congress has no shortage of real issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to global warming, clamoring for its attention, the full Senate will begin debate next week on a proposed constitutional amendment to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can our missile defense system stand and deliver?

An inevitable unintended consequence of the Cold War’s arms race had to be that we would eventually see the day people scarier than the USSR's bosses would have nukes, too. Well, here we are: Iran and North Korea don’t want to be left out of the club. They look at Israel and Pakistan, just for starters, and they say -- if those squirrelly states can have the bomb, we refuse to be left out.

They have a point, no matter how much I wish overpopulated North Korea wasn’t armed to the teeth, and needing to feed fewer mouths. Now it boasts it is about to test-fire a long-range missile, out over the ocean.

If we can’t shoot that thing down, once it’s 500 or 1,000 miles out to sea -- harmlessly, over international water -- then what the hell was all that Star Wars, Patriot Missile business about?

Either we can do it, or we can’t. North Korea wants to see if we can do it. The whole world wants to see if we can do it.

No, I don’t like the idea of a preemptive strike at the busy launch site in North Korea, to prevent the test by blowing the hardware to smithereens. That could open a can of nasty worms. Do we really have the number of active duty boots on the ground it would take to cope with how that might unfold?

If that missile is streaking toward our West Coast, minutes from whatever, either the USA can knock it out of the sky, or it can’t. This is not a time for finger-pointing talk. It's time for our very expensive superior technology to stand and deliver. Or, be exposed as a fraud.

Braves in freefall

The Atlanta Braves, 30-42, are in the basement of the National League East, 14½ games behind the New York Mets. The tail-spinning Braves have lost nine games in a row. As A-Braves fans know, Atlanta entered the season having won 14 straight division titles with Bobby Cox (depicted left) filling out the lineup card. Now that streak, the best of any Big League franchise, in any pro sport, ever, seems about to end.

Last year the parent club went to its farm system to fill in some gaps with youth. Cox was called a genius for pulling it off. This year, the Triple-A Richmond Braves have posted a 26-46 mark. They are 23 games out of first place in the International League's South Division.

Those same bumbling R-Braves have lost 12 consecutive games. So, maybe there’s not much help here for Atlanta. Rainouts in Richmond may just be a blessing this season.

The Atlanta Braves, with its minor league clubs, have been up for sale for a year, or two, with no takers so far, according to the grapevine. So, as owner AOL watches its teams lose, and lose, it is also watching its property lose some of its luster.

Well, I’m a Braves fan. But I am so glad the taxpayers of the Richmond metro area have not signed on to build a brand new stadium for the R-Braves in Shockoe Bottom, or anywhere else. The Bottom was a bad idea for many reasons. Beyond that, truth be told, the Atlanta Braves franchise is hardly a stable situation right now. It’s easy to believe the team will change hands and completely reload, in a year or two. That could mean almost anything in the way of a new direction.

Well, if the Braves threaten to leave town, again, I say fine, let ‘em go. They’re in no position to dicatate to the City of Richmond what’s what. They need to get their own house in order before anything solid can be done about refurbishing The Diamond, or building a new home for the R-Braves.

Are the 2006 Atlanta Braves dead, or just in a deep sleep? If Cox (R-Braves 1967) can turn this free-falling season around, and make it 15 consecutive titles, Commissioner Bud Selig will probably have to launch an investigation to see if Cox is using some sort of illegal supernatural powers.
Illustration: F.T.Rea

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rarely Seen Richmond

The snazzy post card above depicts what was billed as, “the only point in the world where three trunk line trains may cross each other at the same time, and over their separate tracks.” I can remember seeing that actually happen as a little boy, standing on East Main Street with my grandfather.

The circa 1950 image is just one of 662 wonderful postcards in VCU's Special Collection, "Rarely See Richmond." Do yourself a favor, click on the link and do some time-traveling.

Heat Rises

What a pleasure it was watching the Miami Heat win the NBA championship: Miami 95, Dallas 92.

Nothing against the Dallas team, but I’m an Alonzo Mourning fan, first, and he had a huge game.

Why? Maybe because I saw Zo play in a Virginia high school state championship game; he blocked 10 shots that night. Of course there's more.

I’m a Pat Riley fan, too. Yes, I loved the 1980’s Lakers. And, absolutely, I’m a Dwyane Wade fan. Speaking of Lakers, he’s almost Elgin Baylor, again.
Photo: SLANT

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dick Cheney growls

Meanwhile, from his secure bunker, somewhere beneath an undisclosed mountain, Vice President Dick Cheney growls: Crybaby war protestors, marching in the streets, are almost as cowardly as the terrorists.
'toon by F.T. Rea

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dr. StrangeRove, or how...

Dr. StrangeRove gasped, "It would not be difficult, Mein Führer! Nuclear reactors could easily provide, heh... I'm sorry, Mr. President."
'Toon by F.T. Rea. Apologies to Stanley Kubrick, et al


Oil sticks on paper (2005)
by F.T. Rea

Bloggers Filling a Vacuum

As I was in Charlottesville for the 2006 Sorensen Blog Summit less than five hours, I’m hardly in a position to have the overview that some other attendees now have. (Now I wish I had planned to have been there longer.) So, I’m relying on other voices to draw most of the conclusions from the confab, especially to do with the interaction between bloggers, the overall mood, etc. I’ve already enjoyed reading some of their instant observations.
Saunders Hall
Beyond that, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s written about the conference, and its topics, a week from now, or a month. Still, here are a few quick snippets of observation from this geezer:

Some political bloggers are not celebrity-worshipping kids, with their noses pressed against the window of what’s happening in the so-called real world.

Some are not ham-handed propagandists pretending to be pundits.

Some are not irresponsible blowhards, who throw stink-bombs into the room, while hiding behind anonymity.

Some are really not all that young. Real bloggers come in all sizes and shapes, but the most plentiful category in C-Ville was Young White Guys, whatever that means.

Some political bloggers are already holding themselves to a genuine standard of honesty and fair play that rises about much of the legit press, the mainstream media. Others are moving in that direction.

Some deplore the lowroad tactics that nefarious political operatives have used -- dirty tricks -- in the name of blogging in particular, and free speech in general.

Some are right-wingers, others lefties, plenty of them are bright, funny and well-meaning. Some number of them are people who are going to become well known because of what they are learning now and the talent they are bringing with them. Who doesn’t see a bright future for 15-year-old blogging phenom, Kenton Ngo, of 750 Voltz?

So, dear reader, the picture of the typical blogger looks something like you and me. Except, most of them are better citizens than the average guy, because they are in touch with public affairs way beyond what TV dishes out on Inside Edition.

The snapshot of the blogging world I saw on Saturday was flattering to the political bloggers of Virginia. So, I hope they all had their self-esteem buffed by the experience of attending the Sorensen’s second Blog Summit. Yes, blogging can be an honorable pursuit, no matter what folks who scoff at the still-forming blogosphere say.

The most significant notion I came away from Charlottesville turning over in my mind was this: Political bloggers aren’t merely storming the gates, because the new technology allows for it. Not at all. Many of them are being pulled into the most modern streaming marketplace of ideas by what feels to them like a vacuum.

Why not? A vacuum exists.

With the merging of media corporations the number of daily newspapers in America has steadily declined over the last three decades. Richmond has one, as do many cities. The weekly alternative magazines that once thrived in so many towns have mostly died off, or been converted into fluffy ‘zines of no consequence that are scared to cover politics.

That same trend has gathered up the diversity that cable TV once promised, leaving just a few players in that realm. Radio stations used to be mostly owned by local people all across this country. Now, with recent FCC changes, nearly all of them are owned by corporate giants.

I could go on, to make my case stronger, but I think anyone who has read this far into the rant, probably gets my drift. That’s because most people don’t care all that much about the dumbed-down homogenizing process outlined above; they aren’t so worried about it. Bloggers are.

Collectively, bloggers feel the need to comment and exchange views with others who read something other than the rewritten press releases the so-called legitimate press passes off every day as journalism. Bloggers care about local, state and national politics in a time of widespread denial. Most of the electorate may not be paying attention to what politicians are almost saying, and not even doing.

Today's bloggers are serving as the peoples' watchdogs, as modern town criers. In spite of all the silliness than can go on in the blogosphere, some thoughtful bloggers are nonetheless operating within a proud tradition that goes back to the American revolutionary pamphleteers of the 1760s and 1770s.

Blogging is the beginning of something. It’s new and nobody knows where it will take us, although it‘s surely fun to guess. There’s plenty that needs fixing about it. Still, I don’t want to be left behind. As I’ve been involved in alternative media my entire adult life, I‘m going to ride this new rocket into the pull of the vacuum as best I can. Beam me up, Scottie...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Post-Summit Thoughts

Michael Shear
The featured speaker after lunch, the Washington Post’s Michael Shear, used a line about another bloggers convention, comparing that bloggers’ get-together to a Star Trek convention. The joke drew mild laughter, no hooting. His audience of mostly bloggers treated Shear with respect, during his prepared spiel, and the question-and-answer period that followed.

If I had been in Shear’s shoes, going up there, I may have thought that Star Trek crack would be funny, too. However, after sitting in on the stimulating panel on Blogging and Journalism, which he did, too, I would hope that I would have then thought to edit it out.


Because during that panel discussion at the Sorensen Institute’s Blog Summit, the people who filled up that room with their opinions did not at all resemble a pack of funny hat-wearing eccentrics who live in a fantasy world. No, what I heard was a well-informed discussion on the methods, motives and ethics that political bloggers are developing on the fly, as you read this.

I went up to Charlotteville not knowing what to expect. I didn’t know any of the other bloggers, except by their blogs. I had not met the people responsible for inviting me to sit on the panel mentioned above.

On the other hand, there was a handful of bloggers I wanted to make a point of meeting, due to my admiration for their work. Yes, I'm happy to have spoken, however briefly, with Waldo Jaquith, Conaway Haskins, Frosty Landon, Vivian Paige and Kenton Ngo.

The list of people I met and spoke with briefly, that I’d never heard of before is much longer. And, the thoughtful comments I heard in discussions, from an even longer list of people I didn‘t speak with at all, were impressive.

It seemed like about 125, to 150 people in all, counting politicians, etc, were there. I don’t know how typical yesterday’s group was of political bloggers. Whatever process put them in stately Saunders Hall on the University of Virginia campus, it delivered a hall full of smart cookies to hear Shear’s views on the differences between journalism and blogging.

Moreover, the group seemed like it was made up mostly of people I’d like to get to know better.

What did Shear say? He basically scolded bloggers for rushing to post, for not fact-checking, for sometimes posting deliberate lies. Of course the bloggers, politely, pointed out that the pros have been caught doing the same thing, recently and often. Shear shrugged and countered that the press establishment does it less. It does have standards that are on the record.

Shear stressed that bloggers who want to be taken seriously need to develop standards, too.

And, I agree with him about that. I’d like to do what I can to help out with such an undertaking. This convention was worthwhile and uplifting. I expect to see some changes come down the pike, because of it, too. In closing, I want to publicly thank the Summit’s planners for including me in the group.

Links to other stories about the Blog Summit:

Bob Lewis of The Daily Progress
Waldo Jaquith
Vivian J. Paige Day One, Day Two.
Blue Dog
CatHouse Chat
Beltway Blogroll
Photo: SLANT


Yesterday at the Blog Summit, which was an altogether pleasant way to spend a warm, blue-skied Saturday, I got some encouragement from other attendees, concerning my cartoons. Not what I'd call a groundswell, but a few kind words. I even think I heard one guy say, "You should post more art." It was something like that, anyway.

So from the be careful for what you wish for bin, here's a 'toon I did about ten years ago which works for all occasions, even Father's Day.

The Cheaters

As it’s Father's Day, all over town, I’ve been thinking about my daughter, who also lives here in Richmond. I’m looking forward to having dinner tonight with her, and her family -- one husband and two kids, Emily and Sam. And, I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, pictured below. That photograph was shot in 1916 when he, as a member of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, was stationed in Brownsville, Texas. He was part of a contingent assigned to protect the border, because Mexican revolutionary/bandit Pancho Villa had been crossing over to raid small towns. Later the Richmond Blues were thrown into WWI in France.

As a tribute to my grandfather -- F.W. Owen (1893-1968) -- a good man who taught me many a lesson, he’s a true story in which he plays the central character. The Cheaters
by F. T. Rea

Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.

In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it's my nature. I can't help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.

The reader might wonder about whether I'm overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.

OK, fair enough, I don't deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon's mischief gone wrong.


A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.

Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities. Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood's boys. He couldn't stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.

This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.

The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.

As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. "Punch him in the nose," he'd chuckle, "and even if you get whipped he'll never bother you again." In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.

Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.

On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard's rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.

F. W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.

Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, passing cards under the table with bare feet and developing signals. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.

Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.

To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys' favorite story -- the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France -- one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.

Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure rapidly. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.

Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.

The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.

As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn't wonder enough about that, then.


My grandfather didn’t play poker with us again. He went on umpiring, and telling his salty stories afterwards over watermelon. We tried playing poker the same way without him, but it didn’t work; the value the chips had magically represented was gone. The boys had outgrown poker without real money on the line.

Although I thought about that afternoon's shame many times before he died nine years later, neither of us ever mentioned it. For my part, when I tried to bring it up, to clear the air, the words always stuck in my throat.

Eventually, I grew to become as intolerant of petty cheating as he was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.

-- 30 --

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tomorrow’s bon mot

The Blog Summit on the UVa. campus was well worth my time and a friend’s gasoline. A tip of the SLANTblog cap goes out to Waldo Jaquith for the various roles he played in making it happen. It sure seemed like a success to me.

After the lively Saturday morning panel discussions, as the attendees had their way with their tasty lunches, one thing became abundantly clear to me -- most political bloggers are nowhere near as dangerous in person as they seem zooming around in the blogosphere.
Room full of experts, ready for lunch
As I'm trying to keep up with the new lingo and symbols, with smiley faces made out of punctuation marks, and endless acronyms and idioms -- which ain't so easy for some old goats -- I have to ask: Did anybody else hear "psycho-phant" come tumbling out of the sound system?

When I got home I looked it up in my Webster’s. No help.

No doubt, it's too new for that. Could be the paint hasn’t even dried on tomorrow’s bon mot? Still, I Googled it. Same thing, no help. So, I don't know what it means, but the sound of it grabs me.

Oh yeah, she's a real “psycho-phant”

Or, forgive those “psycho-phants,” they know not what they do.

Good name for one of those British haircut bands. Yowser, yowser, yowser ... those badboy Psycho-phants will make you shake your bidniss ‘til ya sweatin' forty-weight oil!

No, I don't know what it means, but it works for me, anyway. Because we need new funny words. A lot of the old words are so boring they’re nearly useless.

And, hey, why should I be surprised to find new words at a cutting edge confab packed with bloggers, journalists and politicians? Maybe the ice tea was spiked, I had several glasses.

Well, I had a good time in C-Ville, whether I really did hear a speaker say, "psycho-phant," when he meant to say, "sycophant," or not. Now I wish I'd had another glass of that tea. In a day or so, I'll post more on this event.
Photo: SLANT

Friday, June 16, 2006

Summertime in Donkeyville

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high"

George Gershwin probably wasn’t thinking about hurricanes or politics when he wrote “Summertime” in 1935. But Democrats ought to be humming that particular standard’s tune all the way through hurricane season.


Every time folks start boarding up windows and evacuating the Gulf or Atlantic coastlines, Americans -- voters -- will be remembering Hurricane Katrina. They will be remembering Bush’s pitiful quip, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” And, they’ll be thinking about global warming and the effect of it on storms.

Which will serve to underline the Bush administration’s fiddling-while-the-earth-burns attitude about international cooperation to address the mounting damage trashy modern life seems to be causing to nature.

It’s unrealistic that frustrated voters, angry at seeing their lives blown to pieces, may blame bad weather on George Bush. Still, who can argue with this -- with hurricanes, what goes around, always comes around?

Furthermore, it certainly isn’t reasonable to say most Republicans don’t care about the future, the nature of the world their children and grandchildren will be living in when they’re gone. But given the Bush administration’s outrageously cavalier attitude about exploiting the environment, to make a quick buck -- like there’s no tomorrow -- it will be understandable if some people do say something like that before this summer gives way to fall.

Hmm ... can't you already hear Bush apologists calling the Weather Channel another a tool of the wicked, tax-and-spend liberals?

"Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don't you cry"

Ugly Rumors

If there's a better political cartoonist working today than Pat Oliphant, well, I'd sure like to see their 'toons. Oliphant uses much of his ink to mock George W. Bush, who he usually portrays as a bemused little brat in a big cowboy hat. But that doesn't mean Oliphant, who is originally from Australia, won't poke fun at the Democrats or anybody he sees as asking for it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Allen and "soft teeth"

This is the utter buffoon George Allen, from the 1994 Republican convention in Richmond, that Virginia Democrats need to put in front of voters who have common sense.
Illustration by F.T. Rea, as it appeared in STYLE Weekly (1994)

Remembering the Sunlit Painted Ladies

A soccer ball rolled toward the fence ... a boy running away from it, toward the school building ... it was almost 2 p.m. The running boy was being called to join his classmates. The students, faculty and the school’s can-do PTA were all assembling on the front steps. At William F. Fox Elementary School a garden graced with sculpture created by the community mentioned above was dedicated. The songs sung by the children were poignant. At the end butterflies were released into the perfect sunlit sky; Painted Lady butterflies according to rising second-grader Sam Knox.The children were fine. Those adults who wept stayed in the shadows, if they could, during the brave celebration. Most of the grownups were fine, too, familiar faces smiling. The Harvey Family Memorial Garden was dedicated. If the reader doesn't know why this all took place, to read more about the Harvey family and why the ceremony, click here.

Geniuses of the blogosphere

Taking a break from the process of writing a piece I wanted to get right, I clicked my way over to a web site, a blog, that I like to read. The first short post I read hit home. Scrolling down, the one below it was just as crisp. This guy here really sees through the blather and bloviation, I chuckled.

Then it hit me, epiphany-like: Yep, the clear-thinking, good writing geniuses of the blogosphere always agree with me!

Hmm ... I’m sure that proves something ... back to work.
Art by F.T. Rea

Webb won on his own merits

Well, the corks have popped and the gloat-fest has begun. Breaking news: Jim Webb did not win the primary. No, the bloggers for Webb won it.

After reading too much of what the blogging self-styled titans of political strategy posted relentlessly during the campaign -- to uplift Webb chiefly by trashing Harris Miller as if he was the spawn of Satan -- why should I, or anyone, be surprised when that same smug set claims most of the credit for Webb’s victory?

Well, I’m absolutely delighted that Webb won. My short take on his success is that Webb represented change and hope to the disillusioned. Furthermore, his candidacy said there are honest Republicans and other moderate conservatives who have finally given up on denial. They have wised up -- too much Iraq, Katrina and sleaze -- and if that trend picks up steam it threatens to scald the incumbent, George Allen.

Webb’s resume said "authenticity." So, I say Webb’s win came in spite of having no TV ads, and in spite of the tactics some of his well-meaning supporters stooped to employ. In spite of all the off-putting noise, Webb still came across as a man who does his own thinking, an honest man.

Jim Webb won on his own merits. The key was his natural ability to motivate regular people, including the volunteers who got out the vote on Tuesday. I know some of them were also bloggers, but most weren't. Moreover, his woefully under-financed campaign did little to put him over, other than to make enough people realize there was a primary. That's something, but it's not much to brag about.

As a lifelong Redskins fan, my take on the me! me! me! attitude of the credit-grabbing on display from some bloggers who ought to know better is this: They bring to mind another tower of modesty who likes to think he’s a great team-player, too, the Dallas Cowboys’ newest star wide receiver, Terrell Owens.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pitts: Nasty attack, even by Coulter's standards

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts lowers the boom on the pinup girl for the sort of rightwing crazies who pull the wings off insects for kicks, Ann Coulter, with his, “A vicious, nasty attack, even by Coulter’s standards.”

“...But then, the attack is vicious even by Coulter’s standards: In her latest book, whose title you won’t read here, she savages the [9/11] widows as ‘self-obsessed’ and ‘witches.’”

“...Coulter is reviled because she is mean, malicious, the barbed-wire frontwoman for a cabal of bloviators, bully boys and blowhards (Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage and too many others) who are pleased to regard themselves as the guardians of conservatism's soul. Conservatism's soul should sue for slander."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

AP: Webb wins

The Associated Press has declared Jim Webb the winner in the Virginia senatorial primary.

"...Webb defeated lobbyist and longtime Democratic Party activist Harris Miller after a bruising primary in which voters decided between a traditional and unabashed liberal (Miller) and a former Republican (Webb) whose populist campaign was aimed at so-called Reagan Democrats — namely, rural, white moderates."

SLANTblog sez:
  • Harris Miller had the money, the TV ads, the slick organization. Yet, he was such a weak candidate it didn’t matter.
  • Jim Webb had a poorly run campaign and his fundraising apparatus was a joke. Still, his persona as a straight-shooting author/military expert, a blue-collar Reagan Democrat come home, carried the day.
  • The war in Iraq is an issue in Virginia and Webb's stance sharpens that issue. That may be bad news to George Allen
  • The Netroots phenomenon is a significant development. It has a ways to go before it’s ready to sway an important general election. Nonetheless, it will claim Webb’s victory as its own, and it surely deserves some part of it. I don't know how much.
  • The kahuna of the Netroots movement, Kos, has his own style, and it’s been effective in building a following. Thus, his disciples should think -- we must copycat his style as best we can, to magnify the effect. Or, perhaps they should think -- we should also develop our own style, to be as authentic.
This post is being updated on the fly. More analysis from SLANTblog, as well as links to other takes will follow.
Illustration: F.T. Rea

Cross-eyed Mona

With the Democratic primary underway, Harris Miller vs. Jim Webb, the polls are a little over three hours from closing. The results will be known soon. One candidate’s followers will head off to their favorite saloons in various towns to celebrate, the other group will being looking to drown their sorrows.

For those who like bars, like stories set in bars, here’s a short story I wrote some years ago. It is set in J.W. Rayle, a legendary mid-‘70s saloon/eatery in Richmond's Fan District. The story is fiction, the bar was real. It’s from a collection of stories called “Detached.”

This episode begins with the protagonist, Roscoe Swift, nursing a hangover. Click here to read the whole story. Here’s a little preview.

“...They were discussing the clues to the Paul-is-dead controversy, or scam,” said Sal. “Bake was stretched out on his back on the couch. His feet were on the coffee table, next to several beer cans, an ashtray, a bong, and a Coca-Cola bottle. Abruptly, the late Mr. Baker announced, ‘Watch this shot, boys. Swish!’”

Sal took up a matchbook and began acting out the part. “He pulled the last match out and whistled. Then he aimed it, man, squinting one eye. The he tossed it at the bottle, and ladies and gents, the match went straight into the Coke bottle like a guided missile. Voila!”

Illustration: F.T. Rea

Monday, June 12, 2006

Handed Allen a Gun ... Yikes!

In glancing at the Virginia Political Blogs aggregator site I ran across a provocative post from Spank That Donkey that caught my eye -- “Webb just handed Allen a Gun in Kerry Endorsement.” It seems some folks can’t wait until the Democrats primary results come in to get into that lazy, hazy, crazy, summertime anything goes, swift-boating mood. Since Webb might lose tomorrow, this blogger had to go with what he/she had today:

“...Maybe a minute and a half TV spot, over dubbed with this audio, and a photo montage of a Kerry/Webb endorsement event ... might make this endorsement not so good an idea.”

To Spank That Donkey, I say this:

We know a lot about Sen. John Kerry’s service during the Vietnam War. The same goes for former Navy Secretary Jim Webb. It’s on the record. We know that presidential candidate Kerry then got “swift-boated,” ostensibly for his high-profile anti-war activities, which followed his Vietnam experience.

In order to do a thorough job, Kerry’s thoroughly honorable service as a volunteer in real swift boats was tarred by shameless propagandists who felt all was fair in their effort to defeat Kerry. Are Sen. George Allen‘s backers now poised to attempt to tar Jim Webb‘s service, too, should he win tomorrow? In order to undermine Webb’s legitimate credentials as a military expert, one who opposed invading Iraq, how far will Bush apologists go?

The post suggests that Webb’s association with Kerry will put a gun in Allen’s hand. OK. In which branch of the service did Allen serve during the Vietnam War? He's the right age to have served during that conflict. Like many who now talk tough, he chose to serve his country by going to college. That's fine but what does he know of war, or guns? What will Allen do with that firearm if he figures out how to load it? Perhaps you need a better metaphor.

My reaction to the thought of Bush administration yes-man George Allen with a loaded weapon is that it probably puts his own cowboy boots, and Republicans standing close to him, in a lot more danger than it does any Democrats.

Kos on tomorrow's primary

In this space I have written several times that I am pulling for Jim Webb to win tomorrow's Democratic senatorial primary. Casting a vote for Webb might make you feel less grumpy about having to put up with George W. Bush in the White House. Hey, at least you'll have done something other than complain.

Rather than write more words about why Webb seems a better choice for Virginia Democrats than Harris Miller, his opponent, at this time I’ll step aside and allow another voice to speak on behalf of candidate Webb -- a 60-year-old author of bestsellers whose eclectic resume is more than a little unusual for a guy running for office.

Some portion of SLANTblog’s readers already know well who the co-author of “Crashing the Gate” and the creator of the web site Daily Kos, Markos "Kos" Moulitsas, is. Others may not. In short Kos, pictured right, is a Young Turk of the political blogosphere. He’s a major player in the realm of left-of-center political blogs. In this case, Moulitsas writes about why you should vote for Webb. His concise argument, with a few quotes, is persuasive without being vociferous:

“...One of the main knocks against Webb is that he's a former Republican. And, in fact, a former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. Far from a bad thing, this is exactly what we want: Republicans realizing that if they truly want a better America they need to switch to the Democrats. Republicans realizing that America's security isn't being strengthened, but weakened by the party of CIA agent outings and the Dubai ports deal.”

For more on the Kos phenomenon, itself, here's this: Writing for Slate, John Dickerson reports on the closing gap between blogging and journalism in The Markos Regime: Why Kos shouldn't believe the hype.

“...With the completion of YearlyKos, the first convention for the 500,000 unique visitors the site claims to get daily, bloggers now face the problem all outsider movements encounter when they go mainstream. Can the astute elements of their critique survive their newfound legitimacy? Or, to put the matter somewhat differently, can the bloggers remain jerks to the press, when the press is busy swooning over them?”
Image: from Slate

Death Calls for Piggy

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch the final bell has sounded for Carl W. “Piggy” Hutchins. A professional boxer in his youth, a “contender,” Hutchins was known to three generations of Richmonders of a certain stride, who ate, drank and shared their lives in his various restaurants. Excepting feuds, over the decades, Piggy’s cadre of loyal customers tended to use his eateries as a headquarters/clubhouse.

A corner restaurant called “Piggy’s,” where the Cary St. Cafe is now at Mulberry and Cary, began the series of pubs he would own. The Attaché, at 5816 W. Braod St. was the last. It closed in 2002; Hutchins was 81.

Eleven years ago I worked at the Attaché (although for some reason the owner was calling it William Henry’s that year) briefly. A money crisis propelled me across the Henrico County line, to the Attaché, inquiring after a bartender position listed in the want ads. It turned out there was no job, well, not exactly. But that afternoon I met the legendary Piggy Hutchins.

During a tour of the suburban split-level facility -- the restaurant itself, the after-hours club on the upper story and the basement tavern -- conducted by Piggy’s older brother, Pete, and Bill, a nephew, an idea came to me.

Then we all sat at the main table to cut a deal over draft beer and coffee. Piggy liked it that I volunteered to take on the promotional costs and booking duties, that I wanted only a cut of the bar receipts -- no guarantees. Plus, I got tips as the bartender. And, too, he liked telling his war stories for a writer. As it happened, this scribbler left the place that day nurturing an absurd concept that became the Underdog Room. For three nights a week, I presented standup comics and live music in Piggy’s basement; it lasted about three months in 1995.

A highlight of that stint was the night the Vibraturks -- usually known as the Bopcats -- packed the place in spite of their temporary name-change. Later, a local performance-art/rock act, called the Scariens, stretched the culture clash aspect of the shaky gig to pieces. Piggy and his crowd of regulars were utterly baffled by the Scariens, who probably baffled themselves, too.

After three months I came to my senses and limped back to the Fan District. It was fun and I left on good terms ... accordingly, I’ll be hoisting one at happy hour today for Piggy. No doubt, many others will be doing the same in dives all over town.
Handbill by F.T. Rea

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Miller vs. Webb at-a-glance

Better late than never, here's SLANTblog's handy candidates-at-a-glance guide for the statewide Democratic primary on Tuesday:

Harris Miller
Slogan (from web site): “We Can Fix Washington”

Age: 54
Occupation: Businessman and lobbyist; former president of the Information Technology Association of America
Previous political experience: Former chairman, Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Lost campaign for U.S. House in 1984.
Education: B.A., University of Pittsburgh, 1972. M.A. and master of philosophy, Yale University, 1975.
Family: Lives in McLean with wife Deborah Kahn. Two adult children, Derek, 24, and Alexis, 22.

Newspaper endorsement: The Washington Post


“...Over the past several months, I have traveled close to 25,000 miles around this state, talking to Virginians from every region and walk of life. And the message from all of them has been crystal-clear: The leadership in Washington has taken this country in the wrong direction.

“Now it’s time to turn things around. It’s time to invest in the future and create opportunity for every Virginian.”

“...George Allen has had five-and-a-half years to make a real difference for Virginians in Washington. Instead, he has consistently put partisan politics ahead of the people of Virginia. In fact, he has voted with the disastrous policies of George Bush 96 percent of the time -- more than almost any other member of the U.S. Senate.”

“...With real change in Washington, we can restore people’s faith in government, we can make sure that our government works well for its citizens, and we can ensure that every Virginian has the chance to live the American Dream.”

Miller's official web site


Jim Webb
Slogan (from web site): “Born Fighting”

Age: 60
Occupation: Author and freelance journalist.
Previous political experience: Never held political office. Secretary of Navy, 1987-88; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, 1984-87; Counsel, U.S. House Committee on Veteran Affairs, 1978-82.
Education: U.S. Naval Academy, B.S., Engineering, 1968; Georgetown University, J.D., 1975.
Family: Lives with wife, Hong Le Webb, in McLean. Four children: Amy, 35; Jimmy, 25; Sarah, 23; Julia, 20.

Newspaper endorsement: The Roanoke Times


“...Like many Americans, I became deeply concerned about the direction of leadership at the federal level following the events of 9/11. After the disastrous mismanagement of the crisis that Hurricane Katrina brought to New Orleans, I decided for the first time in my life to seek an elected office so that I could more directly help our nation move into a brighter future.”

“...We are undergoing a sea change in American politics. The old labels of liberal and conservative no longer apply when we are examining the issues that affect the country and our future. I believe that there are many people who left the Democratic Party because of its foreign policy measures at the end of the Vietnam era. These same people would now be willing to come home to a Democratic Party that again embraces the principals of Jacksonian democracy and maintains a Trumanesque common-sense style of leadership.

“We measure the health of our society not by how people are doing at the top, but how the people who have no power are being represented in the corridors of power. For those who have no voice, I’d like to be that voice.”

Webb's official web site


The source for the candidates’ quotes and some of the profile information was The Virginian-Pilot. Click on the link to that Tidewater newspaper to read more about the candidates. Neither it, nor the Richmond Times-Dispatch, chose to endorse a candidate in this race. To get an overview of the partisans’ views out in the Virginia blogosphere click here.

Caricatures: F.T. Rea

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Front page flier story

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch featured a front page, over-the-fold story about a comic strip on a flier, a tidbit of campaign mischief that has grown some long legs. Art from the strip itself served as an illustration for what was ostensibly political news.

That’s the sort of notoriety most solitary cartoonists, doodling their way through life never get. So, as a fellow cartoonist, a person who discovered the power of caricaturing in the second grade, I’m happy for the artist. I wish I could say the same for Virginia’s Democratic Party. Sadly, this story is about the biggest news that’s come out of this spring’s senatorial primary campaign -- a short-on-ideas contest between Harris Miller and Jim Webb that will culminate on Tuesday.

Yes, ever since the second grade I’ve known that if you can provoke someone into whining, “He’s drawing mean pictures of me,” you’ve boosted them into amplifying the cartoon’s ability to make other people laugh at it.

Apparently Harris Miller, who I’m told is 55 years old, still needs to learn that lesson. “Webb flier draws anger of rival Miller” was penned by Tyler Whitley and Peter Hardin. It recounts some of what the two candidates had to say yesterday during a radio debate.

“‘...Apparently, [the flier] was distributed only in certain parts of Virginia, as if people there would fall for that imagery,' Miller said. ‘One of the things I hoped we would keep out of this campaign. . . is my religion and my background,’ Miller added.

“...Miller said, ‘I'm not accusing [Webb] personally of being anti-Semitic. I don’t believe that for one second. Jim Webb is a good man. The caricature has been ‘quite upsetting to me and my family, to most of my friends, and to a lot of people across this country, frankly,’ Miller said.”


Yes, given the chance to say “no comment” to a question about the offending flier Miller whimpered to enlarge the story. It seems the Miller camp believes that pointing an accusatory finger at Webb’s camp over this rather juvenile piece of propaganda, in order to extend its life as a concocted issue, is benefiting their candidate. They don’t mind if someone sees that stance as similar to the position of the Muslim zealots who called for the death of any cartoonist who draws a picture of The Prophet.

We’ve seen the word “jewbaiting” hurled from blog to blog in recent weeks. It’s been a while since I heard that term, an expression with a lot more hair on it than some of its young users may know about. If you Google “jewbaiting” you’ll see how much it has appeared in commentary about this campaign.

Of course the Webb backers behind the flier have been laughing their donkey butts off. Beyond that, the Webb camp seems to think the story of the flier’s supposed anti-Semitism is helping them, too. I can’t see how, other than to just get attention for the primary any way you can. That's any, I say, any way.

Well, it seems to me that it might work for them, or against them. So, I sense desperation from both sides. It’s like they both have suddenly agreed that the public has been totally ignoring the Miller vs. Webb race, so let’s get in the newspapers with this. It wouldn’t surprise me if the two camps have worked together, behind closed doors, to promote the fluffy flier flap into a front page story.

Who knows? Maybe it really will make Democrats read more about the campaign. Maybe it will make some Democrats mad and vote to punish one side or the other. Or, maybe it will make Democrats give up on the possibility of beating George Allen this time, and they will go to the beach on Tuesday, or a bar, or anywhere but the polls.

Sorry I can’t give the cartoonist credit, I can’t read the name on the art.

Updates: AP's Bob Lewis writes "Accusations Fly in Primary"
Mark Fisher (Washington Post): “Virginia Senate: Low Blows and the Hook (nose)

Coulter and Allen?

Regarding the most recent Ann Coulter flap to do with her slamming 9/11 widows, which works nicely to stoke her showboating, money-making machine, at FDCC a good question, or two, is being tossed up:

“Ask George Allen if he thinks it was OK for his campaign treasurer to betray the identity of a CIA case officer.”

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Price of Free Speech

Note: This piece appeared in C-Ville Weekly in 2001. It was later edited for SLANT's pages in 2004.
by F. T. Rea

Given that in Richmond the proper meaning of the words and deeds of Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) is still hotly debated, the stately Lee Monument has been a lightning rod of sorts over the years, as well as a tourist attraction. On a pretty morning five or six summers ago a curious commotion was underway about the statue's pedestal. About 25 adults were milling about purposely; some were propping large posters against the monument itself. Upon closer examination the posters proved to be pro-life propaganda. It was the same sort of designed-to-disgust material displayed relentlessly by demonstrators outside the Women's Clinic on the Boulevard for years.

So, why would anti-abortion activists be rallying in the shadow of a piece of heroic sculpture that fondly remembers a Confederate general mounted on his horse? Baffled, this scribbler's curiosity got the best of him.

To get a better look, I continued walking toward the proceedings. In response to my inquiry it was explained they were there to picket an “abortionist” with an office in the medical office building, just across the street. Well, OK... Then, with that mission accomplished, the group had opted to take some keepsake photographs, using the oldest of Monument Avenue's statues -- it was dedicated in 1890 -- as a backdrop.

Standing next to identical placards displaying a blown-up depiction of a bloody fetus -- at first it looked like an undercooked hamburger that had fallen off the grill -- they posed with easy smiles; it could have been a company picnic or a class reunion.

On a one-to-ten scale, in the Absurd Postmodern Juxtapositions category, this business was easily a nine. Old General Lee -- whose view on abortion is not widely known -- he did not flinch.

A year or two before this morning a group of a similar ilk had set itself up on the grassy, tree-lined median strip, a half-block to the east. On this occasion they were there to use the funeral of Associate Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church to suit their purpose. Along with a large contingent of the working press and dozens of uniformed police officers, they waited for the funeral underway to end.

Inside the church Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist delivered the eulogy, “...[Powell] was the very embodiment of judicial temperament; receptive to the ideas of his colleagues, fair to the parties to the case, but ultimately relying on his own seasoned judgment.”

Outside the church the eager TV crews had their cameras and microphones at the ready. The patient cops had their night sticks and side arms close at hand. The lathered up news-makers brandished their oozing fetus signs and posters citing Powell as a “murderer.”

When Powell’s family, friends and Supreme Court colleagues came outside, following the service, they had no choice but to notice the demonstration before them. Lenses zoomed in to focus on their stunned reactions.

As a longtime admirer of Lewis Powell, when I saw that one of the ranting pro-lifers was wearing a clerical collar, my curiosity got the best of me then, too. So I walked over to ask him something like -- was he really a man of the cloth, or was it just a shirt?

Taking umbrage, he fired back at me something about Powell having killed millions of babies. I had to assume he was referring to Powell’s role in the famous Roe vs. Wade decision. Asked what that had to do with forcing the dead judge’s family look at his gross placard, the sweaty zealot huffed and puffed. Instead of answering the question he repeated the same blustery charge against Powell.

There you have it -- free speech isn’t always pretty. In practice, the first amendment means we all have to take turns putting up with people who seem twisted, even mean, to us.

It’s difficult to imagine the demonstrators at Powell’s funeral changed any minds on the abortion issue by creating such a disturbing sight in the middle of the street. No, I’d say they were chiefly interested in venting their collective spleen and dealing out some payback. They weren’t there to persuade. They were there to punish and strike fear in the hearts of anyone who dares to rub them the wrong way.

Still, in our optimistic and open society, we are supposed to be obliged to allow for such venting. Let’s not forget that popular speech has never needed much protection at any time in history.

OK, that’s the price of free speech. Pose however you like next to the statue of old General Lee, astride Traveler. Wear funny costumes and bring props, if you like. Short of what might constitute an assault, it’s your right. Lee won’t flinch, even if I do.

-- 30 --

Photo Credit: F. T. Rea (2005)