Monday, July 31, 2006

Picasso and Powell

by F. T. Rea

In February of 1981 I saw Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” with my then-11-year-old daughter. When the Museum of Modern Art’s elevator doors opened the sight of the 25-foot wide masterpiece was so stunning the doors began to close before the spell was broken.
A few months later, what remains history’s most celebrated piece of anti-war art was packed up and sent to Madrid, Spain, upon the 100-year anniversary of Picasso’s birth (1881-1973). There it remains. However, a large copy of “Guernica” hangs on the second floor of the United Nations building -- a tapestry donated to the U.N. by Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in 1985.

On the occasion of then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 5, 2003 presentation -- underlining his president’s impatience with U.N. members seeking to avoid, or delay, war in Iraq -- the tapestry was completely covered that day by a blue drape. Powell apparently realized that even a replica of that particular piece had to be avoided for a backdrop of any photographs of him on that fateful day.

Three-and-a-half years into the war-of-choice in Iraq, when I think of what has been uncovered by investigations into the run-up to the invasion, I still wonder how much of what Powell said he actually knew had been ginned up by propagandists to sell a dangerous policy based on bad ideas.


In some ways little has changed at the heart of arguments concerning war and occupation since France's army -- as driven by the empire-building vision of Napoleon Bonaparte -- was an occupying force in Spain.

Overwhelmed by the brutality of France's campaign of terror to crush the Spanish will to resist, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) -- a well-connected artist who had much to lose -- took it upon himself to remove the romantic veil of glory which had always been draped over portraits of war in European art.

Documenting what he saw of war, firsthand, the images Goya hurled at viewers of his paintings and prints radically departed from tradition. Instead of heroic glorification Goya offered horrific gore. The art world hasn’t been the same since.

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

On April 27, 1937, to field test state-of the-art equipment, Adolf Hitler loaned a portion of Germany's air force, the Condor Legion, to a fellow fascist dictator -- Spain’s Francisco Franco. The mission: to bomb a small town a few miles inland from the Gulf of Biscay; a Basque village that had no strategic value whatsoever.

The result: utter terror.

Bombs rained on Guernica for over three hours; cold-blooded machine gunners mowed down the poor souls who fled into the surrounding fields.

Four days later with grim photographs of mutilated corpses on the front pages of French newspapers a million outraged Parisians took to their streets to protest the bombing of Guernica.

That same day Picasso, who was in Paris, dropped everything else and began sketching studies for what became “Guernica.” As Spain’s government-in-exile had already commissioned him to create a mural for its pavilion in the upcoming Paris World’s Fair, the inspired artist already had the perfect place to exhibit his statement -- a shades-of-gray, cartoonish composition made up of a terrified huddle of people and animals.

When the fair closed “Guernica” needed a home. Not only was the Spain of Generalissimo Franco out of the question, Picasso decided it wouldn’t be safe anywhere in Europe. He was probably right. Thus, the huge canvas was shipped to the USA and eventually wound up calling MOMA its home until 1981.


Colin Powell, a former four-star general, who, unlike some of Bush's hawkish neoconservative experts, knows war firsthand, from the inside out. It seems the Secretary knew something about art history, as well. Six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, he apparently retained a firm grasp on the potential of “Guernica” to cast a bitterly ironic light upon his history-making utterances. That, while he may have lost his grip on what had been his honor.

Instead of resigning because he disagreed with the Bush policy, Powell said, “We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities...”

Powell apparently accomplished what he had been ordered to do. Now he lives with what it wrought.

-- 30 --

The newspeak of George Orwellian Bush

When America’s daily city newspapers and broadcast networks are owned by huge media conglomerates, which are mostly owned by the wealthiest people in the country -- folks that are more likely to be Republicans than not -- who is it that's tricking all those fat cat-owned companies into hiring liberal editors and reporters?

As we’ve been hearing about the liberal bias of the media for decades, how is it that rightwing owners can’t break the habit of hiring leftwing content providers? Why would they have such a peculiar habit?

Well, the answer is so simple it sometimes gets overlooked: The liberal bias charge is mostly bogus. While it’s true that individual reporters have their leanings, as we all do, the notion that most reports from the mainstream media are deliberately tilted to the left is absurd.

Yet, there are two good reasons a lot of people buy that notion: One is that it gets repeated so many times some people accept it, just as they swallow everything else Madison Avenue dishes out with repetitive campaigns. The other is that many want to believe it, because it facilitates their need to feel victimized, while allowing them to dismiss ideas they don’t like, or don't understand.

In “Reign of Error,” columnist Paul Krugman is depressed that a new Harris poll says 50 percent of Americans believe Iraq really had weapons of mass destruction when it was invaded in 2003. That figure is up from 36 percent in February of 2005, in spite of all the international reports that say nothing was found in Iraq to justify the “imminent threat” to America described by President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, et al, in the run-up to the invasion.

“...It’s hard to imagine what the world looks like to the large number of Americans who get their news by watching Fox and listening to Rush Limbaugh, but I get a pretty good sense from my mailbag. Many of my correspondents are living in a world in which the economy is better than it ever was under Bill Clinton, newly released documents show that Saddam really was in cahoots with Osama, and the discovery of some decayed 1980s-vintage chemical munitions vindicates everything the administration said about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.”

Of course, a third reason to toss that "liberal bias" red herring into the stream of discussion is to simply do as much political mischief as possible by muddying the water.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Where are Wilder's solutions?

Will there be a Wilder legacy? Or, will there only be colorful stories about what a character he was, while he served in public offices?

From 1969 to date, the man has been (State) Sen. Wilder, Lt. Gov. Wilder, Gov. Wilder, and now Mayor Wilder. But according to Richmond Times-Dispatch political columnist Jeff E. Schapiro, in his Sunday Commentary piece -- "Same Old Wilder" -- Hizzoner has only really been consistent about one thing -- he bashes and undercuts friends and enemies, alike.
Wilder usually wins and always dishes out grief. Then what?

“At a change-averse City Hall, people scratch their heads in befuddlement or quake in fear. Why, they wonder, is Wilder so ruthless, so untrusting? When was he not? Reading Times-Dispatch reporter David Ress’ July 22 article on Wilder’s reign, one is reminded he is a one-trick pony with a nasty kick.”

While he’s been good at firing people, where are the bridges or schools Wilder has built? While he’s been good at exposing follies in-the-making, where are the theaters he’s built, or even refurbished? Where are the programs to cure social ills?

Other than winning, then ruling by whim -- with paybacks aplenty -- where are the signature accomplishments of Wilder's many terms in office? Any office?

Over the years, Wilder has probably done as much to hurt his fellow Democrats as he has to help them, so he certainly won’t be remembered for building up the party that has served him so well. He left the party and ran briefly as an independent, in 1994, for Democrat Chuck Robb's U.S. Senate seat. Then he suddenly pulled out of the race in October. What was that about, other than payback?

Richmond's Mayor Wilder has been as good as it gets at pointing his finger at problems. Many times he’s been absolutely right about those things, too. But where are his solutions?
Art: F.T. Rea

It's almost August, where's the money?

Over the last year I’ve read a lot about the Kos/Netroots fundraising phenomenon. It was said with much bravado when Jim Webb, pictured below, declared his candidacy rather late in the going -- to challenge Harris Miller in the primary race -- that Webb would soon benefit largely from having the Kos/RaisngKaine team on his side.

Thus, money would not be a problem. Remember the Howard Dean miracle we were told. Oh yes, there’ll be plenty of dough when it's needed.Well, it didn’t happen. Still, in spite of what proved to be a lackluster fundraising effort, Webb defeated Miller.

OK. That was a month-and-a-half ago. Still, the money never has showed. And, there’s no clear sign I can see it will.

So, while I’m a Jim Webb supporter without qualification, I have to ask -- where’s the sign the Webb camp is at all prepared to take on the well-financed camp of the incumbent, Sen. George Allen? Other than to mock Allen for his boots, or his middle name, what are the key issues that Webb can get some traction with to woo independent voters?

It’s almost August -- other than some bloggers, where is the Webb campaign?

If Webb is to win, surely he will have to use his strong stances on key issues to attract support from the independents and disaffected Republicans. While it's worthwhile to note that Allen is President George Bush’s dittohead, that 97 percent thing, that’s hardly enough by itself. It’s too abstract.

Plus Allen can bat it away, because too many Virginians remember Allen as a governor to see him as only a yes-man for the Bush administration.

If it’s the war in Iraq, then it’s not enough to say America should not have launched this war, as much as I agree with that point. Webb has to say how this country can disengage from its folly in Iraq, and not be worse off for doing it. Webb has to take on the Bush foreign policy much more aggressively than he’s been willing to so far, by proposing understandable alternatives.

The Middle East is a wildfire, threatening to spread. Webb has to say specifically how he can improve that overall situation by changing policy.

As wacky, but cool, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks used to sing in the mid-1970s, I'm asking the Webb campaign -- “Where’s the Money?”

Moreover, if Webb can’t raise any serious money, soon, that says the usual backers for a Virginia Democrat in a statewide race are not on board. Furthermore, it will say the Netroots presence in Virginia, and perhaps elsewhere, may have already peaked.
Image: Webb for U.S. Senate

Saturday, July 29, 2006

London woman in doghouse

Reuters is reporting the humorless police in London have forced a widow to undo a 30-year-old joke, started by her late-husband, in “Woman in doghouse.

"A British woman has been ordered by police to take down a sign on her garden gate which read 'Our dogs are fed on Jehovah's Witnesses ...'"

Fancy Melons

Fiction by F. T. Rea

Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly. Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, he wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans with twine for shoelaces.

Roscoe Swift was content to ignore the rumpled stranger until he made his purpose clear: “Gotta match?” Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously and handed him a matchbook. The old salt lit his crooked, hand-rolled cigarette. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the ungrateful man threw the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, yer no prodigy.

Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.

“No sir, heh, heh, yer just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer, as his pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. Reality at the moment was no less weird than his dream had been. He found that he had been sleeping on a stack of inflated rafts on the sand. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty. Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand on the beach to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.

Then he realized he was still dreaming.


April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.

The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a familiar haunt. It went all the way back to when he was 16, shortly after he actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock and gathered up last night’s clothes -- a black “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars -- on his way to the bathroom.

Dressed and finished with the bathroom, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him.

Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him Selena always seemed to be working from a script.

Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.

Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.

In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good. Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.

Roscoe Swift, 33, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for ten years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.

Roscoe switched on the radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza. He was out of eggs, too.

What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.

Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.

“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”

Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”

“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”

“You betcha,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern drink. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”

“No, but it’s so totally appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit well with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.

Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled.

The bubbly wasn’t!

“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.

While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.

“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in a steady rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.

“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” A grinning Selena said, with eyes of mischief.

That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their perfect breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road. “I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.

As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”

Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.

“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, let me have a puff of that.”

After her second hit, as she passed the joint back to him, Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.

She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage, across her hip to her bare thigh.

Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?” Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed.

“What was what?” she cooed.

“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “You didn’t hear that bang?

“It was passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”

Roscoe was still disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?

She kissed him with such fury that even he had to stop talking.

Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in Harper’s Ferry, were effectively put aside. Later they slept the perfect sleep known only to earnest lovers, who’ve given their all to the moment.


The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion, too. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She teased him -- maybe this, maybe that.

Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.

They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked a block from his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands.

Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later, if you’re up for a encore session.”

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-golf, he found a message Selena had left on his answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew.

There must have been some gossip. Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling. The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe.

Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland.

And, that was that, except for this epilogue:

On a rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry, Roscoe, upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, found a paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo when he got home. In it was a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with half a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette. He shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers.

“Passion,” said Roscoe with chuckle nearly as dry as the bottle of bubbly next to him. He let out the clutch and turned up the volume.

Note: “Fancy Melons” is one of a series of short stories featuring Roscoe
Swift as the protagonist. The collection of fiction is called ‘Detached.” Art by F.T. Rea

Friday, July 28, 2006

Geyer: You must acknowledge others' memories and principles

One of my favorite columnists of all-time is Georgie Anne Geyer. She's got style. If there’s an American political writer better qualified to opine on the current mess in the Middle East, I don’t know who it would be. Here’s the link to her latest piece on the subject, "Group Therapy in the Middle East."

“If, during the Great Family Squabble in the Middle East, someone suggested taking the whole bunch to a family counselor, there is little doubt what would happen: ‘We're treated like dogs,’ the Palestinians would say. ‘The Israelis treat us like the Romans treated the early Jews. And since no one in the world cares about us, we can, and will, use every weapon of the demented victim and the dispossessed against them -- who wouldn't use suicide bombers against their arrogant bombs and rockets?’

“‘And just how do you expect us to treat them?’ the Israelis would respond, the counselor already becoming bleary-eyed at the prospect of an entire afternoon of this. ‘They never would accept the two-state solution -- that was the U.N., you know. They’ve been an unmitigated disaster since 1947. You do know about 1947, don’t you? The Palestinians, they’ve never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity. And now we’ve given them beautiful Gaza, and what do they do? As for Lebanon, the Lebanese will thank us.’

“Then the Syrians and the Iranians would come ...”

Click here to read the column.

Barkley: I was a Republican until they lost their minds

Charles Barkley says, “I’m rich like a Republican, but I’m not one.”

Barkley, a frequent visitor to Richmond, by way of his Sonny Smith connection -- Smith coached him at Auburn -- is a man who speaks his mind when it suits him. Which is usually. In fact, since his retirement from professional basketball in 2000, he’s been paid to do just that. For his day job Barkley is an outspoken, and sometimes quite humorous, NBA analyst for cable network TNT, when he's not writing books.

Now he is considering another line of work -- politics. Recently Barkley has announced he has become a Democrat. Beyond that he has said he’s weighing the possibility of running for governor in his home state of Alabama.

This USA Today story will tell you more:

“... Alabama’s last Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, said Barkley has become a role model for many people and ‘would make an excellent candidate for high office.’ Siegelman noted that Barkley has the personal wealth to stage a strong campaign.”

“... Barkley told the school board members that poor children don't have a level playing field with wealthier students, because the poor children have to cope with more problems like crime, drugs and teen pregnancy. But he also admonished some black parents and their children.

“‘There are too many black kids and their parents who do not value a good education,’ he said. ‘There are places where a black kid who is a good student and tries to speak correctly, you hear stuff like, 'He's trying to be white.' Well, I say, if that’s true, we need more kids trying to be white.’”

So, the party-switching trend continues. In the 1970s white Southern Democrats, and some others, switched to the Republican Party. If anybody called those guys, “flip-floppers,” I don’t remember it. Their reasons may have varied, somewhat, but ideology was driving much of it. Now, it seems, more elephants are switching party affiliation than donkeys.

In the ‘70s Civil Rights and the Vietnam War were the issues in the air. Today, it’s less clear what issues are causing the restlessness. But three years into the controversial war in Iraq, it is probably at the top of the list.

In Virginia Jim Webb, a former Reagan Republican, is running for the US Senate as a Democrat, trying to unseat the Republican incumbent, George Allen. As the flip-flopper label has served the GOP well in other races, we now see the them trying to stick that same tag on Webb.

Is the public gullible enough to swallow that sort of guff, once again? In 2004 John Kerry seemed to help the Republicans brand him as a flip-flopper. It remains to be seen if it will still have resonance in 2006. After all, who wouldn’t leave a political party if they saw that its leadership had lost their minds?

Webb should be ready to use Barkley’s quip, verbatim, the very next time he hears Allen, or one of the senator’s lathered up propagandists, call him a flip-flopper. Webb's camp might be smart to bring Barkley to Virginia to say it himself.

Also in response to the flip-flopper charge Webb might say something like this: Hell’s bells, those crazy Republicans would have called the captain of the Titanic a “flip-flopper” if he had changed course in time enough to avoid the iceberg.
Image: Amazon

Landis says he's innocent

In the Tour de France winner’s first public appearance since yesterday’s stunning announcement by his team, Phonak, that he had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone, Floyd Landis claimed he has naturally high testosterone levels. He asked not to be judged prematurely.

From Madrid, Spain, AP reports Floyd Landis proclaims his innocence:

“‘All I'm asking for is that I be given a chance to prove I'm innocent,’ he said. Asked repeatedly what might have tripped his test, Landis refused to lay blame on any one thing. ‘As to what actually caused it on that particular day, I can only speculate,’ he said.

“Landis had an exemption from the Tour to take cortisone shots for pain in his hip, which will require surgery for a degenerative condition, and was taking an oral medication for hyperthyroidism. He and his doctor were consulting with experts to see if those drugs might have thrown off his testosterone levels.”

Having no idea of how accurate such drug tests are, or how likely they can be thrown off by other medications or natural occurrences, it would seem untoward to speculate now about Landis’ guilt or innocence.

Which makes me wonder why the story had to come out, at all, before the mandatory second test was made, or before Landis had a chance to challenge the results of the first test, the urine sample for which was taken after the Tour’s 17th stage. It seems a little like announcing how the jury is leaning in the middle of its deliberations.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Swordfish of 1976

On Saturday, May 6, 2006 another Kentucky Derby Day softball reunion was held. Anyone who ever played on the now defunct team was welcome, plus their families, friends, etc. The annual parties began in 1980, when the Biograph Theatre’s softball team was one of the cars attached to a runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League (1975-94).

At the reunion a few innings of softball were played in splendid weather without anyone hobbling off the field, or worse -- being carried off. A fine picnic spread was laid out and consumed. Cold beer flowed as the same stories were stretched, again. The horse race was watched on a little battery-powered TV.

Several of the guys at this year’s gathering were teammates of mine in 1976, when I was the manager of the Biograph, a repertory cinema that was located at 814 West Grace Street. It was the first summer of Biograph softball. We called ourselves the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. That year we played a schedule that was not set; we challenged other teams, which played in organized leagues (mostly Fan League teams), to play us for a keg of beer.

The Biograph Swordfish won 15 games (that were scheduled and umpired) of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster, which included two French guys (friends of one of the cinema’s cashiers) -- they had never seen a softball, or baseball -- we probably won half of them by coming from behind in late innings.

Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced and athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory.

It was uncanny. Every time, those supposedly better teams seemed to be willing to overplay their hands. Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that first Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. Moreover, it was the loosest and luckiest team I’ve ever been associated with, bar none.

The Swordfish's two losses were: the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered, and the other was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary.

Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s). As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J. W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. In that bar, during a conversation, he asked me if the Biograph team -- I played outfield and served as the coach -- would consider taking on the prison’s team on a Saturday afternoon.

As it turned out the first date he set up was cancelled, due to something about a small riot.


A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. As I recall, we had been told to bring nothing in our pockets. Thus, we had our softball equipment and that was it.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.


The game itself was like all softball games, in ways, and rather unusual in others. The fence in leftfield was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 225 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards hundreds of other prisoners, seated in stands, cheered for the home team to vanquish the visiting Swordfish.

During a conversation with a couple of my teammates behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach stepped toward me. He, like his teammates, had on a typical softball uniform of that era -- it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest and a number on the back.

In contrast, we just had identical blue hats with a “B” on them. About half of us wore one of two different Biograph T-shirts models.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, sternly, as he pointed to a mural on the prison wall that said “Home of the Raiders.”

I realized I’d made a faux pas, right away.

“While we are on the field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with conviction, “we’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“All our games are home games,” he deadpanned.

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. He thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.

The Raiders won, in a high-scoring affair. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders. And, I was even more glad to leave that place.

Now, I’m so glad that prison is no longer there. Located in the middle of Richmond, it was a nightmare in so many ways.

It was all part of a sepia-toned softball season so long ago it seems like a dream now. The Biograph teams that followed never saw such raw success, again. Each year that passes, the original Swordfish that show up -- that can show up -- are more glad than ever to see one another on Derby Day.

Is Landis' Tour Victory Tainted?

Was Floyd Landis’ remarkable comeback win in the Tour de France too good to be true? Now with “Tour de France winner flunks drug test,” AP is reporting that there’s a shadow being cast over the American cyclist’s victory by you-know-what -- uh, oh -- a failed drug test.

“Floyd Landis’ stunning Tour de France victory just four days earlier was thrown into question Thursday when his team said he tested positive for high levels of testosterone during the race. The Phonak team suspended Landis, pending results of the backup "B" sample of his drug test. If Landis is found guilty of doping, he could be stripped of the Tour title, and Spain's Oscar Pereiro would become champion.

“It wasn’t immediately known when the backup sample will be tested. The Swiss-based Phonak team said it was notified by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Wednesday that Landis’ sample showed ‘an unusual level of testosterone/epitestosterone’ when he was tested after stage 17 of the race last Thursday.”

Should we be disappointed? If we are, why should we be disappointed? Because it means he may have cheated? Or, because it means he got caught?

Some wags -- including some sportswriters, off-the-record -- suggest that nearly all the elite bicycle racers and track stars, and so forth, are using chemistry to enhance their performance. The challenge is to stay ahead of whatever are the latest tests.

Me, I wish I knew. I’m not even sure how much I think it ought to matter. The drugs and sports scandals that are rampant appear to be so full of hidden agendas, hypocrisy and mountains of money, it’s hard to find the good guys.

Good eyesight is a key to most sports, so is Lasik surgery cheating, too? What about cortisone shots? What about when the PGA stopped disabled pro golfer Casey Martin from being able to use a golf cart. What was the right thing to do there?

After decades of zillionaire owners and promoters ignoring all sorts of obvious drug-taking -- of all sorts -- by pro athletes, where the lines are being drawn on sports performance enhancements today seems rather arbitrary to me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

City in Denial

Vivian Paige posted “Racism and one solution” on Friday, in which she documented a project that is dealing with racism in a practical way. Rather than slogans, it depends on honesty and determination. The spirit of the post reminded me of something I wrote four years ago for STYLE Weekly for their Back Page during Black History Month. The piece was called “City in Denial.” Here's a preview:

“...In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when honest people of the Deep South saw the stark pictures -- in national magazines and on television -- of the shocking violence associated with desegregation, the hideous truth hit them in the face. For those who could manage it, change must have seemed vastly preferable to posing for more pictures of hell on earth. Apprehensive white people who had been brought up as bigots had to agree with their restless black neighbors that change was inevitable and necessary. They might not have become pals overnight but they, blacks and whites, must have seen that they just couldn’t keep having riots in their streets.

"However, in Richmond more restraint was evidenced. While that surely seemed like a blessing at the time, it may have come with a price.

To read the entire piece click here.

More on why some people hate America

More on “why they hate us.”

On Monday I posted an introduction and a link to an in-depth look at just one of the 14 regime-changes the USA has engineered in the last 110 years -- Iran in 1953. A fair reading of that particular maneuver would have most impartial readers understanding why some embittered Iranians have been plotting against the interests of America ever since. They might say America was right or wrong, but they understand.

Today I want to provide more background on why embattled Third-World countries sometimes distrust American presidents’ motives when they say we are trying to promote democracy and stability by sending in the troops.

Please note, this post is about why "some people" hate us. It’s not to say America has always been wrong in using its military, or that given foreign policies are so simplistic that there ever was one single reason why a president did anything.

Of course, it’s always complicated. But if you don’t know some of this history, it’s high time you did. It seems some young people today have no grasp of history before 9/11. It's easy to document why there are heartfelt resentments in some other countries, feelings that stem from regime-changes imposed on them by American presidents in bygone days.

For the The Texas Observer, Robert Sherrill reviews Stephen Kinzer’s new book, “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq.

“George Bush and Dick Cheney may get your vote as the worst, the dumbest, the most venal, and the most dangerous bunglers in foreign affairs in U.S. history. But this book will show you that their equals have appeared before.

“Overthrow is an infuriating recitation of our government’s military bullying over the past 110 years --a century of interventions around the world that resulted in the overthrow of 14 governments -- in Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Iran, Grenada, Afghanistan, and … Iraq.

“Stephen Kinzer, who spent years on various front lines for The New York Times, calls these regime changes “catastrophic victories,” but of course some were more catastrophic than others. Most of these coups were triggered by foreign combatants and then taken over and finished by us. But four of them, in many ways the worst of the lot, were all our own, from conspiracy to conclusion. American agents engaged in complex, well-financed campaigns to bring down the governments of Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile. None would have fallen -- certainly not in the same way or at the same time -- if Washington had not acted as it did...”

So, President George Bush is not the first American president to think toppling regimes abroad was in America's best interest. And, he knows it. He also knows all to well why "they" hate us, in spite of how he shrugs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Top Five WWE Posts; updated

The Weekend Without Echoes, July 21-23, came and went. Now some bloggers suggest it be done again. Others say the concept is OK, but they’d like it to be for only one day, maybe once-a-month. And, some say it was a silly thing from the start.

Well, I must say I’m glad some bloggers seemed to enjoy it. As far as I can tell nobody got hurt, and I suspect the ones that got mad are mad at something else by now. We’ll see about what happens next. In truth, I didn’t envision anything beyond this one time. That’s why I called it an experiment -- it was to see what would happen.

The experiment had several points of interest to me. One of them was to see what sort of material would be posted by the participants. Later, I’ll write more about the other angles. So, without further ado, here’s my Favorite Top Five for WWE, in alphabetical order:

Three honorable mentions I’d like to make are: “Stop Plagiarizing My Site! (updated)” by Melissa at Monstrosity. A WWE carnival was gathered and posted at Rick Sincere News and Thoughts under the title “An Echo, Not a Choice.” And, although MaxPower at Haduken didn’t get on the list of participants, he did conduct and post an interview with the WWE project in mind: “Interview: Pete Humes.”

Note: This post was updated on July 27th at 2:15 p.m. ("A Year of Loss" was added.) Thanks again to all that participated.

Olsen at Shenanigans

A heads-up email came in from Bruce Olsen, pictured right. I last saw him at the benefit for Buzz Montsinger on July 16th. Olsen’s band performed at that function, along with others. After the show we watched Larry Rohr, a piece of work if ever there was, do some of his magic tricks in the street as the bands packed up.

The Bruce Olsen Family Band will be on stage, performing live, at Shenanigans Pub (4017 MacArthur Avenue, in the near Northside) on Thursday, July 27th. Cover charge will be $7, with the show to begin shortly after 8 p.m. Come earlier to eat dinner, or to be sure of getting a good table.
Photo: SLANT

Richmond and art, same as it ever was

Richmonders simply must read Don Harrison’s crisp piece, “Mr. Cabell's Richmond,” which deftly ties the revealing words of Richmond author James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) to the modern brouhaha over the performing arts center folly. It was Harrison's Weekend Without Echoes offering at SaveRichmond.

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds;
and the pessimist fears this is true.”

-- James Branch Cabell
from The Silver Stallion

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hate began festering in 1953

Why do they hate us?

We hear that basic question asked, any number of ways, by President George W. Bush with his trademark shrug. “They,” of course, means our Axis of Evil enemies, plus their surrogates, et al. Then Bush answers the question: They hate us because we’re free; they hate freedom.

Hmm ...

Why anyone would accept such a ludicrous statement at face value is hard to figure. Yet, I’m certain Republicans in Congress would obediently line up around the block to chime in agreement to say: Yes, they hate what we love -- freedom, justice and the American way.

At the head of the line would be Sen. George “97%” Allen, who totally supports the Bush Middle East policy. The Bush policy also asserts -- if they hate us, then we just won’t talk with them.

So, with Lebanon ablaze and threatening to turn the entire Middle East into who-knows-what? the USA can’t/won’t talk with Syria, or Iran, because they hate us. That, even though we know those two countries have great influence over groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, as well as some of the blood-thirsty sects blowing up cars and shooting at us in Iraq.

Well, I hardly have any claim on understanding the intricacies of the layers of politics in the Middle East. But you don’t really have to be an expert to know the 20th century history of that region was filled with toppling regimes and battles over oil. And, I know in my gut that when Bush pretends he doesn’t understand why some Iranians aren’t so happy with the USA, he is choosing to ignore a 26-year reign of terror in Iran, 1953-79, that history says flowed directly from greedy mischief initiated by Great Britain and America.

In 2000 the New York Times obtained and then published a comprehensive inside look at the CIA’s role in the 1953 coup, written by the chief planner of the operation. Maybe you also wonder why people in that part of the world don’t believe Bush when he says we’re only trying to “spread democracy.”

Well, in 1953, the USA helped snuff democracy in Iran:

“For nearly five decades, America’s role in the military coup that ousted Iran’s elected prime minister and returned the shah to power has been lost to history, the subject of fierce debate in Iran and stony silence in the United States. One by one, participants have retired or died without revealing key details, and the Central Intelligence Agency said a number of records of the operation -- its first successful overthrow of a foreign government -- had been destroyed.

“But a copy of the agency’s secret history of the coup has surfaced [in 2000], revealing the inner workings of a plot that set the stage for the Islamic revolution in 1979, and for a generation of anti-American hatred in one of the Middle East’s most powerful countries...

“...The coup was a turning point in modern Iranian history and remains a persistent irritant in Tehran-Washington relations. It consolidated the power of the shah, who ruled with an iron hand for 26 more years in close contact with to the United States. He was toppled by militants in 1979. Later that year, marchers went to the American Embassy, took diplomats hostage and declared that they had unmasked a ‘nest of spies’ who had been manipulating Iran for decades.”

"The New York Times Special Report: The CIA in Iran" is organized in several pages according to the topic. It’s worth the time it takes to read it.

The Weekend That Was

For what it was worth, the Weekend Without Echoes has come and gone. At this point I can’t say what effect it has had, or is likely to have down the road. However, I want to thank everyone who saw fit to play a role in the experiment.

By that I mean everyone. So thanks to the bloggers who put themselves on the list of participants. Whether they actually lived up to the spirit of the project doesn’t worry me. Thanks to those bloggers who decided to post something to be a part of it, although they didn’t get on the list. Thanks also to those who chose to put down/undermine the concept of a three-day vacation from copycatism, in some cases with their trademark bluster. Yes, in the big picture you participated, too, whether you meant to, or not.

One of my Weekend Without Echoes colleagues who deserves a special thanks is Vivian J. Paige. To whatever extent the project was a success, she deserves much of the credit.

It was an experiment to encourage some writers to mine their own experience for material, rather than mostly criticize what others have said. By the way, in spite of what others said, to me, this project had little to do with battling the mainstream media, or striving to be their equal. No, I simply wanted to encourage some politically-minded bloggers to think for themselves and write accordingly, if only for three days.

For some of us it provided a deadline to finish something. Anyway, there’s lots of stuff to read, some of it probably wouldn’t be there except for the weekend’s challenge to write using firsthand experience. Now, those of us who compulsively analyze will do that.

More later...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Virginia Senate Race in a Glimmer

George Allen: The incumbent

Age: 54

Campaign money (July 1st): $6,600,000

Favorite number to mention: 9/11

Boots: Cowboy, for obvious reasons

Jim Webb: The challenger

Age: 60

Campaign money (July 1st): $424,000

Favorite number to mention: 97%

Boots: Combat, for obvious reasons

Art: F.T. Rea

The Storm and the Sunlit Painted Ladies

by F. T. Rea

Severe storms appear, darkening the sky. They blow through town, bending, soaking and breaking what they will. Then they’re gone. Each time the landscape is changed, sometimes a lot. When a storm causes profound change it’s called a “disaster.”

Those of us who are the detached dreamers, the compulsive analyzers, we try to understand the changes wrought by nature’s whim. After all, we know we can never understand the storms, much less the reason(s) for natural disasters.

On January 1, 2006 a man-made disaster shook the part of the world I know best. The news that the Harvey family -- Bryan, 49; Kathy, 39; Stella, 9; and Ruby, 4 -- had been murdered in their home hit this scribe with the fury of a tornado. Because the family was well known, particularly in the part of town which surrounds Virginia Commonwealth University, I was not alone.
The Stella Harvey Memorial Bench in the new garden at William F. Fox Elementary School

The crushing news came to me on the morning of Jan. 2, by telephone, from my daughter. Her memory of Bryan went back to his days in one of the Fan District’s most popular bands in the early 1980s, the Dads. She, like so many young mothers had taken her two children to Kathy’s delightful toy store in Carytown, the World of Mirth, too many times to count.

Today I remember little from our conversation, except that we seemed to be drawing some comfort from one another’s voice at the other end of the telephone line. The connection made the outrage and panic more bearable. We were not alone.

Subsequently, I began pouring my time into making a web site I edit, SLANTblog, into a kiosk for those who cared about the Harveys. The pell-mell pace of the week that followed was surreal. I’m a writer, so I wrote to keep my wits.


From SLANTblog:

Jan. 2: Family Found Murdered

In a quiet Southside neighborhood near the river, as well as Carytown's business district and the greater Richmond pop music scene, the worst of news spread on the first day of 2006 -- a family of four brutally murdered. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports what is known at this writing (the morning of Jan. 2) about the mind-boggling story of the Harveys, parents and two daughters -- as attractive and well-liked a family as one can imagine -- being found dead in their home yesterday afternoon.

"A well-known Richmond couple and their two young daughters were found bound with their throats cut yesterday afternoon in the basement of their South Richmond home. Richmond firefighters made the discovery about 1:45 p.m. after responding to a 911 call reporting a fire at the home of Bryan and Kathryn Harvey at 812 W. 31st St. in the Woodland Heights neighborhood. Investigators said the family members had invited friends for a New Year's Day chili party that was to start about 2 [p.m.]."

Jan. 3: House of Freaks

It was in 1986 at the Jade Elephant that I first saw and heard what became the House of Freaks. At that time I already knew both Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott, from their previous musical endeavors. SLANT was then a handbill-style periodical, in the midst of fighting the City’s anti-handbill laws. The Jade was one of SLANT's early advertisers, so I ran ads for the bar touting "Bryan and Johnny live at the Jade," or something like that. The name House of Freaks came later.

However, I liked their two-man act right away and went on to do what I could to encourage/support what they were doing. All that existed in a time in which you probably have to be over 40 now to remember. Hell, some of us are pushing 60, these days.

Thinking of those two guys, stubbornly resisting everyone who told them to get a third player -- because a duo can’t be a band! -- takes me back to that rambunctious time on West Grace Street, when it was the main strip for live music and nightlife in Richmond. In the early- to mid-80s the Shockoe Bottom club scene was still in its formative stages.

The Dads, Throttle, Michel’s, Benny’s, Orthotonics, Hard Times, The Bowties, Beex, The Village, Offenders, Megatonz, Chuck Wrenn, The Pass, Death Piggy, Millionaires, R.A.W., Red Cross, Prevaricators, Casablanca, Rockitz, Barriers, Shake & the Drakes, Main Street Grill, Grace Place, New Horizons, Chelf’s, Biograph Theatre, The Insinuations, I Remember Reality Review, Plan 9, Bopcats, Good Humor Band, Single Bullet Theory, Theories of the Old School, Shafer Court, The Pass, Lamour, 1708, The Clubhouse, Domino’s Doghouse, Faded Rose, J.W. Rayle, Toronados, Insect Surfers, Soble's, Gatsby's, X-Dux, Tom and Marty Band, Boys and Girls Grow Up, Cha Cha Palace, The Good Guys, Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe, The Rage, The Jade Elephant, Hababas, The Back Door, Non Dairy Screamers, Color Radio, Floodzone, Joe Sheets, Don' Ax Me... Bitch!, Page Wilson, "Z," Steve Payne, AAE, The Copa, Rick Stanley, Bruce Olsen, 353-ROCK, House of Freaks...

Jan. 3: Harvey Ceremony

The service for the Harvey family at the Unitarian Church tonight seemed to help many of those who attended -- strength in numbers. The mood of the ceremony itself was understated. There was no music. That will come later. And, when it does, I’ll be there, come hell or high water.

Many of the faces in the overflow crowd were familiar, the local arts/music community was well represented. There were tears and hugs aplenty. After the simple ceremony a candlelight vigil was held outdoors, behind the church. Some testified through sobs, most just stood and felt the vibe. I was surprised somewhat that the television crews actually showed restraint -- no bright lights or microphones in peoples’ faces until it was over...

To read the rest of this account click here.
Photo: SLANT

The Fountain

Twilight over Boat Lake in Richmond's Byrd Park

Photo: F.T. Rea (1985)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Sound

by F.T. Rea

In the spring of 1984, I ran for public office. In case the Rea for City Council campaign doesn’t ring a bell, it was a spontaneous and totally independent undertaking. No doubt, it showed. Predictably, I lost, but I’ve never regretted the snap decision to run, because the education was well worth the price.

In truth, I had been mired in a blue funk for some time prior to my letting a couple of casual friends talk me into running, as we played a foosball game in a nightclub. Although I knew winning such an election was out of my reach, I relished the opportunity to have some fun mocking the system. Besides, at the time, I needed an adventure.

So it began. Walking door to door through Richmond’s 5th District, collecting signatures to qualify to be on the ballot, I talked with hundreds of people. During that process my attitude about the endeavor began to expand. People were patting me on the back and saying they admired my pluck. Of course, what I was not considering was how many people will encourage a fool to do almost anything that breaks the monotony.

By the time I announced my candidacy at a press conference on the steps of the city library, I was thoroughly enjoying my new role. My confidence and enthusiasm were compounding daily.

On a warm April afternoon I was in Gilpin Court stapling handbills, featuring my smiling face, onto utility poles. Prior to the campaign, I had never been in Gilpin Court. I had known it only as “the projects.”

Several small children took to tagging along. Perhaps it was their first view of a semi-manic white guy -- working their turf alone -- wearing a loosened tie, rolled-up shirtsleeves, and khaki pants.

After their giggling was done, a few of them offered to help out. So, I gave them fliers and they ran off to dish out my propaganda with a spirit only children have.

Later I stopped to watch some older boys playing basketball at the playground. As I was then an unapologetic hoops junkie, it wasn’t long before I felt the urge to join them. I played for about 10 minutes, and amazingly, I held my own.

After hitting four or five jumpers, I banked in a left-handed runner. It was bliss, I was in the zone. But I knew enough to quit fast, before the odds evened out.

Picking up my staple gun and campaign literature, I felt like a Kennedyesque messiah, out in the mean streets with the poor kids. Running for office was a gas; hit a string of jump shots and the world’s bloody grudges and bad luck will simply melt into the hot asphalt.

A half-hour later the glamour of politics had worn thin for my troop of volunteers. Finally, it was down to one boy of about 12 who told me he carried the newspaper on that street. As he passed the fliers out, I continued attaching them to poles.

The two of us went on like that for a good while. As we worked from block to block he had very little to say. It wasn’t that he was sullen; he was purposeful and stoic. As we finished the last section to cover, I asked him a question that had gone over well with children in other parts of town.

“What’s the best thing and the worst thing about your neighborhood?” I said with faux curiosity.

He stopped. He stared right through me. Although I felt uncomfortable about it, I repeated the question.

When he replied, his tone revealed absolutely no emotion. “Ain’t no best thing ... the worst thing is the sound.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, already feeling a chill starting between my shoulder blades.

“The sound at night, outside my window. The fights, the gunshots, the screams. I hate it. I try not to listen,” he said, putting his hands over his ears to show me what he meant.

Stunned, I looked away to gather my ricocheting thoughts. Hoping for a clue that would steady me, I asked, “Why are you helping me today?”

He pointed up at one of my handbills on a pole and replied in his monotone. “I never met anybody important before. Maybe if you win, you could change it.”

Words failed me. Yet I was desperate to say anything that might validate his hope. Instead, we both stared silently into the afternoon’s long shadows. Finally, I thanked him for his help. He took extra handbills and rode off on his bike.

As I drove across the bridge over the highway that sequesters his stark neighborhood from through traffic, my eyes burned and my chin quivered like my grandfather’s used to when he watched a sad movie.

Remembering being 12 years old and trying to hide my fear behind a hard-rock expression, I wanted to go back and tell the kid, “Hey, don’t believe in guys passing out handbills. Don’t fall for anybody’s slogans. Watch your back and get out of the ghetto as fast as you can.”

But then I wanted to say, “You’re right! Work hard, be tough, you can change your neighborhood. You can change the world. Never give up!” During the ride home to the Fan District, I swore to myself to do my absolute best to win the election.

A few weeks later, at what was billed as my victory party, I, too, tried to be stoic as the telling election results tumbled in. The incumbent carried six of the district’s seven precincts. I carried one. The total vote wasn’t even close. Although I felt like I’d been in a car wreck, I did my best to act nonchalant.

In the course of my travels these days, I sometimes hear Happy Hour wags laughing off Richmond’s routine murder statistics. They scoff when I suggest that maybe there are just too many guns about; I’m told that as long as “we” stay out of “their” neighborhood, there is little to fear.

But remembering that brave Gilpin Court newspaper boy, I know that to him the sound of a drug dealer dying in the street was just as terrifying as the sound of any other human being giving up the ghost.

That same boy would be in his mid-30s now, as I was when I met him, if he’s still alive. The ordeal he endured in his childhood was not unlike what children growing up in any number of the world’s bloody war zones are going through today. Plenty of them must cover their ears at night, too.

For the reader who can’t figure out how this story could eventually come to bear on their own life, then just wait ... keep listening.


A summer drizzle on the posh Commonwealth Club's awning on West Franklin Street

Photo: F.T. Rea (1983)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happy Hour Crab-Folder

by F. T. Rea

Carlos Runcie Tanaka, a Peruvian sculptor of what one brief biography called, “of mixed Japanese and European ancestry,” is a star in the international art world. As it happened Mr. Tanaka was in Richmond’s Fan District for a few days in April of 2001.

Let me tell you, after watching the sculptor fold and crease a piece of paper in a local bar, I’ve got two words of advice for him -- Show Business. This concept would combine the origami with Tanaka’s considerable talent for yarn-spinning.
OK, maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Like so many tales, this one began with Happy Hour:

The Baja Bean is a Fan District watering hole located in the basement of what was originally a schoolhouse. The building itself is a stone and brick fortress. It was a typical crowd of mid-week regulars -- there were about 20 decidedly adult faces around the three-sided, horseshoe-shaped bar. The group was approximately equal parts white collar, blue color and no collar.

When then-chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s sculpture department Joe Seipel came in the room, with Carlos Tanaka at his side, Joe was smiling more broadly than usual. Seipel, who enjoys telling a good story, maybe even more loves to present a cool visiting artist to his pals at Happy Hour. It’s a tradition left over from the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café (1982-99), the nearby much-missed saloon which Seipel himself once co-owned. Seipel introduced Carlos to those who hadn’t already met him.

Tanaka has done much traveling, owing to his acclaim as an artist. At an art confab somewhere in South America he had met and gotten to know Seipel, plus a couple of other art faculty types at VCU’s world renown fine arts school. Then they arranged for him to come to the art school here as a visiting artist/scholar. That’s how a Peruvian artist ends up in the Bean at beer-thirty.

As an aside, Tanaka was among the hostages taken by the Tupac Amaru in that bizarre 1996 incident in Lima, Peru, at the Japanese ambassador’s home. Nonetheless, his experience as the hostage of hell-bent terrorists for 50 days apparently did nothing to diminish his overall sense of humor.

Eventually, someone asked him about the crab-folding thing.


Someone else supplied a blank sheet of paper. For the next 20 minutes Tanaka told stories, made observations, ad-libbed and entertained everyone on hand. Nothing else was happening in the room for that spell. The product was an intricate paper crab made from an ordinary piece of white bond paper.

Looking at the crab was fun; it almost seemed cute, for a crab. But watching the artist fold the paper, over and over -- each fold exactly where it had to be -- as he offered his lighthearted patter, like a pro, was a rare treat. To the delight of the person who had supplied the sheet of paper, the crab-folder gave it to them.

Of course, someone else had to have one, too. Then another. Tanaka must have folded four or five paper crabs that afternoon. He never ran out of offbeat stories about drinking, playing practical jokes, making art, fools in high places, and so forth. By the way, the upbeat Tanaka never mentioned the dark time he was a hostage. I found out about that later.

The next time I saw Carlos in the Bean, a couple of days later, he gave me a paper crab as a souvenir. Soon afterward he went back to Peru. As he’d been away from his studio for months, traveling and lecturing, the artist had said he was glad to be going home. I haven’t seen him since. Occasionally I do see Tanaka’s name associated with a big art happening in South America or Europe. Earlier this year he did his visiting sage routine at the University of Cincinnati.

So, what’s that “mixed ancestry” business mean?

It seems one of Tanaka’s grandfathers was British, the other was Japanese. Both men married Peruvian women.

Anyway, whenever Carlos is ready to take a break from the sculpture gig, I still say a career in Show Biz as a crab-folding monologist awaits. In the meantime, I hope the reader takes the time to click on the three links here -- one; two; three -- to look at more of Tanaka’s art and read a bit about it and him, too.

No doubt, I’ve spent too many of my personal allotment of hours in bars. Although it’s easy to say most of them were wasted, every now and then something genuinely unusual has happened, out of the blue, that makes me say, “I’m glad I was there.” If nothing else those times provide fodder for a story to tell at a subsequent Happy Hour.

Like our ancestors we listen and observe, so we can tell stories about what seemed unusual. Later today, at Happy Hour, I’ll hoist a cold beer to the time the crab-folding monologist from Peru held court at the Baja Bean in a fashion unduplicated since.

-- 30 --

Photo: SLANT

Wine Country

Mondavi winery in California's Nappa Valley

Photo: F.T. Rea (1981)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

VCU to face Xavier in Paradise Jam

This press release just came in from Phil Stanton at Virginia Commonwealth University. (It has been edited a bit for space):
Anthony Grant
First-year head coach Anthony Grant and his VCU squad are set to participate in the seventh annual U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Men’s Basketball Tournament at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. On Friday, Nov. 17, the Rams will meet Xavier of the Atlantic 10 in the tournament’s first round.

The 2006/07 Rams will be led by senior guards B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa. Walker averaged 11.7 ppg. last season and led the team with 63 three-pointers. Pellot-Rosa averaged 7.4 ppg. and paced VCU with 5.1 boards per game.
The Rams were 19-10 a season ago, including a 11-7 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Xavier was 21-11 last season, its ninth 20-win season in the past 10 years. All five starters will return from the outfit the captured the 2006 Atlantic 10 championship.
The teams have met twice, previously; VCU defeated Xavier in both of those games. The Rams will face either Villanova (28-5) or College of Charleston (17-11) in the second round.
Photo: SLANT

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How bad would it have to get?

In a recent conversation with a group of about 10 friends, I posed a question: "At this point, what would have to happen? What number of deaths? For Dick Cheney to say, 'It’s time for America to get out of Iraq,' how bad would it have to get? What would it take?"

It wasn’t long before the whole group was laughing and making up extreme scenarios, etc. Soon, everyone agreed -- liberals, conservatives, and know-nothings, alike -- that no amount of carnage, no amount of our tax money being spent, no amount of inflaming the region, would ever make him say that. Cheney will never say that. Never.

That’s Cheney. To him, a plan can’t be changed. To him, to allow for change is a sign of weakness.

Once you accept that Dick Cheney and Halliburton mean for America to be in Iraq as long as any of us are alive, it gets easier to understand. Once you realize that to Cheney, as long as his rich friends are getting richer selling stuff to the government to support the occupation of Iraq, he thinks the war is being won, it gets easier to understand.

You see, it sort of depends on what “winning” means.

So, when Dick Cheney emerges from his secret bunker, from time to time, to say the war in Iraq is going fine -- not to worry -- he really means it.
Illustration: F.T. Rea

Countdown the Weekend Without Echoes

Beginning on Friday July 21st, and running through Sunday 23rd, a somewhat eclectic group of bloggers in Virginia has volunteered to participate in an experiment. During that three-day period they will post original material only on their blogs.

The experiment, called Weekend Without Echoes, is a project that will have those bloggers playing by rules that will limit them mostly as they see fit. The spirit of the adventure is to challenge writers to draw upon their own experience to make their points, political, or otherwise. However, this is more about posting original content than it is about some strict set of guidelines.

Bloggers are not all writers. But they are all publishers. Similarly, they are editors, of a sort. So, if a blogger posts original material created by someone else -- material they have the proper rights to use -- that is not otherwise widely available, that would not be out of bounds in my book.

In my first post on this subject I wrote: “...It would be a weekend vacation from copying, and piling on, and talking points ... a weekend without calling everyone with whom one disagrees a “liberal,” or a “conservative,” as if those are dirty words.” By that I was calling for a copycat moratorium for three days. I would hope that would mean we’ll see posts that have partisans telling us in their own words why they lean the way they do on an issue, or candidate. That, instead of a lot of name-calling.

There’s no policeman for this project. Either one will follow the spirit of the project to the best of one’s ability or one will not. Perhaps a participating blogger has a good idea of how we can best collect and display the work that’s posted, or perhaps the best of it, in some fashion that will make it accessible to all.

Some sort of Weekend Without Echoes carnival, or page somewhere?

During the experiment, I hope we’ll see posts that rely less on links to stories on other blogs, or to mainstream media, to tell their story. Links used to provide background, or to act as footnotes are fine, but the bulk of the commentary should be original material, instead of merely linking to commentary from someone else. I hope we’ll be reading some firsthand news stories, seeing some original art and hearing some original sounds, too. Still, when this thing got started it was my main intention to challenge writers to write, not just type. Not just cut, edit and paste. No rewriting. Writing.

The experiment has drawn some criticism. No surprise there. Some people are always afraid of doing anything different from the pack. Others perhaps view a call for originality as a put-down of their style of blogging. Others have said they already do original material, so they see no need for such an experiment. Fine. Some folks are happy eating and drinking the same things, all the time. Others like to take a chance on something different, a new taste every now and then.

Will you join the 31 participating bloggers? (Updated: at 145 p.m., July 21)

The list below displays the Virginia bloggers who have contacted Vivian Paige (she is maintaining a list of the willing in her blog's sidebar), or me, by email, or by their comments in posts on our blogs to indicate they will participate in the three-day experiment. Yes, and that’s all you have to do to be added to this list:

Vivian J. Paige; Bryan J. Scafford - Ambivalent Mumblings; Jerry Griffin - VB Dems; Waldo Jaquith; Conaway Haskins - South of the James; J.C. Wilmore - The Richmond Democrat; Jason Kenney - J's notes; Marijean Jaggers - StLWorkingMom; Alton Foley - ImNotEmeril; Chris Green - Spank That Donkey; Shaun Kenney; Jennifer L. McKeever - Jennifer's Charlottesville; Rick Sincere - Rick Sincere News and Thoughts; Claire Guthrie Gastanaga - ChangeServant; Charles - TwoConservatives; James Atticus Bowen - Deo Vindice; Melissa and Kristen - Monstrosity; Del. Kris Amundson and Del. Bob Brink - 7 West; Semi Truths; Thomas Krehbiel - The Krehbiel Strikes Back; Craig Vitter - Craig’s Musings; Don Harrison -- Save Richmond; Sisyphus; Ben Tribett - Not Larry Sabato; Adam Sharp - The Daily Whackjob; Mosquito Blog; David - Equality Loudoun; Bill Garnett - The Mind of God; Anonymous Is A Woman; Mitchell Cumstein - Too Conservative ;

Monday, July 17, 2006

Terrell Owens: I got picked on so much

It may be a hundred degrees in the shade, but it’s never too early in the summer for Washington Redskins fans to savor an article making yet another Dallas Cowboys player look like an mumbling idiot, or a drooling sex-offender, or an utter traitor to the entire human race. Yep, Dallas can sure pick ‘em.

Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens just can’t stop strutting his bad boy attitude. So, while he is yet to play a game in a Cowboys uniform, the self-promoter is already making news in Irving, Texas with his mouth. "Owens Blames Media," AP reports:

“Terrell Owens blames the media for portraying him as a selfish player, although he admits a tendency of saying things about others that he wouldn't want said about himself. In an interview with Bryant Gumbel airing Tuesday night on HBO’s ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,’ Owens acknowledges dishing out more criticism than he’s willing to take.

‘The only thing I can really think of is maybe it was the way I grew up, you know,’ he said, according to a transcript released Monday to The Associated Press. ‘I got picked on so much, and it's like I feel like I'm still constantly being picked on.’”

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hot time in Dogtown

In Richmond today, it was hot, hot ... hot. After a grueling 18 holes of Frisbee-golf, this morning/afternoon, and all that entailed ... whew, I went to the GiveLoveToBuzz benefit for Buzz Montsinger at Plant Zero. For background on that event, and what it was about, click here.Kudos to the family and friends of Buzz Montsinger (especially Bev and Shannon), for staging the event and doing a fine job of filing up a large room with just what Buzz needed to see upon his release from the hospital (on Friday, July 14) -- his friends, fans and family cheering him on, once again.
Following a set by Steve Bassett and Robbin Thompson, Billy Ray Hatley, backed by his Show Dogs and Big City sidemen got the crowd moving with the beat. Several brave souls even danced vigorously, in spite of the lack of air conditioning.Next on stage was Bruce Olsen’s band, which includes his son Adrian Olsen on drums. Take it from me, good music filled the humid air and a splendid time was had by young, and old, alike. Olsen was followed by Ron Moody and the Centaurs.OK, it was somewhat of a geezer-fest from the '70s/'80s Fan District pop scene. I can't remember when I've seen so many old Fan District Softball League players in the same place since the league folded after 20 colorful years of operation in 1994. Good news: Buzz is on the mend from his April 30th spinal cord injury. With a little help from his friends, he stood, onstage, to thank those who showed up. I left the party believing I'll eventually hear him on another stage, playing his sax, eyes closed ... same as it ever was.So, the event was well-attended and it was an inspiration being there. For more pictures and details from the bash, it was also a birthday party for Buzz, go to givethelovetobuzz.
Somebody handed Buzz a saxophone near the end of the day. I managed to get a shot of him squeezing out a note. Bank on it -- Buzz will come back.

Photos above: SLANT

Update: Longtime pro photographer Arthur J. Probst, Jr. was kind enough to send some photos that further document the day’s worthy merriment and camaraderie, to post as a bonus look at the event. The captions are his titles. Thanks Artie.
Shannon ... Buzzz

Buzzz ... Hababas Team

Buzzz ... Bev ... friends

Some things never change

Old friends ... good vibes

With a little help from his friends