Thursday, November 30, 2006


Jack Leigh, who died a couple of years ago, was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974. He was earnest and quick-witted. Jack liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In those days he was already a very good photographer.

The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He authored six books of photographs, including Oystering, which featured a foreward by James Dickey.

Leigh introduced me to Half-Rubber, a three-man baseball-like game that he said orginated in his hometown, Savannah. It was played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball. So one warm afternoon, to kill time I cut a ball in half, ruined a broom, and crossed the street with Jack and Bernie Hall to play a new three-man game. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the repertory cinema, which I then managed.

The key to pitching was to throw the ball with the flat part down and it would fly somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching it was quite another matter. Bernie, a southpaw who also worked at the Biograph, could make the ball do the most tricks. Why is it that lefthanders seem to be able to put more stuff on a ball, any kind of ball?

The pitcher served up the ball in the general direction of the batter, who tried to hit it. If he missed, and he usually did, the catcher tried his best to catch it. By the way, the batter was allowed to hit the ball on a bounce. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint. When the catcher did catch a ball that the batter had swung at, the batter was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the reason to play -- other than the laughs from how foolish we looked dealing with that weird half-ball -- was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it jumped off the bat like a rocket. Yes, it went a long way -- very quickly. For guys who love the feeling of crushing a golf ball, I recommend half-rubber.

The following is from the Jack Leigh gallery’s web site:

"In 1993 Leigh was commissioned to create a photograph for the book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The book became an international best seller and the photograph is Leigh's most famous and widely recognized image."

Do yourself a favor, click here to visit the Jack Leigh gallery.
The photo of Jack Leigh is from his gallery's web site

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Border, Soble's and Chiocca's Park Ave. Inn

Three Fan District Bars Remembered

Note: Versions of the three pieces below were first published by Although they amounted to obituaries for restaurants, the three establishments covered were much more than mere dives. What did they have in common? Part fiefdom, part oasis, they were aspects of a culture which valued neighborhood saloons that is fading into the mists.

Texas-Wisconsin Border Café (Mar. 30, 1999)

In 1982 three adventurous friends trusted their instincts and put together the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café, a quirky Fan District watering hole known affectionately as “The Border.”

Owners Jim Bradford (depicted left), Donna Van Winkle and Joe Seipel were rewarded with an immediate following. It evolved into an institution known widely for its wacky interior and its diverse crowd; a place where blue collars, white collars and no collars got along famously.

When word got out in early March the Border was being sold, old customers and ex-staffers began making pilgrimages to the place for one last drink, one last connection to a piece of their youth. Although it had been rumored the Border was for sale for some time, what isn’t these days?

When Bradford -- a tireless photo-realistic painter with a curmudgeon’s sense of humor -- died in the summer of 1997, well, the future of the restaurant became much more complicated. Of the three owners, Jim had surely been the one who spent the most time bellied up to the bar, overseeing operations...

Click here to read the rest of it.

Soble’s (Jan. 26, 2000)

Soble’s, home of “the world-famous bacon cheeseburger” for 22 years, is no more.

Paul Soble and his partner, Bruce Behrman, have sold the well-known Fan District restaurant to a group that plans to open a new restaurant under the name, “The Devil’s Kitchen.”

Soble’s, Part One, lasted ten years (1977-87) at 2526 Floyd Avenue in what had previously been the location of Cavedo’s, a traditional neighborhood drug store with a classic soda fountain. Part Two saw the restaurant lose its lease, pack up its patio, and move one block to the south - 2600 West Main Street.

Soble’s had a feel to it that was reminiscent of traditional watering holes in large cities on the eastern seaboard. Its elegant back bar was cluttered with memorabilia that included hundreds of photos of regulars and popular culture souvenirs that documented a generation’s after-dark highlights and next-day hangovers...

Click here to read the rest of it.

Chiocca’s Park Avenue Inn (Dec. 2, 2004)

On Monday, Frank Chiocca stood tending bar for his last shift. As he answered a question from a customer the phone rang; another old friend was calling to pay his respects. With the sun setting on what was a crisp autumn day Chiocca was reflective, yet upbeat, in the midst of his familiar five o'clock crowd for the last time.

Chiocca's Park Avenue Inn opened for business on June 18, 1964. It closed for good on November 29, 2004.

According to Chiocca a 1964 bottle of Richbrau, which was then brewed and bottled about a half-mile from his Fan District location, cost a quarter. He chuckled, "Forty years! I didn't have two nickels to rub together when I got here."

To say Frank Chiocca, 79, has the food-and-drink biz in his blood is a bit of an understatement. After returning to Richmond from service in the Italian army during World War I, his father, Pietro Chiocca -- whose two older brothers were already running a restaurant at 812 W. Broad Street called Jimmy's -- became a partner in Silvio Funai's restaurant. The building at 327 E. Franklin St., which no longer exists, had previously been a public library. In 1937 "Pete" Chiocca bought Funai out and renamed the place Chiocca and Son...

Click here to read the rest of it.

Bradford illustration by F.T. Rea

Death, or roo-roo in Iraq

Ted Rall takes a hard look at what is true about Iraq, and what might be inevitable about Iraq, in his piece, “Get Iraq’s Civil War Over With.” Rall apparently sees what to him looks like a “death, or roo-roo” scenario for the USA in Iraq.

Like it or not, Rall may be right this time. As recently as six months ago the idea of allowing Iraq to split into three confederated but separate countries may have been possible. Now that three-state-solution idea’s day may have passed, and sadly, it may prove to have been an opportunity lost. The grudges that are building up in Iraq over what is going on now between the Sunnis and Shiites may not be the sort that can ever be contained by any diplomatic solution.

Here’s an excerpt of the Rall piece:

“...The United States has two options in Iraq. First: It can pull out now, which will almost certainly lead to civil war along sectarian and tribal lines, and possibly to a wider regional conflict. Second: it can pull out later--and deal with the same exact consequences then.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Absurd Postmodern Juxtapositions and Free Speech

Today the scaffolding around the statue of Robert E. Lee finally came down. The restoration/cleaning work that had the monument at the Allen and Monument traffic circle looking like a rather strange construction project for months has apparently been completed.

The work of French sculptor Jean Antoine Mercie, it was unveiled on May 29, 1890. What follows is a true story which is set, in part, at that same site. This piece originally appeared in C-Ville Weekly in 2001. It was later edited for SLANT's pages in 2004.

The Price of Free Speech
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)

If it's not a 'civil war,' then ...

In both politics and advertising -- if there is any difference -- what you call a thing, or a strategy, can be everything. So, if you want to grab a bunch of power, you don’t call the laws that will pave the way “The Power Grab Act.”

No, you call it “The Patriot Act.”

Now we see that some folks in the mainstream news biz are struggling with what to call the escalating mayhem/chaos in Iraq. Is it a “liberation,” or an “occupation,” or a “civil war?” Or what?

While at this late date that may seem to be a somewhat cynical dilemma, it remains a quite laughable dilemma to some of us. Naturally, that made me try to think of something silly to offer to such an undignified process, which thankfully brought to mind Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti album.

So, in Zappa’s spirit, and since “civil war” won’t work for the apologists-in-denial and the right-wingers who support the lost cause of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, here’s my take on the naming contest:

How about we call this ongoing unpleasantness in Iraq the “War Between the Sheiks”?
Zappa photo from Wikipedia

A maroon and orange boa constrictor

Here’s an except of this week’s sports column, The Bounce, which is featured at This one is about a recent football game between rivals.

“In Saturday’s 88th meeting of arch-rivals Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, two first-half sequences were telling: When Virginia’s defense forced a Tech turnover in the first quarter, an interception, the ‘Hoos offense could do nothing about it. When Tech’s defense took the ball away late in the second quarter, recovering a fumble, its offense scored a touchdown.

‘That was the only score of the first half. Virginia Tech would go on to score 10 second-half points, but all afternoon the Hokies smothering defense was like a maroon and orange boa constrictor, slowly crushing the life out of the hapless ‘Hoos.

“So it was that in perfect autumn weather, the sell-out crowd (66,233) in Blacksburg was treated to a perfect finish to any regular season - beating the stuffing out of Virginia. Truth be told, Tech’s third straight victory over Virginia really wasn’t as close as the final score might suggest: Tech 17, UVa. 0.”

Click here to read the whole column.

Monday, November 27, 2006

McGwire a Hall of Famer?

As it does every January the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce the results of its balloting for admission to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This year’s ballot includes names that will test the veteran writers covering America’s Pastime in a new way.

The Age of Steroids will be front and center, as this AP story explains.

“Mark McGwire, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. headline the first-time candidates on the 2007 baseball writers’ Hall of Fame ballot released Monday, sure to spark debate on Big Mac’s place in history as the steroid era comes under renewed scrutiny. Jose Canseco, whose book last year led to a congressional hearing on steroid use in baseball, also is on the ballot for the first time. Canseco said he used steroids along with McGwire when they were teammates.

“...Reporters who have been in the BBWAA for 10 or more consecutive years are eligible to vote, and the totals will be announced Jan. 9. The complete ballot:

“Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Dante Bichette, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius, Jay Buhner, Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Tony Fernandez, Steve Garvey, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Wally Joyner, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Paul O’Neill, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken, Jr., Bret Saberhagen, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Devon White, Bobby Witt.”

Please note that once again scumbag Pete Rose is not on the above list. Good. Beyond that my guess is that both Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken will be voted in easily; their credentials are impeccable.

However, Mark McGwire has been so tarnished by suspicion he brought on himself that he will not get enough backing to make it this time. For the rest of the list, it’s hard to say. What will be more than a little interesting will be the debate over how much suspected steroids-use should matter in considering an otherwise qualified player for induction into the Hall.
Art borrowed from Sports Illustrated

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Negative blowback finished Allen

Although three weeks ago it might have seemed that Virginia’s political blogosphere only existed to promote or attack candidates, now its purpose appears to have enlarged to touch on a range of topics. For instance, now it is a place for organized partisans getting ready for 2007 to discuss strategies, plan brighter futures and recruit.

Alas, it has also become a place for those so inclined to gloat, or to wag fingers of blame. There’s been no shortage of either.

While perusing the posts on the Virginia Political Blogs, the quite useful blogs aggregator web site, I’ve learned from a few boasting bloggers that in their semi-unbiased view, it was their own too-cool-for-school blogs which were chiefly responsible for certain Nov. 7th victories. Imagine that...

And, I’ve also read that Senator-elect Jim Webb won -- collapsing a perceived 16-point advantage by his incumbent opponent -- because of his outrageously negative campaigning, which painted Sen. George Allen as a longtime racist.

No, I am not making that up. Try it for yourself, if you care to click on the link above, commentary amounting to such should not be hard to find. Every day since the election there have been several posts along that line available at that web site.

In my own view, what I saw was that Allen lost more votes owing to the bitter blowback from his own negative advertising than anything the Webb camp ever did to him. And, on this point I must put a special emphasis on the last-ditch attacks on Webb’s writings as deviant and misogynistic, which ran incessantly on television during the last week of the race.

Nearly every credible/independent anaylsis I read in the week after the election mentioned that factor as telling.

On top of that, it should be noted that the damage to Allen from his Macaca Gaffe started with his own sloppy mouth. Yes, Webb-supporting blogs helped push the story, but it became a news story with long legs because it was the first thing of its kind -- a YouTube suicide by a thought-to-be unbeatable candidate.

Furthermore, that YouTube video revealed a side of Allen the public hadn’t seen before. Not so much a “racist,” as it was a “bully.” Afterwards, the Allen team’s damage control was so bad it should be studied by both parties as the way NOT to do it.

In a matter of a few weeks, Allen’s image as an aw-shucks, good-guy -- a Southern gentleman -- was in flames. Then, after the comedians on TV got through with casting Allen as the bumbling bully, all that was left of his carefully cultivated political persona was ashes.

In truth, once the cat was out of the bag Webb’s camp and his bloggers didn’t have to do much. The story line was already out there -- it had to do with an incumbent who stumbled, lost his momentum, and couldn’t get it back. That story, which no doubt hurt Allen, was reported relentlessly by the mainstream media during the stretch run.


Because it had serious national implications, and because it was funny. “Macaca,” a word Allen claimed to have made up himself, is a funny-sounding word. For a punch line, the late Lenny Bruce would tell us the “double-k” sound is primo.

For Republicans, whether they are blog writers or blog readers, to continue to believe that George Allen lost to Jim Webb, because Webb went negative on Allen, is preposterous. Those clueless enough to buy into that fantasy probably also think former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore has a bright future as a GOP candidate.

Hey, don’t laugh, Gilmore is working like a little beaver to resurrect his political career as you read this.

Well, I’ve got some news for such pachyderms wallowing in denial -- Virginia’s donkeys will be as happy as hee-haw to see you run either Jim Gilmore or George Allen for statewide office again.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Splattergate flashback

In 1998, with impeachment in the air and the Clinton administration being hobbled by the investigation of the nature of the president’s relationships with various women -- most notoriously, Monica Lewinsky -- eventually, I felt called upon to lampoon the scandal. So I created a series of caricatures featuring some of the main characters and wrote goofy captions for them.

That was "Splattergate," my fifth series of collectable cards on a theme.

Below the reader will see seven of the nine frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it). By the time I got this set on the market -- in my regular shops in Carytown and the Fan -- a lot of people were way tired of hearing about the never-ending investigation. So, for that reason and perhaps others, it didn’t get the amount of publicity my earlier card sets had enjoyed, and it didn’t sell as well either.

Which means they can still be had -- not reprints! -- still packed in their original ziplock plastic bags, while they last. For political junkies, who like their collectibles, get in touch by email if this interests you. For just nine bucks, I’ll mail you the Splattergate pack with all nine caricatures, plus the title card, in it. And yes, deep discounts are available with a large order.

Friday, November 24, 2006

1994 senatorial race flashback

The 2006 Virginia senatorial race, which was won by Jim Webb, was much in the national news. As was the 1994 campaign in Virginia, which was for the same seat in the Senate. Over that summer 12 years ago a four-way race developed, as three candidates challenged the Democratic incumbent Chuck Robb for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Republican Ollie North was nominated by a convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, threw his hat in as an independent. Marshall Coleman, a Republican former attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate (he has lost to Wilder in 1989), ran as an independent, too. Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen as spoilers by many observers.

The 24-hour news cycle was all over the circus-like story of the four heavyweight candidates. Then in late August I issued what was then my fourth set of collectable cards -- “Campaign Inkbites: The ‘94 VA Senate Race.”

Mercurial Wilder suddenly withdrew in October. Wooden Coleman stayed the course, with stubborn Sen. John Warner as his chief backer. North, the dandy, raised and spent over $25 million, then a new record for the most ever in a U.S. Senate race, any state. In the end the awkward Robb outlasted them all, as Warner and Coleman saw to it Virginia was spared a Sen. Ollie North.

Without the context of this campaign's news being fresh, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully a few of the caricatures are still fun to look at (click on the images to enlarge them). Wisely, Sabato bought the original artwork for his card. (I still have a few of the originals left, in case anybody is looking for an ususual gift item.)

Below the reader will see a 1994 newspaper article about that card collection and scans of 12 of the 15 cards that were in the set. This edition was lucky with publicity -- an AP story and a five-minute spot on CNN followed on the heels of this Virginian-Pilot piece.
The Virginian-Pilot
September 6, 1994

By David Poole and Dwayne Yancy

Odds and ends from the past week of Virginia's U.S. Senate campaign:
I'll swap you two Doug Wilders for a Tai Collins. The colorful U.S. Senate race has spawned a set of trading cards featuring the four candidates and a host of supporting characters - including the former Miss Virginia who gave a nude massage to Chuck Robb in a New York hotel.

There’s U.S. Sen. John Warner sounding defensive about his hand-picked candidate, Marshall Coleman: “Why should I strain to name an office he hasn't sought, or an abortion stance he hasn't taken? The point is: Marshall isn't Ollie.”

There’s conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assessing the race: “The choice in Virginia is simple. You’ve got a stained, lap-dog liberal, a bleached and petulant liberal, a fair-weather conservative, and a genuine, world-class hero.”

There’s political pundit Larry Sabato reporting on the latest poll results: “Fifty-one percent said the race is so embarrassing they plan to leave the state.”

The “Campaign Inkbites” are the brainchild of F.T. Rea, a Richmond artist who a decade ago issued a similar deck of cards commemorating a massive death-row escape at Mecklenberg Correctional Center. The set of 15 Senate cards is available at Biff’s bookstore [also at Chickens, the snack bar in the State Capitol] in Richmond for $12 a pack.

The most unflattering likeness in the set is that of Sabato, whose green skin gives him the look of a vampire.

“Ironically, he’s my best customer,” Rea said of Sabato. “He bought 12 packs.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The role of blogs in Webb's win

The Virginia political blogosphere has been getting a lot of scrutiny this fall. And, deservedly so. Without the busy blogosphere’s input Jim Webb’s upset of George Allen would surely not have happened as it did, if it would have happened at all.

Then again, without Allen’s own videotaped gaffes and botched damage control, the tireless work of Webb’s blogging hired hands, and his many more blogging amateurs, probably wouldn’t have mattered all that much.

Still, when Allen did begin to meltdown in August, the bloggers for Webb were already in place. Moreover, they were practiced and poised to bury Allen, which they did quite effectively. Watching the mainstream media covering the blogosphere’s role in exacerbating the Allen campaign’s meltdown was fascinating.

Now veteran campaign experts of every stripe are trying to figure out what happened in Virginia. One of the obvious things they will see is there were more bloggers for Webb than Allen.

Just prior to the Nov. 7 election the editors of two of the aggregators of Virginia’s political blogosphere were asked about the number of blogs they had listed, and how they decided whether to list them, as well as how they categorized them.

Waldo Jaquith, editor of Virginia Political Blogs, said: “I count 94 by Democrats, 66 by Republicans and 19 that are not clearly discernible, centrist, or bipartisan. I’m afraid that I haven’t kept any records of trends -- I just add new ones as I spot them or as people submit them.”

The editor of BlogNetNews, Dave Mastio, said: “[T]here are 70 libs, 46 cons and about 20 or 30 I haven’t categorized yet, mostly more recent ads. By the way, I am not trying to achieve any kind of balance -- I want people who are writing about Virginia state and local issues. Other than that I want to accurately reflect the state of the blogosphere however it happens to be tilted.”

Another thing any study of how the race played out on the Internet can’t help but reveal is that the quality of the information offered by the blogs supporting Webb was consistently superior to the blogs for Allen. Thus, the advantage Webb had with influential bloggers eventually filtered down to flush out more volunteers, more money and more momentum for the stretch run.

Whether this phenomenon can be bottled and used in other states, in other races, remains to be seen. For now, what happened in the 2006 Virginia senatorial race, to do with blogs, is something that has the political pros’ attention.

Was Webb’s remarkable win, owing much to blogs, a fluke? Or, is Virginia’s churning blogosphere, flying by the seat of its pants, the avant-garde of American politics?

Ed Note: In the paragraph above where Waldo Jaquith says how many blogs were by Democrats, Republicans and so forth, I have made a change of what was a typo. "Democrats" was changed to "Republicans". Thanks to the two readers (in the comments section) who caught the mistake.

43 years later

For Baby Boomers it’s not easy to get through any November 22 without being reminded of 1963, when the president was gunned down on the street in Dallas.

The gut-gnawing dissatisfaction with the official explanation of who killed 46-year-old President John F. Kennedy, and why, left a cynical stain on an American generation that entered adulthood already suspecting its government couldn’t be trusted.

Although Jack Kennedy was not the first American president to be assassinated, culturally, in many ways, it was an unprecedented situation because of television. More political leaders would be shot to death in the next few years.

Yet more reasons to distrust the official explanation of anything followed, as well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman, one of a kind

Prolific director Robert Altman (1925-2006) has died, making "A Praire Home Companion" (2006) his last feature film. Altman's body of work is marked by his willingness to experiment/gamble. He was one of the generation of directors, WWII vets that learned their craft in 1950s television, who moved on to the Big Screen. My five favorite Altman movies are as follows:

"MASH" (1970)
"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971)
"Nashville" (1975)
"Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982)
"The Player" (1992)


A.O. Scott for the New York Times:

"The films of Altman, who died Monday at 81, often end on a similar note, or rather on a dissonant, troubling chord, with a moment that is at once grand and deflating. His crowded, complicated climaxes tend to gather up loose ends and then fling them in the air. You get the big, rousing spectacle: the naked supermodels on parade in 'Ready to Wear'; the concert and the gunfire in 'Nashville.'

"But you also get doubt, equivocation, a sly, principled refusal of the neat and tidy rituals of closure. At the end of 'The Player,' we are glad to see the hero drive off into the California sunshine, even as we know that he has gotten away with murder. When murder or other mysteries are at issue - as in 'Gosford Park' or 'The Long Goodbye' - the solution to the crime is pretty much beside the point.

"In narrative art, nothing is more artificial than an ending - life, after all, does go on - and Altman's endings often serve two purposes.

"They bring the artifice to a dazzling pitch of virtuosity while exposing it as a glorious sham. They revel in plenitude, in throngs and spectacles, but there is a throb of emptiness, of incompletion, in the midst of the frenzy.

"Altman thrived on the shapelessness and confusion of experience, and he came closer than any other American filmmaker to replicating it without allowing his films to succumb to chaos..."

CBS News:

"Either you were in awe of his style or found it maddening - the intricately woven story lines, the dizzyingly large ensemble casts, the plots that sometimes seemed defiantly plotless. Regardless, Robert Altman was one of the most distinctive, influential voices in American cinema..."

Photo: Sara Krulwich/N.Y. Times

Buttercup as an appetizer

Looking for something easy to be thankful about? The heads-up below came in from my old friends, Cassandra Cossitt, Octavia Carpin and David Stover, who have been building a following as a country band of sorts, Buttercup. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) they will be appearing on WCVE's The Music Seen, a series of television programs featuring local bands:

"If you've finished shaking, baking and frying for T-Day, then sit on down in front of your TV set and watch Buttercup do it's own shaking, baking and frying Wed., Nov. 22 on The Music Seen. The show airs at 9 p.m. on PBS Channel 23 [in Richmond]."

Monday, November 20, 2006

SLANT cartoons

Funny how folks call the destruction of property "vandalism," then turn around to see the destruction of nature as "development."

The 'toon of mine above first ran in SLANT in 1986. It was one of five or six single frames I did with those same two world-weary characters. They never got names but they drew a lot of comment. All of the scenes were alike in that either guy could be saying the cutline. They were sardonic observers, never participants.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


"Escape" was done in oil sticks on paper (10 inches by 13 inches) in 2005.

Congratulations, you may already be a chump

When I got online first thing Monday morning my inbox already had three emails notifying me that I'd won, ah say WON!, lotteries in far away places. This time it was Cancun , Ireland and South Africa .

Every week, I get several emails about winning mysterious lotteries I never entered. Yet, no matter how broke I am, no matter how much a little windfall might actually mean to me, like most people who regularly spend part of their day online, I know better than to bother with such email.


However, since zillions of bogus lottery winner emails are still going out from somewhere, eight days a week, it must mean some poor souls still are responding and falling into a snare that will likely expose them to some mischief, perhaps an opportunity to be duped out of some of their dough. I have to think the lottery spam artists are still making some money for their efforts, or they would simply stop and do something else.

Alas, the swift ease of communication that email has brought to modern life hasn't come without its price. Spam and viruses, etc., delivered to us by email steal our time, even if they don't reach directly into our wallets. Beyond such pesky nonsense there are the jokes with graphics that helpful friends send so often. With my computer they can take ten minutes to load. Then, when I get to the punch line -- oy vey! -- it is so-o rarely worth the bother.

There are those top priority emails that absolutely require a quick response, so I must stop whatever I'm doing, hop off that train of thought and shoot back a rapid reply.


Speaking of "send," perhaps the reader is familiar with the concept of sending a hasty email out too late at night. Since email means a written record, I'm told a guy caught up in a buzz-driven mood swing can do himself more harm with a keyboard and an Internet hookup than he can with a telephone.


Listening to some friends, they tell me I have it easy compared to what time they must spend attending to their email every day. A few of them aren't convinced email is at all a boon to our way of life.

Back to those lottery winner emails -- since they've been around for a few years, and are so obviously a waste of time, at best, why would anyone in their right mind still open one and believe anything written inside?

Why would anyone's hope be raised by a CONFIRM YOUR WINNING subject line?

The answer has to be that the spammers are hip to the same thing Madison Avenue and TV evangelists figured out a long time ago -- most of us want desperately to be winners. At the very least we need a glimmer of hope that we could one day measure up and become winners.

Anything but losers...

After all, in this age of plenty and conformity being a winner means getting the sweet perks that go with the good life. It means having a smirking sense of entitlement is OK ... hey, eventually, the tab will get picked up by somebody else.

Most of all, being seen by our peers and neighbors as a loser must be avoided, no matter what. So, millions of anxious people spend billions for drugs -- legal and otherwise -- to help allay the nagging worry that they themselves might be closet losers.

In sports, from the pros filtering all the way down to little leagues, coming in second place has been twisted into being viewed as a shameful thing -- LOSER!! No doubt the electronic sports media, using all the latest communication gizmos, do much to promulgate that rather shallow, dilettante's view of what healthy competition is, or should be, all about.

Regarding door prizes, office pools, and so forth, plenty of times, when I've heard someone say with a what's-the-use? tone, "Oh, I've never won anything," it sounded more like a confession than a statement of fact. The bleak underlying implication being that while winners win with ease, losers consistently lose because that's what they deserve, it is their destiny.

No doubt, those same poor confessing chumps will be among those targeted for the next avalanche of spam, going out any minute -- CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU'VE WON THE FIRST LOTTERY HELD ON MARS.

Like, who couldn't use a little windfall? Who wouldn't enjoy a measure of val, ah say VALIDATION?

-- words and art by F.T. Rea

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bush is making America's military look impotent

This piece, “Baghdad,” was done to illustrate a column about the first war in Iraq that I wrote for Oh! Magazine in 1991. Alas, 15 years later and it can still be used to illustrate a piece about Baghdad today. And, today the wisdom of the decision made by our current president’s father, not go to on to Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein, sure seems to sparkle.

Back in 2002 and 2003, when I was writing about how much of a mistake I thought it would be to invade Iraq, of course I mentioned that overthrowing the sitting dictator could unleash chaos. It was high on my list of why-not-invade. Still, at this point I have to say I didn’t then envision that the war’s planners would turn out to be so utterly incompetent.

And, I didn’t anticipate how uncomfortable I’d feel three-and-a-half years into the bloody occupation of post-Saddam Iraq about having revealed to the world’s wannabe dictators just how impotent America’s military could look when it is bogged down and overextended.

That makes me think the only real advantage America now has over some of the planet’s biggest threats is our exotic weaponry, our most potent bombs. So, I sure hope James Baker and Lee Hamilton can convince the current President Bush -- the worst president since Herbert Hoover -- to change directions in Iraq and get us the hell out of there, ASAP.

Think about it -- how much good is it really going to do for America to threaten a bunch of suicide-bombing religious fanatics on a mission with nuclear weapons? If total annihilation, by way of a nuking, is all we have to use as persuasion, do we really have a credible threat for bands of terrorists, or countries that won’t bend to our blustery will?

The Bush administration’s folly in Iraq is making America’s military look impotent. The longer this situation goes on the more of a problem that’s going to be. It invites the worst kind of mischief. .

Friday, November 17, 2006

Knight in tarnished armor

Once again Richmond Times-Dispatch sportswriter Paul Woody has zeroed in on malfeasance in the world of sports, this time college basketball. This time on who surely must be the most blatant bully of a coach still being tolerated by any president of a college or university -- Bobby Knight (depicted right, in one of his lighter moods). Click here to read “Knight still a hit with Texas Tech.” Below is an excerpt of Woody’s column.

“...Knight and the people at Texas Tech can say and believe what they want. The videotape shows this: Knight formed a fist with his right hand, then brought his fist up and under Prince’s chin and knocked the player’s head up.

“To be sure, Knight got the young man’s attention.

“But here’s the thing. Coaches and teachers never should be allowed to strike students. And no matter how many of Knight’s coaching buddies come to his defense, no matter what the Texas Tech athletic director says in his official statement, Knight struck one of his players. It was unnecessary and has gone unpunished. Knight hasn’t even been made to apologize for his actions."

There’s no doubt Knight has been one of the game’s best coaches of all-time. But somewhere along the way to the 872 victories his teams have won for him -- yes, in spite of what he might think they won the games -- Knight lost track of the fact that rules apply to him, too.

Sadly, Knight, called “The General” by some, has allowed his ever growing hubris to trump all else. For way too long he has seen no reason for him to set the proper example of being under control. Bobby Knight demands that of his players, but not of himself.

For two other views of this story click here, or here.
Illustration by F.T. Rea

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What about the political blogosphere? Part III

When camcorders became popular, in the mid- to late-1980s, it was said that putting a cheap movie camera in every willing set of hands would spawn a revolution, not unlike the French New Wave. Oh yes, we would see wonderful new films coming out of the woodwork. Documentaries, art house films, etc., would tumble back into style, because the new accessibility to filmmaking technology would be available to so many people who would never have had the chance before. Kids would grow up making movies and become the next François Truffauts and Luis Buñuels.

And, the same breakthrough would simultaneously develop a more film-savvy audience to appreciate those new and better movies.

Well, that prediction has hardly panned out. Not yet, anyway. If anything, the trend has gone in the opposite direction, at least as far as the public’s taste in movies goes.

Since then, some of the same sort of predictions have been made about the so-called “citizen journalism” of blogging-made-easy. And, so far, at least in the political blogosphere, I can’t see how it is doing much to develop a bunch of new top-shelf opinion writers the likes of the insightful Georgie Anne Geyer, or the late Mike Royko.

So, when copycat bloggers write mostly about politicians as celebrities, to relentlessly demonize or glorify them, I don’t spend much time reading their work. A lot of the same bloggers like to pick fights with other bloggers, to spin their hits counters. Usually, I do my best to ignore such drivel.

Fortunately, that doesn’t describe all the bloggers, so there are a few I do enjoy reading regularly. Mostly, it is because they a good writers.

With my own writing here at SLANTblog, I am trying to continue to serve the audience that I have built for my work over the years, and to connect with new readers who like to think for themselves, maybe even consider a new angle.

Unlike my work that has been published in various periodicals, my posts here have not been approved by an editor or publisher perhaps worrying about offending one of his/her advertisers. While I enjoy that freedom it doesn’t make me want to act irresponsibly, because I still hope to be persuasive, not overbearing or outrageous.

Over the last few months Virginia’s political blogosphere has been inundated with the work of amateur propagandists convinced that screaming accusations at their opposites would win an election for the candidates they admire. Now that the election is over, my hope is that we will see much less of it. But I’m not holding my breath.

Accordingly, I’m glad that writers/bloggers such as Waldo Jaquith, Conaway Haskins, and other notables, have been taking stock of the political blogosphere in recent posts. This is a good time for it. And, I’m looking forward to seeing where this worthwhile discussion goes. After all, the potential of this medium is truly awesome. So much so that I expect we will see plenty more efforts to curb bloggers coming from those who fear that potential the most.

Updated at 2:55 p.m. on Friday

Webb on 'Class Struggle'

Virginia's freshly minted senator, Jim Webb, has penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Jounal that may be an eye-opener for some Democrats who have been viewing him as a rightwinger in a donkey suit. At the same time "Class Struggle" will probably make more than a few Republicans squirm.

"The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

"Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much..."

Click here to read the entire piece.

Update: Regarding Webb’s piece about class and politics, Norm Leahy at One Man’s Trash has some interesting thoughts about “paleoconservatives.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Missing absolutes

Vivian Paige worries about ethics in a post on her blog, “On Ethics.” Conaway Haskins has had the subject of a code of ethics on his mind lately, as it might apply to blogging, “A SOB Story…discussion of Virginia bloggers association continues.” Others in Virginia’s blogosphere have frequently ruminated on the broad topic of where to draw the lines today for right and wrong.

Although I’m sure this sort of philosophical questioning doesn’t resonate with some of the political bloggers who can’t see past candidates and power lust, I believe Paige and Haskins are on the right track.

Here’s why: Unless our money-chasing, poverty-ignoring, secular society can find a way of restoring a sense of right-and-wrong to being one of its cornerstones, our freedom-loving way of life won’t last much longer.

That’s because a good part of the appeal of old-time religion -- with a violent I-am-doing-my-God’s-work twist -- whether it’s supposed to be based on Christianity, Islam, or you-name-it, is that our Postmodern Western culture is being seen as absolutely amoral by billions of eyes. And, the number is growing.

If America and its Western allies can’t turn this trend around, by changing our ways to do with how we treat powerless people -- there will never be enough bullets or bombs to prevent us from trying to wall ourselves off from the rest of the world.

Moreover, if we do opt for such fear-driven isolation from most of the world, together with yet more draconian security-first measures at home -- all in the name of protecting ourselves from evil -- our downfall is assured.

Well, I for one, don’t want my grandchildren to live through America’s downfall, so I think it’s vital for us to now think about/talk about how important it is to know right from wrong. Below the reader will find a little essay of mine that was published in 1999 by STYLE Weekly. It addresses the dilemma outlined above.

Do Unto Others
by F.T. Rea

The Ten Commandments have made an unexpected comeback this season. In the wake of recent teen violence, we have heard from pundits and legislators alike who say that posting this excerpt of the Bible on public school walls will help potentially dangerous students avoid running off the tracks.

OK, what’s the harm?

Well, when the guy across the street claims the Koran says it better, what do you say back to him? Next, the lady down the block says that the I Ching is more to the point. And so forth …

Ultimately, I’ve got to believe that the Supreme Court is going to have a serious quarrel with the notion of displaying selected portions of the Old Testament in public schools.

So regardless of the good intentions of those who would put the law according to Moses in the classroom, the First Amendment and a mile of legal precedent tells us: The state can’t establish one particular religion.

Yet I do sympathize with those who want to introduce children to the concept of absolutes. And, I wholeheartedly agree with those who observe that morality seems to be evaporating out of modern life.

The essential line between a healthy desire to improve one’s lot in life and in being so greedy that you’re a menace to society is getting more blurred all the time. Without morality, I’m not sure it is discernible.

Without morality perhaps the only perceived downside to theft, or any other crime, is getting caught.

If it’s ethical guidelines that are scarce, why not look to history?

Right beside the Ten Commandments, put up a copy of Hammurabi’s Code. After that, maybe we toss in some Aristotle. In short, let’s bring the basic rules of all major religions and philosophies into the classroom. Some of us may be surprised to see how similar the ethical precepts are.

In the name of “citizenship studies,” let’s put the history of ethics and laws in the classroom as a course of study.

I’m sure it would be possible to design a streamlined course that would offer second or third graders a basic overview of the subject matter. A subsequent look at the same kind of material might be offered in high school, with greater detail and more opportunity for discussion.

As long as we don’t tell students in public schools to pray, or we seek to raise one faith over the other, religion itself can’t be taboo. As we all know, much of the history of art and literature can’t be told without picking through religious relics. Now, I’m proposing that the actual tenets of the body of thought be examined as well as the artifacts.

The approach of the course would be to focus on the original purpose of particular precepts, together with the way religious canon has become custom and law through the ages.

If the reader is concerned that we must include every faith or philosophy, including such aberrations as devil worship, never fear. When we study art history we don’t cover every artist, or art movement, in a survey course. Therefore only the religions and philosophies that have had the most impact on the tides of history would need to be covered.

As the 20th century winds down, this scribbler is not at all confident that most children in the United States have much of a grasp of the classic concepts of right and wrong — much less why. And let’s face it, some kids draw a bad hand when it comes to parents.

Good parents or not, for many children the buzz of popular culture is so loud and prevalent that it overwhelms all other information.

Please don’t confuse me with those aboard the “Hollywood is evil” bandwagon. Nonetheless, I am comfortable saying that TV, pop music and the mass media in general aren’t good either. While they aren’t intrinsically good or evil, as they compete to make a buck they will jam pack a child’s head with sights and sounds.

If we expect all the busy parents in the real world to teach their offspring to see the vital connection between their acts and the inevitable consequences, we are indulging in wishful thinking.

Furthermore, if we expect children to pick up a clear sense of morality from popular culture, we are simply fools.

There is no set of instructions as to how to go about injecting morality into a secular society. In the past, like it or not, much of that sort of thinking came from the dominant religion in a region seeping into every fabric of the culture. So the parents were never expected to do the job alone.

Can there be any doubt that a society hoping to prosper has to find an effective way to instill in its young citizens an awareness of, and hopefully a respect for, its collective sense of right and wrong?

Finally, if it isn’t done in the schools, then where and when?

-- 30 --

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In politics, is 'closeted' a thing of the past?

Now that Virginia will have a constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex marriages, which political party’s adherents will that have more impact on?

Well, I’ve no doubt that Bible-thumping Republicans would say most gays and lesbians are the bluest of Democrats, of the most deviant persuasion.

But, isn’t that stereotypical thinking? What about Log Cabin Republicans?

And, since election day, judging from the way television’s news and comedy programs are pursuing the hypocrisy angle of the closeted-Republican-gays topic, forced outings may soon be the next wave of political warfare.

Whether you tune into HBO, PBS, MSNBC, or the Comedy Channel, there’s a burgeoning interest in the notion that some of the culturally conservative Republicans most supportive of the movement to brand same sex marriage as a threat to families are actually homosexuals, themselves.

After all, history tells us that some of the most verbose gay bashers have been guys who were ... shall we say conflicted? Longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover comes to mind.

Rather than name more names, just for cheap laughs, I’ll get back to the point of this post. While it might be good for a grin to know that a certain rightwing spokesperson is -- in his/her private life -- a 24 carat homosexual, is that anybody’s business?

Apparently, now some people think it is. They seem to believe that it is a matter of honesty for elected officials to be on the record as “gay” or “straight,” and then live up to it.

So, the question is: In 2006, is it no longer acceptable to be in the closet?

Is it OK for Democrats to out Republicans they see as being hypocrites about their sexual orientation? Or vice versa?

What about the political blogosphere? Part II

Regarding the Commonwealth SOBs idea that is being discussed at South of the James, here and here, I have some thoughts to toss into the soup.

One of the things I saw from the Weekend Without Echoes experiment in July was that if something has an air of coolness about it, then it will attract people who just want their name/blog associated with it. Anyway, at least half of the bloggers who signed on actually did nothing, or changed nothing about how they blogged that weekend. And, a handful of bloggers took the challenge to heart and did their best to contribute and play fair.

My point is that while I got more bloggers to sign on than I had expected, I was probably too impressed with the numbers. If I were to do it again, or something like it, I would deliberately narrow the field by having some stated principals or guidelines that would exclude folks who mostly want their blog's name on a list, with what they see as high profile bloggers.

If the SOBs are to be a group that will agree to some real standards and adhere to them, then I’m interested. If it is just to be another blogroll, I may not be. However, regarding transparency -- if anonymous bloggers are allowed to sign on, the high-minded notion of a code of ethics/blogging standards seems like window dressing.

Although I understand that some must hide their identity for good reasons, the level playing field is too important to the concept of fairness for the SOBs to give it up. So, well-meaning bloggers who must use a pseudonym should just form their own group of masked good guys who say they have standards. The we'll see what they do.

Thus, one of the cornerstones of the SOBs should be this pledge -- I stand behind what I post with my real name and my reputation. Without that, or something like it, the idea of a code of ethics evaporates.

Duquesne’s resurrection

Duquesne Dukes first-year head coach Ron Everhart (Va. Tech ‘85) has built a reputation for resurrecting moribund basketball programs, having done so as at McNeese State and Northeastern. Last year the Dukes went 3-24, which was their 12th consecutive losing season.

Yes, resurrection sounded like a good plan, but this year Everhart has his work cut out for him, like never before, stemming from a shooting incident following an on-campus party. Five of Everhart’s players suffered bullet wounds. Basketball fans already know about this story.

Now Everhart’s Dukes have played their first game of the 2006-07 season. AP picks up the story here:

“Most nights, this would be a score hardly noticed by anyone other than alumni and fans of the two schools: Duquesne 81, Youngstown State 75.

“This was different. This was a special, worthy-of-attention night when a team that has had one winning season in 20 years, and little chance of having one this season, decided violence, tradition and an arguably stronger opponent wouldn't keep it from winning a game it probably should have lost.

“Scott Grote scored 23 points in his college debut and Duquesne, relying mostly on six underclassmen after having five key players shot earlier this fall, rallied down the stretch to surprise Youngstown State on Monday night in its first game since the shootings ravaged their roster."

Closer to home, VCU opened its season Monday night with a win: VCU 75, Longwood 63. For more on local college hoops click here to read, The Bounce, my sports column at

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sulkosphere staying the quagmire

In Virginia’s hawkosphere, four days after the election, tired vitriol continued to be slung toward Senator-elect Jim Webb on Veterans Day. Among other things Webb, a decorated combat vet, was still being called a “pervert.”

Likewise, since Tuesday’s telling numbers poured in, some angry supporters of the Bush administration’s failed Iraq war policy have continued to hurl derision at Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Murtha, as if they are traitors, or cowards, because they have called for a new policy.

Some disappointed keyboard warriors couldn’t hold back for just one day, Veterans Day, out of respect. While all three of the above mentioned Democrats served their country with distinction during the Vietnam War, they have had to endure baseless attacks on their character -- even their military service -- coming from people who simply disagree with them about politics today.

Most observers agree the war in Iraq was the biggest issue working against the Republicans on election day. No doubt, other issues were also in play, but it was plain to see that voters were both unhappy about what has been happening in Iraq, and with the Bush administration’s plan for the future there.

Does that make the majority of voters cowards and traitors, too?

It seems that “staying the quagmire” remains the operative plan for the bitterest of Bush-backers in the sulkosphere, who have no problem traveling the lowest of roads, regardless of how many people disagree with them.

Of course, the irony here is these self-styled patriots don’t seem at all concerned that their ugly disrespect for Democratic office-holding veterans -- war heroes of my generation -- might be hurting morale among today’s troops.

Might some now in the armed services wonder if they, too, will someday hear Americans who disagree with them about politics saying they are cowards, should they choose to speak out on such matters?

How much that hidden factor has discouraged young Americans from joining the armed forces in the first place is something we’ll probably never know.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Forced to swallow my whining teeth

For an election analysis with punch, Save Richmond’s own prize-winning pundit Don Harrison, fills the bill with his post -- “Beautiful Blue Dot.” For me, Harrison’s comments about Ross Mackenzie (depicted below) are the most entertaining. Here’s an excerpt:

“It is worth following the post-election coverage just to read the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Ross Mackenzie whine about Richmond’s blogging community (it seems that blogs “polarize the electorate and push it into niches too often sanctuaries of the mean”). You know which “mean” blogs he is referring to -- those that covered local politics far more consistently than the mainstream news organizations this go around. Coming from a man whose editorial sanctuary waged an election week propaganda assault against Jim Webb that was disgraceful even by its own previously rotten standards, this isn’t just normal whining. This is classic, priceless, I-was-just-forced-to-swallow-my-whining-teeth whining. This is Do-as-I-Say-Not-As-I’ve-Done-For-Decades whining. Admit it: Being schooled by Ross Mackenzie on the subject of “niceness” is not unlike having Paris Hilton lecture you on proper public decorum.”
Illustration by F.T. Rea

Central Time

Central Time
Fiction by F. T. Rea

For Veterans Day, “Central Time,” one of series of short stories I have penned is offered. Set 40 years ago, it’s about a Virginian's trip by train to boot camp in Illinois. As with the other stories in the series, called “Detached,” this one is set around a singular transforming splinter of time.

August 16, 1966: Roscoe Swift sat alone in a day car slowly rattling its way into Central Station. The solitary sailor had spent the last hour turning the glossy pages of Playboy and contemplating infinity. As the train lurched he glanced out of the window at Tuesday morning, Chicago style.

Roscoe had sequestered himself from the marathon poker game in the club car. The stepped up call for wild cards and split pots, by the various dealers, had finally driven him from the table. His resolute grandfather had schooled him to despise such frilly variations on the already-perfect game of poker.

“Gimmicks like that were invented to keep suckers in the game,” was the old man’s admonition.

This was hardly the day Roscoe wanted to invite the sort of jinx that might be set in motion by disregarding absolutes.

In the magazine’s lengthy interview section LSD pioneer Timothy Leary ruminated on his chemically enlarged view of the so-called Youth Movement. Professor Leary called the current crop: “The wisest and holiest generation that the human race has yet seen.”

The subculture forming around psychedelic drugs in that time was opening new dimensions of risk for 19-year-old daredevils. Roscoe wondered if he would ever do acid. His friend Bake had tripped and lived to tell about it.

There was a fresh dimension to the conflict in Vietnam that month, as well. The Cold War’s hottest spot was being infused with its first batch of draftees; some 65,000 were being sent into the fray, like it or not. Until this point it had been the Defense Department’s policy to use volunteers only for combat duty.

Also, on the home-front, quakes of change were abundant: A 25-year-old former Eagle Scout, Charles Whitman, climbed a tower on the University of Texas campus and shot 46 people, at random, killing 16; comedian/first amendment martyr Lenny Bruce was found dead -- overdosed and fat belly up -- on his bathroom floor; news of songwriter/musician John Lennon’s playful crack -- “We’re [the Beatles] more popular than Jesus Christ now” -- inflamed the devoutly humorless; and reigning Heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali, bent all sorts of folks out of shape with his widely reported quip -- “I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong.”

Since leaving Main Street Station in Richmond, Virginia the morning before, Roscoe had traveled - via the Chesapeake and Ohio line - through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, on his way to Illinois.

Taking leave from the airbrushed charms of September’s Playmate of the Month his mind kaleidoscoped to the sound of his girlfriend Julie’s laughter.

As a preamble to Roscoe’s departure for basic training he and Julie had spent the weekend in Virginia Beach, trying their best to savor the bittersweet taste of war-torn romance, black and white movie style. As luck would have it, the stately Cavalier Hotel’s central air conditioning system went on the blink the Friday they arrived.

Since the hotel’s windows couldn't be opened that meant the sea breeze was unavailable for relief from the heat wave. Nonetheless, they stayed on, because the hotel itself, a stylish relic of the Roaring ‘20s, meant something. After two years of catch-as-catch-can back-seat romance, this was where they had chosen to spend their first whole night together.

That evening they stretched out on the bed and sipped chilled champagne. With the hotel-supplied fan blowing on them at full blast, suddenly, a good-sized chunk of the ceiling fell onto a chair across the room.

After Roscoe mischievously reported the strange problem to the front desk -- “I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but perhaps you have a safer room?” -- Julie suggested a barefoot stroll on the beach to cool off.

Walking in the surf, neither of them had much to say. An hour later Julie and Roscoe were happily soaked as they returned to the hotel. With a little snooping around the pair discovered the door to the Cavalier’s indoor pool was unlocked. As it was well past the posted time for the pool to be open and the chlorine-smelling room was nearly dark, they reasoned that the facility was at their disposal for a little skinny-dipping.


Stepping off the train, Roscoe was two hours from another train ride. This one, aboard a local commuter, would finish the job of transporting him from Richmond’s Fan District - with its turn-of-the-century townhouses - to a stark world of colorless buildings and punishing grinders: Great Lakes Naval Training Center was his destination.

In the last month Roscoe had listened to plenty of supposedly useful yarns of what to expect at boot camp. Concerning Chicago, he could recite facts about the White Sox, the Cubs and the Bears; he had seen the movie about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the big fire; he thought Bo Diddley was from Chicago. One thing was certain, Seaman Recruit Swift knew he was further from home than he’d ever been.

Outside the train station on the sidewalk, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” -- a novelty tune on the summer's Top 40 chart -- blared appropriately from the radio of a double-parked Pontiac GTO.

After laughing at the ironic coincidence of the music, Roscoe, Zach, Rusty, and Cliff - comrades-at-arms in the same Navy Reserve unit in Richmond for four months of weekly meetings - considered their options for killing the time between trains, and they spoke of the ordeal ahead of them.

“That’s it, man.” Rusty explained. “The Navy figures everybody eats Jell-o, so that’s where they slip you the dose of saltpeter.”

“Get serious, that’s got to be bullshit,” said Zach. “The old salts tell you that to jerk you around.”

“OK, Zach, you can have all my Jell-o,” Rusty offered.

“Not even a breeze; what do y’all make of the Windy City?” asked Cliff. “It’s just as damn hot up here as it was in Richmond.”

A couple of blocks from the station the team of eastern time-zoners, outfitted in their summer whites, stopped on a busy corner to scan the hazy urban landscape. Finding a worthwhile sightseeing adventure was at the top of their agenda.

Answering the call, a rumpled character slowly approached the quartet from across the street. Moving with a purpose, he was a journeyman wino who knew a soft touch when he could focus on it.

In a vaguely European accent the street-wise operator badgered the four out of a cigarette, a light, two more cigarettes for later, then a contribution of spare change. When the foul-smelling panhandler demanded “folding money” Roscoe turned from the scene and walked away. His pals followed his lead. Then the crew broke into a sprint to escape the sound of the greedy beggar’s shouts.

Rusty, the fastest afoot, darted into a subway entrance with the others at his heels. Cliff was laughing so hard he slipped on the steps and almost fell.

As Roscoe descended the stairway into the netherworld beneath the city, he was reminded of H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” and observed, “I guess this must be where the Morlocks of the Midway would live; if there are any.”

Zach smiled. No one laughed.

The squad agreed that since they were already there, and only Rusty had ever seen a subway, a little reconnoitering was in order. Thus they bought tokens, planning only to look around, not to ride. Roscoe, the last to go through the turnstile, wandered off on his own to inspect the mysterious tracks that disappeared into darkness.

Standing close to the platform’s edge, Roscoe wondered how tightly the trains fit into the channel. As he listened to his friends’ soft accents ricocheting off the hard surfaces of the deserted subway stop, he recalled a trip by train in 1955’s summer with his grandfather. Roscoe smiled as he thought of his lifelong fascination with trains. Unlike most of his traveling companions, he was glad the airline strike had forced them to make the journey by rail.

Walking aimlessly along the platform, as he reminisced, Roscoe noticed a distant silhouette furtively approaching the edge. It appeared to him to be a small woman. She was less than a hundred yards down the tracks. He watched her carefully sit down on the platform. Seconds later she slid off, disappearing into the dark pit below.

Although Roscoe was intrigued, he felt no sense of alarm. Not yet. He didn’t wonder if it was a common practice for the natives to jump onto the subway tracks. He simply continued to walk toward the scene, slowly taking it in, as if it were a movie. When Zach caught up with him Roscoe pointed to where the enigmatic figure had been.

Roscoe shrugged, “What do you make of it?”

To investigate the two walked closer. Eventually they saw a gray lump on the subway tracks.

Zach asked in a hushed voice, “Could that be her?”

When the unmistakable sound of a train began to report from the tunnel’s void, what had been a puzzle was solved.

Roscoe screamed at the woman, “Get up!”

The scene took on a high-contrast, film noir look when the tunnel was lit up by the oncoming train’s light. The two desperate sailors waved their arms frantically as they ran toward the train to get the driver’s attention. The woman remained clenched into a tight ball, ready to take the big ride. Suddenly the brakes began to screech horrifically, splitting seconds into shards. Metal strained against metal as the train’s momentum carried it forth.

Roscoe's senses were stretched to new limits. Tiny details -- angles of light and fragments of sound -- became magnified. All seemed caught in a spell of slow motion and exaggerated intensity.

Click here to read the rest of the story.
(Illustration by F. T. Rea)

Friday, November 10, 2006

What about the political blogosphere?

OK. What about the Commonwealth Society of Bloggers concept?

Conaway Haskins III is a Virginia political writer. Based in Chesterfield County, he has gained some notoriety for commentary on his blog, South of the James. Now Haskins has floated out some notions about creating a new blogging consortium with a purpose. He has written about this concept in a recently published Bacon’s Rebellion piece, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

In my view Conaway’s idea is well worth discussing. Accordingly, I am beginning a series of posts that will represent what occurs to me on this topic, in a general sense, rather than write a single piece to gather all my thoughts. And, I invite others to join in by commenting here, or posting on their own blogs. Where better to hash this out?

OK, here’s my first installment of "What about the political blogosphere?"


During this election year political blogs were in the news. Political blogs emerged to play a noticeable role in races all over the country. Virginia’s lively political blogosphere had so much impact on the senatorial contest that it will no doubt be studied for years to come.

More importantly, it is being studied, feverously, as you read these words.

If there’s one thing the vast majority of the political blogs have in common, whether they lean left or to the right, it is a glaring self-awareness. Although too many bloggers use their keyboards to castigate the mainstream media relentlessly, they yearn for recognition from newspapers, television stations, etc., in a way that sometimes hurts to watch.

Professional or amateur political bloggers who shower the traditional media with angry hot lava one day, go off like happy little geysers the very next day, if their blogs are mentioned in an article published any-flapdoodling-where outside the bubbling blogosphere.

Idealistic bloggers sometimes imagine themselves to be akin to Revolutionary War-era pamphleteers. While there is some substance to that claim, the most active players in the political blogosphere are probably more like tagging graffiti artists.

George Allen’s dubious Internet stardom, via YouTube, was like a new form of graffiti in motion. Its power to doom his run for reelection was unprecedented. The political camps and the mainstream media are stewing over the implication of that phenomenon as you read these words.

That’s it for now. More on this topic will appear -- coming soon -- in the next installment of, “What about the political blogosphere?”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Allen's last pass?

Shortly after 3 p.m. today in Alexandria, after being introduced by Sen. John Warner, who spoke of Sen. George Allen’s “bright future,” Allen threw a football into the crowd, caught it when it was thrown back to him, conceded that Jim Webb had won the election and announced he would not be seeking a recount.

Allen thanked God, his wife, his children, his mother, his staff and campaign volunteers. Saying there is a “time and place for everything,” Allen added, “we live to fight another day.” Then the ex-quarterback threw the football back and forth one last time, at least for today.