Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Free Buttercup

The message below came in from my longtime friends in the band Buttercup, concerning their upcoming appearance, Friday, June 3, at the Canal Club, as part of the WCVE television series “The Music Scene.”

“Look it here Buttercups ... we're out shopping for our new wardrobe! We're gonna be on TV!

"This Saturday night, it's early, you don't even need a babysitter, just lock ‘em in and give ‘em the remote. We’ll be down in Shockoe Bottom, at the Canal Club, 1545 East Cary St.
Don’t ask me where to park, I'm taking the bus. Take a look at what's going on ... and it don’t cost a dime!"

Journalists Under Attack

Legendary columnist Georgie Anne Geyer is still the best in the business, in my book. When it comes to international politics she’s been at it for over 40 years; Geyer has seen and heard it all. “Journalists Under Attack” is her newest piece on the disturbing trend toward targeting journalists in modern warfare. She manages to also share her savvy takes on a few related matters:

“...There was a Brigadoon time in war coverage, when many sides tried to obey the Geneva Accords. The accords, intended to regularize and civilize warfare, tried to assure that odd people on the battlefield, such as journalists and humanitarian workers, would be considered ‘non-combatants.’ Under this designation, we were, if captured, supposed to be exchanged to our home countries and spared.

“Ironically, in Vietnam, the Geneva Accords were generally observed, not only by the North Vietnamese ‘regulars’ but also by the Viet Cong. It was when the bitter Cambodian civil war began in the 1970s and the maddened Khmer Rouge took over that the first real break with the accords took place. It has been a downhill road from there, with any attempt to regularize warfare brutally discarded and disdained by the guerrillas, insurgents, terrorists, tribalists and suicide bombers who have so heinously transformed warfare.”

It’s said the reporter character played by Sigourney Weaver in the movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously (1982),” was based on Geyer's exploits as a young woman playing what was then a man's game.

Chasing Dignity

“Chasing Dignity,” published today by STYLE Weekly, is the newest episode of a series of true stories to be called “Firsthand Stories.” (Yes, yet another work-in-progress for F.T. Rea.)

This particular yarn is set at the Biograph Theatre in 1978. The ultimate Midnight Show of all-time, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," was playing to a packed house when a street fight broke out on Grace Street:
“...It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Echoes of the Jazz Age.' ...During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me. Yes, we baby boomers were about to see that our sweetest day in the sun, with its causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems, had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Warmed-Over Pose, or a Chance

In writing “Miller Is a High-Contrast Candidate for Senate” the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher's take on the two candidates -- Harris Miller and Jim Webb -- and the political landscape at this point in time is well worth a read.

“...Dragged down by unfathomable gas prices, an unpopular president and a seemingly unwinnable war, Allen suddenly finds himself having to fight for reelection. On June 13, Virginians will choose between examples of the two more interesting categories of Democrats -- former Reagan man Jim Webb and a rare, overt anti-Reaganite, Harris Miller.

“No mealy-mouthed weasels in this race: Webb, Reagan's Navy secretary, is a convert, turned against the party he long served by his belief that our Iraq policy is deeply, dangerously wrong. Miller, a Washington lobbyist who has long been active in Fairfax County's Democratic Party, is an increasingly endangered animal, an out lib.”

Fisher doesn’t come out and say it, but it seems to me -- between the lines -- he is telling Virginia’s Democrats this: Harris Miller offers you another chance to strike a warmed-over pose and little chance of victory. Jim Webb offers you a chance, maybe a long-shot but a chance, to win back the U.S. Senate and perhaps even change the modern face of the Democratic Party.

Whether that’s what Fisher is implying or not, that’s my take on what's happening in the Democratic primary, which is exactly two weeks away. SLANTblog's readers who still believe in voting should give Mr. Webb a good listen. He's a successful writer, a Renaissance-man of sorts, and far from politics-as-usual.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Frisbee-golf on Memorial Day

This afternoon, nine guys showed up to play a round of Frisbee-golf. So we played a game of skins with three teams of three men competing. During the play and afterwards over a beer, the conversation was somewhat different than it is on any given weekend. That was mostly because it’s Memorial Day.

In today’s group, which ranged in age from 45 to 60, three are veterans. I was in the Navy, the two others were in the Army. All three of us served during the Vietnam War era, only one saw combat in Vietnam. He was in the infantry and saw plenty, the other guy in the Army went to Germany, instead .. luck of the draw.

Ordinarily, the political points of view in our Frisbee-golf group -- there are about 25 players in all -- range from left to right to apathy. Yet today it was easy to set aside our usual grumblings about what’s happening in Iraq, or justifications for it. Today there was talk about being in the service so long ago, and of the guys we knew who died in the war. Guys no different than us, but who didn’t get the chance to come home to learn how to play Frisbee-golf and grow old. They weren’t lucky.

Today, I can put aside the bitter anti-war feeling that dominated my thinking after I got out of the Navy. Tomorrow I’ll get back to giving the Bush administration what-for about war. For one day, this day, I want to put my politics to do with war on hold.

A commentator on NPR just got in my ear using a Memorial Day theme to bolster his argument against the war in Iraq. I'll listen to that tomorrow. Today I shut off the radio.

Today I am remembering my friend David Lipscomb. He lived a block from me when we were in grade school. As part of a group of neighborhood boys we played sports and explored the woods on many a pretty day, just like today was. He had a little brother the same age as mine. David was a funny guy and a clever coconspirator, when it came to plotting a prank.

When I was 12 my family moved, so we went to different schools and we saw one another only occasionally after that. In the spring of 1968 a local newspaper report informed me David Lipscomb had died in Vietnam. Today I still remember him as a little kid, not as he was, when he died.

The feeling I had when I saw that newspaper article has never left me. Now I’m going to a neighborhood bar and drink a cold beer to David, then a second one to all the other guys just like him. Guys who ran out of luck.
Photo: M. B. Perlstein (1984)

The Road to Hell; Updated

In response to my recent suggestions that Jim Webb’s effort to win the Democratic senatorial primary on June 13 is perhaps being injured by his well-meaning blogging team, I’ve been told I’m misunderstanding their “passion.” They say, again and again, they are “working hard.”

Hey, “working hard” and “working smart” are two different things. And, only in a pretend world do good intentions trump all other concerns. Mistakes are made in campaigns, contests are lost because of them. Passion and hard work can easily be pissed away by bad strategy, or even bad execution of a good strategy.

The old saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is one Webb’s so-called “passionate” bloggers ought to think about, long and hard. Commitment and elbow grease hardly justify mistakes. It’s simple -- I’m saying mistakes have been/are being made by the Webb camp. The difference is I’m not waiting until it’s over just to say, “I told you so.”

No. I want Webb to win, so I’m sounding an alarm now, while it could still do some good.

Sorry if feathers are getting ruffled, I’m just tired of Democrats losing elections because they can’t get out of their own way. Remember when Howard Dean’s nomination was inevitable? And, there was no shortage of passion there. What a crock that was!

Before it’s too late, Webb’s strategists and even his self-styled bloggers need to step outside the “echo chamber” and see what’s true in the real world.

Update:

Perhaps I haven’t made this point as well as I should have in my previous efforts to throw a penalty flag at the busy bloggers for Webb: When you try to sell your man as “different” from the rest, you can’t then package him as the “same” as the rest. A lot of people intuitively understand style better than they do ideology.

OK, negative campaigning didn’t start in 2006. I know most “experts” see it as necessary. Conveniently, that advice keeps them busy slinging mud for hire. Conflict of interest? You bet.

But in 2006 millions of people outside of the world of spin-to-win absolutely detest that style. They are way tired of it, and that works to keeps turnouts low. Many have turned their backs on politics forever. Still, others may now be so worried about the way the bumbling Republicans are running the show, they’re paying attention to politics again. They are shopping for a fresh face, a thinks-for-himself candidate, less caught up in the same ol' same ol'.

That’s exactly the profile of the voter Jim Webb must have on his bandwagon to beat Harris Miller, and then be a viable challenge to George Allen. And, to best an opponent -- especially one with more money and connections -- you can’t use the same mean-spirited style he does and then convince that independent voter you are different. Different from what?

For Webb to win he has to seem like an obvious breath of fresh air, not the bad air of spin doctors screaming that their opponent is “EVIL.” Webb’s bloggers may be having a lot of fun dishing smelly mud at Miller, playing a game of zingers.

My point is they are overlooking who else might be catching a whiff of it.

Perhaps Webb’s strong suit is the powerful sense of dignity he projects. That’s something you can’t buy. Few politicians today have that. I can’t grasp why his handlers and bloggers -- at least those who have any real experience in politics -- can’t see that angry finger-pointing and gotcha-last pettiness clashes horribly with their man’s persona. In my book that’s riding for a fall.

The pendulum has swung...

Bob Lewis, writing for the Associated Press, analyzes Virginia's Miller/Webb Democratic primary race. Interestingly, he seems more impressed with Webb’s potential to unseat Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen than Miller’s in, “Reagan's Navy Chief Seeks Va. Senate Seat.”

“‘...When I look at where this administration has taken its own party, I cannot help but think about the pendulum of history,’ Webb said. ‘The pendulum has swung, I think, as far as it can swing given the principles this party had once espoused.’ Webb says Allen is part of an arrogant Republican majority in Washington bent on repeating in Iraq the blunders that killed so many of his buddies in Vietnam a generation ago.”
Photo: AP

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Central Time

Here's a short story set in 1966. It's the closest thing I've ever written to a war story. With this weekend's reflections in mind it's about a sailor's trip to basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois. Below is a sample of "Central Time."

"...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."

The Case of Gus the Cat

On Jan. 31, 2000 Richmond.com ran this story (it was later edited a bit and appeared in SLANT). Although Richmond.com has purged it from its archives, Biff Downey, who owned the same Carytown bookstore Gus called home back in the 1980s, captured it and posted the original version on his web site (click here). The text below is a little preview:

"'The place has changed hands a few times since then,' Salins smugly offered. 'The problem is each owner falls in love with the cat and keeps it. But since Gus has become an institution in Carytown, each set of new owners has to find another cat that looks like Gus. The switch is made at night in order to preserve the secret. I've seen it.'

Ed. Note: On June 19, 2001 a cat alleged to be the real Gus was found dead in Carytown Books.
(Illustration by Jay Bohannan)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why many politicians won't oppose the NRA

That's me, Terry Rea, shown above walking up the center aisle in Richmond’s City Council chambers, after speaking in favor of increased control of handguns. That particular 1985 moment, documented by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was when I figured out why more politicians aren’t willing to buck up to the National Rifle Association on gun control issues. Whew!

Summit on Blogging News

It hadn't occurred to me until today but the upcoming Summit on Blogging -- set for June 16 and 17, to be staged on the University of Virginia campus -- will unfold only two days after the results of the June 13th Democratic senatorial primary are known.

Interesting.

No doubt, the impact blogging had on those still fresh results will be a topic much in the air at The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership's event. Hmm ... do you think there'll be any strutting going on? Maybe a little sulking, too? Blame? Declarations? A few laughs? Area political bloggers who fail to show up, so as to participate in that aspect of the bloggers confab, will be missing out on a unique opportunity.

That's in addition to the program itself, with six different panel discussions to choose from. From Sorensen, concerning the summit, here are some recent news blurbs:

May 26
Attorney General Bob McDonnell named as opening speaker.
May 17
Josh Wheeler named as speaker, attendee list posted.
May 16
Jerome Armstrong named as keynote speaker.
May 15
Gordon Morse named as speaker.
May 12
F.T. Rea, Chris Piper, and Claire Guthrie Gastañga named as speakers.
May 11
Kenton Ngo and Jon Henke named as speakers.
May 10
Hotel information added, Bob Holsworth, Mike Shear and Daniel Glover named as speakers.

Yes, you saw it right -- SLANTblog's F.T. Rea is on the list of speakers. Actually, I've been invited to be part of a panel that will discuss and answer questions on the topic of "blogging and journalism." Here's a bit on that panel's mission from the Blog Summit's web site:

"Are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers? How can bloggers benefit from journalists, and vice versa? Take part in the discussion, make connections with political journalists, and learn how you can influence the media's coverage of state politics and get your message to a wider audience. Panelists include Daniel Glover of Beltway Blogroll, F.T. Rea, and Gordon Morse of the Hampton Roads Daily Press."

The two-day summit is open to the public. Who will be there? Those attending will include: experienced bloggers, would-be bloggers and those interested in the phenomenon of political blogging. Apparently, Virginia is a hotbed of such activity. To see an up-to-date list of the attendees, click here.

Registration costs $50. Deadline to register: June 5.

Wall of Blather

Which would you rather do? Get involved with organized party politics, or wade into quicksand to grab an overhanging hornet nest? For most folks busy working for a living, staying in touch with essential interests, not to mention raising families, it’s probably a tough call.

It’s a shame, too. Without an informed citizenry, without ordinary people investing their time, it seems democracy gives way to something else. Unfortunately, it leaves the power to rule society with the determined political insiders -- today that's the super wealthy, their brown-nosing hired hands and just enough ordinary fools -- to rule virtually unchecked.

On the network news John Q. Public sees and hears a parade of partisan shills making constant accusations and denials; then there are the fairly balanced and the crackpots. Newspapers mostly offer a tepid version of the same product. Cable television and radio talk-shows growl year-round; political blogs churn out copied copy to add density. Then come the attack ads of every election season. The sum of which forms a cacophony, which acts as a wall of blather separating John Q. from the raw truth of any given moment.

My point here is that many politicians, their financial backers and their consultants don’t really want John Q. to follow political news all that closely. You see, it could make him more difficult to manipulate. Better that he just chant the slogans, as if they are his opinions. Please note, this rant isn't about left and right thinking, or taking stands on particular issues. It's about language and how it's used. It's about propaganda which is effective, or not.

Propaganda shapes thought by framing ideas in a context which carefully limits the viewers’ perspective. It can draw you in, or push you away. It can be obvious or subtle. If boring the audience ultimately makes it more predictable, then the blathering process empowers the pollsters and consultants of both parties, but perhaps one party is actually benefitting more than the other.

In 2006 too many Americans seem numbly content with working increasingly more hours every year to maintain the same lifestyle. Once again the environment is increasingly at the mercy of narrow, short-term business interests -- quick bucks. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. America’s healthcare system in running amok. Yet, instead of fixing any of that the Republican party which controls the federal government gives us an imperious presidency which has spawned a disaster in Iraq and ignored a disaster in New Orleans. Hey, the national debt is off the charts.

Although it would seem these conditions would cause the electorate to look to the opposition party, the pitiful Dems have been so busy copying the GOP’s style of public relations, sadly with less success, an awful lot of people can’t tell the difference.

Why?

Propaganda. The Republicans have been kicking ass on the propaganda front for a long time. A key to the way it’s been done has been to make the busy middle class disgusted with the sausage-making world of politics and even quit voting. Hey, those cultural conservatives and war hawks, they don’t fail to vote Republican, no matter what. Bored or not, they vote because they are motivated by fear of a changing world.

Whereas, when the Democrats use the same tactics they make more of their natural constituency want to either take a nap or look to support third parties.

Allow me a baseball analogy: Let’s say the Democrats are a National League team and the Republicans are an American League team. The Democrats are strong on defense and pitching. Their offense is based on producing runs with singles and moving speedy runners. The Republicans have a power-hitting lineup, a bunch of big slow guys who can all hit home runs. Well, by using the Republican style of campaigning -- their lingo and methods -- it is as if the Democrats are playing all of their games in the Republicans’ ballpark. That would mean the Republicans get to use their designated hitter and aim at fences set to favor their hitters. Even the cut of the infield grass and the slope down the baselines would be tweaked to suit the home team. In such a world the Democrats are always the visiting team; they win occasionally, but not enough.

So I worry that 2006 will turn out to be another opportunity lost, another painful year of hammering slogans and negative campaigns from both parties. If the clueless Democrats keep helping the Republicans in this manner, as they've unwittingly done since copying Newt Gingrich’s GOP talking points strategy in the early-90s, no one should expect much to change.

Moreover, the establishment media isn’t going to willingly change this picture. It is making money, as is. But the Internet isn't yet under the control of the powers that be. No one really knows its potential, yet, to put over a candidate, to sway an election.

My advice to blogging Dems, stop copying copies in the name of expression. Stop preaching only to the choir. Try being persuasive to the undecideds. In your style, try being as different from the obstreperous Republicans as you can get.

Blog on...

Note: This piece was originally poted on Feb. 20. It was updated at 2:30 p.m. May 27

Friday, May 26, 2006

Webb should hose down his angry bloggers

Writing for The Daily Progress blog Bob Gibson makes some good points about much of the political blogging that has gone on in Virginia to do with the Democratic senatorial primary next month.

“Not only are they pushing Webb with enthusiasm as the challenger more likely to defeat U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Fairfax County, a number are trashing Miller with some gusto. The D blogosphere is yellow-dog certain that Webb is about to kick Miller’s nether regions and then give Allen the boot. As a political blogger with all the edgy certainty I can muster, I’m thinking ‘horse hockey.’”

Gibson's piece should be read by Jim Webb's blogging activists.

Why?

It seems the strategy of Webb’s inner ring of bloggers is to force-feed their strident propaganda down some goodly number of voters’ throats and Pavlov-dog them into voting for Webb on June 13. But their rhetoric has been so hammering, so much the same day after day, my guess is the only people who are getting brainwashed are those same determined bloggers.

Who else would continue to read all that humorless guff day after day?

They all seem to employ the same writing style, with various degrees of success, depending on their writing facility. Facility or not, to me it's an off-putting style that mostly reminds me of Newt Gingrich-trained Republicans in the mid-1990s.

Of course, their angry opponents are doing roughly the same hammering thing for Harris Miller. All of which must be tickling George Allen’s supporters pink.

Please note that I’m for Webb, too. I probably agree with most of his relentless bloggers on many political issues. Like them, I see a great deal of potential in Webb. Yet, while he’s an unusual man, he’s also an unproven candidate and hardly a lock to win anything at this point. It’s silly to pretend otherwise; to do so makes his supporters seem naive and undermines their credibility. In fact, strategy-wise it could even backfire.

Instead of trying to convince their readers of the inevitability of Jim Webb defeating Harris Miller, they should be doing everything they can to sound the alarm that longtime party insiders are trying install a man whose only credential seems to be that he is one of their own.

Miller’s team seems to think it can convince some goodly number of voters that nominations should go as rewards to loyalists -- especially if they're rich -- who’ve worked their way up through the party’s machinery. How viable that insider’s candidacy might be in the real world seems of little concern. Could it be that Miller’s backers would rather lose in November than support a candidate who owes them no favors.

Webb’s well-meaning bloggers should be writing that they are trying to save America's oldest political party from nominating a good man, who, unfortunately, has about as much charisma as a pocketful of sand. Miller seems much more like a player who has the candidate's ear than a candidate himself. Hey, most people are not cut out to be candidates in statewide elections.

Moreover, Webb's bloggers should be calling for Democrats and Independents who can’t stand the idea of six more years of Allen to do the unusual -- vote in a primary. Anyone who has followed politics in Virginia knows primary turnouts are usually quite low. Conventional thinking would say a low turnout favors Miller.

Instead, every time anyone with a heartbeat endorses Webb, we read on certain blogs that the race is over, OVER, SO OVER!!!

Phooey!

Someone in Webb’s camp -- maybe the candidate? -- should tell his blogging forces to quit being such angry copycats and gear themselves for a long run. Accordingly, the first thing they should do toward that long run is try being a little more engaging to an undecided reader who is just starting to pay much attention to the primary race. Try being persuasive.

Try trumpeting to the bored undecideds there’s a fresh face in the Democratic Party, a man who thinks for himself, who has the potential to win over disillusioned Republicans in November. They should change their tone for the last three weeks because if anyone judges the candidate by his followers -- and we know they sometimes do -- Webb’s lathered up bloggers have not exactly been putting their man’s best foot forward.

Maybe Webb himself needs to show some leadership and hose them down.

... cosmic whiplash blues

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Scooter, Brownie, Duke and Kenny Boy

Forty, fifty years ago political conservatives in the USA believed in a balanced budget and prudent government spending. They insisted they were better with money than "tax-and-spend liberals."

Then, slowly, over the years it changed: After Democratic President Clinton paid off the debts run up by Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush the First, President Bush the Second has the govenment awash in red ink. Now, instead of taxing we borrow and spend like a drunken sailor.

Traditionally, conservatives use to tilt toward isolationism and away from adventures abroad. Now Bush’s America has a policy of preemptive war, to prevent war. (Is that anything like burning the village down to save it?) Now the America of the so-called “neoconservatives” feels free to torture people it captures and suspects might know something.

At one time conservatives -- the conservatives who saw Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley as their voices -- wanted government to stay out of the American peoples' personal lives. Now it’s OK for Big Bro Bush to listen to your phone calls, read your emails and anything else he chooses to do under the umbrella of fighting the War on Terror.

So what do these newfangled, “situational conservatives” believe in?

Nicknames: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, “Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld, Michael “Brownie” Brown, Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay, Karl “Bush’s Brain” Rove, Jack “Indian-Swindler” Abramoff, Dick “Halliburton” Cheney, George W. “Mission Accomplished” Bush ... can you dig it?

Howard Fineman, writing for Newsweek comments on today’s Enron convictions with his “Kenny Boy, Meet Brownie”:

“If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush Era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn’t just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chain saw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Unwrapped Fish

Upon reading the recent news of Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Page Editor Ross Mackenzie’s retirement, I smiled. An era is passing.

For over 35 years, with relish, Mackenzie has been heaping his throwback takes on the issues of the day onto the pages of Richmond's daily newspapers. The longtime editor/writer understood his target audience, he served it well. In all that time he never lost his ability to ruffle my lefty feathers. Yeah, I'll give him that.

So, I feel compelled to salute Mackenzie's tenacity and skill as a wordsmith. The next time I find a fish badly in need of wrapping, now what will I do?

-- Illustration by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Teammates

Antonio watches teammate Emily put her best foot forward.
Last Thursday afternoon I had the pleasure of taking in a youth soccer game at the Bryan Park complex. The fourth-grade purple-clad coed team from the Fan District's Fox School met a coed squad in green from Hotchkiss playground in Northside.

The action was back and forth as neither team held an advantage for long. At the final whistle previously undefeated Fox had lost the contest. Hotchkiss 3, Fox 2.

Immediately afterward, Fox coach Bruce Coffey gathered his players for some announcements. The team dinner was discussed. The season was over and the kids snapped back into their nine-year-old world with its own off-the-field concerns. It was impossible to tell they had just lost a game. Significantly, I didn’t hear one excuse for the loss, not one whine or accusation, none of that. I suspect they have a good coach.

Now if we could just keep those happy children from watching ESPN to learn how to act like Me-First jerks while playing team sports ... that's another story. This sports story is about healthy children running on grass in the sunlight and learning how to be a teammate.

Monday, May 22, 2006

26.5 Million Victims

Computers are wonders. But there’s a price being paid, and yet to be paid, for relying on them so much. I worry about touch-screen voting machines with no paper record. I know it sounds paranoid, but I do. The Internet is even more of a wonder, but it opens more doors that swing both ways.

Stories like this one about another huge batch of supposedly protected information being easily stolen are disturbing: “Thieves Steal Personal Data of 26.5M Vets.”

“Thieves took sensitive personal information on 26.5 million U.S. veterans, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, after a Veterans Affairs employee improperly brought the material home, the government said Monday. The information involved mainly those veterans who served and have been discharged since 1975, said VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. Data of veterans discharged before 1975 who submitted claims to the agency may have been included.”

Then I think about the Bush administration’s hell-bent notions about spying on the American public, emails and phone records being looked at, the coming of national ID cards, etc., all in the name of making us safer. Safer! Safer from what? Seems like we're back to burning the village down, once again, in order to save it.

Makes a man thirsty just to think about it. Without the availability of cheap beer -- in my case Pabst Blue Ribbon -- this would be impossible to endure.

Debate Review Updated

OK. Now I’ve seen the televised face-off between Harris Miller and Jim Webb -- the two Democratic hopefuls in the June 13th primary. The winner will be placed on the ballot to oppose Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen in the general election.

First, I must say the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s political reporter Tyler Whitley made too much of the rather minor friction between the two candidates in his piece that ran in Saturday’s newspaper. Yeah, I heard the now infamous “Anti-Christ” quote. Finding a nefarious hidden meaning in that is a reach.

Of course, in the Virginia political blogosphere absolutely nothing is too much of a reach for some of the busiest keyboards for hire.

Since I want him to win and expect he will, I wish Webb had looked past Miller to focus on Allen. Maybe it’s early and he’ll hit his stride soon. Webb seemed a little tight, maybe over-coached. His repeated reliance on a laundry list of endorsements, offered to trump Miller’s banal talking points, was annoying. Webb probably should've just let the clearly nervous Miller talk on, as he's probably his own worst enemy.

Miller’s staff has a predicament, in that they have to be hoping for a low turnout in the primary. They think their strong suit is mostly longtime party regulars. So, the more the general public notices the contest, the more likely it is to be drawn to the more attractive individual with a more interesting resume. If independents vote, and they can, it's hard to imagine they would be Miller backers.

Miller is what? A behind-the-scene guy. A lobbyist. A wealthy businessman. Webb, once Secretary of the Navy, writes books that become movies.

Finally, I’m surprised anyone with any real experience in the political game ever told Harris Miller he ought to run for public office. Maybe someone was playing a cruel joke on him?

Or, maybe nobody ever asked Miller to run, so it was just his own idea. Then some Democrats may have been charmed by the notion he has a lot of money that could be dumped into a campaign. However, Miller’s utter lack of presence/authenticity on television showed me he stands almost no chance of beating Allen. So, I wonder what Miller really wants out of this race.

Name recognition for another run for office, down the road?

Beyond what Miller wants, I’m not at all happy it appears some number of more-donkey-than-thou Democrats would rather lose to Allen than embrace a newcomer who won’t jump through their hoops of yesterday’s warmed-over thinking.

Hey, based on his on-camera persona in that debate I truly wonder if Mr. Miller could get elected dogcatcher in his own county.

One on One

In the fall of 2000 Robert Holland and I were asked by online magazine Richmond.com to generate opinionated copy on a weekly basis for a series to be called One on One. We both accepted the gig and thus an adventure began. At times, with some issues, we did a pretty good job of presenting the “left” and “right” of the matter. Other times, it was rather difficult to frame the week’s selected topic -- we didn’t always get to pick our topics, some were assigned -- in such a traditional left/right context.
While the ride lasted it was a genuine pleasure working with Bob Holland, a Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute and formerly the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch OpEd Page. Holland is a St. Louis Cardinals fan of the first order. I pull for the Atlanta Braves. We actually razzed one another over that difference between us much more than we ever did politics. Our method was to never look at one another's copy in advance, but we were permitted rebuttals. Sometimes they were more fun to write.

Now, looking back over on that ambitious series, the columns take on a new role -- a time-capsule of the months leading up to 9/11’s sucker punch of terror. Here’s a sampling of six of the year's-worth of Internet face-offs presented under the banner of One on One:

Topic: Dr. Laura
Rea: The Queen Of Claptrap
Holland: The Campaign To Silence Dr. Laura

Topic: Shad Planking
Rea: Peanut Shells, Fish Bones And Politicos
Holland: Pretty Vacant

Topic: Downtown Baseball in Richmond
Rea: Field Of Schemes
Holland: The Possible Dream

Topic: Republican Convention
Rea: Clichés And Confetti
Holland: On Your Marks, Get Set -- Spend!

Topic: Chandra Levy Disappearance
Rea: Demon Du Jour
Holland: It's Not Just Mystery and Sex -- It's Truth

Topic: War on Terror
Rea: How Much Freedom Must We Lose?
Holland: Now, Scales Tip Toward Security

The columns above marked the end of the series on Richmond.com. Holland still writes frequently for OpEd pages nationwide, usually on educational topics.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cool's Stretch

by F. T. Rea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go.

Now people say, "ku-ul," simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.

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

-- 30 --

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Miller vs. Webb, no holds barred

Yesterday, the two Democrats who are running in a statewide primary to be held in June met in Norfolk for a debate. Or, maybe “debate” is not exactly the best word to describe what went on before WVEC-TV’s cameras and microphones. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch political reporter Tyler Whitley, the two candidates seeking to challenge Sen. George Allen in November’s general election ignored the Republican incumbent. Apparently, they mostly attacked one another.

“The two Democrats seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., virtually ignored him yesterday and trained their sights on each other. In the first televised joint appearance of the campaign, James Webb referred to a union description of Harris Miller as ‘the anti-Christ of outsourcing.'

"At one point, after being interrupted by Miller, an angry-appearing Webb exclaimed:
'Harris, if you shut your mouth, I'll answer the question.’ This came after Webb said he bore ‘no animosity’ toward Miller. Both agreed they would back each other.

“The two began arguing midway through a half-hour face-off on WVEC-TV’s ‘On the Record.’ The debate, hosted by Joel Rubin, will be shown on the Norfolk station tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. The argument continued afterward under questioning from the media, as each candidate sought to portray himself as the more legitimate Democrat.”

The bubbling animosity between these two Democrat hopefuls and their respective camps of finger-pointing partisans must be fun for Allen’s backers to watch. In spite of what the candidates say, on the record, at this writing it’s difficult to imagine how their lathered up supporters will be able to pull together after the primary to defeat Allen.

Elliott the Bear

OK. Here’s another cranky thing I’m going to offer up that I know will again label me as an incurable subversive, a dusty relic, a traitor to the metro area, a smug know-it-all, and perhaps worse -- it's true, I’ve never watched the American Idol television show.

Furthermore, I’m irked at how many Richmond Times-Dispatch front page stories Elliott Yamin has generated. Even after his tragic elimination the groveling for celebrity story won’t die. There was a time when I was addicted to following popular culture’s vicissitudes. And, Yamin’s comet of fame is a good example of why kicking the habit was so easy.

Don Harrison at Save Richmond has more to say about the darling of both Mayor Doug Wilder and Congressman Eric Cantor. Accordingly, what do you think is a good bet to be the new Maymont bear's name?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dixie Chicks Unrepentant

Remember the Dixie Chicks? It seems they are in the news, again.

This is one of those stories that's silly on one level, yet serious on another. It’s also a story that's so much a sign of the times. The Chicks have a new CD, "Taking the Long Way", and once again they are ruffling feathers.

Think about it: being outspoken about one's anti-war sentiments was hardly a detriment to a musician’s career in the Vietnam War era. Sure, it hurt with some fans and helped with others, but being personally against the steadily more unpopular war would hardly have ended a thriving career in Show Biz. Even Jane Fonda's movies were well-attended, in spite of her anti-war antics.

Now, with the war in Iraq being seen as such an obvious mistake, and getting more bad press all the time, it’s interesting that the Dixie Chicks are still so bitterly offensive to the country music business crowd.

So, this story is about pandering and punishment, too. It’s also about how totally right-wing-corporate the country music business has gotten over time. Alas, Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash must be spinning in their graves. Read the Billboard Story:

“...After hearing the album, WKIS Miami program director Bob Barnett says he was ‘excited about the opportunity to introduce some great Chicks music to the listeners.’ But the group’s decision to come with ‘Not Ready’ as the lead single left him ‘stunned, especially in light of the fact that, when asked, programmers and consultants that listened to the project were virtually unanimous in saying we should put the politics behind us and concentrate on all this other great music we were hearing.’”

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blog Summit; updated

On June 16th and 17th the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership will bring together an eclectic assortment of political bloggers for its second annual blog summit. Bloggers from across Virginia and points unknown will gather to discuss the latest technology and the art of writing about politics. It all will take place between 3:30 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday on the University of Virginia campus.

Speakers and panelists for the Sorensen Institute's 2006 Summit on Blogging and Democracy in the Commonwealth are still being lined up. So far they include: Dr. Bob Holsworth (Director of VCU's L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs), Jerome Armstrong co-author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, Michael Shear (of the Washington Post), Daniel Glover (of Beltway Blogroll), Chris Piper (Campaign Finance Administrator for the State Board of Elections), Claire Guthrie Gastañga (an attorney, lobbyist, and campaign consultant), Sean O'Brien (Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute), and others.

The Sorensen Institue's blog says:

"The only conference of its kind in the nation, the Summit will bring together political bloggers from across Virginia to discuss the role, impact, and future of political blogging in Virginia. The Summit is open to veteran bloggers and newcomers alike."


The confab will be staged at the Darden School of Business, which I'm told means the food will be good. A fifty buck registration fee buys your entry to a choice of three workshops from a menu of six options. Plus you’ll get fed, twice, and the opportunity to meet real live political bloggers -- if you can stand the thrill -- from the commonwealth’s busy blogosphere. Registration is open to the public until June 5.

Update: Click here to see who has already signed up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Positive Vibe Cafe Benefit

This event will unfold on Sunday, May 21, from noon ‘til 6 p.m. at the Stratford Hills Shopping Center (2825 Hathaway Road; call 560-9622). Regarding this worthy cause and worthwhile show the following notice came in from friend and veteran entertainer, Page Wilson (pictured right):

"I'll be emceeing this event, and performing with Jay Gillespie, Chris Fuller, Jim Skelding and Brian Sulser. This is a great restaurant, with the commendable mission of training folks with challenges to work in the food services industry."

According to Wilson the afternoon's busy schedule will be as follows:

12:00: Chicago Cy
12:30: Opening Ceremonies
1:00: John Small
1:30: Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon
2:00: The Taters
2:30: Gary Gerloff Band
3:00: .05K Walk 'N Roll
3:20: Goodfellas
3:50: Harry Gore
4:15: Marna Bales Band
4:45: Billy Ray Hatley & the Showdogs
5:30: Big City

Plunking The Barry

Now we're getting somewhere, if you’re not going to pitch to Barry Bonds, why not plunk him?

This AP story suggests that SLANTblog’s suggestion ("Instead, Plunk The Barry") of last month may be having some impact on the National League’s pitchers, as they cope with all the ridiculous attention The Barry’s tainted pursuit of records gets from the press.
...And Bonds is still looking for home run No. 714. The wild confrontation began when the seven-time NL MVP led off the fifth inning. Springer's first pitch sailed behind Bonds' back, drawing a warning from plate umpire Joe West.

The next four pitches all came inside, including one that hit Bonds' bat handle on the third delivery for strike one. On the fifth pitch, Springer hit Bonds in the right shoulder as he turned to protect himself. That's when Springer and manager Phil Garner got ejected -- and the Houston crowd of 35,286 gave the pitcher a standing ovation.

Better Ideas for Richmond Nightlife

Two articles, one on STYLE Weekly’s back page and the other on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, focus on fostering nightlife, sports and entertainment in Richmond. For a change, it was refreshing to read about proposed developments that make sense. In other words no one was promoting the shoving of professional baseball into parts of the city that only make sense to certain would-be real estate profiteers. And there was no boostering for a Downtown Performing Arts Center project that makes no sense, except to other would-be real estate profiteers.

In writing “What Would Nashville Do?" for STYLE Weekly Don Harrison, of Save Richmond fame, suggests the City of Richmond need look no further than its own rich music history when it wonders how to put its best foot forward.

“...By comparison [to Nashville], Virginia’s less-celebrated musical traditions have been largely fractured and shunted aside, save for a recent music heritage trail. As for Richmond’s efforts to honor indigenous song, city boosters (working with experts assembled by Joel Katz) deserve credit for snagging the National Folk Festival. But after that prestigious music and folk-life event exits the city in 2007, we’ll be left with our nice statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a historic black theater called the Hippodrome that no one has any interest in, and the same hefty meals tax.

“How about this as a permanent follow-up to the Folk Festival: Richmond as the home of a Virginia Music Hall of Fame and Museum, an institution designed to spotlight the region’s formidable musical past, as well as to highlight today’s contemporary hit-makers and tradition-bearers. Heck, you can throw in Elliot Yamin of “American Idol” too (the T-D will no doubt insist on it).”

In “A rebirth for the Boulevard” Michael Martz reports on the sports and entertainment future developing naturally near The Diamond.

“...Instead, the lure of city living, with restaurants and a 14-theater movie complex planned nearby, is pulling one of Richmond's venerable manufacturing districts into the future. Old factories are turning into condominiums from Hermitage Road into Scott's Addition. A new kind of museum is about to take shape along Leigh Street. A cookie factory and a steel assembly are giving way to new places to live and play along West Broad Street and North Boulevard. A fast-growing university is pushing to create a major public athletic complex around The Diamond.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Richmond Blues on the Border

Ray McAllister’s column in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch touches on a sliver of history that many have probably forgotten, or never knew in the first place. Richmonders have guarded the Mexican border before: In 1916 the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas to watch over the border and chase Pancho Villa.

“If President Bush does deploy thousands of National Guard troops, including Virginia's, to the Mexican border, it won't be their first trip. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized a whopping 158,664 Guardsmen from all 48 states and sent them to protect the length of the border. They were moved to camps in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

“That time, it wasn't Mexican immigrants they were trying to keep out.

“It was Pancho Villa.”

Follwing that campaign in 1917 the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills, near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was off to France to finish off the Great War, the war to end all wars. My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues contingent sent first to Brownsville.

Owen grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. As a young man he had mostly made his living as a vocalist. The stories I remember him telling from his years as a soldier were all about his singing gigs, playing football and adventures with his pals. And, a few fistfights. (Owen, in football gear? is on the right in the photo below.) Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he'd seen. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many as an elite corps.

Eventually Owen became a draftsman, then an architect, with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (forerunner to CSX), which was then based here in Richmond. He continued to perform as a soloist and in barbershop quartets into his 60s. He was a man who believed in his own view of life, without hesitation, and he passed what he could of that on to me.

Here’s the link to a piece I wrote some years ago about that same F. W. Owen, and a lesson he taught me one afternoon that has stuck like glue. It’s called “The Cheaters.”

“...This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator. The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mondo Softball

Recently, I was invited to pose as a know-it-all -- not just the attitude, but one who supposedly “knows” -- before an audience of political writers, writers-in-training and would-be writers. As it’s still a month away, I’ll have time to gather my scattered thoughts about the art of punditry, as well as what aspects of my media background I should be willing to offer up as evidence of my credentials as a bona fide observer of the human condition -- a commentator.

Anyway, I’ll write more about this gig next month another time. Meanwhile, I’ve been rummaging around in some old files I’ve been meaning for almost four years to clean up and organize. They were retrieved onto a floppy disc from a computer that went bonkers. So, in that process I ran across an old piece that sportswriter Paul Woody wrote on a cable TV show I produced/hosted back in 1990. While this piece probably won't do much to buff my dubious image as a semi-sage, it is fun to remember the free-wheeling adventure Mondo Softball was 16 summers ago. Here's a sample of Woody's piece:

"...Rea isn't the host of 'Mondo Softball.'

"The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille [depicted right] is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in SLANT, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits. DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of SLANT, 'and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers,' Rea said. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"'My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it,' Rea said. 'I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.'"

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Conspicuous Absences

In a few words this post, "Empty Spaces", at Three Wheels, says a lot:

"Fan District residents know that today was the Strawberry Street Festival. This event is a lot of fun for the neighborhood and the kids who attend Fox Elementary School (which benefits from much of the proceeds). This year we are missing some good people. Bryan and Kathy Harvey and their daughters aren't here this year. Kathy had organized the games at the festival for the past couple of years. Bryan helped with the week long run-up to the event with his goofy Elvis impersonation act, which he performed for the kids as they made their way to their classrooms in the morning. Obviously, Stella was a student here. She's gone too. No doubt her pals are thinking about the empty space she's left behind. Their absence is hard to miss.

"This year the proceeds from the children's games and activities were donated to the Harvey Family Memorial Fund. More info on that is available here."

The painting above is by Laura Loe, it appears on the Harvey family memorial page. For more background from SLANTblog on the Harvey family click here.

Attack of the 50-Ft. Reels

This notice came in from James Parrish at Flicker:

"Back by popular demand the Richmond Flicker is offering its almost-annual Attack of the 50-Ft. Reels again this year. This is the seventh year -- last year we did a special Kodachrome 40 tribute instead of the 50-Ft. Reels -- and we’re taking entries! Here’s how it works: the first 20 people to fill out the entry form and turn it in with a $25 entry fee get one roll of Super 8 film + processing and the opportunity to make a three-minute movie. The catch is you have to edit in-camera -- that is, you have to film in the order you want each scene to appear (unlike the way most movies are made). When you finish, return the film to Flicker and we'll send them all off for processing.

"To add a little intrigue, the first time the filmmakers get to see their films is the night of the September Flicker.
Entry deadline: Friday, June 2 (or when the 20 slots are filled). Visit the Flicker web site or contact James Parrish at james@rmicweb.org for more information."

The Spies Who Shag Us

Muckraking journalist Greg Palast doesn’t think we are paranoid enough when it comes to what the spooky Bush administration and its friendly fat cat private partners are really up to with this domestic spying brouhaha. Here’s a sample of Palast’s alarming piece, “The Spies Who Shag Us”:

“I know you're shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that George Bush is listening in on all your phone calls. Without a warrant. That’s nothing. And it’s not news. This is: the snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI -- though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.

“The leader in the field of what is called ‘data mining,’ is a company called, ‘ChoicePoint, Inc,’ which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Vance's Retreat

On June 13, 2002, S. Vance Wilkins, Jr., faced the press and said he came from another time. By a growing list of women he stood accused of being what folks used to call a “masher.” Wilkins shrugged and suggested it was once OK for men of his lofty station to force themselves on the comely hired help.

What!

Meanwhile, loyal Republican good old boys sprang from the shadows of the ongoing GOP eavesdropping scandal, ready to cast aspersions at the motives of women saying they, too, had to fight off unwanted advances from Vance. And, Democrats smiled.

Wilkins, with his slicked-down hairdo and his big shot swagger could hardly have done more to help Democrats with winning over conservative-to-moderate women living in the suburbs. Then Attorney General Jerry Kilgore must have cringed. His signature issue was cracking down on violent crimes against women, domestic violence in particular.

On July 16, 2002, Wilkins announced he had decided to end his career as the 24th District’s representative in the General Assembly, a position he’d held since 1978. “There comes a time to move on, and now is that time,” Wilkins said in a letter to his constituents. The bad publicity had been so blistering for the month since the unapologetic serial-groper stepped down as Speaker that even the good old boys had nothing more to say.

Fast forward to the statewide election of 2005: The Democrats did far better in the suburbs than any Republican would have guessed three years before. This scandal was one of many factors that played into the surprisingly poor showing of the Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. In spite of what pundits suggest, sometimes the voters do remember.

Illustration by F.T. Rea

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Campaign Inkbites

In the summer of 1994 a four-way race political race developed in Virginia, as three candidates challenged the 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, ran as an independent, too.

Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen as spoilers by many observers. The national press was all over the circus-like story of the four heavyweight candidates.

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.

Beneath the 1994 newspaper article about that card collection are scans of 12 of the 15 cards from the set. Without the context of this campaign's news being fresh, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully the caricatures are still fun to look at. As I produced these cards in the middle of August, it was an interesting challenge to try to write lines for the dialogue balloons that would keep for a couple of months, no matter what the campaign's developments. So mostly, I went for cornball humor and let the art do what it could, statement-wise.

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. In all, about 250 sets of cards were sold. Wisely, Sabato bought the original artwork for his card.
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.”

The Sound

Here’s a story from my adventure as a candidate. In the spring of 1984 I was on the ballot, running for a seat on Richmond's City Council. “The Sound” is a recounting of an episode from that time. In the summer of 2000 this version of it ran in STYLE Weekly.

The photo above was snapped at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Grace Place -- the site of what was billed as my "Victory Party" -- at the very moment I (foreground) realized there was no chance to win the election. Ouch! It was shot by a journalism student at VCU (I don‘t remember her name), she had made a project out of documenting my campaign, such as it was.

Patter and Jive

This image came in the email from one of my musician friends (keyboard and vocal, no longer local). Yes, musicians are a special breed, still this is typical of the lowbrow sort of humor that is flying around these days on the Internet. Of course, SLANT wants no part of this sort of cheap patter and jive. So, don't laugh ... even if reminds you of someone you know.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Harvey Through Geier's Lens

The gritty but stylish photograph above is from Oz Geier's interesting collection of performance shots of the late Bryan Harvey. It documents a House of Freaks show in Shafer Court in 1989. For aficionados of Richmond's live music scene some-15 years ago it's well worth a visit.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Trani on The Diamond

In a piece in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch VCU’s president, Eugene P. Trani, weighs in on the where-to-play-baseball brouhaha and makes a lot more sense than most of what we’ve been hearing over the last three years on the topic:

“...The answer, I believe, is that the Braves -- or any other professional baseball franchise should stay right at The Diamond. It doesn't matter whether it is a new or renovated stadium. The current location is perfect, if one looks beyond the limits of a single baseball team and a single-use stadium.

“I envision a major professional and amateur athletic, recreation, and entertainment complex that serves the entire Richmond metropolitan area -- where thousands of fans can enjoy professional baseball and other sports; where local universities, including our own, can compete in intercollegiate Olympic sports and host NCAA competitions and tournaments; where high school athletes can vie for local, regional, and state championships in track, soccer, field hockey, and tennis; and where residents of surrounding localities can come together for amateur competition and to enjoy community events.”

It’s a short piece. Do yourself a favor and click here to read it all.

In another article in the same section, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder seems at long last to have come to the same conclusion as Trani -- The Diamond's location is still the best for a professional baseball stadium to be situated. However, Wilder's story is mostly about how no part of the problem to do with all this should be blamed on him. Click here for that one.
Photo: SLANT

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wilder Proclaims Name Game

What kind of name is "Tim" for a bear? Ha! Not on my watch. All the children sing it now: Dougie Dougie bo buggy ... banana fana fo fuggy ... fe fi so smuggy. Duh-gee!
Photo: SLANT

Wall of Buses

by F. T. Rea

The entire White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by DeeCee transit system buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in radical-looking riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards. As the gathering Baby Boomers were funneled into the designated demonstration area -- the grassy ellipse south of the White House -- the temperature had already reached the upper 90s before noon that blue-skied Saturday.

On May 9, 1970, the hot still air heightened the mounting sense that anything could happen.

Why not? The previous Monday four students had been shot to death on Kent state's campus during a Vietnam War protest rally. Three days later two more students were killed at Jackson State. Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations, which were planned for months, this time it all happened spontaneously. Those on-campus killings moved many who had never marched in protest or support of anything before to drop what they were doing and set out for Washington, D.C. to live in the moment.

Some of the more experienced hands had come out prepared with provisions for a long day. Even more had not. Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. Home-made signs were everywhere, including occasional pro-war placards that denounced the protesters. The smell of pot burning gave the gathering a Rock 'n' Roll festive feel, too, as a series of speakers took turns ranting over the massive sound system of Woodstock proportions.

Behind the podium a black man was lashed Christ-like to a huge cross, perhaps to dramatize to the largely white crowd who was doing most of the dying in Vietnam. As a convoy of military vehicles suddenly drove into the area the crowd booed. When it turned out the troops were bringing in water for the thirsty the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem.

After the last speaker the police stood by watching thousands of chanting citizens, most of them under 25 -- filled with righteous indignation -- spill out of the park to stretch a line of humanity around the wall of buses. No effort was made to prevent the mob from marching into the streets which had already been blocked off. The march flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctive squat DeeCee buildings downtown.

Untold numbers of fully-outfitted soldiers were crammed into basements, visible in the doorways, awaiting further orders. Until that day's bizarre uncertainty most of them had probably been glad to be anywhere other than Vietnam. A cheer went up from the marchers when a determined kid managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag.

The cops quickly hauled the flag-waver off but a commotion ensued and the scent of tear gas spiced the air. Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look, as I snapped pictures with my new 35mm single lens reflex.

The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured live music and various information booths and displays were set up, aimed at helping young people with their troubles. They included the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Registrar’s office, Planned Parenthood, Crossroads Coffeehouse, etc.

Although it was not a political rally the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while smaller, was similar in character to the one in Washington. No one was seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, a 17-year-old boy -- Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond when a four-tiered cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

It seems I took no pictures on Sunday, the 10th, but the photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the Monday that followed is one I’ll never forget. No doubt, the momentum from the extraordinary week which preceded that fateful Sunday in Monroe Park was in the air as Donivan opted to climb that old fountain, not unlike other hippies in DeeCee the day before.

It set the scene.

In 1970 the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Living in the moment was killing off the young and unlucky wherever they were.

-- 30 --

(Photo Credit: F. T. Rea, 1970)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Anthrax Problem?

Do you ever wonder about what happened with that 2001 anthrax investigation? Every so often I think about it. When I do I know in my gut that something stinks.

OK, I’m not saying I know what really happened in the anthrax-in-the-mail attacks, or that I know all the reasons why the truth is being withheld from the American people. What I am saying is that I sense the Bush administration’s justice department is not telling us the truth -- it surely knows a lot more about who did it, and why, than it is saying.

Coming on the heels of the 9/11's terrifying hijackings/explosions, as it did, the spooky anthrax scare did much to exacerbate the months of national depression that followed. Which allowed the aggressive Bush administration to gobble up power in ways that have proven to be a nightmare since.

Yes, the numb panic following 9/11, plus the anthrax scare, gave us the handy color-coded fear alert and the Patriot Act. It paved the way for the Homeland Security Department and a war in Iraq. Oh yeah, I almost forgot -- huge tax cuts for the wealthy, too. But if you take away that perfectly timed anthrax scare and it may not have played out the same way. Maybe more questions would have been asked.

As it happened, nobody opposed President Bush on much of anything for a couple of years. It was generally considered to be unpatriotic: We were at war, weren’t we? The brave president was doing the best he could, wasn’t he?

Now, three years into the Iraqi quagmire and after Hurricane Katrina, the bumbling Bush/Cheney team is catching a lot of flak. And, for good reason -- this is an arrogant bunch that has gotten nothing right during its five-year run. And, its record for torturing the truth is getting quite galling.

Do you ever think about just how bad it would be for the White House if what’s being covered up about that supposedly bogged down anthrax investigation gets leaked? It seems the national press stopped asking about it a long time ago. Now I wonder why?

How about you?