Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not this cowboy

We didn’t call it a dude ranch ... at least I didn’t traipse off to war over in Vietnam, just so I could gather salacious material for pornographic novels. Not this cowboy.

The above message has been approved by the High Committee of Knuckle-Dragging Book-Burners for George F. Allen

Art by F.T. Rea

The Bounce

This week’s sports column at Richmond.com, The Bounce, is about the new hockey playing pirates in town. Click here to read “Smooth sailing Renegades start season winning a pair of battles.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Last Customer’s Bag

Unfortunately, my work has me sitting down and indoors much of my time. So, it’s a pleasure to walk for my everyday short errands. A walk frequently improves my disposition. Like it or not, I’m better off if I stop to take notice of the world around me and make an effort to be courteous, if not friendly, to the folks I encounter.

Fresh air is good.

Several years ago on one of my walking excursions, it was in late October, an incident provided a one-time-only perspective. As it unfolded it felt like a scene in a movie. Perhaps that was suggested to me by the fact I was in a video store, looking over the rack of current releases.

Reading the film notes on the box for Scorsese’s latest blood bath, I sensed movement behind me. As I had been the only customer in the room, curiosity turned me toward the counter. On the other side of a wall-of-videos display rack, I caught sight of the back of a man I saw rarely but recognized instantly.

Having just come into the store, he purposely handed a plastic bag to one of the two female sales clerks behind the counter. Being obscured by the maze of video boxes was a blessing, as this was a guy I had good reason to prefer to ignore. I returned my attention to the movie selections in front of me. When I heard the bells than meant the front door had opened, I glanced up in time to see the aforementioned customer leaving the store.

As I breathed more deeply of the improved air, a woman behind the counter laughed as she dumped out the contents of the last customer’s bag. With comic exaggeration she acted as if she was troubled by the mystery of what might tumble out.

“What’s tha-at?” said the other woman, backing away and sounding girlish.

My curiosity was aroused.

“Is that one ... is it wet?” asked the one holding the bag.

Naturally, I stepped closer. All I could see was regular black VHS video tape cassettes. Yet the two young women, who I knew only in that video rental context, were going to trouble to avoid touching what appeared to be ordinary stock of that very store.

As a spray bottle of Windex was produced, I wondered if their Halloween spirit had gone wrong? Then they brought me into their conspiracy with the sparkle of eye contact. Both busied themselves spraying and wiping off the tapes. It was reminiscent of conspiratorial children removing cooties from objects touched by a someone they don’t like.

Assuming there had to be something peculiar about the movies -- like maybe they were kinky flicks, or who knows what? -- I stepped even closer to see what the titles were. Without looking so hard that it would indicate anything more than a casual interest, I noticed a couple of titles.

Both were mainstream films; one a crisp black comedy I had recently seen. Playing along with their tongue-in-cheek tone I asked, “Do you have to wipe down all the tapes like that?”

They laughed, happy for my joining in.

Oh, no, they assured me their procedure was especially for the character who had just left the building. They shuddered. Suddenly, it was clear to me the two of them were just doing what bored service workers everywhere in the world do, to kill time. To amuse themselves, they were mocking a bad-vibes customer who they saw as deserving of ridicule.

Being in on their silly joke reminded me that the spontaneous sharing of unanticipated moments of levity -- contact! -- is truly one of life’s treasures.

My stride for the walk home had a jaunty bounce. Fresh air.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Unprincipled, small-minded, power-hungry character assassins

In what has become a gritty, no-holds-barred style fight for Sen. George Allen’s seat in the U.S. Senate the candidates’ raw character is being revealed in the crucible of the last round. Allen’s first punch thrown -- “Allen blasts Webb over his novels” -- came up from the floor to land well below his opponent’s belt. With the fight tied on the scorecards Allen’s surprise bolo punch drew a big reaction from the crowd.

Jim Webb’s supporters in the lathered up audience cried, “Foul! Low-blow!

Webb, who until this moment in the long campaign had punched and blocked punches with a steady, practiced restraint, gathered himself to respond.

Saturday afternoon at a rally in Annandale, Webb cut loose with his sharpest counterpunch of the entire fight. This time his full weight was behind the blow. The Daily Press reports, "Webb swings back at Allen’s literary criticism in Va. Senate race", by Matthew Barakat (AP):

“Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb on Saturday offered his most stinging criticism of the campaign against Republican Sen. George Allen, as Webb sought to defend himself from criticism of sexually explicit passages in his fictional novels.

“‘I have written about what I have seen and that is the duty of a writer,’ Webb said to 300 cheering supporters during a rally at a Fairfax County middle school. ‘Maybe George Allen doesn't understand that because I'm told George Allen doesn't read books.’”

“...Webb has generally been reserved in his campaign speeches, but not so on Saturday.

“‘I’ve lived in the real world, and represented the real world in my writing. I saw its ugliness while George Allen was hanging out on a dude ranch,’ he said. [Webb] said Allen’s most recent attack ‘has shown his true character’ and said ‘government should not be in the hands of unprincipled, small-minded, power-hungry character assassins.’”

Now both fighters have been hit hard, both have been bloodied. Now they know that in the remaining time of their winner-take-all contest it will be a toe-to-toe slugfest. That means we will see which man can best stand the bright lights heat of the crucible. Whatever measure of competitive spirit still lurks in these two middle-aged former college athletes -- Allen played football; Webb was a boxer -- will be summoned and brought to bear.

All America is watching this match-up. There is a lot on the line. At this desk, I like Webb’s chances better today than I have at any point in this race.

Update: To see and hear some of Webb’s remarks in Annandale, click here for a YouTube video.
Art by F.T. Rea

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fascists for Allen continue attacks on Webb's fiction

An Allen-supporting blogger, “Kilo,” has seen fit to ridicule my honest reaction -- A heads-up to book burners for Allen -- to the recent knuckle-dragging strategy of his ilk to cast Webb’s novels as pornography indicative of some sort of criminal and/or depraved mindset on the part of the author.

On his blog, Spark it Up, Kilo suggests that I’m the only Virginia blogger using a “book-burning” characterization of this clearly anti-writer strategy being used by Allen’s most shameless and obedient loyalists.

Well, my use of “book-burning” is my own characterization of the fascist spirit of this strategy to smear Webb as an advocate of everything he writes about. If Kilo has no moral or intellectual standards to help him understand my objection to practicing politics at its worst, I can’t help him.

Like Jim Webb, I am a writer who can decide for himself how to portray something. So, Kilo, F.T. Rea says “book burners!” and I’ll stand behind it. Furthermore, I’m happy enough to stand alone in this way of seeing it, if that’s really the case.

Look here, I’m not taking my cues from anybody in any camp, much less sleazy operators who -- like their rightwing thug counterparts in history -- can justify attacking the art, music and literature of their opposites to gain power for their bosses. Yes, Kilo, this last-ditch, desperate attack on Webb as a pornographer has pissed me off.

Stung by the Foley scandal, scared by the most recent polls, apparently some sleazy Republican operatives have decided to use anything they can invent to slow down Webb’s growing momentum.

OK, if that’s the game, we’ll see how this plays out over the last days of the campaign. Meanwhile, for more on book burning read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” or see the 1966 movie, directed by François Truffaut.

And, no, for Kilo and others who might be confused, neither Bradbury nor Truffaut really favored burning books simply because they created scenes in which books were burned.

Bloggers for Allen outraged by fiction

In the last day the Virginia blogosphere has endured laughably desperate attempts by some knuckle-dragging bloggers to hurt Jim Webb’s run to unseat their darling, Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen. Such posts have sought to use passages from Webb’s published novels to suggest that the author, himself, is morally corrupt, merely for thinking up scenes which offend said bloggers. One particularly outraged tool cried:

“If George Allen had written some of the trash I have read printed under the guise of literature from Jim Webb, it would be splashed on the front pages of every newspaper in the country”

Well, yes, it probably would.

Why?

It would mean Allen had enough imagination and talent to write a book -- which would indeed be news. Allen has conveniently claimed to have created the word “macaca.” But nobody outside of his circle of sycophants believes he could have made up one word, much less a novel.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the rest of us are outraged by the Bush administration’s policies which Allen has supported like a yes-man who never had an original thought in his life. Stay the course...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wilder: 'Racial missteps did not factor'

In his piece about the Wilder endorsement of Webb, Richmond Times-Dispatch political writer Tyler Whitley wrote:

"Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder endorsed Democrat Jim Webb in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race yesterday. With Webb at his side, Wilder said voters need to send a message to President Bush that they don’t like the war in Iraq, or the growing divide between the rich and the poor.

"...Wilder said Allen’s well-publicized racial missteps did not factor into his decision. He said Allen has never shown him that he has a racist attitude."


From here on George Allen is in much more trouble from his all-out backing of the Bush policy in Iraq than he will be from any more tired charges about racist conduct in decades past, as was indicated by Mayor Doug Wilder (pictured above) in his remarks during his press conference yesterday.

In my view, I was there, too, Wilder was clearly sending a signal to the Webb camp and supporters to say the attention getting racist angle won’t play in his efforts to support Webb’s bid. Wilder wants no part of that strategy and he said so emphatically. And, my reading of his remarks was that he wants to hear less of that talk. Perhaps that was even part of Wilder’s price for his endorsement this week, rather than at the end of next week.

It says here that if Wilder has convinced Webb’s strategists to stop using the Allen-was-a-racist-in-college stuff, then good for him. Webb’s busiest bloggers should read and heed. If you really want Mayor Wilder’s all-out effort in the next 12 days, bury the racist card.
Photo: SLANT

Staying the quagmire in the fog of war

Click on image to enlarge
Master political cartoonist Pat Oliphant -- the Honoré Daumier of today -- portrays the latest effort by the Bush administration to cool off the Iraq-in-flames issue in the lead-up to election day in a way that made me laugh. How about you?

To think that anyone would be fooled by suddenly jettisoning the stay-the-course mantra, in favor of yet more double talk about “benchmarks” and scolding the Iraqis is funny in a bitter sort of way.

Now even Virginia’s No. 1 Bush loyalist, Sen. George Allen, is trying to creep away from the classic idiot motorist attitude -- I’ll-never-pull-over-to-ask-directions, no matter what -- of the hopelessly lost in the fog of war Messrs Rumsfeld and Cheney.

First poll with Webb ahead of Allen

In Los Angeles the LA Times published a story on Wednesday, “Democrats’ Senate hopes lie with rural voters, poll finds,” about the latest odds the donkeys have of taking control of the U.S. Senate from the elephants on election day. It uses fresh polling numbers that support the notion a late-breaking national wave of support for the Democrats.

“Capturing a Senate majority is within the Democrats’ reach, but the party is facing potentially decisive resistance from rural voters in three critical Republican-leaning states, a series of Times/Bloomberg polls has found. If Democrats can’t break through on Nov. 7 to win the Senate races in at least two of those three states -- Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia -- they are unlikely to control the chamber.

Speaking of politics in Virginia, despite the possibility of resistance from rural voters, in Richmond the Democrat hoping to break through in the senatorial race, Jim Webb (pictured above and below to the right of Mayor Wilder), received a key endorsement from Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.

Wilder hopped on the Webb bandwagon with both feet, saying he would be campaigning actively for Webb, urging Virginians to recognize that it is indeed important that control of Congress is wrested from GOP hands. Wilder’s late-October sense of timing was supported by the aforementioned poll in the LA Times:

"In Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb led Republican Sen. George Allen, 47% to 44% ... this is the first major poll to show Webb leading Allen.”
Photos: SLANT

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Richmond is a principal battleground

In the large conference room on the second floor of Richmond’s City Hall a gathering of the press corps listened to Mayor L. Douglas Wilder explain his endorsement of Democrat Jim Webb, who is locked in a tight race with Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen.

Wilder began with the situation in Iraq. While he went on to mention other issues, the emphasis was clearly on Webb’s credentials as military expert and his willingness to offer new leadership in the U.S. Senate that would challenge the Bush administration’s failed war policy.

Wilder spoke of the billions being spent in Iraq “every week,” then brought up the fact that FEMA just recently turned down calls to offer aid to flood victims in Richmond’s soggy lower Battery Park neighborhood. The implication seemed to be that the federal government would have money for such problems were it not for the quagmire in Iraq.

Both men are decorated veterans: Wilder served in Korea; Webb in Vietnam.

Wilder was asked why he did not wait until the 11th hour -- the election is still 13 days away -- to make his endorsement of Webb, as he did for Governor Tim Kaine in the gubernatorial contest last year. Wilder laughed, saying it had come somewhat later than what Webb’s camp might have wanted. The room laughed with him.

Webb got the bigger laugh by cracking that it was more like “a 10:30 endorsement.”In the hallway outside the conference room, the two lingered to answer more questions from the scribes. Given his perceived advantage in Northern Virginia -- according to the opinion polls -- Webb was asked if he is planning to spend more time in Richmond and the Tidewater area in the days remaining.

Webb indicated that he would be doing exactly that, saying, “Richmond is a principal battleground.”

Wilder also said he would be actively campaigning for Webb in the days leading up to Nov. 7. Asked about the Marshall-Newman amendment, Wilder said he will vote against it, characterizing the effort to change Virginia’s constitution an unnecessary intrusion into private matters.
Photos: SLANT

Grassley grouses about stalled anthrax probe

Sen. Charles Grassley is frustrated. After five years he wonders about what happened with that anthrax investigation that seems to have faded into the mists of history. MSNBC has the story about Grassley’s letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on that topic.

“Late Monday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a damning six-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting a briefing on the FBI investigation, now five years old. The letter faults the agency for its handling of the case, saying ‘the FBI has little in the way of results to show for its work.’ Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the FBI's top lobbyist has informed members of Congress that the bureau will no longer brief them on the case.”

OK, I’m not saying I know what really went down in the anthrax-in-the-mail episodes in 2001, or that I know the reasons why the truth is being withheld from the American people. What I am saying is that 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 has been saying. Now, according to the MSNBC story, it won’t even tell Congress what’s up.

Why?

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. Now, three-and-a-half years into the Iraqi quagmire, not to mention Hurricane Katrina, the bumbling Bush/Cheney team has lost its grip on the opinion polls. The Republican Party is looking at losing control of Congress.

Want to know the truth about that massive anthrax scare? If the Democrats win control of either the House or the Senate, stand by for an investigation that will put the squeeze on what has the appearance of yet another cover-up.

Wilder aboard Webb bandwagon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting that Richmond’s Mayor Doug Wilder will announce his endorsement of Democrat Jim Webb’s bid to unseat Sen. George Allen today.

“Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has scheduled a 2:30 p.m. news conference today to announce his endorsement of Democrat Jim Webb for the U.S. Senate. Wilder and Webb will be joined by other officials at the City Hall news conference.”

That this endorsement comes with time enough for Wilder to actively campaign for Webb, should that be his intension, could be significant in the last 12 days before election day. More to follow...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pat Tillman's birthday

Pat Tillman (left) and his brother Kevin stand in front of a Chinook helicopter in Saudi Arabia before their tour of duty as Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003.
(Photo courtesy of the Tillman Family, via Truthdig)
To get beyond the talking points of those self-styled patriots who have promoted America’s occupation of Iraq as proper duty for other people’s children to shoulder please read “After Pat’s Birthday” by Kevin Tillman. It’s a short piece that overflows with an authenticity that simply can’t be blown off by election year politics.

In case you don’t recognize the author’s name, he is the brother of Pat Tillman, the pro football player who became a headline when he turned his back on millions of dollars the Arizona Cardinals were offering him in a new contract to enlist in the Army in 2002. Then he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, a terrible fact the Army has tried in vain to both hide and investigate, which made more headlines. (Click here to read a report about the investigation by WTVR-TV6)

To me, Kevin Tillman’s piece struck a familiar chord. It took me back to the late-1960s, when brave young veterans were returning from the bloody quagmire in Vietnam, crying out to a nation divided by politics that their brothers were dying in Southeast Asia for no good reason. Dying with honor, but for lies. As their words were in that turbulent time, the surviving brother’s words are bitter.

“...Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

“Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.


“Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

“Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

“Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.”

Kevin Tillman, who joined the Army with his brother and was discharged in 2005, is fully entitled to write bitter words. In his must-read piece for Truthdig, he reminds us that Nov. 6th, the day before election day, will be Pat’s birthday.

Supporters of the absurd stay-the-course slogan/policy of the Bush administration should take a few minutes away from trashing Jim Webb, John Murtha and others running for office this year -- veterans who are calling for a new policy to end the quagmire in Iraq -- to read “After Pat’s Birthday.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coverage of Allen vs. Webb

The Allen vs. Webb clash is all over today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. There are stories with pictures in sections A (Front Page), B (Metro) and E (Commentary).

With Ross Mackenzie still at the helm of the editorial pages, it comes as no surprise that Richmond’s only daily newspaper is endorsing Sen. George Allen today. It did the same for him in 1993 when he was elected governor, and in 2000 when he won his seat in the U.S. Senate. Here’s a sample of that Page E2 endorsement:

“...Even in George Bush’s most confounding moments, Senator Allen strongly has supported the president -- notably regarding Iraq and the broader War on Terror -- as has his fellow Virginia senator, John Warner. Allen’s opponent in this race, echoing Democrats everywhere, has cast Allen’s (and Warner’s) backing of the president as sufficient reason for Allen’s defeat.”

The editorial conveniently ignores Warner’s much-publicized splits with Bush over the prosecution of the War on Terror, to do with the situation in Iraq and the trials of detainees. It also ignores the fact that in the last week Bush and Allen have both been issuing weasel worded reassessments of the obviously failed mission in Iraq.

In all, the RT-D’s endorsement read like boilerplate GOP focus-group-tested copy. Rather than win over any new support, it was written as damage control to turn out the base.

On the newspaper’s Front Page there’s a profile of James Henry “Jim” Webb, Jr., which offers readers a chance to see some of his background. Here are some highlights:

“...After graduation in 1968, Webb attended the Marine Corps Officers' Basic School in Quantico, where he graduated first in his class of 243. Then he went to Vietnam in 1969, where he spent his tour in the An Hoa basin as a rifle platoon and company commander. He still carries shrapnel at the base of his skull and in a kidney from a grenade attack. Eventually his injuries forced him to resign, for medical reasons, from the Marines as a captain in 1972.

“For his service, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.”

“...Nelson Jones, a fellow academy graduate, met Webb in law school. Jones is taking leave from his law firm in Texas to volunteer and help organize veterans outreach. He called his friend of 32 years very principled. ‘Rather than go back on his commitment to those who were serving under him, he resigned’ as Navy secretary, Jones said. ‘You don’t see that often.’”

...Webb became a prolific writer and author, with seven books -- mostly war novels -- to his name, as well as an Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut. He also wrote the screenplay for ‘Rules of Engagement’ and has written another one, ‘Whiskey River,’ about Southwest Virginia.”

Then, on Page E4, political columnist Jeff E. Schapiro writes about the recent strategies of both camps and questions how well the voters really know either candidate. He finishes his piece, “Avalanche of Ads: Voters May Not Know Hopefuls,” with this:

“...Hoping to deflect Webb's flak, Allen flashes his signature gap-toothed grin, cozies up to Iraq skeptic Senator John Warner, and proclaims that voters know who and what he really is. But, post-macaca, do they?

“And do they know Webb at all?”
Art by F.T. Rea

Of kissing Wilder's ring

Still no word from Richmond’s mercurial mayor, L. Douglas Wilder (pictured right), about his preference in Virginia’s hotly contested senatorial race. While the Republican incumbent, Sen. George Allen, managed to wheedle an endorsement out of one prominent black Richmond pol, Benny Lambert, it’s hard to imagine what Allen could do to convince Wilder to follow suit.

So, if Wilder is eventually going to endorse the Democrat, Jim Webb, what’s the point of waiting?

Well, the answer isn’t pretty, but it comes as no surprise to those who have followed his career that the sometime Democrat, Doug Wilder, is waiting until the last minute, hoping to play all the angles.

Yet, the most frustrating part of this little grandstanding melodrama is that since it’s a close race, if candidate Webb isn’t willing to bend low enough to kiss Mayor Wilder’s familiar ring, Hizzoner just might not mind announcing that this year he is endorsing no candidate in the most important contest in Virginia.

Update: It says here that such a petty move, which could have a far-reaching effect on the makeup of Congress and the entire country’s prospects, would do more to diminish the former governor’s already waning stature.
Photo: SLANT

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Surprising Fall

The Science Museum of Virginia's clock
When one political party has control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it should be hard to blame catastrophic failures of planning and/or execution on the other party, the party not in power. But until quite recently the Republicans seemed to be pulling it off, anyway.

Some of us have been looking at the mounting budget deficits, the foreign policy debacles, the pathetic Homeland Security Department, and wondering for a good while why any fair-minded person would continue to support the Bush administration’s agenda. As we watched the scandals of Jack Abramoff, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Robert Ney, Ralph Reed, et al, parade by, we scratched our heads and wondered what the hell it would take.

Well, it took the hellacious scandal of former Florida congressman Mark Foley. So, as the days grow shorter time may finally be on the Democrats side this fall.

Foley resigned without warning on Sept. 29, when news surfaced of his record of flirting -- via electronic messages -- with boys serving as congressional pages. Now that sleazy revelation, along with evidence of a cover-up by his GOP colleagues, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the weeks since Foley’s fall from grace, the polls indicate a lot of folks have at long last lost their patience with the GOP’s blame-shifting denials.

Update: See the Washington Post’s in-depth article by Amy Goldstein and Elizabeth Williamson, “How Foley Skirted Rules To Pursue Relationships.”

In spite of the national trend, on Thursday well-heeled Republicans converged on the Science Museum of Virginia, located on the rim of Richmond’s Fan District, to applaud President George Bush’s appearance. Bush was there to praise the incumbent in Virginia’s senatorial race, Sen. George Allen, and raise a little money.

The crowd that showed reportedly dropped something like a half-million dollars into Allen’s war chest.

Allen might have avoided being pulled down by sinking GOP approval ratings, in general, but he’s generated his own disapproval numbers in Virginia with a series of gaffes and clumsy damage control episodes. Now Allen is locked in a tight race with Democrat Jim Webb, a political novice. In fact, Webb has the momentum.

Thus, this year’s October Surprise -- so far -- has been the nosedive into a freefall that Republicans running for reelection have taken this month. Time is running out. Will Bush’s master strategist Karl Rove produce a trump card, his own October Surprise, in time enough to save the day?

So, as a ploy, no one should be all that surprised to see the official White House Fear Code color raised from yellow to orange.

Tick, tick, tick...
Photo: SLANT

Verlander to start World Series opener

Although we all think of baseball as a summer sport, the season for Major League Baseball starts with games for all 30 teams in the chilly weather of early spring. It ends with two teams playing in the World Series, which this year will begin in Detroit, where the temperature at 1 p.m. on game day is 49 degrees.

But the Tigers are hot. Manager Jim Leyland has named a flame-throwing rookie, 23-year-old Justin Verlander (pictured left), 17-9 in the regular season, to start Game One against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight. Verlander (Goochland HS, ODU) will be operating on ten days rest. The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s John Markon looks at Verlander’s plum assignment.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell sees World Series as a match-up that favors the rested Tigers, if they pounce on the Cardinals without delay, “Short Series Would Be Sweet for the Tigers.”

“...[Detroit’s] league is better, their pitching deeper and they have the home-field frostbite advantage. They won a dozen more games than the truly humble, and currently quite injured Cardinals. Besides, Detroit just snuffed the Yankees and Athletics like contract hit men straight out of an Elmore Leonard Motor City crime caper. Blow the safe, grab the swag, no witnesses, just that telltale Tiger smell of smoke left hanging in the air from all those 98-mph fastballs.

“However, like efficient executioners, the Tigers better do their work quickly. Don't let the mark get his bearings. Right now, the Cardinals look like pigeons.”

I still can’t figure out how the Cardinals got to this point. But here they are. The Tigers do seem to have the advantages that should make the difference. But if Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, two Cards who seem to thrive in big games, catch up with a couple of Verlander’s 100 mph heaters tonight the momentum could shift quickly.
Photo: Steve Perez, The Detroit News

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where's Cheney?

Have you been missing the Veep? Where is Dick Cheney? With a midterm election at hand, why have we seen so little of Cheney?

Is it that after all his arrogance and meanness everyday voters have gotten more than a little tired of him? After looking at focus group results has Karl Rove banished Cheney to his undisclosed bunker again?

To get the image above on a T-shirt, now available at cafepress, click on F.T. Rea's Inkbites.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Doing the Orange Bowl Stomp

In his commentary, “Miami, FIU have to take stand,” Richmond Times-Dispatch sports columnist Paul Woody writes what some of us are thinking about Saturday’s mind-boggling brawl in the Orange Bowl.

“...Miami coach Larry Coker has lost control of his players and his program. He should be fired immediately. Very little can be said for the control FIU coach Don Strock has over his players. All that should save his job is that there is no record of player misbehavior trailing him as there is Coker.

“Strock should be placed on probation. Any future indication that he has lost control of his team should lead to his dismissal.

“And both programs should be shut down for the rest of the season.”

Well, I certainly agree with Woody on this one. Suspending players for one game is not enough, not hardly.

Those two universities should pay a more serious price for allowing an atmosphere to exist where a gang-style street fight could happen. If the schools don’t fire/suspend their head coaches, then their conferences should step in. If their conferences don’t say neither school can go to a bowl game, or be on television for a couple of years, etc., then the NCAA should step in.

If the NCAA allows those outlaw programs to discipline themselves so lightly, so cynically -- without cracking down along the lines of what Woody calls for -- it will once again have shown all the world what a joke it is as an overseeing body.

This is the same NCAA that jumps all over an assistant coach for giving an athlete a ride to the airport, or a school for having feathers in its logo.

Maybe the real discipline should be dealt out by a Florida judge. When I look at that replay, I see what appears to me to be evidence of crimes being committed. Sorry kids, stomping on opponents is not part of football. Nothing that happened in that gang-like brawl was part of an amateur/collegiate football game.

Why should football players be immune to being charged with assault?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Allen stiff-arms League of Women Voters

Three weeks from election day and Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen, a lawyer by trade, appears to be unconcerned about what the League of Women Voters is saying about his campaign organization breaking its word -- violating a contract.

In the Daily Press, AP is reporting:

“The League of Women Voters of Virginia demanded Tuesday that Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen pull a campaign ad in which the league says he improperly uses footage from an Oct. 9 televised debate the group hosted. Both Allen’s campaign and that of Democrat Jim Webb agreed not to use clips from the debate in their campaign ads -- something the league insists on so candidates feel free to speak openly and to protect the league’s status as a nonpartisan entity, said Anne Kanter, the league’s voter development director.”

The League wants Allen’s ad pulled because it shows a clip from the debate with Webb saying, “We kid ourselves if we don’t say that we need more revenues...”

Allen’s commercial offers that snippet to bolster its fanciful assertion that Webb is itching to raise everybody’s taxes if he is elected senator. Furthermore, the Allen camp says a blog that supports Webb, Raising Kaine, broke the promise first by linking to footage of the debate at YouTube -- so all bets are off.

Well, it says here that Allen, the UVa.-trained attorney, knows better. By allowing his camp to break a contract, he is showing his contempt for not only the League of Women Voters, but also whatever Virginians are left who still believe that a promise is a promise.

Norfolk-based blogger Vivian Paige, a LWV member, has the bottom line on this development:

“It is important that candidates honor their agreements. Friends of George Allen should remove the ad.”

Unmet Expectations

Hey, forget politics for a minute. Below there’s an excerpt of this week’s sports column, The Bounce, which is once again being published by Richmond.com:

“...Expectations, driven in great part by runaway hype and wishful thinking, have a lot to do with how we view almost any news about sports. In short, expectations provide an easy context. For at least half of every college football season we must endure hearing about how teams were seen in preseason polls.


“One of the toughest juggling acts of a head coach’s job - not unlike a campaigning politician - is keeping expectations as low as reasonably possible, while simultaneously building his team's confidence in itself.

“Virginia’s six-year head coach Al Groh is in the midst of a season of expectations collapsing in on themselves.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chuck, Ollie, Marshall and Doug

In 1994 the Virginia senatorial race was every bit as much in the national spotlight as this year’s contest between Republican incumbent George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb. Yet, as this year’s clash is essentially a two-way affair (no disrespect is meant toward Gail Parker’s effort), in some ways it is less dynamic.

When Democrat Chuck Robb won reelection to the U.S. Senate 12 years ago, he faced three formidable opponents -- Republican nominee Ollie North, Independent Democrat Doug Wilder, and Republican Independent Marshall Coleman. Both Wilder and Coleman had previously won statewide elections and North was then a top shelf media celebrity. Plus North had amassed a war chest -- most of it from out of state -- the likes of which had never been seen in any race for the Senate.

Sen. John Warner broke ranks and backed Coleman; word was he couldn’t stand Ollie. Wilder pulled out of the race suddenly. And, North’s widely touted Iran-Contra Hearing-honed charm proved to be less effective on Virginians than had been predicted by most of the time’s pundits.
Nationwide, the Republicans did very well that year. Yet in Virginia, a Democrat won against a Republican who was seen as a big favorite in the early going. The panels at the top and above are from a five-page spread of ‘toons on that lively race I did in the fall of 1994 for STYLE Weekly.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Allen's troubles remain the story

Sen. George Allen
With its Sunday edition the Richmond Times Dispatch’s coverage of the Allen vs. Webb senatorial race has gotten thicker, if not more informative. Political writer Tyler Whitley profiles the Republican incumbent, Sen. George Allen:

“...‘The national liberal Democrats didn’t have any great love for me,’ Allen said in a recent interview.

“The 54-year-old Allen, a darling of the conservative movement, also has considered seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and has made forays to Iowa and New Hampshire. Most observers believe the controversies surrounding his Senate re-election bid have doomed that effort. Still, Allen is fighting on, exuding confidence that he will win re-election.”

And, the RT-D’s Jeff E. Schapiro writes about the debating games the two candidates have played with obscure islands.

“...Few Americans knew of the islands or their supposed strategic significance. But with the Cold War approaching its zenith, Quemoy and Matsu -- and whether this country would defend them against a Chinese attack -- suddenly became a measure of a White House aspirant's anticommunist bona fides.

“Forty-six years later -- in a little ol' Virginia campaign that just might determine which party controls the Senate -- voters are scratching their heads over other obscure dots on the map: Craney Island near Norfolk and the Senkaku Islands, northeast of Taiwan.”

Both pieces make generous use of how Allen’s strange self-destructive behavior during the campaign's last two months has blown what was considered to have been an insurmountable lead over Jim Webb, his Democratic opponent. Any article about this race has to mention how Allen’s gaffes and inept damage control efforts have played a huge role in closing the gap.

Meanwhile, Webb has significantly improved his fundraising numbers and is finally showing an effective presence on television with commercials.

No doubt, Allen’s camp hopes his second two-minute commercial of the season, set to play tomorrow (Monday) evening in prime time on selected Virginia television stations, will reverse his negative momentum. But bragging about how much liberals from far away states don’t love him probably won’t be enough at this point.
Art by F.T. Rea

Saturday, October 14, 2006

CBGB's stage to go dark

After 33 years of doing business in the Bowery, the legendary punk nightclub CBGB will close its doors after this weekend. In the mid-'70s CBGB helped launch the careers of bands such as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.
The club's finale, its last two shows, feature its biggest female stars from its salad days: Deborah Harry (pictured left, in the day) plays on Saturday night; on Sunday Patti Smith will bring down the final curtain. Reuters reports:

"The upcoming closure of New York’s famed punk-rock club CBGB is lamented by locals as the loss of a legendary venue; for others it symbolizes another Manhattan neighborhood becoming corporate and bland. Standing underneath the club’s red awning on Thursday evening, several young musicians smoked cigarettes and bemoaned the loss of the dank, grimy club that began in 1973 and will have its last show on Sunday, featuring Patti Smith.

Update (Reuters): "Deborah Harry plays last gig at CBGB."

Biograph Times; a work in progress

“Biograph Times” is the working title for a writing project of mine to gather and present stories from the colorful popular culture of Richmond’s Fan District (and environs) during the 15-year period (1972-87) in which the Biograph Theatre operated. During that time the live music scene here grew to be particularly vibrant and the nightlife that revolved around the clubs and the bands that played in them thrived.

Although I already have some photographs, handbills and periodicals from that time, I’m hoping to get more help filling in the cracks. So, this is a call for assistance with that part of the project, which will eventually become a series of magazine articles (and perhaps more one day). Those who have photos and artifacts, who would like to make them available for me to look over, and maybe copy for reference or illustrations, please let me know by leaving comments below this post, or by email.

In fact, I’ll take all the help I can get on this project, in whatever form it appears.

My intention to document the pop scene of that time comes partly from knowing some of the material from a firsthand standpoint. During that 15-year stretch I managed the Biograph, promoted some Rock ’n’ Roll shows and worked in publishing. However, in organizing this history -- to be told with anecdotes -- I hope to do more than just wallow in sepia-toned nostalgia.

Truth be told, I happen to have thought then, and still believe, that this city's art and music scene in the late ’70s and early-80s was just as in-touch with what was in the air that was cool and influential as its counterparts in New York, San Francisco, or anywhere else. The list below, which offers s glimpse at some of the topics I’ll be researching and writing about, should give the reader a sense of what I’m up to with "Biograph Times."

WGOE-AM: The hippie radio station that ruled the Fan in the early- and mid-‘70s. Of course the FCC busted them.

The Devils and the Details: A recounting of the first two years of operation of the Biograph Theatre, with the emphasis on the media circus which culminated with the theatre’s second anniversary prank (Feb. 11, 1974).

1974’s hippies vs. cops riots: First the streaking riot was on VCU’s campus, which was followed by the much larger riot at the Cherry Blossom Music Festival, which happened inside what was then called City Stadium.

J.W. Rayle: This was the restaurant/saloon at the corner of Cary and Pine Streets that set the standard for an era. People still brag about how wild the place was.

Color Radio: For two years (1982-84) Richmond had what amounted to an offshore, unregulated radio station. The DJs were volunteers, many were members of bands, or promoters, etc. The sound was heard on the local cable television company’s color bar test pattern, channel (then-Ch. 36).
Handbill art by the Orthotonics bass player Phil Trumbo (circa 1982)
Benny’s: It was the most out-of-control, punked-out saloon -- it could hardly have been called a restaurant -- to have presented live music in the early ‘80s. It was amazing this place lasted a month, much less three years.

High on the Hog: The party really hit its stride in 1980, when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond. Yet, Chuck Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: It played for five straight years (1978-83) at midnight only -- only at the Biograph Theatre.

Blue Monday Jam: In summer of 1986 at the original Soble’s, at Floyd and Robinson, this weekly jam session grew to be the best thing of its type ever staged in the Fan. It was coordinated by Jimmy Maddox.

Throttle: It was an offbeat monthly ‘zine which started in the early-‘80s and lasted about 20 years. Its focus was mainly on the artsy punk/hardcore scenes in the Fan, and then Shockoe Bottom.

The Village: The headquarters of Richmond’s beat scene from the late-‘50s through the ‘60s, it remained a watering hole for scenesters throughout the Biograph Times era.

Some of the other clubs to be covered will include: The Back Door, Bird in Hand, Cha Cha Palace, The Copa, Domino’s Doghouse, Going Bananas, Floodzone, Hard Times, The Jade Elephant, New Horizons, Main Street Grill, Rockitz, The Pass, The String Factory, Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe and more.

Some of the bands to be covered include: AAE, the Barriers, Beex, Bopcats, Bowties, The Dads, Death Piggy, Don’ Ax Me... Bitch!, Faded Rose, The Good Guys, Good Humor Band, House of Freaks, I Remember Reality Review, Lamour, Megatonz, Millionaires, Offenders, Orthotonics, Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon, Prevaricators, The Rage, Red Cross, Shake & the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Tom and Marty Band, Toronados, White Cross and plenty of others.

To contact me by email see the address below the photo of me at the top of the page, on the right.
Lit Fuse Productions New Year's Eve handbill art by F.T. Rea (1981)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wachapreague Reflection

Wachapreague Reflection
(August 1977)

Mark Warner's decision

Not unlike many in Virginia and elsewhere I am disappointed that Mark Warner has decided to drop out of the 2008 presidential race's field of active candidates:

"...So about a month ago, I told my family and people who know me best that I would make a final decision after Columbus Day weekend, which I was spending with my family. After 67 trips to 28 states and five foreign countries, I have made that decision.

"I have decided not to run for President.


"This past weekend, my family and I went to Connecticut to celebrate my Dad’s 81st birthday, and then we took my oldest daughter Madison to start looking at colleges. I know these moments are never going to come again. This weekend made clear what I’d been thinking about for many weeks -- that while politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge -- at this point, I want to have a real life. And while the chance may never come again, I shouldn’t move forward unless I’m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.


"This has been a difficult decision, but for me, it’s the right decision."

Click
here to read Warner's entire statement:

Update: In “Warner nixes 2008 bid,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s political writer Jeff E. Schapiro reports:

“...Kaine said he had been discussing the decision with Warner for the past five or six months. Kaine said he understood Warner’s decision but added that his predecessor would have made a formidable candidate. “I’m disappointed for the party and for the country because he would be absolutely fantastic,’ Kaine said.

"Warner, during his morning news conference, signaled in written remarks that he will continue to be involved in national politics.”

Note: Just think of how many self-appointed experts, of any political persuasion, told you it was absolutely a lock that Mark Warner was running for president. Now, how many of those same “experts” will admit they were simply wrong not to have taken Warner at his word, when he said he was exploring a run but hadn’t made up his mind, yet?
Photo: SLANT

Like a Rhinestone Cowboy

There's been a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me
-- from “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975) by Larry Weiss

Cynical wags assert that all we voters really need to know about Sen. George Allen is how he stands on legislative bills. Eying either the holding or gaining of a Senate majority, they see Allen’s reliable support of the Bush administration’s agenda as trumping all else. Such political party loyalists see that Allen is dressed as the elephant, his opponent Jim Webb is wearing the donkey suit; that’s all that counts.

Yet, most of us voters aren’t such rigid thinkers. Party affiliation or not, we prefer to be comfortable with what we sense to be the basic beliefs and character of our elected officials. We’d at least like to think we know the truth about those aspects of people who make far-reaching decisions that affect all of us, even if we don’t always agree with them.

However, with the election close at hand a new picture of the incumbent, George Allen, is coming into focus. In part because of that development, now Allen, who has previously served Virginia as a congressman and governor, finds himself in the political fight of his life

The news during the campaign that Allen has twice been video-taped in public acting like a common bully with a genuine mean streak is part of what is shaping that new picture. The bullying incidents had a common theme -- ethnicity, which has proven to be a nettlesome topic for Allen in this campaign. He seems to be unraveling.

Much to the chagrin of the Allen camp, both incidents became popular entertainment on the Internet, via YouTube. Without those video clips at YouTube’s web site being widely viewed, it’s hard to imagine we’d be where we are with this story today. At the same time, Allen’s laughably inept handling of both incidents did much to exacerbate the damage of the gaffes.

Beyond the two videotaped gaffes Allen’s assertion that he had no idea, until recently, that displays of the Confederate flag are taken as an affront by many black Virginians is somewhat baffling, too. Huh? Such nonsense hardly slowed down the unraveling.

Allen’s former ardent supporters, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, denounced his epiphany about the Stars and Bars. Then later in the same tough week for Allen, a Saturday Night Live skit portrayed a cowboy-hat-wearing Allen as about half-as-sincere as a furniture pitchman on TV.

When Allen said he had no idea that “macaca” -- a word he says he made up -- happens to be a racial slur in some particular places, it was laughable. When he claimed he didn’t know until late-August his mother is Jewish, it invited comedians to go after him all the more.

Allen did little to help himself in Monday’s debate in Richmond. His delivery sounded canned. His shoehorning of the names of supposedly scary liberals -- Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy! -- into nearly every answer was a bit obvious. And, maybe those names don’t really scare 25-to-35-year-old moderate/undecided suburbanites as much as they used to?

During that debate an unusually self-conscious Allen played directly to his base, but it’s hard to think he did much to arrest his negative momentum anywhere else.

In his, “Allen’s Advisers Try Mute-Button Strategy,” The Washington Post’s Michael Shear reports that Allen’s camp is now doing all it can to avoid having its candidate face any more difficult questions.

“...With less than a month before Election Day, Allen (R-Va.) has become virtually impossible to interview directly, giving his campaign handlers much more control over the message they send to voters. What voters see this month will be -- they hope -- only what they want voters to see. The idea, apparently, is to avoid any further gaffes.”

At this point what may be most troubling to Allen’s handlers is that the cumulative effect of all the charges and awkward moves is indeed shaping a rather unflattering picture of the Republican candidate: With his Mr. Nice Guy image disappearing by the day, Allen now looks to many like a loutish ex-jock, who’s been a social and political chameleon all along.

What has developed into a glaring authenticity problem for George "Rhinestone Cowboy" Allen, which only his blindest of loyalists can’t see, may prove to be more telling on election day than all the party politics money can buy.

-- 30 --

Updated at 2 p.m., same day. Art: F.T. Rea

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Manhattan building struck by aircraft

A small fixed-wing aircraft has struck the 20th floor of a high-rise apartment building at East 72nd St. and York Avenue in Manhattan, near the East River. It's now being reported that FAA records show the plane was registered to New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, who is thought to have been aboard.

Click here to read the AP story.

Click here to read the Reuters story.

VCU's Inge paces Tigers to lead in ALCS

Last night the Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland A’s to take a 1-0 lead in the ALCS: Detroit 5, Oakland 1. The Tigers’ attack was led by Brandon Inge, who went three-for-three and picked up two runs-batted-in. Inge is one of three Tigers with a Richmond-area connection.

Inge, 5-11, 188, is from Lynchburg (born in 1977) and played his college baseball for Virginia Commonwealth University, before being drafted in 1998's second round by the Tigers. Inge, now the Tigers third baseman, bats and throws right-handed.

However, before settling in at the hot corner last season, the multitalented Inge toiled behind the plate as a catcher and occasionally played in the outfield for four seasons. In 2006 he hit for a .253 average, with 27 home runs and 83 runs-batted-in.

Right-handed starting pitcher Justin Verlander, 6-5, 200, hails from Goochland (born in 1983) and played at Old Dominion University before being drafted by the Tigers in 2004’s first round.

In his first full season at Detroit, Verlander turned in a stellar performance that has him being considered for both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young awards. For the season he went 17-9, with an earned-run-average of 0.363. He will start Game Two of the series tonight in Oakland.

Last night veteran first baseman Sean Casey left the game in the sixth inning with a calf injury, the seriousness of which is yet to be determined. Casey, 6-4, 237, who was born (1974) in Willingboro, N.J., played his college baseball at the University of Richmond. Casey bats left-handed and throws right-handed.

The Cleveland Indians originally drafted Casey in 1995 in the second round. He was then traded to Cincinnati in 1998, where he played for eight seasons. Traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the off-season, Casey was subsequently traded from Pittsburgh to Detroit in mid-season. For 2006 Casey batted .272, with 8 home runs and 59 runs-batted-in.

As the Atlanta Braves are not in postseason play for the first time since 1990, with those three locally-connected guys on their roster, I’m pulling for the Tigers. Perhaps most importantly, the New York Yankees have been eliminated. Tonight the NLCS opens with the St. Louis Cardinals in New York to face the Mets.
Photo: VCU

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wm. & Mary to lose its feathers

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch the College of William & Mary has given up its fight to keep its yellow and green feathers:

“William and Mary will drop the feathers from its athetics [sic] logo to comply with the NCAA’s request, the school announced Tuesday. The phase-out process will begin during the 2007-08 school year. The NCAA in 2004 identified W&M, whose nickname is the ‘Tribe,’ as a school with a logo or nickname that could be viewed as ‘hostile and abusive’ in relation to Native Americans.”

While I applaud the NCAA’s supposed desire to do right by Native Americans, I think it’s a bad joke to think taking a couple of feathers away from a college logo really has anything to do with that goal. When a school has a sports nickname that is causing it problems, public relations-wise, that school will mend its ways or pay the price by being shunned.

On top of that, for the NCAA, of all money-grubbing entities, to pose as if it is truly interested in the moral high ground of any social issue is a crock. Click here to read the entire statement of Gene R. Nichol, the president of the College of William & Mary.

“...I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean the entire undertaking. Beyond this, William & Mary is widely acknowledged to be a principal exemplar of the NCAA’s purported, if unrealized, ideals.”

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quickie Allen vs. Webb Debate Review

How many times did Allen invoke the name of Hillary Clinton? Was it double figures? It certainly seemed more than I heard him say “George Bush.” Maybe I’m wrong. Allen managed to work Ted Kennedy in a few times, as well.

Most important -- Allen kept his temper. He spoke exclusively to his base, saying I’m OK, don’t worry. We’re still in this together. He mentioned 9/11 and lowering taxes whenever he could. Yet, Allen seemed more self-conscious than I remember him being in past debates.

On a zero-to-10 scale Allen’s overall performance gets a five from SLANTblog.

Jim Webb revealed more of his thoughtful style than I’ve seen before from him, while standing behind a microphone. He probably didn’t score as well on Iraq as he needed. He built the case that intellectually he is indeed a Democrat; on that Webb was keen and focused.

Moreover, Webb appeared more comfortable with the stress of the live confrontation under the lights than his opponent. Accordingly, Webb gets a seven from SLANTblog for his overall performance.

While neither man scored a knockout, Webb was the clear winner in my view. With no traction from tonight’s effort Allen’s negative momentum continues.

Bottom line: My first sense of the debate -- which was well-run -- is that I can’t see how Allen will feel all that good about how he did on stage. And, Webb is probably all smiles as I’m writing this.

Debate Preview

The televised debate between Republican Sen. George Allen and his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, should have a larger viewing/listening audience than these affairs usually do. Originating at 8 p.m. in the studio facilities of local PBS affiliate WCVE (Channel 23), in Richmond it is being shown live on two commercial television stations and various radio stations. So, this primetime live event will easy to find and in the last two months the campaign, itself, has provided much entertainment to partisans and fans of slapstick politics, alike.

While many will tune in hoping to see yet another explosive gaffe in this senatorial race, my guess is both candidates will try to look as appealing as possible to what they perceive as their political bases. In a race judged to be a tossup, energizing the base is Politics 101. Neither of them wants to look snippy tonight.

Allen’s job will be to recover from the avalanche of bad publicity his infamous gaffes set in motion. Two of Allen’s former strengths, his loyalty to the Bush administration and his own nice guy image, have been dented recently. Tonight he needs to do more than focus on damage control. Allen needs to convince moderate Republicans that he is still a far better choice than his former-Republican opponent (Webb served in the Reagan administration in the ‘80s).

Allen (depicted right) will probably talk about his days as governor whenever he can. He will say Virginians have known him for a long time, therefore we can trust him.

Webb’s first job will be to convince traditional liberals that his Libertarian inclinations and his working class roots have made him at long last a true Democrat, who will represent their interests a lot better than Allen will. Still, Webb’s strength is his military expertise. So, he must clearly demonstrate to independents and Democrats that his leadership in the Senate on military matters will be a boon to honest efforts to end the disastrous war in Iraq ASAP.

Webb (depicted left) will probably say, as many ways as he can, that we can’t trust the bunglers and profiteers who went into Iraq -- under false pretenses -- to be able to get us out of there.

Stay tuned...

Art by F.T. Rea

Foley messages go back to 2000?

The Washington Post continues to peel the onion of the Foley Affair with an article by Jonathan Weisman, “Lawmaker Saw Foley Messages In 2000.”

“...A Republican congressman knew of disgraced former representative Mark Foley’s inappropriate Internet exchanges as far back as 2000 and personally confronted Foley about his communications. A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) confirmed yesterday that a former page showed the congressman Internet messages that had made the youth feel uncomfortable with the direction Foley (R-Fla.) was taking their e-mail relationship...”

The article continues with this trading of accusations from across the aisle:

“...In a sharp exchange on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, insinuated that Democrats were behind the revelations of Foley’s actions and the release of electronic messages showing Foley having sexually graphic or highly suggestive conversations with former pages.

“‘What I don’t understand is where have these e-mails been for three years? Are we saying that a 15-year-old child would have sat on e-mails that were triple-X-rated for three years and suddenly spring them out right on the eve of an election? That’s just a little bit too suspicious, even for Washington, D.C.," Kingston said.

“Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) shot back, ‘If there’s any evidence that you need that the values in Washington have turned upside down, you could just hear what Jack had to say. Only in Washington, D.C., can you take a group of people in charge of the House and basically have evidence that they’ve been looking the other way while a predator has been . . . going after 15- and 16-year-old pages, [and] they somehow . . . have the audacity to turn that into a political attack against Democrats.’”

Sunday, October 08, 2006

High on the Hog flashback

The Memphis Rockabilly Band
As the thunder rumbled a steady rain poured down on Libby Hill at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Thousands of dollars were in play in the decisions that needed to be made in the next hour. People still planning to travel to Richmond wanted to know if there would even be a High on the Hog 30.

Chuck Wrenn, the impresario/emcee of the entertainment aspect of High on the Hog had to make some tough calls. Canceling acts is an anathema to Wrenn. Although it had been billed as a “rain or shine” event, there was no way the full-fledged sound system could be set up under the circumstances. In command central he talked with Lindy Fralin on the telephone. Could a Plan B be improvised?

Friendships were in play, too.

Two of the scheduled bands, the Good Humor Band and Billy Price, simply had to have the sound equipment that Chuck knew he couldn’t ask his friend, soundman Steve Payne, to expose to the raw elements. Then there was the matter of all the food that had been prepared and other fronted expenses. What to do?

Fralin said he’d bring his small sound system that could be put on the stage, under its roof with the band. He said his band, the Bopcats would come and play if it was possible. The Memphis Rockabilly Band agreed to go on under the new plan, hoping the rain would let up. So, the stage began to be modified with tarps to try to help shield the musicians and electronics from windblown water.

Well, the party did go on. The Bopcats opened. The Memphis Rockabilly Band closed. By ordinary HOTH standards it was a rather small crowd that came out to eat barbecue, drink beer and enjoy live music. And, for some veterans who’d been coming to this annual party for years, it brought to mind another rainy day's improvisation, way back in 1980.
The rain was heavy at this point but the band played on.
Flashback: Twenty-six years ago -- High on the Hog 4 -- when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond, Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands, including the impeccably authentic Memphis Rockabilly Band, on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard. In those days there were no permits from the City, no ABC licenses, or articles in magazines touting the party.

When it began raining that year’s event featured a serendipitous, career-defining moment for Wrenn. Rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and waiting out the downpour, he broke out rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. Soon, with the help of many happy hands, a canopy to protect the open-air platform serving as a stage was fashioned. It also covered some part of Wrenn's yard. Dancing in the mud under the plastic was tricky but fun.

In effect, Wrenn wrapped the whole shebang.

With the electric guitars of Don’ Ax Me... Bitch wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by one and all was nothing less than remarkable.

As it happened this year's version of High on the Hog was much more rainy than 1980’s was. But once again the show went on and the old friends who showed up just to see if it would go on were pleased. They stood under tents or umbrellas. They dressed in slickers but that didn’t stop them from dancing in the mud again. The veterans were probably a little more careful with their steps than they were at one time.
The intrepid dancers kept the beat
“We couldn’t have done it at all without Lindy Fralin,” said Wrenn.

Kudos to those stalwarts who did show up to party. Sure they got wet, but it looked like most of them had a good time anyway. I talked to one woman who said she had friends who’d come from Montana to be there.

And, major kudos to Chuck, Lindy, Jeff Spencer (of the Memphis Rockabilly Band), and others behind the scene, for the fly-by-the-seat-of their-pants decisions they made to carry on -- to play the hand they were dealt -- and the absolutely splendid way they carried out Plan B.

This was the stuff of which pop culture legends are made.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Battery Park needs help from bloggers

Note: This call for help from my blogging colleagues in the Richmond area isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about community and accountability.

Fortunately, my daughter, Katey, and her family -- one patient husband, two nearly-perfect children, two old cats and one crazy dog -- live on the high ground of the Battery Park neighborhood of Richmond’s Northside. Although they are dealing with some small leaks the flooding that has the southern tip of that area under water, once again, has not taken their home from them.

Today (Saturday) their less fortunate neighbors, down the hill, are living through yet another nightmare of rising water.

Some of Katey’s neighbors lost their homes during last month’s Ernesto fiasco. She says the rains of the last two days has the water back up at Ernesto level again. More neighbors’ homes are being damaged/destroyed by the foul water that is backing up from the sewers, instead of draining off.


For those who’ve been put out of their homes the problem feels like a disaster of Katrina proportion. Yet, the Federal government did not allow the infrastructure in Northside to fall into such disrepair. Nor is the Commonwealth of Virginia culpable. No. Whatever failure has allowed this local disaster to take place flowed from years of neglect by the City of Richmond. The buck stops at City Hall.

Perhaps the feds or the state will help Battery Park. But no amount of blame-shifting demagoguery will change the truth -- this problem had been bubbling for decades because Richmond’s government had other priorities.

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder didn’t bury an essential sewer pipe below a landfill. No. That happened long before his watch began. Nor was he a member of the City Councils that ignored the fact that pipe was probably leaking in the 1970s, 1980s, etc., and was likely to cave in one day. But it has happened on his watch.

While Mayor Wilder diddled with where to put a new baseball park or other costly developments, his administration -- if not he, himself -- knew that sewer problem in Battery Park was there.

In 1978 the Fan District Softball League played some of its games on a softball field on that same landfill. I remember that whenever it rained heavily right field was a swamp. It was a swamp that smelled bad. We were told it was because of the landfill. That explanation worked then. Now I’m pretty sure we were smelling raw sewage leaking from a cracked pipe.

The neighborhood around that field on top of the landfill, several blocks south of where Katey lives now, was rather isolated and mostly poor people lived there. It seemed to me then that nobody cared to look into the problem of the stinky floods. All the softball players cared about was that it made the field unplayable.

Now I want to hear the unvarnished truth about what The City knew about that sewer pipe and when it knew it. The citizens of Battery Park deserve no less. Now I want to know how trusted officials could ignore that infrastructure problem while they poured tax money into new projects.

Wilder knows that a long list of local politicians, weren’t willing to raise the tax money and apply it to Battery Park’s problem. He knows, too, that if this problem had been in Windsor Farms it would have been fixed a long time ago. So, when will he announce that all expenditures for new projects are being put on hold until we get our arms around what it’s going to cost to solve Richmond’s basic problem with draining off storm water?

This is not just Battery Park’s problem, it’s Richmond’s problem. The ball is in Wilder’s court. Can he deliver more than rhetoric? Does he have the will to make this right?

Read Bill McKelway's excellent Richmond Times-Dispatch piece, "Draining Battery Park," about this tragic situation, with no end in sight. Then the RT-D’s Michael Paul Williams wades in with his, “City flooded with need, not action.”

Now I call upon metro area bloggers to pull together to help shine a spotlight on this worthy issue. We don't have to agree on everything. But I think we can agree that the truth has to come out before a real solution will ever been found. If blogs such as Buttermilk & Molasses, Haduken, One Man’s Trash, RiverCityRapids, SaveRichmond, South of the James, and others who are willing, band together ... maybe we can use the Internet to help save a neighborhood from drowning in the indifference it is accustomed to being shown.

Note: This post was updated on Oct. 9 at 12:15 p.m.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Strange death of liberal America

From the London Review of Books (Sept. 21) here’s how the piece, “Bush’s Useful Idiots,” by Tony Judt starts:

“Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?

It wasn’t always so...”

In this scholarly article author/historian Tony Judt examines what he calls “the strange death of liberal America.”

It took The Depression of the 1930s to pull all sorts of dreamers and activists together to create the liberal body of thought that coalesced to push America through the New Deal and the Civil Rights Era. The boldest Democrats of those times led those movements to make America better than it was before.

Today, many modern Democrats seem to be running away from that glorious record, afraid to be called liberals. Too bad. Reading Judt’s piece makes me think the baton has been dropped.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

John Warner's stark and somber view

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

“Sen. John W. Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, offered today a stark and somber view of the situation in Iraq after having visited with government officials and U.S. military leaders there Monday.

“‘It seems to me that the situation is simply drifting sidewise,’ Warner, R-Va., told reporters.”

Sideways? Well, I don’t know what Warner means with that, but it’s obvious that, once again, he is not taking his orders on what to say about Iraq from the Bush administration. That, while Virginia’s other senator, George Allen, remains a tireless cheerleader for anything the Bush administration says.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gonzalez to manage Marlins; Snitker promoted

Richmond Times-Dispatch sportswriter Tim Pearell reports that Fredi Gonzalez, Richmond Braves manager in 2002, and Brian Snitker, who had the same job this past season, both got good news yesterday.

“...Snitker was promoted to Atlanta yesterday to replace Fredi Gonzalez, who was named manager of the Florida Marlins. Gonzalez, one of the hot prospects for a major-league job, managed Richmond in 2002 (75-67) before being elevated to the A-Braves.

“‘Wow, my guts have been turning ever since I found out,’ Snitker said.

“Kurt Kemp, Atlanta's new director of player development, said it was too early to say whether the R-Braves' next manager would come from within the organization or outside. 'We just found out a few hours ago,’ Kemp said yesterday afternoon. ‘We'll work hard in the next few weeks to get a group of candidates we feel are the best fit to manage the ballclub there.’

The move came as a ‘good surprise’ for Snitker, who has been home in Lilburn, Ga., decompressing from a draining season with Richmond.”