Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fee-fi-mo-mush. Bush!

Reading across the Virginia blogosphere it’s easy to find posts with lively comments sections stemming from President Bush’s calling the political party now in the majority in both the House and the Senate the “Democrat Party” in his State of the Union speech last week. (Note: Here are links to three such posts: 1; 2; 3; 4.) That, rather than use its real name -- the “Democratic Party.”

With his first speech before the joint houses since the power shifted from red to blue the president played his own little version of The Name Game ... Bush, Bush, bo-bush, Banana-fana fo-fush.

For the last week Republicans have chuckled at the irritation it caused, then rushed to Bush’s defense with their he-didn’t-mean-its and their so-whats. The Deciders’ defenders have taken pleasure in calling those who were insulted “petty,” because they got steamed by a deliberate petty insult, in the first place. Then there’s the matter of context -- when and where an insult is delivered.

Saying “Democrat Party” at a barbeque and beer fest isn’t the same thing as saying it during the State of the Union Address.

In truth, both Democrats and Republicans know -- we all know -- that one’s good name is, and damn well should be, important. One way or another, while growing up, most of us learned that deliberately mocking individuals or groups about their name is a provocative act.

Names matter, so Media Matters reports, “AP omitted Bush's track record in use of ‘Democrat’ smear.

Names matter. There are still some who won’t call retired heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali by the name he decided to take for himself in 1964. What good can be said of the hardliners who, 43 years later, insist on calling him “Cassius Clay?”

Then, too, I wonder how many of the same sticklers about original names also deny actor John Wayne the name he took for himself, and insist on calling him “Marion Morrison?”

During the 1982 war between the UK and Argentina, when one called the islands it was fought over “the Falklands,” he was seeing the dispute through British eyes. If one called the same offshore territories “the Malvinas,” he was viewing the conflict from Argentina’s standpoint.

Dig it: As a child I was taught that a person decides what his or her name is, and how it is pronounced. My family taught me that basic amount of respect came under the heading of “doing unto others...”

Please note, I'm not calling upon bitter bloggers or pushy pundits to change their ways. They can call Team Donkey anything they like. They aren’t elected officials. This post is strictly about the SOTU speech and President Bush playing a silly, but revealing, game with a name.

...Fee-fi-mo-mush. Bush!

Texas columnist Molly Ivins dies

Political columnist Molly Ivins was a unique voice in a time of copycats. AP reports that she died today at the age of 62.

“...In a column in mid-January, Ivins urged readers to stand up against Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

‘We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war,’ Ivins wrote in the Jan. 11 column. ‘We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!’”

Ivins’ hardboiled sense of humor will be missed by many, including this scribbler.

Donato, again!

For the second Friday in a row, longtime Fan District resident Gerald Donato has an art show opening here in the Fan. Last week it was “Gerald Donato: Reinventing the Game” at VCU’s Anderson Gallery. This week the show is called “Mr. Man and Moonface,” and it opens on Groundhog’s Day (Feb. 2) at the Reynolds Gallery, 1514 West Main Street; the reception is from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m..

Some would suggest this 2004 photo of Joan Gaustad and Jerry Donato, smiling through a rainy July afternoon in Shockoe Bottom, offers the viewer a good clue as to the identities of/inspiration for the two characters in the name of the Reynolds art show.

Click here for an exclusive Donato anecdote, as well as links to articles on the two shows.
Photo: SLANT

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What about the 'madrassa' scam?

Yes, today there are propagandists everywhere you look -- all of them furiously spinning to win.

The word “propaganda” was set loose on the world by the Catholic Church in the 1600s. By the 1800s it was being used more often to do with politics. In the 1900s the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, with their heavy-handed isms, perfected artful techniques with methods of mass communications that made propaganda more important than ever before. Then came television and focus groups and all the horses left the barn.

Now the “blogosphere” that’s getting so much mention/ink in the mainstream media is tantamount to a food-fight of propaganda, 25 hours a day on the Internet.

So, afraid of loosing their grip on whatever power to shape minds they have remaining in today’s info-saturated culture, newspapers are putting their content online for free and even forcing/allowing their staffs to become bloggers, to join the food-fight. No doubt, this trend will blur boundaries and spawn some tricky situations down the road.

One sort of tricky situation is illustrated by the curious “madrassa” story reported by Fox News last week. Much has already been written on this particular planted story brouhaha, so this time I’ll allow the Richmond Times-Dispatch to properly scold the guilty parties with its short editorial, “Conversion,” which throws a penalty flag at the supposedly legit news organizations which participated in what was a scam.

“...Insight -- a publication affiliated with The Washington Times -- reported that as a youngster Barack Obama attended a ‘madrassa’ in Indonesia, i.e., an Islamic school that teaches militancy. Opinionists at Fox News couldn’t resist, especially as the inflammatory info supposedly came from leaks from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Solid sources were conspicuously absent from Insight’s account. Ideologues delighted in a scoop that (1) embarrassed Obama and (2) suggested machinations on the part of the Clinton apparatus.”

While the rightwing sulkosphere continues to rant incessantly about the Washington Post’s supposedly slanted coverage of the Allen vs. Webb race, what do the sulkers have to say about Fox News reporting a totally bogus story in order to injure Democrats?

Moreover, can’t we all agree that information from any source has a slant built into it, regardless of how professionally the message is massaged?

The process of gathering and presenting news can be done fairly, but there are always going to be calls to be made -- choosing words and images, the crafting of the story -- in which the thinking of those doing the job inevitably bleeds into the product.

Forget about shadings and slants. What people who respect the truth ought to focus on is remembering, even citing, newspapers and broadcast networks and bloggers for their deliberate prevarications, when they have been caught at it.

Some folks will propagate a lie, knowing it probably is a lie, because it hurts somebody they don’t like. Some folks won’t. Right or left, stop or go, it really is as simple as that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

VCU demolishes Tribe with treys

William & Mary came to the Siegel Center hoping to catch VCU napping between tough road games. The Rams defeated the Drexel Dragons on Saturday and will travel to Hofstra on Wednesday. The Tribe had a notion when the visitors jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Then reality descended upon Wm. & Mary, as VCU continued its undefeated march through its regular season CAA schedule.

Once again a steady rain of treys did the job, as VCU connected on 12 of 24 three-pointers it shot: VCU 90, W&M 68.

Elsewhere in CAA action there were some upsets: UNC-W 65, GMU 58; Delaware 72, Hofstra 68; ODU 92, Georgia St. 57; Towson 69, JMU 60.

The Rams attack was paced by sophomore guard Jamal Shuler, who came off the bench to score 24 points, which for him established a new career high. That, while senior guard B.A Walker continued his hot shooting from three-point distance. Walker hit six of eight treys he attempted, to finish with 20 points. In his last three games Walker has connected on 17 of 24 three-point shots he has attempted.

CAA Standings

VCU (19-3, 11-0 in CAA)
Hofstra (16-6, 9-2 in CAA)
Drexel (16-5, 8-3 in CAA)
ODU (15-7, 8-3 in CAA)
GMU (12-9, 6-5 in CAA)
Towson (11-11, 5-6 in CAA)
Northeastern (7-15, 5-6 in CAA)
Wm. & Mary (11-10, 4-7 in CAA)
Ga. State (7-14, 3-8 in CAA)
JMU (6-15, 3-8 in CAA)
UNC-W (5-15, 2-9 in CAA)
Deleware (4-18, 2-9 in CAA)
-- 30 --

Coach Ross retires

After three years at Army, Coach Bobby Ross is going back into retirement. AP reports: "Army coach Bobby Ross retires."
Bobby Ross at the press conference which presented him as Army's 34th head football coach (USMA, 2003).

As some sports fans might know, Ross, who is from Richmond, is a much beloved figure in Virginia and in the college coaching ranks. I interviewed him just before his first season at West Point was to start. Ross was enthusiastic about returning to coaching, but he knew his job at Army would not be an easy one. Anyone who knows him will tell you he did his best; he always did.

From Benedictine to West Point
by F.T. Rea (Sept. 2004 issue of FiftyPlus)

Fresh out of Virginia Military Institute, Bobby Ross took on his first mission as a football coach in 1959. Benedictine High School’s dynamic athletic director, Warren Rutledge, hired the 22-year-old Ross coming off of a stellar athletic career at Benedictine and VMI. Now, forty-five years later, it seems the last mission of Ross’ distinguished coaching career -- which includes a college national championship and a trip to the Super Bowl -- will be to restore a measure of dignity to the pigskin program at the United States Military Academy.

Ross’ predecessor at West Point, Todd Berry, posted a 5-42 record before he was mercifully relieved of command in the midst of last season, a campaign in which Army eventually lost all thirteen of its scheduled games

Ross, at 67, obviously has his work cut out for him.

Some say this mission can’t be accomplished in the money-driven, brave new world of so-called amateur sports. How can he attract today’s top athletes to such an academically challenging institution, with a five-year military commitment in a time of war to follow? Others suggest that Ross, himself, is simply out-of-date.

Fine: Coach Ross is at ease operating as the underdog. Yes, and looking beyond the “0-13” and the “67,” Ross and West Point seem to be a perfect fit in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, right now they need one another.

The search committee that lured Ross out of retirement knew that its situation called for more than just a smart, tough-minded football coach. It cried out for a man who understood the Academy’s military-based system, who could hit the ground running. Having worn the cadet uniforms of both Benedictine and VMI, and coached at The Citadel, Ross certainly knows his way around a cadet corps.

Thus, with a natural grasp of the importance of tradition at West Point, Ross is accentuating the positive. “Coaching at a place like this,” he said, “is college football in its purest form. No compromises are made here.”

Ross’ most recent stint as a head coach was in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions. Two-thirds of the way through the 2000 season, his fourth in Detroit, Ross announced he was stepping down, due to mounting health concerns. Cynics assumed he was burned out. Truth be told, his decision was precipitated by the reappearance of painful blood clots in his right leg (his father had suffered from similar problems, and eventually lost both of his legs).

Why did a man who shouldn’t have anything to prove come out of a comfortable retirement? With a clarity that might well flow from being accustomed to fielding the same questions repeatedly, Ross answered politely: “I felt like I had a lot of energy. Then the competitive instincts were returning.”

When Ross speaks of football, his voice reveals little about his state of mind. It’s his business, after all, and he sounds much like the thoughtful professional. On the other hand, when he talks about Chiocca’s, a restaurant in Richmond’s Benedictine neighborhood -- “The best roast beef sandwich I've ever had!” -- or afternoon walks through the same neighborhood, where his wife grew up, or when he reminisces about old ballfields such as Hotchkiss, near where he grew up, and the diamond in Byrd Park where Benedictine used to play its home games, his warmth for his hometown is unrestrained

“I love Richmond,” said Ross, with his unchanged Richmond accent. “It's my home, and always will be.”

Ross and his wife, Alice, have five children and fifteen grandchildren. His son Kevin, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1988, is now on his father’s staff, serving as Army’s offensive coordinator.

Asked about Bobby Ross, Benedictine's current athletic director, Barry Gibrall, pointed out that Ross has often helped the school, sometimes under a veil of anonymity. While he was serving on the school’s Board of Trustees, for instance, Ross noticed the Cadets football uniforms weren’t all precisely the same shade of green. Ross fixed it, but typically, he wanted no credit.

"The new renovations, state-of-the-art locker room and weight room, are a direct result of Coach Ross’ generosity,” Gibrall added. “He tears up when he remembers where he came from. He’s a Highland Park guy who has gone far. He doesn’t forget it.”

In recognition of this strong bond, last May Benedictine named its Goochland County football field Robert J. “Bobby” Ross Stadium. Gibrall said that Ross was surprised and characteristically humble about the announcement, saying he didn’t deserve it.

Gibrall, who played his football at Benedictine in the early-sixties, chuckled. “No one deserves it more! His name was the only one that came up.”

“He’s the greatest human being I've known in my life,” said Johnny Siewers, who played on the Benedictine basketball team with Ross for two seasons. “He never did anything wrong.”

Click here to read the entire piece.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Va. Top Five for Jan. 29

The week that was: In the two games the Rams won on the road, B.A. Walker scored a combined 48 points. The senior guard went 11-for-16 from three-point land, seven-for-eight from the charity stripe and grabbed 11 rebounds.
There are now 14 Division I basketball programs operating within the Commonwealth of Virginia. They are: George Mason, Hampton, James Madison, Liberty, Longwood, Norfolk State, Old Dominion, Radford, Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech and William & Mary. The Bounce’s Virginia Top Five is a feature which names the best of the bunch, in order, for each Monday. (Click here to see last week's Top Five at

All five of last week’s listed teams played two games during the week. The group went 9-1, the only loss came from a game played between two of the five; VCU defeated Mason in Fairfax on Wednesday. Accordingly, the list has just once change based on the week’s action, as the Patriots’ one-and-one record dropped them to fifth place, behind ODU.

The Bounce's Virginia Top Five for Jan. 29

No 1: Va. Tech (16-5, 6-1 in ACC)
No. 2: VCU (18-3, 10-0 in CAA)
No. 3: UVa. (13-6, 5-2 in ACC)
No. 4: ODU (14-7, 7-3 in CAA)
No. 5: GMU (12-8, 6-4 in CAA)

Added Notes:
  • Va. Tech is currently atop the ACC's standings; likewise, VCU is No. 1 in the CAA.
  • Va. Tech has climbed to 16th in the new AP Poll; VCU is now among those also receiving votes at No. 30; Virginia comes in at No. 42.
  • From Jeff Goodman at Fox Sports are two citations for Va. Top Five teams:
Player of the week: VCU senior guard B.A. Walker and the Rams picked up a couple of huge road wins at George Mason and Drexel. Walker had 24 points in each victory and knocked down a total of 11 3-pointers in the two games. Walker had 19 points and made five 3-pointers after the break against Drexel as VCU won its ninth straight."

Best win: Virginia went into Clemson and overcame a 16-point deficit to knock off the Tigers 64-63 on Jason Cain's tip-in with 15.5 seconds left. J.R. Reynolds, who has been on a tear of late, led the Cavaliers with 18 points as Dave Leitao's club won its second straight ACC road contest and fourth consecutive game overall."

Next Games for the Five
Jan. 29: Wm. & Mary at VCU
Jan. 29: Georgia St. at ODU
Jan. 29: GMU at UNC-W
Jan. 31: N.C. State at Va. Tech
Feb. 1: Duke at UVa.

Updated at 11:05 a.m. Jan. 29, to fix an error. Thanks, Bob.
Updated since to add more info.
Photo: SLANT

Friday, January 26, 2007

Drexel’s Elegar suspended for VCU game

This notice just came in from Rob Washburn, Assistant Commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association:

“CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager has suspended Drexel University men’s basketball player Frank Elegar for one game for unsportsmanlike conduct during the Dragons’ game at the University of Delaware on January 20. Elegar will miss Drexel’s next game with VCU on Saturday. The incident occurred midway through the second half of last Saturday’s game when Elegar committed a flagrant act against Delaware’s Sam McMahon.”

Junior center Elegar, 6-9, 220, leads the Dragons in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game. No doubt, his 6.8 rebounds per outing will also be missed when Drexel (15-4, 7-2 in CAA) hosts the VCU Rams (17-3, 9-0 in CAA) for their matchup tomorrow at high noon.

RMIC's Italian Film Fest

From James Parrish here are some details about Richmond Moving Image Coop’s fourth all-day Italian film festival:

What: 4th Italian Film & Food Festival -- four feature-length flicks, plus meals from Mamma ‘Zu
When: Sat., Feb. 3, 2007 -- movies will start at 10 a.m. and run, with breaks for food, etc., until about 10 p.m.
Where: Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad Street

“What better way to spend a cold winter Saturday than eating Mamma ‘Zu food and watching classic Italian cinema?! Join Mamma ‘Zu and RMIC for the “4th Italian Film and Food Festival” at the Firehouse Theatre on Saturday, February 3.” Here’s the schedule:

10 a.m. -- Vittorio de Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief”
1 p.m. -- Lina Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties”
4 p.m. -- Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”
8 p.m. -- Ettore Scola’s “Down and Dirty”
(All films will be presented in Italian with English subtitles.)

“Tickets for individual films are $12 per film and are available only at the door on the day of the festival. All day passes for $35 are available in advance at Chop Suey Books, Chop Tuey, or Video Fan. Ticket includes Mamma ‘Zu buffet; beverages (hot and cold) are extra.”
Phone: (804) 232-7642; Email:

Thursday, January 25, 2007


On Sunday the Arts and Entertainment section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch previewed the one man art show opening Friday, Jan. 26, at VCU’s Anderson Gallery, “The Man behind Mr. Man.” The “one man” of the piece, written by Roy Proctor, is Gerald Donato, known to his friends as Jerry. Then STYLE Weekly chimed in on Wednesday with a Donato cover story, “Iconoclast,” written by Edwin Slipek.
Part of the show at the Anderson Gallery includes other artists’ portraits of Donato. Above is mine (not part of the art show), which casts him as his own recurring character, Mr. Man. It was done in 1984.

Now I hope the reader will click on the links above to read more about the one and only Jerry Donato, as his art is worthwhile and he is an interesting character. Since no one is better known in Richmond’s art in-crowd, his opening will no doubt be packed. Shows of this size and importance, three floors of art, are unusual in Richmond.

Orginally from Chicago, Donato taught fine art at VCU from for 36 years. Jerry, in the ‘80s a regular at the Happy Hour gatherings in the Power Corner of the much-missed Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe, once helped me out with an unusual project of mine. He agreed to appear in court as an expert witness.

So, rather than go on to heap yet more praise on Donato the artist/teacher, as the two articles already do a fine job of, I’d rather tell a quick story about Donato, the world class wiseass.

In a Richmond, Virginia courtroom 25 years ago I witnessed an entertaining scene in which an age-old question -- what is art? -- was hashed out in front of a patient judge, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the attorneys put before him. The gallery was packed with art students wearing paint-speckled dungarees, gypsy musicians and film buffs.

The defendant was this story’s teller. At the time I was the manager of the Biograph Theatre. When I got charged with a misdemeanor for posting a handbill I had designed promoting a midnight show, it was a bust I deliberately provoked. At that time I was determined to beat the City of Richmond with a freedom of speech defense.

At the crucial moment Donato was on the witness stand. As an art expert, he was being grilled over just where to draw the line between what should be, and what should not be, considered as genuine art. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney asked the witness if the somewhat beat-up piece of paper in his hand -- the offending handbill for a flick called, “Atomic Cafe” -- could actually be “art.”

“Probably,” shrugged the prof. “Why not?”

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that the flyer was no more than “litter.” Still, my attorneys continued to stand on the notion that I had a right to post the handbill, and that the public had a right to see it, too.

Eventually, having grown weary of the high-brow, artsy vernacular being slung around by the witnesses supporting the defense -- we also presented a display of about 100 different handbills, mostly for bands playing at clubs -- the prosecutor tried one more time to trip up the clever witness.

As Warhol's soup cans had just been mentioned, the lawyer narrowed his eyes to ask, “If you were in an alley and happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that be art, too?”

“Well,” said Donato, pausing Jack Benny-like for effect, “that would depend on who tipped the can over.”

Donato’s line went over like Gangbusters; the courtroom erupted into laughter. The obviously amused judge fought off a smile. The prosecutor threw up his hands and sat down.

Moreover, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert on art could be compelled to rise up to brand a handbill, a green piece of paper with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. The City of Richmond lost their case that day.

Thanks, Jerry.
Note: “Gerald Donato: Reinventing the Game” at the Anderson Gallery, 907½ W. Franklin St., opens Jan. 26 (reception 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.) and runs through Mar. 4.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VCU too much for Mason

With its first year head coach Anthony Grant steering the bus, Virginia Commonwealth took its own winning ways up Interstate 95 to Fairfax, to run over George Mason's five-game winning streak: VCU 75, GMU 62.

The Rams offense was paced by senior guard B.A. Walker (pictured right), who scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds.

VCU had control of the game for most of the second half. Beating a decent Mason team at the Partiot Center should be a big boost of confidence for the improving Rams. The next game for streaking VCU (17-3, 9-0 in CAA) is at Drexel (15-4, 7-2 in CAA), always a tough place to pick up a "W," on Saturday at high noon.
Photo: SLANT

Mr. Webb goes to Washington

Gone was the trademark presidential smirk. Now we must suspect it depended too much on something that has left the picture for the First Decider. Having a Republican majority in Congress? Having an approval rating over 30 percent? Who knows?

After graciously congratulating the new Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, President George Bush couldn’t resist going petty, by calling her political party the “Democrat” Party, rather than “Democratic.” Then he good-naturedly soldiered through his lackluster State of the Union address, which was eerily unsatisfying, in yet a new way.

Of course, the beleaguered president mentioned the “lessons of 9/11.” Strangely, he completely forgot about the lessons of Hurricane Katrina ... whatever they might have been. Still, Bush did what he could to put a good a face on his administration’s accomplishments, and the lack thereof.

Then came Virginia’s new Democratic senator Jim Webb (depicted above), who spoke in a startlingly authentic and well-informed tone. There was no sign of petulance or being overprepared. He was smooth.

To wind up his remarks Webb said that if Bush doesn’t change his ways and get America out of Iraq, then “...We will be showing him the way.”

Yes, Virginia, Mr. Webb has gone to Washington.


Update No. 1 (same night): Of Jim Webb, Pat Buchanan just said on MSNBC, "The Democratic Party has a real star there."

Update No. 2 (Wed., 1:15 p.m.): Writing about Webb’s response to Bush’s address, in his article, “Va.‘s Webb Offers a Blunt Challenge to Bush,” the Washington Post’s Michael Shear opened with this:

“Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) delivered a forceful nine-minute response to President Bush's State of the Union address last night, promising an aggressive challenge to Bush’s Iraq and economic policies from the newly empowered Democratic majority in Congress.

Later in the piece Shear grabbed and framed the quote from Webb’s talk which was at the heart of his winning message in November:

“‘...We need a new direction,’ said Webb, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. ‘Not one step back from the war against international terrorism, not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos, but an immediate shift toward strong, regionally based diplomacy.’”

Update No. 3: For Newsweek online Jonathan Alter writes:

“Something unprecedented happened tonight, beyond the doorkeeper announcing, 'Madame Speaker.' For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president's big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism -- with personal touches -- that left President Bush's ordinary address in the dust. In the past, the Democratic response has been anemic -- remember Washington Gov. Gary Locke? This time it pointed the way to a revival for national Democrats.”

Note: The original post for this was made on Tuesday night. Then an error to do with blogger made me have to replace it.
Art by F.T. Rea

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sen. Warner: 'surge' ...not

Can you hear the chants? From out of the shadows on the right, the fringe -- “War-ner is a RINO! War-ner is a RINO!”

For those not familiar with the taunt neoconservative dittoheads hurl on cue at any Republican who won’t dance to the Bush administration’s tune, RINO means “Republican in name only.” Arizona’s Sen. John McCain has probably been the most frequent target for such.

However, with regard to President Bush’s newest scam/strategy for Iraq -- The Surge -- it won’t be occasionally maverick McCain who will be drawing the ire of the lathered up GOP hawks and their followers. No, this time it’s going to be Virginia’s John Warner, the distinguished five-term Republican senator who will turn 80 next month.

Reuters reports:

“Opposition to President George W. Bush’s plan to increase troop strength in Iraq broadened on Capitol Hill on Monday as a new bipartisan group of four senators announced their disagreement with the strategy. The senators, including conservative Virginia Republican John Warner, unveiled a proposal that they hoped would be embraced by lawmakers who disliked some of the wording of another bipartisan resolution that was introduced last week, opposing the boost in troops...”

Warner, once a captain in the Marine Corps, later a Secretary of the Navy, has survived such attacks from the far right before. When he absolutely refused to support conman Ollie North’s 1994 run for the U.S. Senate, similar charges of party disloyalty were leveled at Sen. Warner.

Yet, following his own conscience, Warner shrugged off the insults and threats, perhaps as easily as he will shrug off the angry finger-pointings from those who remain loyal to the clueless Bush stay-the-course policy in Iraq. In my view this surge business is just more of the same.

Me? I’m looking forward to Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s remarks, which will follow Bush’s State of the Union Address tomorrow night. Coincidentally, like Warner, Webb was also an officer in the Marine Corps and once Secretary of the Navy.

For Bush, preparing for his speech -- while being bookended by Virginia senators with such credentials, who are opposing him so publicly -- is tough duty. Maybe the toughest of his flatlining presidency.

Virginia Top Five; updated

Here’s a preview of what will run in my Tuesday sports column at

There are now 14 Division I basketball programs operating within the Commonwealth of Virginia. They are: George Mason, Hampton, James Madison, Liberty, Longwood, Norfolk State, Old Dominion, Radford, Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech and William & Mary.

They belong to five different conferences and most of them rarely play one another. So, it’s guesswork, at best, to say which teams are better in any given season. One could argue that VMI is better than Norfolk State. But they don’t meet this season. The same goes for thinking that VCU could probably beat UVa. They don’t play.

So, to help fill the void The Bounce is going to publish its homegrown, pickin’em fair-and-square Top Five rankings each Monday, for the rest of the season.

The first edition of the just-promised series is below:

The Bounce’s Virginia Top Five

No. 1: Va. Tech (14-5, 4-1 in ACC)
No. 2: VCU (16-3, 8-0 in CAA)
No. 3: Virginia (11-6, 3-2 in ACC)
No. 4: George Mason (11-7, 5-3 in CAA)
No. 5: Old Dominion (12-7, 5-3 in CAA)

Update: In this week’s Associated Press Top 25, Tech is sitting pretty at No. 24, with 177 votes. And, VCU received 23 votes, which makes it the 33rd ranked team in AP panel’s voting.
Photo: SLANT

Saturday, January 20, 2007

VCU outlasts ODU

Two minutes into the basketball game’s second half visiting Old Dominion led Virginia Commonwealth by 12 points. The sold-out Siegel Center crowd of 7,694 could sense that VCU’s then unbeaten-in-the-conference record was in real jeopardy. The shots weren’t falling for the Rams. Breaks didn’t seem to be going their way.

ODU was the first CAA team VCU had faced with a winning record in the league. Those in the room pulling for the Monarchs may have thought they were witnessing the overdue comeuppance for the overachieving Rams, a team thought to be strictly middle-of-the-pack by the preseason experts.

Today, those ODU fans were as wrong as the preseason experts: VCU 80, ODU 75.

Led by point guard Eric Maynor’s play down the stretch -- he finished with 23 points, six assists and five boards -- the Rams outplayed the Monarchs until the final buzzer to seal the victory. Shooting guard B.A. Walker’s 19 points, five boards and three assists were key, as well.

“I tell [Maynor],” said VCU head coach Anthony Grant, “our team is going to go how he goes.”

Coach Grant also spoke proudly of his team’s gritty play in the second half of what was truly a tough game. The Monarchs came to play and they did just that. They handled the Rams’ full-court pressure better than any team I’ve seen this season. This was a first class college basketball game between longtime rivals. Both school’s players gave it their all.

Which leads to having to report that I heard only one person say anything to take away from the high-level tone of the action. In the media room, after Grant, Maynor and Walker answered questions and left, ODU head coach Blaine Taylor made his appearance. He should have skipped it.

Taylor promptly went into a solid five-minute whine about the way the referees called the game. He spoke of how his team had “earned” its 12-point second-half lead. Then he asserted: “...the lead was taken away from them, for whatever reasons.”

It was a rather strange show of no class by a coach I‘ve not seen act that way before. Oh, I’ve seen other coaches go off on the refs after a game, but I can’t remember seeing it quite so unjustified. Taylor credited most of Maynor’s crowd-pleasing success late in the game to bad calls. From what I could tell, no one else in the room saw any credence to his charges.

Plus, Taylor was speaking in front of the CAA’s commissioner, Tom Yeager, who was standing in the back of the crowded room. So, I suppose we’ll just see if any of Taylor’s unseemly crying crossed the line of how far a CAA coach can go with casting aspersions on the integrity/competence of the officials hired by Yeager’s office.

VCU (16-3, 8-0 in CAA) remains atop the CAA’s standings, one game ahead of Hofstra (14-5, 7-1). The Rams will hit the road on Wednesday, to play at George Mason (11-7, 5-3), an outfit that has won five straight games, at 7 p.m.

Friday, January 19, 2007

BYRD is the word

The BYRDistheword blog has been established to facilitate a new project of mine -- writing a book about the Byrd Theatre, a genuine 1928 movie palace. In the last couple of years, in writing a couple of articles about the theater, I have come to believe that a full telling of the way the Byrd came to be, what it has meant to the community and how it has survived, needs to be created and left for the record.

The blog will be used as a tool to stimulate interest in the project and to attract those folks who may have some helpful information. By going online in this way, it makes it easy to find me -- either by email or leaving comments -- and to share stories about the Byrd with others who cherish that old theater, others who would like to see its story documented in a proper fashion.

Click here to visit BYRDistheword.

And, thanks in advance to both the press and the blogging community of Richmond, and beyond, for whatever assistance they will give to this undertaking by helping to spread the word about this blog’s existence and purpose.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Too much Pellot-Rosa sinks Seahawks

Jesse Pellot-Rosa is ready on defense
After a year at Fork Union Military Academy pursuing football, following what had been a stellar three-sport career at Richmond’s George Wythe High, Jesse Pellot-Rosa decided to play basketball at VCU. While he brought plenty of heart and athletic ability with him, as a freshman Division I basketball player Jesse was a work-in-progress.

Pellot-Rosa didn’t really have an obvious position. Lacking a consistent jump shot and not exactly a deft ball-handler, was he a guard or forward, or a defensive specialist, or what?

At the Siegel Center last night, senior swingman Pellot-Rosa, 6-4, 195, played 30 minutes of complete basketball, in pacing VCU to a hard-won victory over UNC Wilmington: VCU 74, UNC-W 65.

In short, Pellot-Rosa’s game was “complete” because he did exactly what his team needed every one of those minutes on the floor. Need a deflection or a gritty play in the paint? He was there. Stats? He scored 24 points, a career high. He also grabbed five rebounds. Throw in two assists with no turnovers.

Moreover, Pellot-Rosa’s performance was a clinic in how to balance finesse with power, intensity with control and leadership with role-playing.

When the Rams needed a three-point shot, Pellot-Rosa was there with five of them on six attempts. His trey with 4:04 remaining in the game dramatically stiff-armed a scary Seahawks rally and gave the Rams the lead for good, at 60-57.

After the game, first-year VCU head coach Anthony Grant lamented the fact he’ll only have one season to coach Pellot-Rosa, whose leadership he praised.

Now a force in the Colonial Athletic Association who has arrived, it says here there may not be a better all-around basketball player -- not just a scorer -- in the league right now than the homegrown Mr. Pellot-Rosa.

VCU (15-3, 7-0 in CAA) will host its longtime rival ODU (12-6, 5-2 in CAA) on Saturday night at the Siegel Center. Don’t wait to get your tickets, this one should sellout well before its 5:30 p.m. tip-off time.

Update (from VCU’s sports information office): The men’s basketball game between VCU and ODU, scheduled for Sat., Jan. 20, at 5:30 p.m. at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, is sold out. The game will be televised regionally on Comcast SportsNet-Mid-Atlantic.
Photo: SLANT

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blog links for beginners

For SLANTblog’s readers who have become curious about the “blogosphere” but still don’t know much about the various political blogs in Virginia, or even know how to find them, this post may help you. With more news about blogging in the mainstream press every day, and bloggers themselves moving from self-publishing to staff positions within the two political parties, folks who have heretofore ignored the blogging trend must be wondering what’s going on.

Here are some links to get such a reader started:

Waldo’s Virginia Political Blogroll is best known aggregating site for political blogs. It features posts it has grabbed from blogs across the Virginia landscape, from left to right, and links to the blogs themselves. Click here to go there.

Shaun Kenney’s blog is hosting the Virginia Blog Carnival this week. A blog carnival features specific posts from a variety of blogs, both submitted by bloggers and selected by the host. Next week’s Virginia carnival will be hosted by another volunteer host. Click here to go there.

And, here are eight more links to Richmond-based blogs that I recommend looking over. Some are focused entirely on political matters, others on a variety of concerns.

RVA blogs (a local aggregator, any style blog)
Buttermilk & Molasses
J’s Notes
Richmond Democrat
Richmond Sunlight (New web page on the General Assembly's work)
River City Rapids
Save Richmond
Note: This post was updated at 9:50 p.m., same day.

City in Denial

Note: With Martin Luther King Day upon us, I want to recycle another of my Back Page pieces for STYLE Weekly. “City in Denial” ran in February of 2002; it drew more comment, pro and con, than most of the other OpEds I’ve done for STYLE. How much in Richmond has changed since it was published is for the reader to say.

City in Denial
by F.T. Rea

Thinking of black history calls my attention to certain renowned black Richmonders -- Maggie Walker, Oliver Hill, Arthur Ashe -- and it always reminds me of what I know about Richmond and race. Rather than mince words, here it is: Richmond’s woeful lack of progress on matters racial has been its worst problem for a long time.

At its heart, Richmond has a tastefully restrained style about nearly everything it does. Those of us who know this town from the inside out probably take some of its enduring physical charm for granted. Yet, we do so knowing that our fair city’s pretty surface has an ugly story beneath it.

Richmond’s best-known street, Monument Avenue, with its stately mansions and row of statues, has been a lightning rod for acrimony in recent years, stemming largely from Richmond’s knee-jerk uneasiness with racial issues.

One hundred thirty-seven years after the end of the Civil War one is left to wonder what it would take to convince Richmonders on the two sides of Broad Street’s imaginary divide to recognize their common ground and let their dry-rotted expectations go. Perhaps, in the long run, absorbing the tragedy of 9/11 will eventually have that effect on us. Then again, around here if you bet on stubborn habits to win again tomorrow the odds will be with you.

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when honest people of the Deep South saw the stark pictures -- in national magazines and on television -- of the shocking violence associated with desegregation, the hideous truth hit them in the face. For those who could manage it, change must have seemed vastly preferable to posing for more pictures of hell on earth.

Apprehensive white people who had been brought up as bigots had to agree with their restless black neighbors that change was inevitable and necessary. They might not have become pals overnight but they, blacks and whites, must have seen that they just couldn’t keep having riots in their streets.

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

Although the local white establishment stood fast in the shadow of the banner of Massive Resistance, it was less bombastic than it might have been in that time of stirred passions. Meanwhile, the determined black reform movement pinned its hopes on building a political organization with real clout -- the Crusade for Voters; formed in 1956.

Typical of Richmond, both camps weren’t as demonstrative and overtly confrontational as their counterparts in other areas. Thus Richmond got through the volatile Civil Rights era without having to witness, firsthand, a lot of bloodshed in its streets. The most telling public confrontation was an orderly economic boycott, rather than a nightstick-wielding and open-fire-hose melee over access to schools or transportation.

Downtown lunch counters in the five-and-dimes and the big department stores actually had set policies in those days that denied service to blacks. Amazingly, this they did while inviting the very same people to shop freely in the rest of the store.

In 1960 a group of 34 black citizens -- many were students -- was busted for having the temerity to ask to be served lunch at Thalhimers’ lunch counter. The action was called a “sit-down strike” in the vernacular of the times. The group was charged with trespassing.

Subsequently, a picket line was thrown up around Thalhimers, organized by the Richmond Citizens Advisory Committee, a group working under the NAACP’s auspices. After months of stalemate, the store caved in and downtown lunch counters 86ed their whites-only policy.

Perhaps the success and civility of that boycott deluded Richmonders into thinking that they didn’t need to search their own hearts and minds for the prejudices that cloud vision. Although official policies were changed by the Thalhimers boycott, ironically, it may have failed to clearly dramatize the genuine need for people in Virginia’s capital city to go out of their way to see the other guy’s point.

A few years after the boycott, Virginia’s elections began to be watched over by the federal government because of the Voting Rights Act. Court-ordered busing soon followed. Eventually district politics, also ordered by the federal courts, took root in Richmond in 1977. But with the nine districts came the narrow vision of the ward heeler, as well.

Those developments did little to soothe ruffled feathers because the changes were being dictated from the outside. Members of the City Council, always split along racial lines, bickered constantly over minutia throughout the ’80s. With payback being heaped upon payback, progress didn’t stand a chance.

Now, every time a controversy that touches on race pops up the oh-so-familiar cries are heard: “Oh Gawd! Let’s hope this business dies down before it makes the national news.”

Like a dysfunctional family in denial, we don’t want the rest of the country to catch on that Richmond is still trapped in yesteryear’s snare. Well, take it from me dear reader -- they already know. Everybody knows. Even in other parts of Virginia they know Richmond is frozen in time when it comes to race.

The negative expectations that linger in so many quarters, like bad air, simply have to be identified and challenged. This would certainly mean that Richmond’s leaders -- political, community, church and business -- should be taken to task whenever they fan the embers of old grudges for their own short-term gain.

Perhaps the simmering debate over public art is the perfect platform for having meaningful discussions -- group therapy? -- that could help clear the air. Rather than trying to muffle the headline-making rhubarbs over old statues and proposals for new ones, people of different backgrounds ought to take turns listening to one another.

Let’s hash it out; put the debate on television every week for a year, however long it takes. When the dust settles, let’s put some new statues on Monument Avenue that don’t ask the viewer to pick sides in the Civil War.

How about banking pioneer Maggie Walker and Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. to get it started? Richmond has a wealth of history that has little or nothing to do with the events of the 1860s.

Let’s look for the best in ourselves and we may find it.

-- 30 --

Saturday, January 13, 2007

VCU atop the CAA

Led by Eric Maynor’s 22 points and six assists the VCU Rams defeated the visiting Towson Tigers at the Siegel Center: VCU 85, Towson 77.

This victory, along with other CAA action today -- Hofstra lost to Northeastern -- puts the Rams alone atop the conference standings, one game ahead of Hofstra (12-5, 5-1 in CAA) and Old Dominion (12-5, 5-1 in CAA). VCU (14-3, 6-0 CAA) has now won five in a row, and 12 of its last 13 games.

Towson’s Gary Neal, who entered the game with the fifth-highest scoring average in Division I, scored 33 points, but he had to work hard to get them. To Towson’s credit, the Tigers never quit and the game was still up for grabs in the last minute.

It was VCU’s Jesse Pellot-Rosa who hit eight consecutive free throws late in the game to seal the win. He finished with 16 points and a game-high seven rebounds for the Rams.

Asked after the game if he ever considered using a junk defense on Neal, Rams head coach Anthony Grant smiled and shook his head. Many coaches prefer not to use box-and-ones, or other such off-balance defenses.

“It was tempting,” said Grant. Then he smiled more widely as he shook hands with his happy boss, VCU president Dr. Eugene Trani (pictured above), who is a frequent visitor in the Siegel Center‘s media room.
Photo: SLANT

Friday, January 12, 2007

All Dick, all the time

Cheney: Here’s the deal, Dubya, my boy, you give this speech. Hey, listen up, you’ve read it, right?

Bush: Of course I have, Dick, but who’s going to buy this, this business about a surge ...”

Cheney: Listen up. Congress will swell up, take the bait, and move to block funding for the surge. A few traitor Republicans will throw in with the Democrats. We’ll take care of them later.

Bush: You’re right, Dick, this is a surly new bunch that’s come in, especially that Webb. How in hell did he win?

Cheney: Shut up!

Bush: Right.

Cheney: Don’t you see, we want the Democrats to pull this. They will be trying to tie the hands of a valiant Commander-in-Chief, during wartime. The Average Joe will hate that. Our Christian conservatives will...

Bush: Oh, I like it. I bet Karl thought of this.

Cheney: Shut up! Listen. That will create a first-class feeding frenzy of a Constitutional Crisis, because you’re still the one and only Commander-in-Chief -- during a war -- and you’ll jolly well do as you see fit. Eventually, it will take the Supreme Court to settle it.

Bush: Dick, what about the ... what about the technicality that there’s been no declaration of war, from...

Cheney: Shut up! Dubya, please stop trying to think. You know that only makes you want to catch a buzz. Just listen...

Bush: Oh, I bet this little ... this little plan of Karl’s, and yours, too ... it could tie up the whole town for a couple of years.

Cheney: Very good, Dubya, that is the point.

Bush: Right, Dick ... I get it.
Art (and text) by F.T. Rea.
Click here to see how to the same All Dick image on a T-shirt

Note: The transcript of the scene above may have been leaked to SLANTblog by imbedded White House, fly-on-the-wall sources that must remain anonymous. They may have risked lives to spirit it out. However, in order to publish this material -- in good faith -- it must be said there’s more than a small chance the aforementioned sources never existed. So, we did the best we could, anyway.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Webb on PBS

Sen. Jim Webb’s refreshing/sharp comments on PBS, responding to President George Bush’s boilerplate, same-’ol, same-’ol speech on staying-the-folly in Iraq, were just what I’ve hoped to one day hear from a Virginia senator. It felt so satisfying ...

Thanks, Jim.

Deatched and Within

fiction by F. T. Rea

June 3, 1959: Roscoe Swift, a lean boy with sandy hair and clear blue eyes, lived with his mother’s parents in their roomy stucco home in Dogtown, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. His mother lived in her studio apartment over the garage, next to the breezeway, thirty yards from the house. She was a sometime commercial artist, who hadn’t ventured far from her studio/sanctuary in over a year. As a rule, she wouldn’t answer the door before noon.

When Roscoe was almost three-years-old his overly Southern mother, who was “rather delicately balanced” -- according to his grandmother -- left his father. As he never saw him again, Roscoe couldn’t remember much about the man, who went back in the Army and died fighting in Korea a couple of years after the separation. As his mother refused to speak of him, most of what Roscoe knew about his lost parent -- the body was never found -- came from his grandparents. That, and the peculiar look in his mother’s fretful brown eyes, which told him she was off, dwelling on what she had lost.

School was easy for Roscoe; when he could manage it, he took pride in being able to do the work as well as any other boy, but faster. But it was baseball that mattered to him more than anything else. He calculated and committed to memory the up-to-date batting averages of his favorite Major League players before he went to school, everyday.

At this point in his life, Roscoe’s only trouble at school was that his bad temper got him into fist fights, which not only earned him many a bloody nose, but it kept him from getting good grades in conduct.

For as long as Roscoe could remember, he had been in training to be a hero. He had tested his nerve with many a daredevil stunt and could throw a rock better than any boy in the neighborhood; any boy his age, anyway. At summer camp the year before, he had been the top rifle marksman in the whole camp, any age. Plus, he had listened attentively to all of his grandfather’s baseball yarns and coaching instructions.

Then came the day for his first true test -- it was, what was then, the biggest at-bat of the biggest game of his career.

The situation: Men were on first and third; one out; two runs behind in the bottom of the last inning. Taking his practice swings, Roscoe reminded himself of what the moment called for, baseball-fundamentals-wise.

“No grounder, no double play,” he thought, as he knocked red clay dust off his sneakers with the bat. “Drive it out of the infield.”

It was the last game of the season. Two of the school’s four fifth-grade classes had finished the year tied, forcing a playoff game to decide the championship. Following lunch, all the fifth-graders at Gittes Creek Elementary had been given the afternoon to watch the two teams settle the issue. Students with no taste for baseball had the option of watching a documentary film about Jamestown’s 350th anniversary.

Thus, there was a pretty good crowd for the title game.

A group of men, about a dozen of them, showed up. There were a couple of Little League coaches in the bunch, one of them had played Double A ball in his day. Several girls from the two classes involved were acting as cheerleaders. This was the first game Roscoe had ever played in that had cheerleaders.

Baseball, even fifth-grade baseball, was important business in Dogtown.

Roscoe stood in the batter’s box on the first base side of home-plate. A natural right-hander, Roscoe had decided that if the best hitter in the game -- Ted Williams -- batted left-handed, so would he. For a month he had been practicing swinging left-handed, almost exclusively, in neighborhood pickup games.

Finally, he had to test it in a game that mattered.

His best friend Finn Daley, standing on first base, cheered him on. Several of his teammates implored him from the bench to bat right-handed, as usual in so-called real games, since the season was on the line. Butterflies the size of eagles disquieted Roscoe’s stomach.

Stepping out of the box, the batter adjusted the dark blue wool baseball cap he wore when playing for his Little League team. He took three additional practice swings. He looked at the crowd on the third base line.

The cheerleaders were chanting, “Roscoe, Roscoe, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, nobody can.”

His architect grandfather, who had taken the afternoon off without it being an emergency -- for the first time in Roscoe’s memory -- stood in the shade of a large oak tree with three other men. Narrowing his gray eyes beneath the flat brim of his straw hat, the old man watched the batter’s body language as only he could.

On the first base line, his opponents and their fans booed and hooted at Roscoe. He decided to go far within himself, to dig in, to ignore them all.

However, there was a particular girl, with a strawberry-blonde ponytail and lively green eyes, cheering for the other team. Her name was Susie Ryan.

Roscoe always noticed Susie. This time was no exception. The best thing to say to her never came to mind when she was near. She made him nervous. So he watched her from a distance, mostly, with a sense of longing he couldn’t understand. Although Susie was calling for his downfall, Roscoe’s sharpshooter’s eyes followed her gestures. He was glad she was there.

Back in the box, Roscoe shifted his weight to his back foot and turned his front foot thirty degrees toward first base. Relaxing his fingers, he squinted his eyes and squared his jaw.

The pitcher threw the first pitch outside and in the dirt. It got by the catcher but the no-stealing ground rule didn’t allow the base-runners to advance.

Sure the next pitch would be across the plate, Roscoe prepared to cut the ball in half. The pitcher went into his stretch as the infielders behind him chattered encouragement.

Roscoe took a big roundhouse swing. Whoosh!

The ball disappeared in mid-air. Holding the baseball aloft, the catcher taunted, “Hey man ... looking for this?” Then he fired it back to the grinning pitcher.

Roscoe heard the collective laughter from his opponents and their classmates. Nonetheless, he didn’t look at anyone on either baseline. He knew he had shut his eyes while swinging the bat.

The batter’s cheeks flushed as he pulled his cap’s brim down on his brow.

“It only takes one to hit it!” Bellowed his grandfather through cupped hands.

Looking at the catcher’s signal, the pitcher nodded. Working from an exaggerated full stretch, he confidently cut loose with the same pitch -- a fastball.

Swinging from the heels, Roscoe rolled his wrists and tagged the ball: Cah-rack!

Traveling over the second baseman’s glove the sphere left the infield with dispatch. It was still rising when it split the seam between the right and center fielders. They chased it across the grass, then down the slope and all the way into the little trickle of a creek that bordered the school yard.

By far, it was the most solidly Roscoe had ever hit a baseball, and he knew it. The utter perfection of the bat’s perfectly-timed kiss on the horsehide’s sweet spot had resonated through his body -- it was a righteous sensation.

Circling the bases, Roscoe heard the growing furor. He ran like a monster was chasing him, rounding third, until he almost caught up with Finn.

“Slow down, Number Nine ... they haven’t even found it yet,” Finn advised with a laugh.

Roscoe’s euphoric classmates were jumping around wildly. His grandfather beamed as he waved his straw hat. Teammates, suddenly champions, were pounding him on his back as he neared home. Meanwhile, his capacity to comprehend the moment was red-lining.

He looked at Susie on the quiet side of the field. The way her head tilted to the side, the angle of her limbs, something about her backlit outline pulled him into a spell. When she stomped her foot it made everything he saw and felt become more intense, more vivid.

It was as though he was viewing the event from several different angles. Roscoe felt both inside and outside the scene, at its heart and yet detached. His mind raced and the rest of the world seemed to slow down. He strained to pull all the pictures together.

He alone heard the explosion ... boom!

For the first time in his eleven and a half years on the planet, all of life seemed perfectly in focus when Roscoe crossed home plate. His spirit was in flight. It was soaring, free of gravity, above his dogged fears.

It hadn’t occurred to him to lope around the bases, a la Ted Williams. He’d been too excited for such restraint. More importantly, he had remembered to make no showboating, hat-tipping gesture to the crowd. If the real Number Nine never tipped his cap to the public during his home run trot, well, that was more than good enough for Roscoe.

A genuine hero doesn’t have to tip his cap.

* * *
All rights reserved by the author.
This story is dedicated to Emily, my ten-year-old granddaughter

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

...the best disinfectant

The General Assembly is back in session. In Richmond, while that might sound like business as usual -- the regular showboat drunks in certain bars -- this year there is something new to do with that particular pack of elected officials. Created by Waldo Jaquith, it is the brand new RichmondSunlight web site, which will give the public a snazzy new tool with which to interact with the GA.

Here’s an info blurb from the RichmondSunlight front page:

“Lobby your senator, keep up with your delegate, find out what bills could affect your life and make your voice heard. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it’s fun. Fully buzzword compliant, Richmond Sunlight demystifies the often-baffling process of how a bill becomes law, giving you a say in it, every step of the way. This year's General Assembly session begins on January 10, and is slated to run through February 24. Legislators are currently prefiling bills in advance of the session.”

Click here to read Jaquith's intro to RichmondSunlight.

Swordfish of '76

On Saturday, May 6, 2006 another Kentucky Derby Day softball reunion was held. Anyone who ever played on the now defunct team was welcome, plus their families, friends, etc. The annual parties began in 1980, when the Biograph Theatre’s softball team was one of the cars attached to a runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League (1975-94).
Fan District Softball Leaguers Chuck Wrenn, Terry Rea and Larry Rohr
Photo: Danny Brisbane (circa 1977)
At the reunion a few innings of softball were played in splendid weather without anyone hobbling off the field, or worse -- being carried off. A fine picnic spread was laid out and consumed. Cold beer flowed as the same stories were stretched, again. The horse race was watched on a little battery-powered TV.

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

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

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

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

The Swordfish’s two losses were in extreme situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. The other was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

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

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

The Raiders won, in a tight, high-scoring affair. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders. And, I was even more glad to leave that place.Now, I’m so glad that prison is no longer there. Located in the middle of Richmond, it was a nightmare in so many ways.

This yarn was a small part of a sepia-toned softball season so long ago it seems like a dream now. The Biograph teams that followed never saw anything like such raw success, again. Now I truly wonder how we did it.

It's time to come home; enough is enough

Apparently, the Commander in Chief is going to tell the American public that he has “decided” to escalate the war in Iraq, in that he intends to send in yet more troops. Rather than write a longer piece, anticipating the thrust of President Bush’s televised address tomorrow night, this post will only dwell on one point.Without rehashing all the terrible decisions Bush has made, to do with Iraq, he has surely run out of time for pursuing his “stay the course” strategy/slogan.

Bush has run out of time because this mission-not-accomplished has lasted way too long -- longer than America’s participation in World War II. History tells us the longer this occupation goes on, the more resourceful the resisters to it will become. He has run out of time because of disturbing revelations about how much he and Vice President Cheney tortured the truth in their manipulative buildup to the war. And, the president has run out of time because the utter failure of his hubris-driven effort to stabilize the Middle East, by overthrowing a heavy-handed dictator, is exacting a more bitter price in American blood and treasure every week.

This time, I'll skip the harm it has done to others.

The permit has expired for the campaign Bush launched on Mar. 20, 2003. No doubt, that was a good part of the message voters were sending him in the most recent election. Yes, and now it’s time for a whole new strategy that gets America out of Iraq, pronto -- that’s pretty much the rest of the message about Iraq, sent from the people.

Now, if Bush goes on TV and says here’s the new deal:

We have talked some of Iraq’s neighbors and some of our traditional allies into helping out in a new way. Under a UN flag, or a NATO flag, or some ad hoc international flag, they will cooperate with us in facilitating America’s withdrawal from Iraq. They will send in 50,000 or 75,000 of their troops to combine with 20,000 more of our troops, to help us clean out a few stubborn trouble spots. Then, in a couple of months, we will ask the UN to work with the various sects/tribes to “decide” how many countries Iraq ought to be split into, and where the borders ought to be. Then we will come home. Maybe Baghdad will have to be nervously policed by an international force for years.

If he says something along those lines, then I’d say a temporary “surge” in the number of American troops in Iraq might not be such a bad idea.

But if The Decider says this:

We were dead right to have started this war, and I just don’t care who says different. Yes, it’s been more difficult to bring democracy and peace to Iraq than we had hoped, but now, all we need to do is put more Americans in harm’s way, and you’ll see it will all work out, just fine. Hey, if we don’t fight the terrorists in Iraq -- 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 -- there’s no question but that they will soon be at our doorstep. So, this is a war we just can’t afford to lose. There is no substitute for victory.

If Bush spouts that crap, again, he deserves to be stiff-armed by Congress. That means Democrats and whatever Republicans must block any specific funding for this so-called “surge.” Then our legislators must set a firm deadline for Bush to bring our troops home, using the tools the system gives them.

Please know that until now I’ve been against a rigid published deadline. Until now, I’ve agreed that it would tie our military’s hands in a way we might regret.

Now, the message to The Decider is plain -- Sir, enough is enough!

During the years in which America’s involvement in the Vietnam War steadily escalated to more than a half-million troops, each escalation was sold as the solution to the problem. Now we know those increases were folly. Thousands of Americans died long after it was known at the heart of the Pentagon we would never win, at least not in any way like we had been told in the beginning, or to justify the many increases in troops.

As a man who remembers the lies and the lessons of Vietnam, it is incredibly exasperating/depressing to see it all happening again.

Enough is enough.
Toon by F.T. Rea

Motordrive Kitty

In the spring of 1985 I visited New York City for a few days. While there I bought a new 35mm Nikon, to replace a camera that had been stolen the year before, and I bought something I'd wanted for a long time -- a motordrive.

For the first month or so back in Richmond, I took the Nikon, with the motordrive attached to it, along with me all the time. These two almost identical prints of a sleepy cat in a storefront window on Main Street, taken a fraction of a second apart, probably made better use of the rapid fire capability than most of the snapshots I created in that period.

Monday, January 08, 2007

VCU Rams remain undefeated in CAA

Playing at the Siegel Center on West Broad Street, following a lackluster first half, VCU’s brutal defense squeezed visiting Northeastern to death: VCU 64, Northeasthern 44.

The Rams attack was paced by senior guard/forward Jesse Pellot-Rosa, who scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in 25 minutes on the floor. With a game at William & Mary on Wednesday night, VCU head coach Anthony Grant wisely rested his starters more in this game than recent previous outings, using 11 players in the doing.

As a result of tonight’s hoops action, VCU (12-3, 4-0 in CAA) moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association with Hofstra and Drexel. Playing at home, Hofstra (11-4, 4-0 in CAA) defeated ODU (10-5, 3-1 in CAA) by a score of 70 to 58. And, Drexel (12-2, 4-0 in CAA) won at James Madison (4-10, 1-3 in CAA) by a score of 65 to 54.

Update: For more on the CAA, read my sports column, The Bounce, at
Photo by SLANT

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Case of Gus the Cat

Though cynical people like to say, “All cats are gray in the dark,” the difference between this and that counts with me. Thus, if for no other purpose than to satisfy my own curiosity, I set out to find the truth about Gus, the cat that had long presided over lower Carytown from his display window roost.

The mystery began in January of 2000 during the course of a casual conversation about re-makes of old movies. Film buff Ted Salins, a regular among the society of conversationalists who gather at the tables on the sidewalk in front of Coffee & Co., tossed out that the cat living next door in Carytown Books is not the “original” Gus.

Since I’ve known Salins, a writer/filmmaker/house-painter, for a long time, I suspected his charge was a setup for a weak joke. To give him room to operate I asked, “So, this Gus is an impostor?”
Gus the Cat, perhaps
“Just like Lassie, several cats have played the role of Gus over the years,” Salins said matter-of-factly.

Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that Gus, someone else’s cat, had slowly become important to me over the years. In the past I’ve been told that he’s over 15, maybe pushing 20. Who can say what that is in cat years? He still has a few teeth left.

“You see, in ‘91 I had lost my beloved Skinkywinkydinky in a separation,” Salins went on, as if revealing a dark conspiracy. “When I first saw Gus, I took to him because he reminded me of Skinky. That Gus wouldn't let you touch him. But, this Gus…”

“Ted, this is absolutely the most off-the-wall nonsense you’ve come up with yet,” I accused.

“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.”

Before I could say “horsefeathers,” another member of the Carytown intelligentsia, who had just walked up, spoke: “Salins, as usual you’re all wet,” said artist Jay Bohannan. “That is not only the same cat, but Gus is, let’s see, yes, he’s nearly 70. That particular cat is probably the oldest cat this side of the island of Lamu.”

I laughed at Bohannan’s crack and excused myself from the table to let them hash it out. The two of them have been arguing good-naturedly since their VCU art school days in the early ‘70s.

Walking toward my car, Ted’s suggestion of a fraud having been perpetrated on the public bothered me. I felt certain that if somebody had actually installed a faux Gus in the bookstore it would have been all over the street the next day. As I tried to imagine people spiriting nearly identical cats in and out of the back door, in the dead of night, the matter wouldn’t rest.

So I turned around and went into Carytown Books. The shop’s manager, Kelly Justice, who has worked there for six years under three editions of ownership, scoffed at Salins’ charge.

“Anyone who knows Ted, knows he’s a nitwit,” said Ms. Justice with a wry smile. “More likely than not, this is an attempt to raise funds for another one of his documentaries.”

When I told her about Bohannan’s equally outrageous suggestion that Gus was almost a septuagenarian, Justice laughed out loud. “Perhaps Jay and Ted are both trying to hitch their wagons to Gus’s star,” she suggested playfully.

Back outside, Salins and Bohannan were both gone. So I walked east on the block to Bygones, the collectable clothing and memorabilia store known for its artful window displays. Since Maynee Cayton, the shop’s proprietor, is an unofficial historian for the neighborhood, I decided to see what she knew about Gus.

Cayton, who has been at that location for 16 years, said she had some pictures of the block from the ’30s and ‘40s, but she didn’t think she had any shots of a bookstore cat. However, she did remember that when she was a child she saw a gray and white cat in the window of what was then the Beacon Bookstore.

“It was in the late ’60s, I think it was 1967,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “And I’d say it was a young cat. Either way, I can’t believe the feline impersonator story, so maybe it was Gus.”

The next day, Bohannan called on the phone to tell me he had something I needed to see right away. He was mysterious about it and wouldn’t explain what he was talking about, except to say that it was proof of his claim about Gus the Cat.

Unable to let it go, I told him I’d stop by his place to see what proof he had.

Bohannan’s apartment, located between Carytown and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was an escape from the modern world altogether. It’s furnished in a pleasant mix of practical artifacts and curiosities from yesteryear. The heavy black telephone on his desk was almost as old as Jay. Next to the desk was a turn-of-the-century gramophone. Bohannan, himself, dressed like a character who just stepped out of a Depression-era RKO film, reached into a dog-eared manila folder and pulled out a photograph. When I asked him where he had gotten the picture, purportedly from about 1930, he shrugged.

In such a setting, his evidence of Gus’ longevity took on an eerie authenticity. Sitting in one of Bohannan’s ancient oak chairs, surrounded by his own paintings of scenes from Virginia’s past, I thought I could see the cat he claimed was depicted in the storefront’s window. Why, it even looked like Gus.

Jay told me I could keep the photo, it was just a copy. What a scoop!

Later, when I looked at the grainy picture at home, I could hardly even see a cat. The next day, back in Carytown, I spoke with several people who hang out or work in the neighborhood. A few actually thought Bohannan’s bizarre contention could be true. Others agreed with Salins.

One man, who refused to be quoted, said he was sure the original Gus was an orange cat. A woman looked up from her crossword puzzle to note that Bohannan's evidence was at least as good as what she'd seen on the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the whole group of chatty know-it-alls went off on the general topic of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. At the next table a woman in a straw hat started sketching the sidewalk scene.

A few days later, I saw Ted Salins holding court in front of the coffee shop. I told him what Kelly had said about his claim and I showed him Jay’s so-called proof that Gus is ancient.

Ted said mockingly, “The next thing you’re going to tell me is Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays. Look - it’s not the same cat. Live with it. This Gus is a ringer, maybe three years old.”

Turning around I looked through the storefront’s glass at good old Gus in his usual spot. He looked comfortable with a new electric heater under the blanket in his basket. It dawned on me that there was a time when Gus used to avoid me, as well. Now he seems happy for me to pet him, briefly.

Pulled back into the spell of the mystery, I wondered, had Gus changed or had I? Gus stared back at me and blinked. Like one of his favorite authors, J. D. Salinger, Gus wasn’t talking.

Gus was smiling as only a cat can; a smile that suggests equal parts of wisdom-of-the-ages and dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers. The truth about Gus the Cat was that he had grown accustomed to having a public.


Note: On June 19, 2001 a gray and white cat alleged to be the authentic Gus was found dead in Carytown Books. The piece above was published about 18 months before that date.
Modern photo of Gus: Stacy Warner/ Old Cary Street scene by Jay Bohannan

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Virginia Civil Rights monument in the making

The Richmond Democrat, published by J.C. Wilmore, has recently been proposing that new public art be created to honor some overlooked Virginians.

“A few days ago I proposed that the time had at last come to honor Virginia’s Unionists -- Virginians who had stayed loyal to the United States during the American Civil War. My proposal is based on the simple premise that Virginians who render heroic service to the United States are deserving of some recognition in the form of a monument or monuments...”

The original post for that notion has brought him some reaction -- surprise! -- from a warmed-over apologist for the Lost Cause.

So, to cheer J.C. up, and to encourage him to keep on keeping on, I want to direct him and my readers, in general, to a web site about an ongoing project that should be of some interest. It is The Virginia Civil Rights Commission's site, and you may find some encouragement there.

Not about the Civil War, this is about the long overdue honoring of some brave Virginians from another era. Below are some excerpts from the copy on display at that site:
  • In 2005, the Governor and the Virginia General Assembly established a memorial commission to select a monument for Capitol Square in honor of the struggle for full civil rights for Virginia's African American citizens. The Virginia Civil Rights Memorial Commission, comprised of elected and civic leaders, has met over the last several months to select a subject for the memorial, a site and an artist. The memorial will honor the student protest at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia.”
  • In 1951, a walk-out and demonstration -- led by a 16-year-old student named Barbara Johns -- was held by the students of the Robert R. Moton School to protest the intolerable conditions at the school. Legal action followed the protest and led to the federal court case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1952), where the students were represented by noted civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson. Their case was eventually joined with four other cases and argued before the Supreme Court as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka , which culminated in one of the most pivotal decisions ever rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
  • “The Commision’s selection of the Moton School protest was in part motivated by the hope that the tens of thousands of students who visit Capitol Square every school year will be particularly drawn to, and moved by, the story of what happened there. The eventual success of these students and their protest has much to teach us today.”
  • “The Commission chose sculptor Stanley Bleifeld based on his initial concept design for the memorial. Bleifeld is an internationally known artist who has exhibited all over the world at many prestigious galleries and museums. He also has extensive experience with public commissions. Stanley Bleifeld has been an artist in the public eye since the 1950’s. In 1967, the Bridgeport Sunday Post art critic wrote, ‘The name Stanley Bleifeld and sculpture are synonymous.’”
This most worthy project has been spearheaded by Lisa Collis, former First Lady of Virginia. Click here to read more about it. I can't wait to see this sculpture installed on the grounds in Capitol Square.
Art from The Virginia Civil Rights Commission