Thursday, May 29, 2008

Olsen honored at Berklee College of Music


Adrian Olsen (on the left) and Music Production and Engineering Associate Professor Andy Edelstein

BOSTON, May 23, 2008: Adrian Olsen of Richmond was honored with the Yale Thompson Memorial Scholarship Fund award at Berklee College of Music’s Annual Spring Awards. Olsen was recognized for outstanding musical and academic achievement.

Each spring semester, students are nominated for awards by Berklee department chairs, faculty, and staff. The committee identifies students who have the potential to become a leader in the music industry. Berklee’s Annual Spring Awards include tuition scholarships.

Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music. For over half a century, the college has evolved constantly to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With over a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing over 70 countries, and a music industry "who's who" of alumni, Berklee is the world's premier learning lab for the music of today -- and tomorrow.

The Yale Thompson Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 1996 in memory of a former Berklee student, Yale Thompson, by his family, Larry, Oksana, and Tiffany Thompson. The endowed scholarship fund is a permanent endowed trust established as an unrestricted endowment account. The interest from the funds will be granted as tuition aid to recognize an outstanding Music Production and Engineering major with first preference for a student who is a returning senior student, with additional preference for a percussionist (not required.)

-- The press release and image above were provided by Mia Rioux at Berklee.

Note: Adrian occasionally appears here in Richmond on stage with his father, Bruce Olsen, longtime Richmond rocker (The Offenders) and producer of recorded music.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bizarre Back Page in STYLE

The Back Page of STYLE Weekly’s May 28 issue is ostensibly about presidential politics. Penned by ’Rick Gray, it begins with this paragraph -- “I am a liberal.” Gray’s commentary then meanders for eight more graphs, using the word “I” 13 more times before it mentions a 2008 presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain.

With so much to write about, to do with Richmond’s suddenly wide open mayoral race, it was somewhat surprising to see national politics be the subject of a Back Page treatment. A reading of Gray’s piece brought on a reaction beyond surprise; in a single word perhaps “baffled” serves best.

The thrust of Gray’s screed seems to be that if Republican McCain wins in 2008, it will produce a Democratic president in 2012, one who would be better than Sen. Barack Obama. And, that McCain is actually a moderate who wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t appoint right-wingers to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, if Obama wins in 2008 he will be a miserable failure, because he is bound to get bogged down cleaning up President George Bush’s mess, and so forth...

Here’s an excerpt:
I’m also uneasy about Sen. Barack Obama for reasons that haven’t really been explored by the lemmings of the mainstream media.

For one thing, Obama reminds me of a lot of smart guys I’ve known -- fellow Echols Scholars at the University of Virginia and classmates at the U.Va. School of Law -- brilliant young guys who believed that academic success and intellectual prowess automatically made them leaders. That all they needed was power and they could solve all the problems that confound older, less brilliant minds.

There’s a subtle arrogance about Obama that I’ve seen before, and it troubles me.
Here's another. See if you can figure out what it means.
I can live with John McCain. With the single exception of Iraq -- a quagmire apt to prove intractable for any president -- McCain could not be more different from the incumbent.
Huh! McCain could not be what? Click here to read the entire piece.

At first the Back Page OpEd seemed like a particularly warped argument to support Sen. Hillary Clinton’s fizzling campaign, coming through a backdoor. Or, maybe a side window. After a second reading, while it does slam Obama, well, I don’t know what the hell ‘Rick Gray was trying to accomplish.

Among other puzzlements, Gray claims rather unconvincingly to be a liberal. While his analysis shows he keeps up with politics, it reveals much more about the conflicts in how the author feels about a smorgasbord of topics than it does about any of the candidates.

Speaking of "revealing," while the Back Page maybe be difficult to understand, the meaning of the cover of STYLE Weekly's current issue is quite easy to grasp.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Issue

Now that the presidential primary process has produced two candidates, the focus of the press has shifted to speculating over the most likely selections for vice president. Important as those decisions will be for Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, what will probably matter more to voters in November will be how well the two cats at the top of their tickets handle the three or four most important issues of the year.

The war in Iraq is bound to be one of them. Something to do with the economy is sure to be another. An issue no one could have predicted may yet emerge. This piece supports the notion that one particular issue — let’s call it “how do we want to live from here on?” — could well be what decides the election.

Concerning how we live, have we learned our lesson the hard way yet? Are we ready to change the way we strut our carbon footprints? If not now, when?

For nearly three decades voters have seemed easy to convince that living like a little king — having it all your way, all the time — is rightfully at the heart of the American dream. Happiness has been about having it 72 degrees, upon demand … mostly, it’s been about “having.”

Although the GOP has been using this concept/issue with much success since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980, it remains to be seen if McCain can convince 2008’s war-weary, recession-fearing Americans that they are still entitled to own big houses and drive big cars, no matter what.

Perhaps there’s no more visible symbol of a greed-driven lifestyle, based on the pursuit of wretched excess, than the largest of the sports utility vehicles.

The current price of energy might make yesterday’s sense of entitlement a tougher sell than it was in years gone by. On the other hand, with his message of “change,” Obama’s job will be to sell the idea that living smart will actually be better than living large.

As sensible as all that might seem, dear reader, too many Americans are obviously still clinging to the belief that access to cheap energy is tantamount to an inalienable right.

So, convincing that ilk to accept that the USA can’t make the whole world bend to its will won’t be easy. If McCain can make Obama's call for change of lifestyle seem like a second term for Jimmy Carter, the donkeys could be hobbled.

McCain’s chances diminish if Obama manages to inspire young voters to see striving to be caring stewards of the land, to be responsible parents and good neighbors, as way cooler than a lifestyle devoted to acquiring the most toys and flaunting one’s wealth.

But change won’t be painless. It might mean nobody wants to buy your used monster-sized SUV. It could mean eating food that didn’t have to travel a long distance to get to your plate. Can you stand the pain of riding a bicycle for short errands, or swearing off plastic bags?

Obama is going to have to turn around concerns for the environment and society that have been cast as wimpy in the past by Republicans. He must make those concerns seem robust in today’s context. Hope cures despair.

McCain will probably stick to the Republican playbook by telling his countrymen familiar words to the effect that harnessing greed is still the best way to promote healthy progress and stability. Can another Republican get elected with that sort of out-of-date rhetoric?

Maybe, but not if the savvy Democratic candidate convinces enough voters that on this planet, in the real world, change is inevitable. Isn't being against change a lot like being against reality?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Living in the Moment

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

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

Why not? The previous Monday, four students had been shot to death on Kent State’s campus during a Vietnam War protest rally. Three days later two more students were killed at Jackson State.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations, which had been planned for months, this time it all happened spontaneously. The shocking on-campus killings had moved many who had never marched in protest or support of anything before to simply drop what they were doing and set out for Washington, D.C., to live in the moment.

The mayhem on Virginia Tech’s campus a year ago brought to mind the shocking events of 38 years ago. It served to remind some of us that college campuses are customarily thought to be sanctuaries, supposedly removed from the ugliest realities of postmodern life.

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

Behind the podium a black man was lashed Christ-like to a huge cross, perhaps to dramatize to the largely white crowd who was doing most of the dying in Vietnam. As a convoy of military vehicles suddenly drove into the area the crowd booed.

When it turned out the troops were bringing in water for the thirsty the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem.

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

Untold numbers of fully-outfitted soldiers were crammed into basements, visible in the doorways, awaiting further orders. Until that day's bizarre uncertainty most of them couldn't have imagined being ordered to fight other Americans.

A cheer went up from the marchers when a determined kid managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag. The cops quickly hauled the flag-waver off but a commotion ensued and the scent of tear gas spiced the air. Hippies, who had been wading in a fountain to cool off, scaled a statue to get a better look I snapped pictures of them with my new 35mm single lens reflex.

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

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

It seems I took no pictures on Sunday, the 10th, but the photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the Monday that followed is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the sense of riding a collective sort of momentum was in the air that fateful Sunday in Monroe Park as Donivan opted to climb that old fountain, not unlike other hippies in DeeCee the day before (see photo). It had set the scene.

In 1970 the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the war in Vietnam (and environs), the hottest aspect of the Cold War. Families were being torn apart over disagreements to do with Vietnam, which overshadowed all other political issues of the time. Living in the moment was getting the young and unlucky killed off, randomly, wherever they were.

-- words and photo (1970) by F. T. Rea

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The long goodbye starts

Writing for STYLE Weekly, Scott Bass and Chris Dovi offer a smorgasbord of reactions to Doug Wilder’s announcement last week that he had decided not to seek a second four-year term as Richmond’s mayor.

So readers got Bill Pantele’s “comb-over” flapping in the breeze, a few of John Moeser’s what-ifs, a Paul Goldman’s I-told-you-so, again, and a wry warning from Larry Sabato that Wilder is far from being through with making news. Click here to read the entire piece in today’s issue of STYLE. Here is an excerpt:
...What Wilder squandered in terms of potential is also open to debate. While the business community supported Wilder’s campaign in 2004 and genuinely fawned over the mayor early on, Wilder wasted no time attacking the city’s power structure upon taking office.

His first target was the business community’s pet project, the performing arts center, which led to Wilder publicly dressing down Jim Ukrop and criticizing the project’s architects for misusing public funds. It caused an immediate rift that didn’t end until, ironically, Wilder appointed a committee of business leaders to right the ship and scale down the arts center.

In hindsight, Wilder’s first term appears to have re-energized the business community to get more involved, even if no one seemed to predict Wilder’s announcement last week.
Whoa! Nobody “seemed” to predict that Wilder would not run?

Well, maybe no one at STYLE Weekly predicted it, but readers of SLANTblog got a heads-up prediction over a month before Wilder’s announcement. Click here to read a prediction that was made here at SLANTblog on April 2.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Richmond's next mayor?


Now that Mayor Doug Wilder has announced he will not run for reelection, the contest to be Richmond's next mayor is likely to be a wide open affair. There's no telling how many candidates will emerge. But it is highly unlikely any candidate will have the strength in all nine districts that Wilder had in 2004.

At Buttermilk & Molasses its publisher, John Sarvay, looks at the Richmond mayoral race. His post, “Richmond’s Next Mayor: Six Candidates Walk Into A Bar...”, comments on six announced or likely candidates -- Donnie “Dirtwoman” Corker, Paul Goldman (pictured above), Robert Grey, Dwight Jones, Bill Pantele, Lawrence Williams -- and their prospects.

The second smartest guy running, [Paul] Goldman is also the savviest man in the race having honed his political chops over two decades as the Cardinal Richelieu to Doug Wilder's Louis XIII. Sadly, Goldman has been unable to land his obvious smarts in a way that leaves the public wanting more...
After the petitions are handed in and the signatures on them verified by the City Registrar, anybody want to venture a guess at how many of those six will end up on the ballot?

If attorney Robert Grey decides to run, Sarvay sees him as the candidate to beat. I have to agree with that call. And, I must say that those who are already casting Grey as Wilder-lite are probably going to have a hard time making that characterization stick.

Click here to read all of Sarvay’s analysis.

Perhaps there is a name or two that Sarvay overlooked. Any suggestions?

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monday, May 19, 2008

'Appeasement' in our time

What is even more absurd/annoying than the typical snarling second-string political panelist on a cable television news show, palavering practiced passion in an effort to tar a candidate?

Perhaps such a panelist who doesn’t know the meaning of the key talking-points word he uses.

Click here to read about the appearance of radio talk-show blowhard Kevin James on MSNBC's Hardball last week. It seems James is adamantly opposed to “appeasement” in our time ... no matter what the hell it means.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chasing Dignity

“…Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were — and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”

– from “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1978, with the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” playing to the delight of a midnight show packed house, a fight broke out in the middle of Grace Street. Insults, rocks and bottles flew back and forth between the two factions of four each: VCU frat boys vs. an Oregon Hill crew. Their battle was unfolding a perilous 25 to 30 yards from the Cinemascopic all-glass front of the Biograph Theatre, a Fan District cinema I then managed.

At the same time a group of my Biograph Swordfish softball teammates was in the lobby playing a pinball machine. As manager, I felt obliged to drive the danger away, so I opened an exit door and yelled that the cops were already on the way, which they were.

The frat boys scampered off. Their opposites simply switched over to bombing me. A tumbling bottle shattered on the sidewalk. Rocks bounced closer as I closed the door. A piece of brick smashed through its bottom panel of glass to strike my right shin.

When we lit out after them, there were at least a half dozen men running in my impromptu posse of employees and pinball players. The hooligans scattered, but my focus was solely on the one who’d plunked me. Hemmed in by three of us in a parking lot, he faked one way, then cut to the other. His traction gave way slightly in the gravel paving, and I tackled him by the legs.

The others got away. With some help from my friends, we marched the captured 19-year-old back toward the theater. During the trek east on Grace, the culprit said something that provoked one in my group to suddenly punch him. That, while the punchee’s arms were being held.

A policeman, who had just arrived, saw it. He sarcastically complimented the puncher for his aggressive “technique” before the street-fighting man was hauled off in the paddy wagon. In contrast, I told the vigilante puncher he had overreached in hitting the kid unnecessarily, especially while he was helpless.

Surprised by my reaction, my softball teammate laughed. So I said something like, “Hey, we’re no better than the fascists we’ve claimed to deplore if we resort to their tactics.” He disagreed, saying essentially this — that his summary punishment would likely be the only price the little thug would ever pay for his crime. Another in the group agreed with him.

It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” The excerpt above is the evocative piece’s last paragraph. During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me.

Yes, we baby boomers were about to see that our sweetest day in the sun, with its righteous causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems, had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux.

A month later I agreed to the court’s proposal to drop the assault charge, provided the brick-thrower was convicted of a misdemeanor for breaking the glass and paid for the damage. A payment schedule was set up. As we spoke several times after that, I came to see the “hooligan” wasn’t really such a bad guy. Payment was made on time. Eventually, he asked for the name of the man who’d punched him. While withholding the name, I agreed with him that the blow had been a cheap shot.

About a year later, a quick thief snatched a handful of dollar bills from a Biograph cashier, then bolted out the front door. The cashier’s frightened look triggered an alarm in your narrator’s sense of duty/propriety. Her face was quite expressive, and I was still young enough to think chasing criminals down the street was normal. Quaint as it may sound now, it seemed then that some collective sense of dignity was at stake.

In short, it took about 10 minutes to discover the thief’s hiding place, then turn him over to the policemen who’d shown up. I received some unexpected help in cornering him. As I ran west on Grace Street behind the 20-year-old grab-and-run artist, another young man — a total stranger — jumped out of his pickup truck to join in the chase.

Later, when the dust settled, I asked the volunteer why he’d stopped. He answered that he knew I was the Biograph’s manager because a buddy of his had once pointed me out. His friend? It was the same Oregon Hill street-fighter I’d tackled a year before.

My assistant thief-chaser also told me his friend assured him I’d dealt fairly with him. Consequently, a favor was owed to me. Before he left, my collaborator said that in his neighborhood the guys stick together. Thus, he’d supported me in my time of need to help pay his friend’s debt. We shook hands.

Over the years what connects those two chase scenes has become increasingly more satisfying. No doubt that’s because so many times over the years, in dealing with bad luck and other ordinary tests of character, I’ve done nothing to write home about — even the wrong thing.

At least in this story, maybe, I got it right.

The point?

Dear reader, in spite of the wall-to-wall cynicism of our current age, there really was a time when cheap shots — delivered mostly because you can get away with them, so why not? — were seen in a bad light. Returning favors was part of what held things together.

Through the mist of “ghostly rumbles” and “asthmatic whispers,” to some graying hippies, that hasn’t changed.

– 30 –

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's official, Wilder not seeking reelection

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder will not run for reelection. He announced his decision this morning. Style Weekly has the story.
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder this morning informed department heads at City Hall he will not seek reelection this fall. In a press statement issued this morning, Wilder says: “As the first elected Mayor under the City’s new form of government, I have set the course that will continue to produce meaningful results even as I now announce my leave from this office at the end of the year...
Click here to read the entire article.

And, I’d like to remind SLANTblog’s readers that you read it here over a month ago. Click here to read about that prediction.

Meanwhile, Richmond’s popular police chief, Rodney Monroe, has accepted an offer to become the police chief down in Charlotte, North Carolina. Reports say he will be paid $185,000 per year, which is about $20,000 more than he was making here. He will be supervising more than twice the number of personnel and will have a budget more than double what it was here.

In baseball parlance, Monroe has been called up to the big leagues from Triple A. So, there's no reason to blame anyone for his departure. Unless, you are Mayor Wilder, who would like to throw that dead cat at City Council.

However, if one really wants to look for who might have convinced Monroe to get out of town, it is more likely the lame duck mayor will find the culprit in his bathroom mirror. The Friday Night Fiasco that Wilder engineered, on Sept.21, 2007, in which he used Monroe's officers to bar people from entering City Hall, probably didn't set well with Chief Monroe.

Click here to read more about that crazy night at Brick Weekly, in "The Wilder Walk" (by yours truly). It can be said that Richmond lost a police chief, a mayor and a baseball team that night. For how Richmond's loss of of the R-Braves figures into this story click here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 on community blogs

The second installment of’s look at the local community blog scene is up. Here’s an except of Stephanie Brummell’s piece:
"It comes down, I think, to the fact that Richmond has these great, old neighborhoods," said John Murden, creator of one of Richmond's first community sites, the Church Hill People's News. "Church Hill is distinct from Jackson Ward and is distinct from the Fan and Oregon Hill, and so we have all these little areas that were well served by community newsletters in the past – it just goes back to the neighborhoods."

Click here to read the entire piece (including last week’s Part One).

Kudos to for seeing this story as newsworthy. Until now, Richmond’s intrepid community news publishers have been recognized for their groundbreaking work much more by national media scholars than they have by the local mainstream media. Click here to read a little background on that claim.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lapel pin makes news, again

Shiver me timbers! Both MSNBC and CNN are reporting that Sen. Barack Obama actually wore an American flag lapel pin today. Both cable television news networks offered video clips that appeared to back up their nearly-startling claims.

What about more proof of Obama's rediscovery of lapel pin patriotism?

An AP article, “Obama defends his patriotism, quarrels with McCain,” on the campaign in West Virginia used the appearance of the lapel pin as its lede:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Wearing a flag lapel pin, Sen. Barack Obama emphasized his patriotism and support for a strong and humane military Monday, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton implored West Virginians to sustain her hopes of somehow denying him the Democratic presidential nomination.
Deeper into the article a semi-significant bonding-with-the-blue-collars breakthrough for Obama was revealed, as the nominee-apparent sought to shake off his "elite" image with the beer-and-a-shot crowd.
After the speech, Obama stopped at Schultzie's Billiards hall, where he showed greater skill at pool than he had at bowling last month in Pennsylvania. As a small crowd oohed and ahhed at his third consecutive good shot, Obama said his skill was "the sign of a misspent youth. I wasn't doing wholesome things like bowling."
Elsewhere, Sen. John McCain complained about unfair treatment by the media. And, Sen. Hillary Clinton complained.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

White House sleep-overs for Limbaugh and Rev. Wright?

You bet I’m angry about silly rumors being spread that Hillary promised White House sleep-overs to Rush Limbaugh and Rev. Wright ... naturally, not on the same night.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Partisan poseurs and pollen

Angry talk about politics has been wafting about in the springtime air like pollen. To put it mildly, some partisans aren’t exactly pleased with the candidate who has emerged as their party’s nominee apparent.

Presently, the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party can’t stand Sen. John McCain, because his conservative bona fides haven’t met its standards. The so-called Dittoheads I know haven’t been shy about slamming McCain, some still take pride in saying they can never vote for him.

Since Limbaugh needed a segue to get off of that kick — because he will later support McCain — Rush has been playing the Pied Piper to his followers, to make mischief in Democratic primaries. If it flashes his awesome reach to prospective advertisers that‘s all good, too.

Given Limbaugh’s long history of loving to bash Sen. Hillary Clinton, he would probably still like to see her somehow steal the Democratic nomination from Sen. Barack Obama. It would surely be good for business.

Some of those who had long expected Clinton to be the Democratic nominee now see Obama as a ruthless usurper. Amid whispered suggestions about America not being ready to elect a black man as its president, they are also flinging accusations of sexism in every direction. All that to explain away their candidate’s disappointing performance in the only nominating game that truly matters, winning delegates.

Of course, there are cynics who get irritated by the sound of such political talk in the air at this time of year. To them, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between any of the politicians in either party, so everybody ought to shut up. These guys would rather be in a conversation about lawn care, or how much they hate four-way-stop intersections.

So, in springtime’s allergy season, all sorts of voices can get raised to amp up weak arguments. Tables can get pounded for emphasis to condemn candidates, or all of politics, itself.

At this point the strange bedfellows award goes to the unholy alliance of recent weeks, putting Limbaugh and Clinton on the same Stop-Obama team. It must have seemed a bit exotic for the most determined anti-feminists who have actually posed as Democrats for a day, to vote for Clinton in a primary.

So, I have to wonder if those culturally conservative Republicans dressed any special way to look less Republican, as they stood in line for a Democratic primary. Coat and tie? Sweatshirt and jeans? How about disguises? Fake mustache? Wig-hat?

As the primary season draws to an end there are grumbling elephants and donkeys aplenty, threatening to withhold their support from their party’s nominee after the summer’s conventions. Maybe some are just trying to bully a presumptive nominee into making certain moves in their direction, perhaps others will actually stay angry enough to sit the election out.

Ruffled feathers aside, most sane and civic-minded Republicans, Democrats and Independents will not fail to find significant differences between McCain and Obama in October, once they are in the stretch run of the race for the White House.

Just for starters, the next president will be appointing Supreme Court justices and deciding what to do to get America out of Iraq in the best way possible.

While McCain and Obama will be aggressively courting moderates without party affiliation, there will be clear differences in what they will say about approaching those two pivotal tasks. This election day there will be a clear choice. By then, springtime's irritating words will have mostly been washed away by the summer’s storms.

In spite of the leave-me-out-of-it cynics and sulking partisans, all making blustery noise in May, because of the unprecedented interest in issues and candidates this year’s presidential election will probably have the biggest turnout in decades.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Richmond's community journalism hotbed

At Part One of a two-part series about Richmond's burgeoning community blog scene entitled “A Hotbed of Citizen Journalism,” went up today. The article cites an email from a VCU journalism professor, Jeff South, which was published at the Fan District Hub on April 5th.

South was in the midst of listening to a presentation on participatory media during "Media Re:Public" a conference convened by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society when he learned that Richmond "by far and away…ranked No. 1 for citizen journalism Web sites."

Click here to read the story by Stephanie Brummell.

Click here to read South’s email in its entirety.

McClellan switches to Obama

The Fan District’s representative in the House of Delegates, Jennifer McClellan, made news on Wednesday by switching her support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. This AP story, “Obama picks up superdelegates; undecideds moving his way,” offers the scoop:

But [Hillary Clinton] lost another supporter, Virginia state House member Jennifer McClellan, who switched to Obama. McClellan is one of at least nine superdelegates who have switched from Clinton to Obama since the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5. There have been no public switches in the other direction.

“I think the time has come to support Senator Obama as the likely nominee,” McClellan said in a conference call with reporters. “Given what happened last night, it’s very unlikely we will have a different result, and it is time to come together as a party and prepare for victory against John McCain in November.”

Click here to read the entire story.

McClellan’s move was made on the same day former Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee for president, made the same switch. It could be said she finds herself in good company.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Fear vs. Hope

With its unprecedented pair of energetic candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, never has a presidential primary season been so reported upon as this one. As the two Democrats’ political messages get cooked down to bare bones, through the repetition of stump speeches, sound bites and commercials, the propaganda flowing out of their camps this far into the process has to all be on-message.

Their themes have been reduced from pithy paragraphs, to high concept, down to one word each: Clinton is selling “fear.” Obama is selling “hope.”

When Clinton says she and Republican Sen. John McCain have crossed the “threshold” to be qualified to be Commander-in-Chief, she is clearly trying to make people worry about that other Democrat, the young one without so much baggage. The same goes for her 3 a.m. ringing telephone ad.

Clinton’s language is being aimed at voters in the upcoming primaries, somewhat, but perhaps more at the Super Delegates. She seems to be suggesting to them that Obama will be way too vulnerable to a fear-driven, swift-boat campaign from McCain or others acting on his behalf in the general election.

When Barack Obama says he wants to change the way Washington works, his words have extra meaning. He is less beholding to traditional Democratic power brokers/king-makers than any candidate who has gotten the nomination in a long time. He is calling for “change.”

While change might sound like a good thing to people without power, change can be a scary word to folks with something to lose. That would include some Democrats who might still prefer a more seasoned donkey at the top of the ticket, especially one that owes them a favor.

Obama is telling the Super Delegates most of the voters want to see a more collegial and results-oriented style in the way programs and policies are put together in DeeCee. Moreover, Obama is telling them his leadership style and momentum will produce coattails to help them win their elections in November.

Clinton’s “kitchen sink” strategy has, at times, seemed rather unconcerned about whatever damage it might do to the Democratic Party. It’s hard to believe many of the Super Delegates have enjoyed that part of the race.

Maybe the only thing that could make it OK to shamelessly slime a fellow Democrat in the primaries would be if it was being done to save the party from a blowout loss in November.

More fear.

Clinton's easy use of fear tactics in this campaign has not been so different from the way the Bush administration has milked fear every way it could after the explosions of 9/11. Her idea of change seems to be going back to the 1990s, back to when The Clintons were in The White House. She’s selling change as safe nostalgia, rather than what she might say would be a blind plunge into an uncertain future.

Fear or hope?

It’s a classic choice.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Friday, May 02, 2008

Show Dogs' CD release party at Shenanigans

The following message just came in from one of SLANTblog's favorite bands, Billy Ray Hatley and the Show Dogs:
Join us if you can this Saturday night, 5/3, at Shenanigans to celebrate the release of "Cryin' Shame", our 3rd CD.

The disk features 13 ready-made hits penned by Billy Ray Hatley, as he again reports on the agony and ecstasy of being a human. This time around, the Show Dogs enlisted the mighty talents of local legends and dear friends Chris Fuller (on mandolin), Jim Skelding (on fiddle), Charles Arthur (on a bunch of things with strings and on 1970's Pro Wrestling trivia), and our producer and master musician Velpo Robertson. A tip of the hat also goes to Bruce Olsen, for his expert engineering, advice and hospitality. Well done, boys!

We hope you'll give "Cryin' Shame" a listen. A few folks have told us it's our best yet. We're not sure about that, but we are proud of the CD and believe that you'll gladly make room for it in your 5-disk changer. If you can't make it to Shenanigans Saturday night, we hope you'll pick it up at Plan 9 or at another Showdogs gig in the near future. It'll also be available online through CD Baby and other outlets.

If you're all tech-savvy and stuff, you can even buy individual songs from "Cryin' Shame" on itunes... if you really want to be responsible for subverting the statement of an artist that is joyfully creating a work of art with a thematic and coherent vision in which the whole is far more emotionally rewarding than the sum of its individual pieces ever could be. Not that I'm biased or anything. Just gimme back my vinyl, and I'll be OK.

Thanks for your support!

-- h/t to Jim Wark

Swordfish of '76


On Saturday, May 5, 2007 another Kentucky Derby Day softball reunion was held. Anyone who ever played on the defunct Biograph softball team was welcome, plus their families, friends, etc.

Chiefly, the annual get-togethers were set in motion by the initiative of the original Biograph Theatre team’s third baseman, Ernie Brooks, who had left Richmond to resume his graduate studies at Virginia Tech in 1979. Brooks corralled enough former players, who had also left the team, to challenge what was then the current Biograph team.

Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was played on the first Saturday of May, earlier in the afternoon in which the 1980 Kentucky Derby would be run.

Thus, a tradition was set and it’s been Derby Day ever since. At this time the Biograph’s softball team was one of the cars, maybe the clown car, attached to the runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League (1975-94).

As always, 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. That was the first summer of organized softball at the Biograph. We called our team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. That year the Swordfish 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 even a 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. Those supposedly better teams seemed forever willing to overplay their hands.

Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that first Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. 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 canceled, 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 umpire for the games — two games were played that day as J.W. Rayle played the prison team first, then the Swordfish — came in with us. He was a somewhat notorious Fan Leaguer who played on another team, Cassell’s, and who later wrestled professionally — Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson (depicted above in the illustration).

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. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era — it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.

We just had identical blue hats with a “B” on them. About half of us wore one of a couple of recently printed, but different, Biograph T-shirts models.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, somewhat 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.”

“And, 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 subsequent Biograph teams that played in the Fan District Softball League until it folded in 1994 never saw anything even close to such raw success, again.

It seemed so easy then … now I truly wonder how we did it.


Note: The Biograph softball reunion will be held again on Saturday at the same field as last year. This time the Derby Day party (the 29th annual reunion) will incorporate into its format a Fan District Softball League reunion, which enlarges the gathering. That means players and fans associated with any of the league’s teams over the years will be welcome, with a few exceptions (you know who you are). For more info about it, click here.

-- Words and art by F. T. Rea

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rev. Wright -- preacher, comedian, lunatic, or what?

Too many agendas have been in play during Part One and Part Two of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright flap for me to sort out where the racism starts and where the opportunism ends. At this point this bizarre bump in the road to the White House for Barack Obama seems unprecedented.

So, who knows how it will play out?

Obviously, Wright's point that all black churches have been attacked in the process is a stretch. Nonetheless, the media’s suggestion that what goes on in most black churches is so exotic that most white people would get apoplexy if they knew the half of it, is ... well, it’s silly.

On the other hand, what some black preachers say to their congregations, sometimes, is probably rather different in tone and substance from what some white preachers say to their congregations. But so what! There are white preachers ten times crazier than Jeremiah Wright ... and that's saying something.

What about good ol' Rev. Pat Robertson, to start with? Or, what about those Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints screwballs down in Eldorado, Texas, with all those pregnant teenagers? Do you think maybe there is a nutty white preacher in that mix, somewhere?

Wright, himself, seems to be auditioning for something, but what that might be isn’t clear. Minister without portfolio? Perhaps somebody will have to throw net over him, eventually.

Not unlike Rev. Al Sharpton, regardless of how Wright first got into the spotlight, it seems he means to remain a national figure. It looks like Wright is pretty good at being mean. That it is coming at Obama’s expense, at least in the short run, is striking and sad, because there is an element of betrayal.

Still, it seems to me we are talking about race, again, even if much of what has been said is not meant to lead us closer to the truth. Once the dust settles, we may find that looking deeper into the differences and the similarities in black churches and white churches will eventually allow for more understanding, even more tolerance, regardless of what got the discussion going.

And, I‘m not at all convinced this punish-the-candidate-because-his-pastor-has-lost-his-marbles business will actually torpedo Obama’s chance to win the nomination, or the general election. This is something new and the pundits don't know where it‘s going, either. Sure, they will milk it for ratings, and Obama's opponents are glad Wright is still ranting, but we're all in uncharted waters.

This much I do know -- as a performer, Rev. Wright is every bit as unabashed and willing to go for a cheap laugh as Bill Maher, or Rush Limbaugh, or any other political comedian working today.