Friday, July 25, 2008

The Handbill War

The pen and ink cartoon below was created in 1983 and first published as a handbill posted on utility poles in the commercial sections of the Fan District. Later it ran in SLANT in 1986. That single frame cartoon of mine was part of a five-year campaign waged to fight off the city's anti-handbill laws.

By keeping ordinary things like handbills, cohabitation, gambling, and other "victimless" crimes illegal, it means just about anybody can be harassed by the long arm of the law. But it's the ones with the unfashionable attitudes that feel the boot first.

As the Biograph Theatre's manager, when I was busted in 1982 for posting a handbill that promoted a midnight show ("Atomic Cafe"), it was a bust I deliberately provoked. I wanted to beat The City of Richmond in court.

Laws that the GRTC, politicians and yard sale promoters routinely ignored were suddenly getting guys in bands busted. Perhaps not so coincidently this crackdown happened when the band scene in the Fan District was at an all-time high.

After looking at a hundred choice flyers and listening to expert witnesses, the judge bought my defense and found me not guilty. (For an amusing account of an incident in that trial, click here.) For a while the cops left hand-billers alone.

Then the busts resumed in late-1984. In 1985, SLANT's first cause was to once again frame the battle with The City in a freedom-of-speech context, while insisting the pop scene depended on flyers being posted in such a way, on the people’s utility poles, to exist.

In 1986 an ad hoc group of Fan District artists and musicians formed to pepper The City with a propaganda campaign. In 1987 the local statutes governing handbill-posting in the public way were changed. Essentially, we won.

Freedom of speech prevailed.

Demonstration against war/for impeachement set

The notice below concerns serious matters and I'm pretty sure I agree with most of what the organizers of the event it describes are trying to put forth. But I must also say that staging an anti-war rally in front of Media General's offices seems to be a stretch. Maybe the organizers are hoping it will get them extra publicity if they take their case to the doorstep of the inky mainstream media.

In the past, demonstrations of this nature have been held in Monroe Park. Sometimes the demonstrators would march down to Capitol Square. Those are public places.

Other protests have targeted specific companies for specific grievances, to do with how they did business. So, while blocking the road to Dominion Power might get you arrested, it makes sense to go directly to the people who are making the decisions that the activists want to protest.

Targeting Richmond's local daily newspaper's reporting as the bulls-eye in this case does nothing to bolster the demonstrators calls for peace or impeachment. Instead it seems to be trying to harness a general sentiment against the Richmond Times-Dispatch for leaning to the right with most of what it prints on its Editorial and OpEd pages.

However, I'd rather see this event happen than not happen. So here is the information you need to know to participate/observe:
Notice: Richmond-area residents will gather outside the offices of the Richmond Times-Dispatch to demonstrate their opposition to an attack on Iran and to voice their outrage at the Media General newspaper’s increasingly incendiary stories and headlines about what it is projecting as a near-certain war with Iran.

Protesters will also call for an end to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney – a move they see as essential to imposing a penalty for the illegal attack on Iraq and to discourage future attacks on Iran or elsewhere.

When: Saturday, July 26, at 1 p.m. (full crowd expected by 1:20 PM)

Where: Outside the offices of the Richmond Times-Dispatch at 300 E. Franklin St.

What: Protesters with signs, banners and noise-makers will call for “No War on Iran,” “Out of Iraq and Afghanistan” and “Impeach Bush and Cheney.” They will also demand the Richmond Times-Dispatch print news and not war propaganda. Speakers will discuss the impact of war on our community. In addition, they will present steps for citizens to take to help stop war and redirect needed resources to meet human needs. Participants will write messages to the media in chalk on the sidewalk.

Who: This rally was initiated by RVA4Peace and is being supported by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and the Richmond Peace Education Center.
The information above was provided by RVA4Peace. For more info contact Chris Dorsey, RVA4Peace, (804)564-1491, or Rain Burroughs, Virginia Anti-War Network (804) 240-4206 –

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Top Five 'Where was Doug' locations?

Since we still don't know – nobody's talking, on the record -- what are the five most likely places Mayor Doug Wilder was on Monday, instead of at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial unveiling at Capitol Square?

It seems Hizzoner was out of town, doing something his spokesperson Linwood Norman couldn't remember, when asked.

But it was a trip that had been planned for a long time, assured Norman.

Below the reader will find SLANTblog's top five guesses as to where Doug was when the words of Julian Bond and Nikki Giovanni rang out to celebrate the day that told Sen. Harry F. Byrd's statue to get used to its new neighbors on the grounds.

Where was Doug?:
  • In Fredericksburg having important discussions about the Slave Museum project, which can't seem to get off the back burner.
  • In his Charles City County home, Googling for dirt on the familiar list of names that he routinely refuses to appear in the same room with, no matter what the occasion.
  • In an undisclosed small town, talking with people who won't be quoted --- don't take a picture or they will have to break your camera -- about bringing a new minor league baseball team to Richmond.
  • In an undisclosed, Chiocca's-like neighborhood dive, in an undisclosed neighborhood, having a quiet lunch with Patricia Kluge, an old friend who has the dough to finance a righteous art project if she wanted to.
  • In an undisclosed artist's studio, posing for the speculative sketches to be used to make a bronze statue of him for the corner of Meadow St. and Monument Ave.
-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Want to change Richmond’s public schools?

Change, even in Richmond, is inevitable.

To back up that claim, one needs only to walk through Capitol Square to see the new Virginia Civil Rights Memorial that was dedicated on July 21, 2008.

The sculpture, by Stanley Bleifeld, is about change. Three of its sides recall of the heroism of those who walked around the Massive Resisters then in power, as they marched toward fair treatment and a better education. The fourth side’s figures suggest changes yet to come.

The 18 figures of the piece are not presented in heroic proportions. They are just slightly larger than life-size and they all stand on a low-rise platform, allowing viewers to stand along side them. In that way the art suggests everyday people, on the level with the rest of us, can be heroes, too.

In 1951, when Barbara Johns led the “walk-out” demonstration at Moton High in Farmville, which the sculpture recognizes, the kids were risking their lives for change. Some of them may not have felt that, as much of the worst violence of the Civil Rights Era was yet to come. Others may have been so caught up in the spirit of the moment, surfing a wave of hope, they didn’t sense how provocative their peaceful gesture might seem to the authorities.

In the presidential campaign now underway Sen. Barack Obama has adopted the word “change” as a one-word slogan. After mocking him, his opponents began to use the very same word in their speeches. It seems change is not only inevitable, sometimes it is more universally welcome than others.

Now everybody is for change, but not necessarily the same changes. Obama has been talking about changes that come from the bottom up. He casts himself as one who would facilitate the sort of improvements people on the bottom -- out of power -- need to have a better life. If he wins and lives up to his lofty campaign rhetoric, he can be expected to then try to affect change from the top down.

To make meaningful changes that get traction it usually takes simultaneous pressure from the top and the bottom. Too much heavy-handed, top downism is asking for a trouble with workers and the underclass, a revolution. Too much bottom up is a revolution.

Unless a sitting governor’s wife had not decided she wanted to put a memorial to Virginia’s Civil Rights heroes in Capitol Square, Bleifeld’s well-executed statement simply would not exist.

The Farmville students' call for change from the bottom up inspired a movement which inspired the artist. But the actual changes in public schools that have attempted to answer that righteous call had to have been made by those in power.

Likewise, the political push and fundraising for the memorial had to be done by those in power.

Back to schools, the extreme emphasis on test results that has loomed over public education in the last decade was a change from the top down. Before the Standards of Learning/No Child Left Behind era, parents weren’t calling for standardized testing to cure the ills of public education.

No, they were calling for better teachers and decent facilities. They still are.

Are our leaders in Richmond today listening to what parents and students say they need from public education? Or, are they busy driving their kids out to their private schools?

Richmond School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf asks, “What will it take to bring Richmond’s black and white middle class back into our public schools?

My best answer to her question is that it will take a sincere effort to change, both from the bottom up and the top down. And, it will take good leadership.

From the podium on Monday morning, before unveiling the monument, Gov. Tim Kaine recalled the photographs of his wife as a girl -- Virginia’s First Lady Anne Holton, with her father, then-Gov. Linwood Holton -- walking into a public school in Richmond. In its time that black and white image was an inspiration to millions looking for a sign of real change.

Now it’s time for Richmond’s political, business and religious leaders to send their children and grandchildren back to public schools. Instead of more studies, they need to be listening to their kids telling them what is really going on in public schools.

Fifty-four years after the Brown vs. Board of Education Decision, isn’t it time for Richmond’s government to guarantee that an honest effort will be made to offer a quality education to children in every neighborhood in town?

Can't we elect fellow citizens to office who will see to it that change becomes our friend?

What will it take? Indeed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where was Doug?

With all the smiling faces at the Civil Rights monument's unveiling in Capitol Square Monday morning, baking in the bright sunlight, one politician was rather conspicuous by his absence — the nation’s first black governor and Richmond’s lame duck mayor, Doug Wilder.

Hizzoner sure wasn't on the platform with the other elected officials and dignitaries.

Was Wilder watching the proceedings from an air-conditioned penthouse super box? Could he have been in Fredericksburg, tending to Slave Museum matters? Maybe he was in an undisclosed location having secret talks about a new baseball team in Richmond?

Where was Mayor Wilder?


Update: The Washington Post wondered, too, as Anita Kumar asked, "Where was Doug Wilder?"

But L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, who now serves as Richmond's mayor, was noticebly [sic] absent.

"He wanted to be there,'' Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman said later. But, Norman said, Wilder was out of town on a long-planned trip.

Click here to read the entire article.

Norman says Wilder "wanted" to be there. But the Doug Wilder I know usually does what he wants to do, and little else. And, this important unveiling ceremony had been "long-planned," as well. Norman's weak alibi doesn't ring true.

So, I'm left to guess at what would keep Wilder away from the cameras and microphones. After all, he was all over the 1996 Arthur Ashe statue unveiling on Monument Ave. And, he wasn't even an office-holder at the time.

Why would Mayor Wilder blow off the most significant local, public art unveiling of a generation?

With Tobacco Avenue on vacation, who can we turn to for some answers?

Update II: STYLE Weekly also wonders about the missing mayor: Click here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Civil Rights Memorial unveiling

Today the new Virginia Civil Rights Memorial was unveiled at Capitol Square.

The sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld (at the podium above) includes 18 bronze figures emerging from a block of granite. It sits on the ground, so people can touch it, so tourists and pilgrims can stand beside the figures to pose for photos, so children can play on it.

The ceremony itself was well attended. Poet Nikki Giovanni probably got the biggest applause when she finished her remarks. I hope to locate and publish the text of what she said, but it started with something like, “This is not a poem.” She concluded with “This is a rocket, let’s ride” (at the beginning of the video).

This $2.6 million project began in 2002 with a little girl -- former Gov. Mark Warner’s youngest daughter, Eliza -- asking her mother why there were no statues in Capitol Square honoring women, or the heroes of the Civil Rights Era.

Today the art itself honored the bravery of children in 1951, when a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a “walk-out” demonstration, protesting the outrageously separate-but-unequal conditions at Moton High School in Farmville.

Warner’s wife, Lisa Collis, spoke today of how much the new monument was about, and for, children. It was Collis who spearheaded this magnificent effort. Looking at her smiling face today, it was hard to think of how she could have done a better job.

For background on this story click here.

Barbara Johns' quote, said of the 1951 students' demonstration, was carved in granite for all children to see -- "It was like reaching for the moon."


Click here to read Michael Paul Williams on the unveiling ceremony.

-- Words, photos and video by F.T. Rea

Update II:

Click here, then here to watch/listen to the speakers at the ceremony.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

As the R-Braves sink into the sunset

Playing on the road, the Richmond Braves lost to the Buffalo Bisons last night by a score of 16-3. If you really want to know more about that game click here to visit the R-Braves web site.

Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch John O'Connor looks at the possibilities for replacing the R-Braves, who are in the process of playing out their last season at The Diamond.
Minor League Baseball's executive vice president [Tim Purpura] said yesterday "about three or four" baseball franchises, all from Class AA and Class A, have filed applications to relocate to Richmond.
Click here to read more.

Also writing for the RT-D, Michael Paul Williams decries the lack of attendance at The Diamond for R-Braves games.

So far this season, the Braves are drawing 1,100 fewer fans than in 2007, when folks weren't exactly flocking to a 12,134-seat ballpark to see a championship team. At an all-time low average paid attendance of 3,875, the home team is last in the International League in attendance and similarly positioned in the hearts and minds of area residents.

Did you check out the fever chart in Thursday's paper on the team's attendance since 1985? Attendance has been in a free fall for much of the past decade. It's not the sort of chart you'd want at the foot of your hospital bed.

Early on this season, officials blamed wet weather for the slack attendance. It turns out ennui, not inclement weather, is keeping fans away in droves.

Click here to read the entire Williams piece.

Williams is right to challenge the Braves management's blaming wet weather for the low attendance numbers. What he missed was how disingenuous that statement was, and what that sort of a statement might indicate about the people behind it.

Let's cut to the chase: For some reason the R-Braves sourpuss general manager, Bruce Baldwin, has been getting a free pass when blame gets assigned for how it came to pass that Richmond lost its Triple A baseball team to an Atlanta suburb.

It was Baldwin who said a few weeks ago that the weather was keeping attendance down, more than it was a matter of disenchantment with the home team.

Well, if Baldwin is still claiming fans aren't staying away because some are unhappy about the team's lame duck status, perhaps his next job should be as a spin doctor for a politician about as popular as Jim Gilmore. Can't you hear Baldwin saying Gilmore is well-positioned to defeat Mark Warner?

Flashback: A few years ago, among other things, it was Baldwin's series of misleading statements about the possibilities of building a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, and other locations, that helped pave the road to Gwinnett, Ga., where the R-, no make that the G-Braves will play next season.

Remember how, early on, Baldwin claimed he and the Braves had nothing to do with the baseball-in-The Bottom movement? Then, that morphed into total support for the move. In those days more questions needed to have been asked about how many hats Baldwin was wearing.

Remember when Baldwin tried to shift all the blame for the physical problems at The Diamond onto the Richmond Metropolitan Authority's Mike Berry? Baldwin knew better, but he did it anyway.

Don't get me wrong. If you want an answer to the question: Who is most to blame for losing the R-Braves?

At the top of the list is Mayor Doug Wilder. But as the Richmond Braves (42-57) sink into the sunset, there are other names that should be on that list.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Goldman's lack of traction and Wolf's write-in chances

As we enter the Dog Days of 2008’s summer, lazy, hazy, crazy ol’ Richmond is about to be all shook up by stumping candidates. Richmonders will have lots of choices to make when they cast their ballots on November 4.

In each of this city’s nine districts voters will be choosing their representatives on the School Board and City Council.

Of course, the citywide race to determine who will be Richmond’s new mayor is going to be stealing the show most of the time. No doubt, what role the sitting mayor might yet play will, from time to time, upstage even the most determined propagandistic efforts of the five mayoral candidates.

This piece will not endorse anyone, nor will it attempt to be comprehensive. There’s plenty of time for all that. I just want to make a few observations about what has stood out, to me, so far.

So, I’ll start with Paul Goldman, who seems to be in the process of morphing into a local Ralph Nader ... of a sort.

Goldman has gotten more news coverage than any of the five in the mayoral race. He’s been busy as a beaver making news. His admirers include some prolific bloggers, so, buzz-wise, Goldman might seem to have succeeded in putting himself on the same level as the perceived front-running threesome -- Robert Grey, Dwight Jones and Bill Pantele.

Yes, I am saying that at this point, Lawrence Williams, who had raised zero money through June 30, doesn’t seem to be a factor. Perhaps that will change.

Back to Goldman: With all of his publicity he only raised $3,500 through June 30. Through the same period, Jones took in $130,656, Pantele took in $129,477 and Grey took in $96,100. While an insurgent candidacy like Goldman’s may not need to match his well-heeled opponents, dollar for dollar, in this case the candidate just seems to be gaining no traction outside of his cadre of loyalists.

So, I’m not breaking any news when I say it looks like we’re in store for a three-man race to run City Hall, with Goldman acting as a Nader-like spoiler. If that’s true, the question becomes, who will Goldman hurt the most?

Well, I don’t know the answer.

Another good question is, can anybody carry five districts?

Remember, simply getting the most votes isn’t enough. If no candidate carries five of the nine districts, there will be a run-off.

Another person in the news who interests me is Carol A.O. Wolf, who presently represents the Third District on the School Board. Wolf had last-minute trouble with her petitions and didn‘t qualify to get on the ballot.

Thus, Norma Murdoch-Kitt is alone on the ballot, running unopposed for Wolf‘s seat on the Board. Maybe...

But Wolf is still mulling the possibility of waging a write-in campaign. It’s my understanding her decision is soon-to-come.

If she has been persuaded by the many calls for her to run and chooses to do so, it seems to me Wolf has what it takes to make such a bid viable. With her unvarnished style and the substance of her advocacy, Wolf has made some friends -- many of them parents of kids in public schools -- during her six years on the Board. She could probably put together a decent war chest and volunteer organization.

And, speaking of write-ins, it's hardly too late in the summer for Mayor Doug Wilder to have a squirrelly seizure -- “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” -- and begin hinting he, too, might run for reelection as a write-in candidate.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Obama's formative Chicago years

This week's The New Yorker magazine has caused quite a stir with its satirical cover (see above), which snickered at all the outrageous accusations some mischievous Obama bashers have hurled at the Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

It's too bad the candidate and his staff didn't just laugh at what was an outstanding political cartoon. Instead, there was some huffing and puffing over how some people would inevitably not get the 'toon's joke and take it as more evidence of his Manchurian Candidate-like, secret alliance with Satanic forces.

Which, of course, created an unflattering story about the rather humorless and ill-advised pose being struck by the Obama camp. What is not getting enough play is the excellent in-depth article in that issue of The New Yorker about Obama's political training in Chicago.

"Making It," by Ryan Lizza, is a must-read for Obama's supporters, and for anyone else who has been going around saying they don't know enough about Obama to feel comfortable with him.

The article does nothing to perpetuate the myth that Barack Obama is somehow above the hurly-burly of real politics, or the fear he's so idealistic he doesn't have a grasp of what it takes to get something accomplished in that realm. What it does do is fill in a lot of blanks with well-researched background on a man who sometimes seems to have come out of nowhere.

Lizza's piece documents a remarkable rise to power in a city known for its no-holds-barred brand of politics, and, to some extent, it debunks the notion that Obama has suddenly lurched to the right to make himself more appealing to Independents and disillusioned Republicans.
Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. “You have the power to make a United States senator,” he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.

Like many politicians, Obama is paradoxical. He is by nature an incrementalist, yet he has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda (energy independence, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq). He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game. He is ideologically a man of the left, but at times he has been genuinely deferential to core philosophical insights of the right.
Click here to read the entire piece in New Yorker.

Flashback: Larry's ride (Mar. 1, 1980)

A motorcycle in a movie theater? What's that all about?

Hint: Meatloaf was on the screen at the time. For the answer click here to visit the Biograph Archives.

-- Photo by Ernie Brooks

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flashback: Drizzling on the Parade

In January of 2001 asked me to write about President George Bush’s inauguration. At the time I had a regular gig writing from the left side on a weekly series called One-on-One. Robert Holland (former OpEd editor of the RT-D) was my opponent who wrote from the right side. The series lasted about a year and we covered all sorts of topics.

Occasionally, I made predictions in the course of trumpeting my side of the argument. And, when I hear a Bush defender talking about how nobody knew Bush was going to invade Iraq, and nobody knew how much of a mistake it would be, etc., I sometimes think of that piece I wrote about Bush’s first day in office.

The reader will find excerpts of that column below. To read it in its entirety click here.
“Drizzling on the Parade”
by F.T. Rea (1/22/01)

Under the gloomiest of skies, George W. Bush’s roster took to the field of play with its own brand of enthusiasm and its own ability to craft a way of life for a nation. Meanwhile, on this side of the beltway that surrounds the DeeCee sausage factory, we gird ourselves for a period of uncertainty.

As the proud Texan and his comely wife waved to the shivering crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue in the bitter drizzle, I admit it: Yes, I was among those wondering if the quick-to-smile George W. Bush could really be as uncurious and vacuous as his enemies have suggested.

...As far as what I think George Bush Part II will really be like, I'm no different than you. I'm hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Foreign policy-wise, I'm not at all sure what Bush's European policy will be.

But I've got a tip for Saddam Hussein: It's time to pack up the palace etchings and that mint-condition collection of Playboy magazines. This is a good time to stock up on those familiar essentials for sustained life in the deep-down deluxe bunker. You know the drill: potted meat, canned beer, plenty of batteries for the TV and boombox. It won't surprise me if America's new president wastes little time in finding a compelling reason to lob something more than words toward Baghdad.

My hunch is that mopping up that dangling bit of unfinished business is high on the Bush team's list of what-to-do ASAP.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton seems to still have the Washington press corps on a short lease. His over-covered departure from Washington further blurred the already fuzzy distinction between news and entertainment. The Clinton farewell tour was funnier and more daring theater than most of the gibes from "Saturday Night Live" a few hours later...

Zogby: Obama by 5%, but VA still purple

Zogby has a map of the USA with each state colored red, blue or purple, according to their latest polling numbers for the presidential election. Then you can click on each state for its numbers.

Virginia is purple but they have Obama in the lead at this time (the poll was conducted during the last two weeks of June):
Obama - 44%
McCain - 39%
Barr - 5%
Nader - 1%
Someone else - 4%
Undecided - 6%
The national numbers, when seen as what they would ultimately mean in the Electoral College, are even better for Obama:
McCain (Red) - 160
Obama (Blue) - 273
Too close to call (Purple) - 105
To see the map click here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Eliza's Question


Eliza asked her mother, “Where’s Rosa Parks?”

In January of 2002, Eliza’s investigation of the grassy rolling hills of the grounds of Capitol Square, which had recently become her yard, had aroused her curiosity.

The youngest daughter of Virginia’s 69th governor, Mark Warner, had noticed that among the six statues of people around what would be her home for the next four years, not only were there none honoring a female, there were none remembering the heroines/heroes of the Civil Rights Era.

“It started me thinking,” said Lisa Collis, Eliza’s mother and then Virginia’s First Lady.

Collis’ thinking eventually led her to consult with people who might help fill in the gap in Virginia’s history her daughter had innocently discovered in the statuary of Capitol Square.


On Monday a new monument for Capitol Square will be dedicated. The Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, a sculpture by Stanley Bleifeld, will commemorate a turning point in history -- a 1951 student demonstration which was led by a 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns.

To protest the outrageously deplorable conditions in which they found themselves at Robert R. Moton, an all-black school in Prince Edward County, the students staged a “walk-out.” Although it was change they were seeking, those brave students had no way to know where their peaceful demonstration’s walk would lead. They took those first steps not knowing that much of the worst violence of the Civil Rights Era was still to come.

Eventually, those students’ cause was taken up by civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson. The Moton case was folded into four other similar cases to be argued before the Supreme Court as one. The result: The 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ended the days in which separate-but-equal could be used as the underpinning for segregation in public schools.


During 2003 Collis held informal discussions with various people to explore the possibility of a creating a memorial to key civil rights heroes in Virginia’s history, how to raise the money, possible subjects, etc. In 2004 she put together an exploratory group that included: Chief Justice Leroy Hassell; Secretary of Administration Sandra Bowen; Sen. Henry Marsh; Del. Preston Bryant; Clarence Dunnaville; Mrs. C. Howell; Mrs. Robby Thompson; Mrs. Judy Anderson.

In January of 2005, Del. Bryant introduced a resolution in the House of Delegates calling for the establishment of a commission devoted to creating a memorial that would pay tribute in some way to Virginians who played significant roles during the fight for equal rights for all, known as the Civil Rights Era. His resolution was approved and Gov. Warner issued an executive order that established the Civil Rights Memorial Commission

When the Commission held its first meeting it was guided by an expert in the field, Joe Seipel (longtime chairman of VCU’s sculpture department, before taking a job in the university’s administration), to contact four particular sculptors to see if they would submit concept drawings. Of the three artists who complied, Stanley Bleifeld was selected.

Collis and Bleifeld visited the Robert R. Moton Museum in Farmville to see the site, look over the museum’s archives, and meet with some of the former Moton students, to get a firsthand perspective of the events the sculptor sought to represent.

In October 2005 the Capitol Square Civil Rights Memorial Foundation was established to raise the funds and manage the overall project. The fundraising goal was set at $2.6 million.

In November of 2006 the Commission approved of the final Bleifeld design with its 18 life-sized figures around a granite base and what inscriptions would appear on the memorial itself. Trips to Italy, where the individual figures were cast in bronze, ensued.


On July 21, 2008, at 10:30 a.m., millions of eyes -- not just in Richmond, but all over the world -- will be focused on Virginia’s Capitol Square. Among other things, they will see what good can flow from a parent trying to respond properly to a child’s question. The event will be the official unveiling of Bleifeld’s art, the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial. It honors the heroism of students, everyday people and famous civil rights attorneys -- Virginians who made their world a better place.

Furthermore, this time the process was done right. So don’t expect a lot of howling about the art being bad, or how the location is wrong, or any of that malarkey. No doubt, some will find fault with it. But this thing was put together by careful people who knew it had to be done right.

No doubt, the fact that Richmond was once the seat of the Confederate government will be mentioned in all the news reports. We're used to that being a part of any story about Richmond. This time it will be most appropriate.

While this one piece of sculpture hardly balances out the number monuments to the Lost Cause standing in Richmond, it does a beautiful job of representing how much has changed in this city since the last general was put atop a pedestal on Monument Ave.



Virginia Civil Rights Memorial web site.
Richmond Times-Dispatch article on the ceremony by Viola Baskerville.
Stanley Bleifeld's web site.
More information on Babara Johns is here.


The Members of the Civil Rights Memorial Commission are as follows:

Governor Timothy M. Kaine, Chair.
Lisa Collis, former First Lady of Virginia.
Leroy R. Hassell, Sr., Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Judith C. Anderson, former deputy secretary of the commonwealth.
Dr. Woody Holton, professor of history at the University of Richmond.
Rita O. Moseley, a 25-year employee with Prince Edward County High School.
Bill Bolling, Lieutenant Governor.
William J. Howell, Speaker of the House of Delegates.
Thomas K. Norment, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules.
Jennifer McClellan, Delegate in the Virginia House of Delegates.


-- Considerable help with the information presented in the piece was provided by Lou Arnatt Kadiri, the Foundation's Executive Director; The image is from the Commonwealth of Virginia;

-- 30 --

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bill Price at High on the Hog 9

This is a clip of Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band performing live at High on the Hog 9. Glen Pavone is featured on lead guitar. The song is, "I'm Ready."

Shots of the band are intercut with shots taken in the wee hours of the morning, as the pig-roasting crew began its job of putting the heat to the meat, to get ready for the thousands of pork-worshipers that would show up later in the day.

It's part of a 16-minute documentary on High on the Hog, the annual party/music festival on Libby Hill (1977-2006), I directed in 1985.

Clowning around with transportation

The General Assembly didn't know what to do about transportation, so it started its little car, honked its little horn, drove around the block and parked in the same place. As the parade of clowns got out of the car, they mugged and shrugged, ran around in circles and scattered.

Since the 140-clowns-in-a-car routine was way too familiar to the audience, it didn't get many laughs.

Rather than see it in a circus light, Gov. Tim Kaine (depicted above) compared the special session of the General Assembly, which was called to make some progress in dealing with Virginia's transportation woes, to a situation comedy:
"It was like a Seinfeld episode -- a show about nothing," Kaine told reporters at the Capitol, hours after lawmakers adjourned following a marathon 12-hour day, closing the six-day special session with no transportation fix for the state. "And in the House, it was a road session about nothing."
Republicans offered similarly scathing reviews of the governor. They faulted him for calling a special session that, they charged, was politically motivated and not ready for prime time.

Click here to read, “Kaine, Republicans blame each other” by Jim Nolan for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

While it's easy to find fault with a legislative session that accomplishes nothing, it's still better than one that does the wrong thing. And, while I'm not prepared to say what ought not to have been done, I can say that the way gasoline prices are changing/will change the way people use Virginia's roads is something to think about. After all, a transportation fix designed a year or six months ago may already be out of date.

People are driving less. Times are changing fast.

Meanwhile, people who live in the outer ring of the suburbs of Virginia's cities are thinking about whether they ought to sell their houses and buy condos in the city. They're thinking about selling their monster-sized SUVs and buying bicycles.

Developers who are building in those suburbs that depend on folks driving their private vehicles to work and to shopping centers every day have to be worried. They should be.

The attractiveness of the far-flung lifestyle that brought on the suburban sprawl that lies close to the heart of Virginia's perceived transportation troubles appears to have has peaked. That trend may well have run its course.

If that's true, now what?

Good question. Send in the clowns.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Flip floping away

It’s started again. It’s not my imagination, I know “flip flop” has been spoken, or written, in nearly every news story about the presidential campaign for the last week, or so. Usually several times.

Here a flip flopper, there a flip flopper ... flip flopping away. If everybody's doing the flip flop, what's the point? What the hell is a flip flopper, anyway?

Here’s my take: Simply put, it’s a term used by someone who wants stick a pejorative tag on a politician they want to injure. Moreover, it’s a hackneyed label that users will repeat incessantly, hoping it will stick to that politician, even a little bit — usually it has nothing to do with how appropriate it is.

Furthermore, the partisan users of that copycat put-down, regardless of their affiliation, could care less how obnoxious they sound. They seem to think being obnoxious is their civic duty.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Single Bullet Theory

Originally called X-Breed, Single Bullet Theory was an artsy, tastefully punk, British invasion-influenced band that was part of Richmond's rock 'n' roll scene in the late-'70s/early-'80s. It was one of the better groups in the era that may have featured more good locally-based bands than in any time in the last 40 or 50 years.

Mike Garrett (vocals, guitar and sometimes a sax) and Dennis Madigan (drummer) were the two guys who were with the band its entire life (1977-84). As an aside, both guys played on the J.W. Rayle team in the Fan District Softball League (Garrett at third base and Madigan in the outfield).

About 20 years ago writer Barry "Mad Dog" Gottlieb chronicled the band's history for Throttle; the piece is reprinted here.

The video above of "Keep It Tight," was shot by Jerry Williams and played on MTV. And, here's the link to a second SBT video at YouTube -- click here.

Photo of July 4th monkey attack?

At Dogwood Dell's July 4th extravaganza it seems a mean monkey bit a girl on her nose.

Well, I first heard about the incident a couple of days later at the Dell, when a WRIC-8 news truck appeared in the fairway of the ninth hole of the Frisbee-golf course (object golf, no baskets) I was playing with some friends. I suppose they were there to shoot some footage of the area for their story; here's a link to that story.

Since then the local blogosphere has weighed in. Click here and here.

There's even been talk of seeing the monkey walking around in Carytown, maybe even sitting in one of the area's posh eateries ... it's been suggested he was wearing a nice jacket and his hair was perfect.

With such a threat in our midst, SLANTblog wants to do its part, so we're running the photo (see above) that we received from an anonymous tipster, which purports to be documentary evidence of the assault on July 4 during the fireworks show.

Warning: If you see this monkey, no matter how he's dressed or who he's with, you should avoid sticking your nose in its face.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tacky faux pas by Jones camp

Tonight the Dwight Jones campaign made a mistake. It apparently decided to force-feed its propaganda into the RVABlogs aggregator to dominate its front page with 24 posts.

On the surface, it seems somebody's half-baked idea got put into action. That those same people could so thoroughly misunderstand the spirit of cooperation that has made Ross Catrow's RVABlogs the boon to Richmond it has been doesn't speak well for the Jones' camp.

Maybe it will turn out to have been an accident? Probably not.

Will this begin a process that will force Ross to ban campaign web sites, or set rules about the number of posts from one site? Or, will this just take care of itself because it will backfire on the perpetrator so badly that we won't see any more of it?

Update: An email from Kevin O'Holleran, Jones' campaign manager, just came in (7/11/08). He wrote:

I just saw your post about the RVABlogs. Just to clear up any confusion, this was not done purposefully by our campaign. You may have noticed that we made some redesign changes to our website that was switched over at about 9:20 pm on Wednesday night. I’m not by any means an expert when it comes to websites, but what I believed happened was when we switched it reposted all of our previous posts backdated through May through our RSS feed.

Again, this was an unintentional mistake and hopefully won’t happen again. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Memphis Rockabilly Band

"HOTH 9: I Don't Care Tonight": Shot in video with four cameras, this is a clip of the Memphis Rockabilly Band performing at High on the Hog 9 (1985). It's part of a 16-minute documentary on the annual party on Libby Hill (1977-2006) which was directed by yours truly.

The Memphis Rockabilly Band, from Boston, was fronted by Jeff Spencer. He and Bill Coover (lead guitar) are still working together. MRB was the last band to appear on the High on the Hog stage at the last party in '06.

In the late-'70s through the late-'80s, MRB frequently appeared in Richmond, perhaps most often at Hard Times, at the corner of Main and Harrison Sts.

Silly Season right on schedule

If one believes the cable TV news stations and certain elements of the political blogosphere, Sen. Barack Obama has turned his back on many of those who supported him in his effort to secure the Democratic nomination. Obama is now being cast as a man so hungry for the power of the presidency he will take any position, break any promise, to win.

OK, first let's deal with the media. July and August make up the “silly season” for politics, especially in a presidential election year. We're between the end of the primaries and the opening of the conventions.

Why the two political parties have put nearly three months of nothing happening into the system to select their nominees is beyond me. Little good can come of it. But plenty of mischief can and will unfold. So, the CNNs and MSNBCs are left to say “Not much happened today,” or they can pretend something did happen and report it accordingly.

Then MSNBC can talk about what CNN just said, and CNN can return the favor. They know Obama hasn't really changed his position on Iraq, or gun ownership. But they can report that a surrogate for Sen. John McCain says he did.

Yes, the reporters also know Obama has taken positions in the past that allowed him to work across the aisle, but to make a fuss they are suggesting he's moving to the right, now, in an opportunistic effort to shed his liberal skin.

Unfortunately, such stories have scared some of Obama's supporters. They shouldn't, but they do.

Perhaps it's somewhat understandable, though, because after 2006, everyone in politics wonders when the next candidate will meltdown before our very eyes, like former Sen. George Allen did. The media are ever at the ready to report the next Macaca Moment.

Then there's the shameless political blogosphere. There are still crazy supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton who are trashing Obama, because they still think they can sabotage him, then have him replaced by Clinton. And, there are McCain supporters who are willing to claim Obama is a Muslim spy, bent on delivering the USA to his overlords in a hand-basket.

Meanwhile, Obama keeps on keeping on. He calmly weathers each storm that comes along. Then, when it passes, he inevitably seems stronger after the test. Did you catch any of that interview with him that included his wife and daughters? If the four Obamas could have seemed a more charming family, I don't know how.

Now copycat bloggers are saying, saying, saying that no one, no one, no one wants to be on the ticket with Obama as his running mate. Others insist he select Clinton to run for vice president, or else...

Yes, there's a reason this time in a presidential election year is called the silly season.

So, I'm going to make myself another Hanover tomato sandwich and maybe write a post about blue jays or live music. Mostly, I'm going to laugh off whatever Hillary's Howlers or McCain's Mudslingers say about Obama.

Remerbering rock 'n' roller Chris Gibson

Here's word from Buttercup about a unique rock 'n' roll show coming up later this month. It's a live music throwdown to remember Chris Gibson (pictured left), who died last December. It's a fitting memorial for her, because it's being held in a bar that features live music.

The performers include: Buttercup; Jonathan (the Juggler) Austin; Terry Garland; and of course – BEEX, live on-stage, and on-screen!

What: Christine Gibson Memorial Concert

When: Friday July 25, 2008, 7 p.m.

Where: Canal Club’s Downstairs Lounge, 1545 Cary St.

Admission: $5.00 -- all ages

To write this post, I just put on my black Beex T-shirt that I got at the Hollywood Cemetery memorial service (12/14/07) for Chris. I suspect there will be a lot of them on the people who show up to remember the girl who was Richmond's undisputed queen of punk rock.

For some background on Chris Gibson click here and here.

Enough is enough!

Richmond's mayor, L. Douglas Wilder, was itching to make some news yesterday, but he didn't want to trust reporters to ask him the right questions. No problem. The Mayor just asked his own doggone self what he wanted to say and said it before a camera operator he could have fired, if it suited him.

The result was a short, rambling video that did little but perpetuate the squabbles he has been having for as long as anyone in these parts can remember. Writing for the the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Will Jones reported on Wilder's private news conference:
Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder stepped from the sidelines of the mayoral race yesterday, accusing two of his would-be successors of wanting "to return to that old form of government."

In a 3½-minute video news release, the mayor said the upcoming election is vital and that his remarks should not be construed as a candidate endorsement. Speaking into the camera, Wilder then offered a blistering attack that appeared to be aimed at two mayoral candidates: Del. Dwight Clinton Jones, D-Richmond, and City Council President William J. Pantele.
Click here to read the rest of Jones' article.

Click here to view/listen to Wilder's video.

Wilder's video was pure political theater -- propaganda. Gotcha last spin.

In no way did it resemble official business and, of course, we know who paid for the camera and the editing, etc. Just as we know who is going to pick up the tab for all the attorneys' fees being incurred to defend Wilder for his Friday Fiasco and other legal problems he has created out of thin air.

Mayor Wilder talks about the future and progress, but since he can't let go of his many grudges, all we get is a lot of talk that sounds all too familiar.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

1990: Are we going to war with Iraq?

This summer, 18 years ago, the USA was being drawn into a war over Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. In September of 1990 I launched a weekly program on local cable television that was called Mondo City. As a regular feature we had a Question of the Week. Later in the show we usually interviewed musicians.

In the video above a number of Fan District characters answered the question: Are we going to war with Iraq?

All these years later the answers are a snapshot of how it was when the USA was about to begin its difficult relationship with Iraq, a country that most Americans probably struggled to find on the map before 1990.

Terry Garland at Toad's

Bluesman Terry Garland performing live at Toad's Place on July 2, 2008. Click here to visit his web site.

The photo below was shot the same night at Toad's. Taken by a cooperative and comely brunette, who said her name was Julie, it depicts a convergence of Terrys.

-- Video by F.T. Rea

Newspapers vs. blogs

Part Three of a Geezer's View of Richmond's Buzzing Blogosphere: Newspapers vs. blogs

Is the Internet stealing the readers of daily newspapers? With some demographic groups, are newsy blogs having more impact than are inky OpEd pages?

Well, there's no doubt times are a-changing. The role of the daily newspaper is changing, too. But I'm not so sure newspapers like The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot are losing their readers to the Internet, in droves, so much as they are failing to gain new readers, while their old readers are dying off.

It doesn't seem people under 40 read the newspaper in the morning like their parents and grandparents do/did. For whatever reasons, they just haven't developed the habit. And, I suspect that trend predates the Internet's grip on their lifestyle.

Those potential readers under 30 seem almost proud of ignoring newspapers. No doubt, many in that age group are convinced their time is better spent with a laptop than a lap full of newsprint. That is, if they bother to keep up with the events of the day at all. Hey, they'd rather watch TV on their laptops, too.

So, newspapers are scrambling to have an online presence, to make themselves noticeable and useful to young readers. Yet, their writers are still scoffing at blogs, even as they feel free to quote from them (frequently without attribution), whenever it suits them.

Sometimes I wonder if newspaper writers are being told to avoid mentioning political blogs or community news web sites by name. Hey, in the past, I've had magazine editors tell me their publisher won't allow the name of a competing 'zine to appear in their pages.

Meanwhile, Tidewater's most admired political blogger, Vivian J. Paige, reacts to a Virginian-Pilot editorial that defends daily newspapers with a reach that may set a new record. The editorial writer, Donald Luzzato, casts his newspaper as being sort of like an outfit that makes cartoon feature films, Pixar, but not really. All of which leads him to a put-down of bloggers.

Paige throws a penalty flag at Luzzato's rambling screed. Then gives him some pretty good advice:

I guess Don Luzzato got up on the wrong side of the bed. His Friday editorial in The Virginian Pilot was an interesting juxtaposition of how a movie company is like a newspaper (huh?) thinly disguised as an attack on bloggers. I’m not sure what someone slipped in his latte but despite “how many people spend their day keeping [him] from looking like a fool,” the rant made up for it.

Click here to read Vivian's post on the state of the news-gathering business today.

At some point down the road perhaps some smart newspaper people will figure out a profitable way to cooperate with community news bloggers and political bloggers. The ones that do it right, whatever that will be, will gain an advantage over their competition.

The newspaper people that go on too long with seeing all bloggers as gray in the dark -- nothing but irresponsible, pesky enemies -- will surely pay a price for staying the course too long with a losing strategy.

Speaking of times a-changing, VCU journalism professor Jeff South got it right in Part Two of this series:

[T]he genie is out of the bottle and will never go back. Online self-publishing -- by individuals and communities -- is here to stay.

Monday, July 07, 2008

750 Volts puts a charge in Virgil Goode

Springfield's Kenton Ngo, who, by the way, is still in high school, occasionally posts his keen observations drawn from the Virginia political landscape in a video format.

Kenton's take on Rep. Virgil Goode is only a couple of minutes long, but it's good for a genuine laugh. Click here for a dose of 750 Volts.

Webb: No to Veep


The following message, a statement from Sen. Jim Webb, came in today from Jessica Smith with the senator’s office. With it Webb seems to put to rest any further speculation about his desire to run for vice president this year:

Last week I communicated to Senator Obama and his presidential campaign my firm intention to remain in the United States Senate, where I believe I am best equipped to serve the people of Virginia and this country. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for Vice President.

A year and a half ago, the people of Virginia honored me with election to the U.S. Senate. I entered elective politics because of my commitment to strengthen America’s national security posture, to promote economic fairness, and to increase government accountability. I have worked hard to deliver upon that commitment, and I am convinced that my efforts and talents toward those ends are best served in the Senate.

In this regard, the bipartisan legislative template we were able to put into effect through 18 months of work in order to enact the new, landmark GI Bill will serve as a prototype for my future endeavors in government. This process, wherein we brought 58 Senators from both parties to the table as co-sponsors, along with more than 300 members of the House, gives me renewed confidence that the Congress can indeed work effectively across party lines and address the concerns of our citizens.

At this time I am also renewing my commitment to work hard to make sure that Senator Obama wins both Virginia and the presidency this November. He is a man who speaks eloquently about our national goals and calls for the practical solutions that must be put into place to obtain them. I will proudly campaign for him.

Let’s hope this statement is believed and those pushing for Webb to be on the ticket will calm down and support what their man has said he wants to do. Unlike so many politicians, sincerity is his strong suit.

Dig it: Jim Webb is doing a fine job as Virginia’s junior senator. His best campaign moves this year will be made on the stump campaigning for other Democrats.

– Comments and photo by F.T. Rea

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Blue Jay

Riding my bicycle toward Byrd Park to play Frisbee-golf, I steered around a dead blue jay on the street. Predictably, it tugged at my heart strings -- I’m partial to blue jays. Have been forever, well, at least since Buster was a puppy in the summer of 1958.

When I found Buster chasing a blue jay around the grape vines, I grabbed his food bowl and threw it over the bird. Even with squawking blue jays diving at us, it wasn’t easy to convince the puppy to give up his concern for what was going on under his bowl being held against my torso.

Still, I managed to get up the back porch steps and into the kitchen without Buster doing any more damage. The little blue jay was holding one of its wings funny. Which brought out the best and the worst of me, I suppose.

Because I had rescued the bird, naturally, I had to take care of it. So, my grandfather built a cage about three feet tall using some leftover screen from re-screening some windows. He said it had to be temporary, until the bird healed, because a wild creature couldn’t be kept like a pet.

Nonetheless, for the week I had that blue jay I thought it was learning tricks. Out of its cage, it started to flap around and fly a little bit while I was training it. It would land on my shoulder ... sometimes. It would hop around on the table and eat the treats it liked.

My grandfather told me I had to let the bird go, because it was ready to fend for itself. Finally, we agreed to do it the next day.

On the Saturday morning the blue jay was to get its freedom, I woke up early to watch the cartoons on TV and found my pupil dead in its cage. The blue jay had bashed its head in. No doubt, it had been trying to fly inside its cage. I can still remember how my eyes burned as I cried. It was a bitter lesson.

The bird was buried under the plum tree in the back yard.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Five favorite movies about making movies

There have been lots of movies made about making movies. Inside looks, so to speak, at the process of producing feature films and the people who work in the industry.

Here’s a good category for film buffs to argue about -- the best movies about what goes on behind the camera. Here are my five favorites, in alphabetical order:

“8½” (1963): Directed by Federico Fellini; Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée

“Day for Night” (1973): Directed by François Truffaut; Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut

“The Day of the Locust” (1975): John Schlesinger; Cast: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, William Atherton

“The Player” (1992): Directed by Robert Altman; Cast Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward

“Sunst Boulevard” (1950): Directed by Billy Wilder; Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Anit-Bush demonstration in Charlottesville

The information below was provided by Mary Delicate on behalf of the coalition of organizations involved in tomorrow's demonstration, which includes RVA4Peace:
The coalition of groups and individuals planning to protest President George W. Bush's Fourth of July visit to Charlottesville on Friday continues to grow.

Participating organizations include RVA4Peace, the Augusta Center for Peace and Justice, CODEPINK Women for Peace both National and Charlottesville, AfterDowningStreet,, and Charlottesville Many other people expected to participate are not members of any of these groups.

The protest will take place at Route 20, outside and a ways removed from the grounds of Monticello. Participants will gather at 7 a.m. at Quarry Park, the entrance to which is on the west side of Rt. 20 just north of Interstate 64.

Organizers of the protest are drawing a connection between the charges found in the Declaration of Independence and the abuses of power in which the current president has engaged.

Chris Dorsey, a member of RVA4Peace, said "George Bush is guilty of orchestrating the supreme international crime - an unprovoked war of aggression. He has extensively and provably violated domestic and international law, and we demand that law enforcement arrest him for his

CoFounder of CODEPINK nationally, and Virginia resident Gael Murphy remarked, "The only spirit George W. Bush can evoke on Independence Day at Monticello is that of King George, III."

Allen Layman, President of the UE 160-Virginia Public Service Workers Union and member of the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice, said "If anything is apparent over the last 7 years of this President and his administration, it is their arrogance and utter disregard for the Constitutional rights of every American and their disrespect of other nations."

Organizers made clear they are not protesting the naturalization of new citizens at Monticello, but rather the policies, crimes, and impeachable offenses of the guest speaker.

Local Charlottesville MoveOn.Org member Marianne Votaw wondered, "Why would Bush even WANT to speak at a naturalization ceremony, since he is outspokenly against immigration anyway?"

Sarah Lanzman, a local concerned citizen added her personal perspective: "My parents are naturalized citizens, and therefore I feel a responsibility to speak out against a criminal president and know that my parents would be proud."

David Swanson, CoFounder of AfterDowningStreet and Washington Director of said, "It is important for future presidents to know that a president who routinely violates the law and our basic rights is not welcome in our towns and cities. It is important for the world to see that the American people do not approve of the war crimes committed by this president. And it is critical that a town named for the wife of George III of England not allow a new George III to establish monarchical power over us."

Linda Lisanti of Charlottesville CODEPINK said, "Sisters, Unite to Give Bush the Pink Slip!"

Contacts: Gael Murphy 202-412-6700; Marianne Votaw 434-960-9018; Allen Layman 540-294-1932; Linda Lisanti 434-295-7737; David Swanson 434-296-4228; Chris Dorsey 804-564-1491.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

VCU's prez under fire


Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., has been Virginia Commonwealth University’s president since 1990. He’s the fourth president in the burgeoning school’s 40 year history. The impact Dr. Trani has had on VCU has been dramatic. In his 18 years in the job, no one has had more impact on Virginia’s capital city, either.

Now, with VCU in the process of generating warm and fuzzy publicity in connection with its 40th anniversary -- by legislative decree today is VCU Day in the Commonwealth of Virginia -- the university’s high-profile president is under some fire. VCU has had a bad month for negative publicity, so the prez takes the heat?

The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s columnist Michael Paul Williams writes:

VCU has become as heedless and headstrong as its [ram] mascot -- a reflection of its peerless leader.

In his column today, Williams chides VCU for taking money from Philip Morris, then he writes about his own father's battle with cancer.

VCU, with its medical center and cancer-research facility, does not want to be "in bed" with a historically duplicitous industry that produces a public health hazard. I don't pretend to be impartial. Before his death in 1992, my father spent time at Medical College of Virginia Hospitals as a lung-cancer patient, blocks away from what would become the Philip Morris research and technology center in the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park.

Well, if the columnist’s implication is that Philip Morris money is dirty money, then what about the money from the Massey family (of A.T. Massey, now Massey Energy) that went to building VCU’s Massey Cancer Center?

Isn't the Massey Cancer Center -- named for William E. Massey, Sr. -- a good thing, no matter how much coal dust coated some of the money that built it?

Ed. Note: While the donations from former A.T. Massey executives William E. Massey and E. Morgan Massey were instrumental in establishing the Massey Cancer Center, currently, there is no connection between Massey Energy and VCU's Massey Cancer Center.

Universities all over the country are in bed with corporations that have done all sorts of things that might seem questionable. The important thing to know about the Philip Morris money is to know what it bought.

Once the initial outrage died down on the VCU research for Philip Morris story, it seemed the biggest problem with it is was that the client got to look over the findings of the research for a month longer than some other clients, before the information went public -- 120 days instead of 90 days.

Is that really a big problem?

Williams also weighs in on the flap over Rodney Monroe’s degree. Is there a cover-up underway?

This story has yet to play all the way out. Although VCU has admitted the degree was unprecedented, in that Monroe apparently earned only six hours of credit, it has not revealed much about how Monroe got such special treatment.

Because Monroe, Richmond’s former police chief, was so closely associated with Mayor Doug Wilder, some observers think they smell political rats afoot. No doubt, there’s more to come with this brouhaha.

At this desk, its isn’t known why Monroe got to be the only person to get a degree from VCU with so little time in the classroom. But I’m interested in finding out more and I hope VCU will tell us more soon.

Still, coming down on Trani so hard at this time doesn’t make much sense to me. VCU is a big school. The largest in Virginia. Trani can’t personally supervise everything that goes on there. But what he can do is set a tone, and then hold the people who are connected to the university accountable for what they do.

If there was something wrong with Monroe degree, Trani should identify the problem and deal with it. But I don’t see why reasonable people would urge Trani to rush to judgment. This particular problem surfaced about a month ago. Why not give the school a little more time to figure out what it needs to do to put this matter right?

My own contact with Dr. Trani has had to do mostly with basketball. I see him in the Siegel Center's media room after Rams home games. Sometimes we exchange hoops small talk. Aside from that I’ve interviewed him a couple of times; he was utterly forthcoming and cooperative. Yes, this cat is as smart as they come, and he doesn’t hide it. But I find that trait in him to be a lack of falseness, rather than the presence of arrogance.

In contrast, I also interviewed Trani’s predecessor, Dr. Edmund Ackell, back in 1984, and I found him to a horse’s ass. Talk about arrogant! Don’t get me started.

Remember, it was Trani who put the kibosh on Ackell’s march to the river that had VCU poised to take over Oregon Hill. It wasn’t long after Trani arrived that the VCU master plan was revised. The school started building on West Broad Street, instead of mowing down Oregon Hill.

Hey, I know some in Oregon Hill strongly objected to the VCU project that’s now underway to expand the old City Auditorium. And, truth be told, I could see their side of it, easily. I think VCU should have played that one differently. Nonetheless, if it weren’t for Trani’s changing of the master plan 18 years ago, Oregon Hill would have little or none of the distinctive character left that it still enjoys today.

So, let’s look at the big picture before we jump on the bandwagon to paint VCU’s current president as a villain. Any entity as dynamic as VCU has been on Trani's watch is going to have some things go wrong ... growing pains. But overall, Trani’s version of VCU has been pretty good to Richmond.

So, for VCU Day, I say happy birthday to VCU and congratulations to Dr. Trani.

What I will say with confidence is that Trani now knows something about hiring top notch basketball coaches. He may not have when he got to his Fan District offices. Then he put up with Sonny Smith and Mack McCarthy long enough to learn what he surely didn’t want to do again. After going to school, he did the right thing. Both Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant were good hires.

So, I expect that before too much longer Dr. Trani will do what needs to be done to settle the Monroe questionable degree affair in a way that will satisfy most reasonable people who care about the university.

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Note: This article was updated on 7/2/08 to be more accurate about the Massey connection.

Bopst No. 11

From broadcast refugee Chris Bopst, here's word of Episode No. 11, the latest in his new series of radio-like programs for RVANews:
I hope you can find the time to listen.

To listen to all previous installments of the Bopst Show for, go here:

Spread the word ... BOPST