Friday, December 31, 2010

An Allen vs. Webb rematch?

Some relish the notion of a rematch in 2012 -- Allen vs. Webb II. Me?

As I can see reasons for either man to choose not to run, I doubt we will see it.

So, if former-Sen. George Allen announces he is running for the U.S. Senate seat he lost to Sen. Jim Webb -- as he is expected to do -- how likely is Allen to actually win the nomination of the GOP in a 2012 primary? If not Allen, then who?

On the other hand, if Webb announces he's not going to run for reelection, who is most likely to be the candidate to try to hold the seat for the Democrats?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crackpot Del. Marshall at it again

Northern Virginia's designated crackpot legislator, Del. Bob Marshall, is at it again. He's making news that makes you wish he lived in another state.
Hours after the dust settled in the halls of Congress over a contentious fight to repeal the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the U.S. military, the issue has resurfaced anew on a new battleground: Virginia.

State Del. Bob Marshall (R-western Loudoun and Prince William) announced that he is drafting state legislation “barring active homosexuals” from Virginia’s National Guard units, even as President Obama signed the repeal of the policy into law Dec. 22 at the White House.
Click here to read the entire article at the Loudoun Times.

For more background on Marshall (depicted above) click here to visit the Fan District Hub.

-- Art by F.T. Rea

Tacky Spirits Defy the Cold

Barry "Mad Dog" Gottlieb and Frank Hudak celebrating the 25th Tacky Lights Tour. Hudak's house at 2300 Wistar Court has been on the tour, originated by Gottlieb, from the start.

Last week delivered an unexpected treat for me. So, I wrote about it for
The assembled bus full of kitsch lovers applauded and off we went to look at zillions of twinkling lights and other illuminated Christmas decorations. By the way, on this Winn Transportation tour almost anything might be considered a Christmas decoration if it's lit up enough.

The bright idea began with Mike Garrett suggesting to his friend at Winn, Mark Pounders, that Gottlieb ought to be on hand to kickoff the 25th year of the tours. As Gottlieb has lived in San Francisco since 1998, Winn had him flown in for the occasion.
Click here to read "Tacky Lights at 25."

Click here to see Mayor Dwight Jones' Tacky Lights proclamation.

-- Photo by Mark Pounders

Motor Drive Kitty

In the spring of 1985 I visited New York City. While there I bought a 35 mm Nikon, to replace a camera that had been stolen. Along with the camera and a lens I bought something I'd wanted for a long time -- a motor drive.

For the first month or so back in Richmond, I took the Nikon with me all the time, aiming my new lens at whatever I came across.

These two almost identical prints of a sleepy cat sunning itself in a storefront window on Main Street -- taken a fraction of a second apart -- probably made better use of the rapid fire capability of the motor drive than most of what I shot then.

Recollections in high contrast

Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow changes the world around us into resembling high contrast black and white photographs, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. In Richmond, it's a look we don't see every year.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

The best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not have known it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; Rebby had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the forehead ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper quickly retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the sloped park down to Main Street below. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison MacDonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track slick as glass.

Eventually, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding. Accordingly, we stood around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Not long ago, Chuck Wrenn, who still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death, and I talked about that night. We recalled the sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a shaggy dog down the chute. Duck had us laughing so hard, it's still funny today.

Of course, you had to be there.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why is Birtherism still news?

People who make a show out of refusing to believe that President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961, stay in the news. It matters not that their often repeated accusations have been manufactured out of thin air. We know them as Birthers and invariably they are found on the right-wing's fringe of political thinking.

Are there any liberal Birthers?

In 2008 the Obama campaign posted a scan of his birth certificate online, as certified by the Hawaii Department of Health. That didn't matter to devout Birthers. They consider Obama to be a prevaricator. In other words, no proof of his citizenship will ever satisfy a truly committed Birther.

Fox News likes these stories because its decision-makers would rather report another warmed-over story that questions whether Obama is qualified to be president, for whatever reasons, than report on what the president did on a given day.

MSNBC likes the stories because its angle is to make the Birthers look like lowbrow lunatics. The decision-makers at MSNBC like to cast all uncompromising conservatives as being unhinged from reality, not unlike Birthers and evolution deniers.

It says here that without Fox News, MSNBC and their ilk, the Birther story would have withered and died a long time ago.

The same thing goes for Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church traveling hate-fest show that demonstrates its peculiar brand of Christianity at military funerals. Without the coverage the Westboro group inevitably gets for its stunts, those stunts would probably have stopped years ago. And, in fairness to Fox News and MSNBC, it seems that news publishers in every aspect of the mainstream media also see the disturbing antics of the Phelps clan as easy front page stories.

Back to the Birthers: What are they really committed to? And, when you pull back the curtain, how much of the campaign to undermine Obama’s legitimacy is being fueled by stubborn racism? Just because America elected a black president hardly means we are living in a time untroubled by throwback racism.

Now an Army physician, Lt. Col. Terrance Larkin, has refused to deploy to Afghanistan because he believes the order itself wasn’t legal. Why? Because the Commander in Chief isn’t legit in Larkin‘s book. The story of his court-martial is news outside of the military world, but should it be? We certainly don't read many other stories about military personnel who refuse to follow orders for screwy reasons.

Birtherism needs publicity like a fish needs water. And, the grandstanding Col. Larkin probably needs a spell of quiet time to do some time thinking. Accordingly, if convicted of all charges, he faces up to three years in the stockade.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A solution to healthcare reform

Today, Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, was in the news again. A federal judge in Richmond, Henry Hudson, agreed with parts of Cuccinelli's argument to tear up the healthcare bill that was passed earlier this year by Congress.

It's hard for me to say how it will turn out, when the Supreme Court finally sorts this out. Not only am I not a lawyer, but I'm not sure I understand how the required purchase of health insurance works. So far, two judges have liked the healthcare bill's language, Hudson has not.

Still, I am totally in favor of universal healthcare, however it is achieved.

One might argue that healthcare in today's world is as basic a right as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But to me, the concept should rest on something less abstract and totally practical.

Here's my take in a nutshell: America’s greatest natural resource is its citizenry -- it’s workforce. The federal government should protect that resource above all others in every way it can that's feasible.

Reared in a literate, freedom-loving society, America’s sons and daughters work every day to build a good life. In their pursuit of happiness they establish families and build communities. Just as we have recognized that other vital natural resources need to be protected from amoral fast-buck artists, why would we not choose to also protect our families' wage-earners in the most effective way we can?

Otherwise, what's the point of protecting the water we drink, or the animals with which we share the planet?

Universal healthcare with periodic mandatory examinations is the only way to monitor the spread of dangerous diseases that could become epidemics, which could put the kibosh on the economy, to say the least.

Not long ago there was a scandal in America over poisonous toys that had been imported from China. It was found that some of the materials weren’t safe, health-wise, for children to handle. The toys were pulled off retailers’ shelves.

Those toys never made it into France. Like some other civilized countries, the French regulators never let the toys across the border, in the first place.

France had rigorous standards and inspections that kept those bad toys out of the curious hands and mouths of French kids. They didn't have to recall the dangerous products, because in France the standards were higher and the regulations were already in place. People were put before profits.


It’s actually simple -- France picks up the tab on everybody’s hospital bills.

Since France’s government has a stake in keeping French children healthy, its government naturally feels obliged to move proactively to reduce risks. One day those French kids will either be healthy, or unhealthy, workers. In this sense, France is doing more to protect its future workforce than we are.

When the government pays the healthcare bills, it follows that it will take more of an interest in protecting everyone’s health. So, who is not for protecting the American workforce's health? And, who is just pursuing the fast buck?

-- 30 --

'The Call Up' at 30

The Clash's album "Sandinista!" was released 30 years ago. My favorite cut from that amazing album is "The Call Up."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Mayor's metal campaign posters

Politicians today are making it tough on anybody in the satire trade. How do you get more over-the-top, more absurd than some of those Tea Party candidates? No, it's not easy to write wackier copy than what pops out of Christine O'Donnell when you pull her string. And, how do you get more painfully boring, yet smug to the bone, than Sen. Harry Reid?

Some of the pundits aren't helping, either. How do you go further into jowl-wobbling, puffy fits of righteous indignation than Keith Olbermann? Then there's weepy creepy Glenn Beck, who apparently answers to unseen forces, perhaps from another planet.

Oy vey!

Here in Richmond it's no different. After once having a mayor who tried to forcibly evict the city school board from City Hall, by sneak attack, we now have a sitting mayor who thinks Richmond's taxpayers should pay for his rather expensive reelection campaign signs.

City workers have been attaching rectangular metal posters with Mayor Dwight Jones' name on them to utility poles on sidewalks. The signs, which credit the mayor for certain improvements to the city's infrastructure, also display his semi-visionary slogan -- "Building a Better Richmond."

The mayor's office is actually bragging about what a good deal the taxpayers got on the signs -- just $150 each. Don't believe me?

Read "Richmond mayor's road-project signs irk councilman," at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where you will find that the solution is to paint more incumbent politicians' names on the signs. What sort of twist would make that bogus solution to a problem any funnier?

Saying the signs cost $300? Pretending the signs aren't posters, but are roadside billboards, instead? How about saying Jones has also had his name painted onto the side of the city's police cars?

Oh yeah, that's already been done here in Richmond. Remember Sheriff Michelle Mitchell? There you go -- when reality gets weird enough, it's hard to top it for a laugh.

So, I have to play it straight, because I can't even begin to understand how Mayor Jones ever thought he could pull off such a jive-ass stunt. This campaign propaganda salvo invites anyone who plans to run against Jones in 2012 to start putting up their campaign posters now, to keep up with him, name-recognition-wise.

Will City Hall permit eager candidates to also install metal campaign posters in the public way?

Remember, too, this is the same city that has passed all sorts of laws forbidding the posting of handbills promoting rock 'n' roll shows and yard sales on utility poles.

Meanwhile, according to the RT-D, here's what Jones' office has to say:
The Jones administration has defended the signs, saying they have been produced at minimal cost and are common in other cities with an elected mayor.
Oy vey!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

From Yeats to Greene to Stone

Revved up over an English class assignment to write a paper on "The Second Coming," by W. B. Yeats, I stayed up all night crafting it, and thought I had hit a home run. The professor, an awkward, gangly sort of fellow in his late-20s, gave me a “C” on it.

Well, I just had to ask him to explain to me what was wrong with the paper. In a private conference he told me my analysis of the poem didn't jibe with the accepted school of thought on what Yeats was saying. While admitting my writing and analytical technique were fine, he nervously explained that I was simply wrong in my conclusions, no matter how well-stated my case might have been.

That sort of pissed me off, so I told him I thought that ambiguity could imply multiple meanings, and it deliberately invited alternative interpretations. Rather than defend as his stance the man suddenly grabbed his face and broke into tears.

The sobbing professor went into a monologue on the shambles his life had fallen into. His personal life! Worst of all, he said, his deferral had just been denied by Selective Service, so he would soon be drafted.

He was wearing a pitiful brown suit. His thinning beige hair was oiled flat against his scalp. My anger over the bad grade turned into disgust from his out-of-control behavior. As I remember it, I walked out of his office to keep from telling him what I thought.

Now, four decades later, I regret my impatience and feel sorry for the poor schlemiel. Still, when the offer came at the end of the semester to expand my part-time job to full-time, I took the leap. My chief duty was to schlep visiting scholars around Virginia from one university campus to the next in a big black Lincoln.

Each week, under the auspices of the University Center in Virginia -- a consortium of Virginia colleges and universities -- there was a new scholar in a different field. Somebody had to drive them to lectures, dinners, convocations and to hotels throughout the week. For one whole semester that was me.

Naturally, in the crisscrossing of Virginia, the wiseguy driver and the actually wise scholars had a lot of time to talk. Some of them kept to themselves, mostly. Others were quite chatty, in several cases we got along well and had great talks.

Three of them stand out as having been the best company on the road: Daniel Callahan (then-writer/editor at Commonweal Magazine), Henry D. Aiken (writer/philosophy professor) and Balcomb Greene (artist/philosopher and art history professor), who is pictured above.

Callahan challenged me to think more thoroughly about situational ethics and morality. He was happy I was reading the books of Herman Hesse and others. He turned me on to “One Dimensional Man,” by Herbert Marcuse.

Callahan was quite curious about my experiences taking LSD, we talked about drugs and religion. Click here to read about him.

Aiken (1912-‘82) was then the chairman of the philosophy department at Brandeis University, he loved a debate. He was used to holding his own against the likes of William F. Buckley. Talking with him about everything under the sun in the wee hours, I first acquired a taste for good Scotch whiskey (which I haven't tasted in many a year).
From a ‘pragmatic’ point of view, political philosophy is a monster, and whenever it has been taken seriously, the consequence, almost invariably, has been revolution, war, and eventually, the police state.

-- Henry D. Aiken
Aiken, like Callahan, agreed to help me with a project I told them about. Inspired by popular new magazines Ramparts, Avant-Garde, Rolling Stone, etc. -- at 21-years-old -- I wanted to jump straight into magazine publishing, with no experience, ASAP.

That dream stayed on the back burner for 16 years, until the first issue of SLANT came out in 1985. However, the biggest influence on the way I went about publishing SLANT flowed from my association with Greene (1904-90). He was, by far, the rent-a-scholar who was the funniest and the one who had the biggest influence on me.

The son of a Methodist minister, Greene grew up in small towns in the Midwest. He studied philosophy at Syracuse University, psychology at the University of Vienna and English at Columbia University. Then he switched to art, having been influenced by his first wife, Gertrude Glass, an artist he had married in 1926. He became a founder of the avant-garde group known as American Abstract Artists in 1936.

After World War II, just as abstract art was gaining acceptance, Greene radically changed his style. He began painting in a more figurative, yet dreamy, style that fractured time. Click here,
and here, to read about Greene and see examples of his work.

One day I’ll write a piece about the visit to Sweetbriar with Greene. It was a hoot collaborating with him, to have some fun putting on the blue-haired art ladies of that venerable institution. This time my mention of him is to get this piece to I.F. Stone. It was Greene who gave me a subscription to I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

I.F. “Izzy” Stone (1907-89) was an independent journalist in a way few have ever been. In the 1960s his weekly newsletter was a powerful voice challenging the government’s propaganda about the war in Vietnam. Click here to read about Stone, and here.
"All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."
-- I.F. Stone
Stone remains one of my heroes. At my best, over the years, I have emulated him in my own small ways. Thank you for the schooling, Professor Greene.

-- 30 --

Double-Take: Kass 333

This week's post at the James River Film Journal is a departure from my habit of naming five favorites in a particular category. It's a remembrance of Carole Kass, the longtime Richmond Times-Dispatch film critic. Click here to read "Double-Take: Kass 333."

There's also a short video there that you probably haven't seen.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Still Imagining

On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, on Dec. 8, 1980, I can’t help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say today's music, art and politics. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s easy knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling.

In November, 2008, on the occasion of what was the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ White Album, the Vatican newspaper praised the groundbreaking British band for its body of work and forgave Lennon for his flippant 1966 quip about sudden success, “[We’re] more popular than Jesus.”

Even the bloody Vatican has changed, but peace is still waiting for its chance.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time most people probably didn’t connect the events, but those two appearances were only three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation following the jolt had something to do with why those early Beatles recordings cut through the heavy airwaves with such verve.

Clearly, there has been no explosion in the American pop music scene since with anything near the equivalent impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, in 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as if a world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was the working class hero’s sincerity, his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that helped set him apart from his teen idol counterparts, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were merely hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early ‘70s, President Richard Nixon looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, I have to say that even if that particular nut-case (a man I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one; surely there were other bullets out there with John Lennon’s name on them.

Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good. And, speaking of assassinations, at this time I’m also reminded of an item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article began with this:

Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.

The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the early ‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar.

In a nutshell, Gregg and Mike became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever. So they fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

As the reader may know, this sort of endeavor is frequently best undertaken in the wee hours.

In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said at the time, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”


Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected for the kill by his stalking murderer was he had a rare ability to move people. In that sense, Lennon was slain for the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago Jesus H. Christ was taken out of the game for much the same reason: He challenged people to change; to take a chance on a life based on something better than might making right.

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about the former Beatle’s potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that Lennon — in spite of his mischievous streak — was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

“The cops looked at me and McAdam,” said Wetzel recently, to flesh out the 23-year-old tale, “decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

After listening to a John Lennon compilation CD, even today, some of his best post-Beatles cuts seem fresh, they still have the feeling of being experimental.

Well into what are strange days, indeed, on the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death, I'm still wondering. Still imagining …


-- 30 --

–Words by F.T. Rea. Illustration by Mike Lormand.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tacky Lights Tour History

Now that the Tacky Lights Tour has become a traditional kitsch extravaganza, how long has it been going on? Who started it here in Richmond?


Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1996 Bill McKelway offered his readers a brief history of a seasonal tradition in Richmond since 1986, when the Tacky Lights Tour was launched by its creator, Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb (pictured above), who was a deejay at a local radio station at the time.

…His fondest memories will be of the outpouring of interest when the tacky house tour began 10 years ago. “I figured I could rent one of those trolleys for about 15 people,” said Gottlieb. “That filled up right away. Then I rented a bus and that filled up in an hour. Then I rented another bus and that filled up.”

At one house decked out in blue lights, tour members spontaneously broke into Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas.’ At another house, they marveled at the lifelike figures on the roof wrapped in lights. “After a while, we realized that the lifelike figures were real people,” Gottlieb said, laughing.

Of course, the tour of way lit up houses still goes on, although Gottlieb moved to San Francisco years ago. By the way, Gottlieb originally called it “Richmond’s Tacky Xmas Decoration Contest and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour.”

Back in 1989, or maybe it was 1990, yours truly was one of small group of judges for Barry’s annual stunt. Chuck Wrenn was one of the other invited judges, as was a radio deejay named Dick Hungate. Don’t remember who else was along for the ride. We cruised around in a limousine drinking beer and so forth, looking at a bunch of houses made up to resemble amusement parks, or perhaps houses of ill fame in a Fellini film.

I still remember the all-blue-lights house McKelway mentioned in his piece (which is a good read). It was by far the smallest house on the list. To me it was a little creepy, too, so I stayed in the limo while the others went in.

Barry greatly enjoyed meeting the people, getting their stories and so forth. Some he already knew because he saw them every year, others were new. At the end of the tour we judges voted and may have gone to a bar.

After that same night, I came to see that stretch limos were just not for me. Although I enjoyed my chance to judge tackiness, while wallowing in it, I’m happy to report I haven’t ridden in a limo since then.

Happy tackiness to all.

Click here to see "Three New Ways to See the Tacky Lights" at

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Not Now Republicans' tune sounds familiar

Yesterday afternoon I heard a number of Republicans in Congress talking on C-SPAN about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. One after another said now is just not the right time to do away with that troublesome policy. Sound familiar?

Of course it does. Other Republicans in Congress had spent yesterday morning talking on C-SPAN about how now is just not the right time to raise taxes on millionaires. Heavens to Betsy, not now! None of them seemed much concerned with what extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires will do to this country’s deficit problem.

The Not Now Republicans were saying we are in the middle of a couple of wars against merciless enemies, so changing the DADT policy now would be imprudent. Which opens the door to the thought that as long as America stays on a war footing, some conservatives would likely go on forever telling us that doing the right thing needs to wait.

And, Republicans have been chanting for decades that cutting taxes for the wealthiest in society is the answer to all manner of widespread vexations. The trickle down ideas being offered up, about sheltering fat cat job creators from paying taxes, are anything but new.

Still, the old "it's not the right time" malarkey also has such a familiar ring -- and aroma -- because in the '50s and '60s that's exactly the tool some Massive Resisters used as a wink toward the obvious moral high ground of the push for full citizenship rights for blacks. At the same time, even though those white politicians knew they were doing the wrong thing, the so-called conservatives of that time continued to stand firmly against court orders to integrate Virginia's public schools, etc.

The smart segregationist cats in that era knew change was coming. The Supreme Court’s orders would eventually have to be respected, but the mean-spirited game was to delay the changes for as long as possible. It took the federal government five years to make Prince Edward County in Virginia reopen the public schools it closed, rather than desegregate.

How is the Not Now wing of the modern GOP all that different from Virginia's shameless Massive Resisters of yesteryear in how it is putting off doing what's right for as long as possible?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let the GOP drive its Hell No! strategy into a wall

In a Washington Post OpEd in The Washington Post, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continued to say it’s all or nothing when it comes to the Bush tax cuts. Never mind the impact continuing the tax cuts for millionaires will have on the deficit.
The clock may be winding down on this session of Congress, but there is still time to do the right thing. If President Obama and Democratic leaders put forward a plan during the lame-duck session to cut spending and stop the tax hikes on all Americans, they can count on a positive response from Republicans.
Click here to read the entire OpEd.

Fueled by the fanciful notion that they heard what the voters said on Nov. 2, and Democrats can’t hear that voice, Republicans are playing a game of chicken with the Obama White House.

Election or not the Republicans, as led by their current team, will continue to do what they’ve been doing. The results of the election had no impact the GOP’s “Hell no!” strategy that has been in force for Obama‘s entire term. The emboldened Republicans obviously believe Obama will cave.

But why should he?

If Obama doesn't get a meet-in-the-middle compromise about this dollars and good sense issue, shouldn't he hold the line and let the GOP explain to America why it allowed taxes to go up for 98 percent of the taxpayers?

However charismatic he may have been in 2008, if Obama chickens out in this all important showdown, doesn't he risk mortally injuring his 2012 reelection potential?

*Update: PolitiFact -- Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) tax hike claim is Barely True. Click here. Now, how much do you think Cantor will care that what he says is considered to be less than truthful?

Neighbors Saving Byrd Park

From my latest rant about the proposed Go Ape ropes course project aimed at Byrd Park:
Gathering the story of why City Hall is considering the installation of a “ropes course” in Byrd Park has been something like trying to lasso a smoke ring. The only person who seemed to be able/willing to answer questions about the proposed project, J.R. Pope, no longer works for the City of Richmond.

But we have other sources. On Fri., Nov. 12, between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Richmond’s then-Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, J.R. Pope, was at a meeting in the Marshall Plaza Building at 900 E. Marshall St. The initiator of the meeting, Marty Jewell (5th District Councilman), was also there.
Click here to read "Anywhere But Byrd Park."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunlight or radioactive glow?


Is Wikileaks welcome sunlight onto secrets that matter? Or, is it just another radioactive glow?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ropes Course? City Stays Mum

Interested in the controversial ropes course project the City of Richmond has been studying for installation in the last untamed section of Byrd Park?

Here are some links that will tell you something about it (some of the stories have more links for additional background).

"Go Ape bringing a ropes course to Byrd Park," RVANews (10/7/10), click here.

"Proposed ropes course would offer above group adventure at Byrd Park," Richmond Times-Dispatch (10/8/10), click here.

"Save Byrd Park" at the Fan District Hub (11/10/10), click here.

"Ropes Course Good for Byrd Park?" at (11/16/10), click here.

To visit the Byrd Park community blog, which has several posts (some with numerous comments) on the ropes course issue, click here.

To visit the Facebook page for Save Byrd Park (and join up if you like), click here.

Meanwhile, the postponed meeting to discuss this issue the City of Richmond had scheduled for Nov. 18 (6:30 p.m.) at the Carillon has not been rescheduled. The status of the Go Ape ropes course project remains in limbo, as no one who works for The City -- since J.R. Pope's sudden departure from Rec and Parks -- seems to know anything about the ropes course.

At least, they're not talking.


Update (11/24/10): Fifth District Councilman Marty Jewell was good enough to talk with me on the phone this morning. Jewell characterized the ropes course project as, "a ludicrous idea, from start to finish." And, he had quite a bit more to say. Thus, I'm writing a new piece on this brouhaha right now. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Williams: VCU president a keeper or a clunker?

The video above is the Richmond Times-Dispatch's columnist Michael Paul Williams' rant on the Rao row at VCU. Is Michael Rao, the man VCU hired last year to follow Eugene Trani as president of the university, already on his way out?

Click here to read the rather strange "confidentiality agreement" Rao wants his underlings to sign.

Monday, November 15, 2010

City official J.R. Pope fired!

J.R. Pope, who headed up the City's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Development for the last five years, has just been removed from his post in what has the appearance of a forced resignation.

Read about this sudden change in personnel at City Hall here.

At this point it’s unclear how this news will impact this Thursday’s (6:30 p.m. at the Carillon) meeting with City officials to discuss the ropes course project being considered for Byrd Park. Pope was a major booster for the Go Ape ropes course plan.

  • A new piece I penned about the Go Ape ropes course controversy, which Pope was at the heart of, is up at Click here to read "Ropes Course Good for Byrd Park?"
  • Click here to read Chris Dovi's report on the Pope story at his Richmond Magazine blog.
  • From the City of Richmond: Due to internal changes, the public meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Carillon on the proposed Go Ape ropes course for Byrd Park has been postponed. A new date and time will be announced when it becomes available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who will save Byrd Park?

From "Save Byrd Park" at the Fan District Hub:
The City of Richmond is close to forming a partnership of a sort with Go Ape (of Maryland) to install a high-flying ropes course in the dense woods behind Dogwood Dell in Byrd Park. The course will be built and maintained under Go Ape’s hopefully watchful eye. Once completed, the concept will have people paying money to swing through trees and so forth.
Below are excerpts from comments posted by The Hub's readers:
  • The area at risk is a forest treasure...
  • ...Go Ape is a private company. They should put their course on private land instead. The city should not take the park away from the public and allow the Go Ape owners to make a profit at the expense of the citizens of Richmond.
  • This is a public park for all of us to enjoy. I can’t understand why the city would allow a private company to permanently alter and destroy what is there, to build something that only a limited number of the population would be able to use...
Click here to read the entire piece with links for background and comments from readers.

Next Thursday, Nov. 18, at 6:30 p.m., there will be a public meeting at the Carillon. This may be the only public meeting because the project's planners want to install the ropes course this winter. The ropes course developer, Go Ape, will be there to make a presentation and answer some follow-up questions from the audience.

City of Richmond officials will be there, as well. Maybe they will answer questions, but I wouldn't bet on it. Some of Byrd Park's neighbors and others who want to save Byrd Park's last naturally wooded acres from going ape will be there to ask some questions.

Click here to visit Save Byrd Park's Facebook page.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Republican Tea Party Caucus agenda

As with the aftermath of all elections, if you don't tear yourself away from the churning political news you will be inundated with analysis. This year the pundits are telling their audiences about what the new Tea Party Republicans want. They’re explaining what the Independents who voted Republican want. We’re hearing about the direction in which the lawmakers are heading and so forth.

Me? I can take only so much of that stuff. On the other hand, when you get the real inside story, instead of spin, that can be fascinating.

Over the 26 years I’ve been writing commentary on politics and popular culture, I’ve had various characters approach me with stories they wanted told, but they needed to be left out of it. Some were clearly whistle-blowers, others had more complicated agendas. Some were righteous, others were more mischievous. In every case I have stuck to a policy of not revealing the identity of such a source.

So, dear reader, I can’t tell you who my source is this time, either. I did get permission from this self-styled whistle-blower to say that he or she may have been an official within the Virginia Republican Party at one time. Although this year my secret source became disgruntled and was not directly involved in party politics, he or she remains in touch with the guys who call the shots.

From here on this source will be called Sore Throat. What follows are five strategies from a supposedly longer list detailing what the Republican Tea Party Caucus will demand be made into new laws and new programs.

Sore Throat sat across from me in a Museum District watering hole and told me to write down what he or she said. He or she then unfolded a piece of paper and read from it. Afterward, Sore Throat ate the paper like a film noir spy. Then he or she bought us another round of beer.

Here’s what I wrote down:
In order to create jobs, cut taxes and pay off the deficit, certain laws must be written and passed by Congress next year. Certain new government-shrinking programs must be created by Congress. In the first 100 days of 2011 the Republican Party must put the following 20 ideas on the table. With no compromising, before the year is over they must all become the law of the land:

1. English must be declared the official language of the USA. No taxpayers’ dollars can be spent on signs written in any language other than English. The teaching of any foreign language in public schools must end.
Subtitles in all foreign films must be eliminated. The wearing of scary hats in which bombs could be hidden, such as fezzes or turbans, can only be allowed behind closed doors on private property.

2. The Indentured Servant program, which helped to build this nation into the greatest in all of Earth's 10,000 years of existence, should be revived. This time-honored program would be used to give illegals without a criminal record a path to citizenship. The number of years an illegal must be indentured would depend on their native country. Without discrimination, any bona fide citizen would be eligible to bid online on the annual contract of any servant. The revenue from the auctions would be earmarked to go directly toward paying off the national debt.

3. To eliminate frivolous lawsuits and stimulate the economy the cap for any valid corporation’s liability exposure must be set nationwide at $19.95.

4. To save time, and time is money, extra points must be eliminated from football games at every level.

5. In order to avoid impeachment by proving he is an American citizen -- and therefore eligible to be president -- President Barrack Obama must bring his birth certificate to a joint session of Congress and pass it around for inspection by all members requesting an up-close look at it.
Sore Throat said the rest of the Republican Tea Party Caucus list of top priorities will be revealed to me in a similar manner soon. Then he or she stood up and said, “These bozos want to plant Cheerios to grow doughnut trees!”

Sore Throat promptly disappeared into the night. No, I can't yet verify anything my source said. However, if there's any truth to his or her claims, next year promises to be a bumpy ride inside the beltway.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Let the GOP explain why

If President Barack Obama totally caves to the yammering Republicans on the extension of Bush tax cuts issue, and gives them everything they want, he may never recover the ground he would sacrifice in the process. In a nutshell, he will look like an absolute wuss.

Without an agreement of some kind in Congress the tax cuts will expire for everyone. So, in a brutal sense, time is on Obama's side. Obama, the good poker player, must calmly wait for the Republicans to recover from their victory party hangovers and offer the Democrats a compromise worth considering. After all, this is a showdown he has known was coming for a long time.

Moreover, this is precisely the perfect time for the president to demonstrate the bottom line veto power of the presidency and play some whoever-blinks-first hardball politics. Either it's a meet-in-the-middle compromise about this dollars and good sense issue, or the time just expires.

Obama can't cave on this one -- scared money never wins. If the time runs out, let the GOP explain why it allowed taxes to go up for 98 percent of the people.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Five Favorite Prison Movies

At the James River Film Journal last week's list of five favorites was about doing the crime -- Film Noir. This week it's about doing the time -- Prison Movies.

While you're there the JRFJ has plenty of other, more legit film buff commentary to read, too.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Holmberg on handbills

Please click here to see a video report from Mark Holmberg on handbills/signs. It was shot on the 900 block of West Grace Street last night. Spoiler: Yes, a (nearly reformed) handbill-posting geezer is in the picture.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Questions about Ropes Course in Byrd Pk.

Today children who live near Byrd Park -- or near Carytown, or in the Museum District, or in the Fan District -- are a few minutes bike ride from an undisturbed, naturally wooded area in which to play and learn. They can walk through the quiet woods and see the animals that call that part of town home. Soon, that may be changing.

And, now some questions:

While the public -- including Carillon/Byrd Park area residents -- first learned of the project last month from a newspaper article, is it true that City of Richmond officials have been working with Go Ape for almost a year on developing a ropes adventure course in Byrd Park?

Who initiated the contact between The City and Go Ape that has had them working together behind closed doors? City officials? Go Ape? Or a go-between?

With Mayor Dwight Jones talking about allowing sunlight into how his administration operates, why has the public been kept in the dark as the plans solidified?

Why does The City want this project to be shoehorned into the only passive natural area left in Byrd Park? Who decided this project would be better suited in undeveloped public land in the middle of town, rather than in a county or state park, or on private land?

If there are over a hundred zip line courses now operating in the USA, why is Richmond seemingly committed to Go Ape, a British company?

What has The City done to evaluate other ropes theme parks in America to see how many are on private land verses public land, and how those arrangements have worked, so far?

Note: Apparently, Go Ape will form/has formed a separate company to conduct its business here. That company, Adventure Forest, LLC, will be/is a limited liability entity, putting only its assets in the USA at risk. On top of that, Adventure Forest might not be responsible for construction liability, because another company, Altus Outdoor Concept (from France), would actually build the ropes course.

So, if there is a terrible accident, who would the City of Richmond expect to have enough liability insurance to pay damages, so it would not have to pony up? Would it be Adventure Forest, LLC, in the USA? Go Ape in Britain? Altus Outdoor Concept in France?

Should there be a catastrophic accident, who really thinks a competent personal injury lawyer working for one of the injured parties would not name all of those players as defendants -- including the City of Richmond, with its deep pockets -- in a law suit?

With the ropes adventure course installed in the Byrd Park, other than a huge liability potential, what will Richmonders have gained? What will they have lost?

-- 30 --

Monday, November 01, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

1968: Political upheaval like no year since

In an interview (Oct. 19, 2010) televised on MSNBC author (“Eighteen Acres”) Nicolle Wallace said, “If 2008 was about change, this year is about upheaval.”

Wallace, a former Bush White House communications director, makes a good point. But in spite of how much noise has been made by the Tea Party activists and other players this year, 2010 has been smooth sailing compared to 1968.

The events of 1968 unfolded the year after San Francisco’s Summer of Love. It was the year before American astronauts walked on the moon and the Amazing Mets won the World Series. Here’s some of how the political news played out that year, as I remember it:

Jan. 23: The USS Pueblo was seized on the high seas by North Korean forces. Subsequently, as captives, its 83 men endured an ordeal that was shocking to an American public that had naively thought its country was too strong for such a thing to happen.

Jan. 30: The Tet Offensive began, as the shadowy Viet Cong flexed its muscles and blurred battle lines with simultaneous assaults taking place in many parts of South Vietnam. Even the American embassy in Saigon was attacked/penetrated.

Mar. 31: Facing the burgeoning antiwar-driven campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew from the presidential race, declining to run for reelection by saying, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination...”

Apr. 5: America’s most respected civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was shot and killed in Memphis. Riots followed in cities coast-to-coast. The bitterness that remained after the dust settled was scary. In Richmond, it ended an era. Young adventurous whites who followed music could no longer go in the black clubs they had once patronized.

May 13: The USA and North Vietnam began a series of negotiations to end the war in Vietnam that came to be known as the Paris Peace Talks. Ironically, as a backdrop, France itself was in chaos. Workers and students had shut down much of the country with a series of strikes. The trains weren’t running, airports were closed, as were schools, etc. (Sound familiar?)

May 24: Father Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis (of Artists Concerned About Vietnam) got six years for destroying federal property by pouring duck blood over draft files at Baltimore’s Selective Service headquarters.

June 5: Having just won the California primary Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. The hopes of millions that the Vietnam War would end soon died that night, since it’s hard to imagine that Richard Nixon would have been able to defeat Kennedy in the general election. Just as JFK’s death in 1963 had played into the radical escalation of the war in Vietnam, in 1968 RFK’s death meant it would go on for several more years.

June 8: James Earl Ray was arrested in London. Eventually, he was convicted of murdering Martin Luther King. Yet, questions about that crime still linger today.

Aug. 21: Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush what had been a season of renaissance. As it had been with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of World War III being one button-push away was commonplace.

Aug 28: In Chicago the Democratic convention that selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey to top its ticket melted down. With tear gas in the air and blood in the streets 178 demonstrators/bystanders were arrested. Many were roughed up on live television. As cops clubbed citizens in the streets, CBS reporters Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were punched on the convention floor.

Antiwar Democrats were greatly disillusioned. It seemed to many of them there was no reason to vote at all. At this point, it really seemed to me the civilized world was coming apart.

Nov. 5: Richard Nixon (depicted above) narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey himself was for peace, out of loyalty he refused to denounce Johnson’s failing war policy; it cost him dearly. Also elected that day was Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. She was the first black female to serve in the House of Representatives.

Dec. 24: After having its way with them for 11 months, North Korea released the 83 members of the Pueblo’s crew. The U.S. Navy had to just suck up the humiliation.

Nixon escalated the war and it dragged on for years. Many people my age now believe that thousands died because Nixon won instead of Humphrey. Eventually the utterly corrupt Nixon White House gave us the bewildering series of scandals that led to his forced resignation in 1974.

It matters who wins elections. Maybe some of the ghosts of those who died in the undeclared wars the United States prosecuted -- by choice -- over the last 50 years, will speak to you about that vital topic … if you will listen.

Via cable television news channels, vociferous Tea Party opportunists and crackpots have been telling us how bad it is with President Barack Obama in the White House. They would have you to believe that life in America has never been as bad as it is in 2010. If you tell them they should try reading some history about the Great Depression, the Jim Crow Era, WWII, the blacklisting days in the 1950s, etc., they will call you an “elite.”

For those readers who are put off by being called an “elite” by obstreperous, self-styled patriots who wear their ignorance like badges of courage, the answer is to encourage everyone they know who Tea Party propagandists would probably call an “elite” to vote early, and vote often.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apologies Upon Demand

Now we have Ginni Thomas, the Tea Party activist who's married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, demanding an apology from Anita Hill. Reportedly, Thomas has said she was extending an "olive branch" with her out-of-the-blue phone call to Hill. What she didn't mention was that she tried to poke Professor Hill in the eye with that olive branch.

As absurd as Thomas' demand might seem, she's just one more political player insisting on an immediate apology. These days, stories about impatient demands for apologies from the deeply offended are an every day thing. It seems the surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to puff yourself up with blustery indignation and call upon a politician to apologize.

Typically, a planted outrage story goes through its predictable cycle, which usually plays out something like this:

The Demander: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “War is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the battlefields of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

The Offender: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

The Demander: That’s your opinion.

The Offender: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is true that offense was taken.

The Demander: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

The Offender: What have they got to do with this?

The Demander: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind them of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

The Offender: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

The Demander: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm. I demand a full and unqualified apology, immediately. And your elitist opinions about movies are only making it worse.

The Offender: Does saying “war is heck” make it any better?

The Demander: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists, is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

The Offender: The First Amendment says you can't put blasphemy and treason in the same sentence. How about I put it this way: “War is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

The Demander: You’d only be emboldening the enemy.

The Offender: To hell with the enemy!

The Demander: Better, now we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

O'Donnell: Separation of church and state not in First Amendment

Today Republican Christine O'Donnell and her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, debated at Widener University Law School in Delaware. The debate was carried live on radio by WDEL-AM.

During the debate O'Donnell called for teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design in public schools. Coons said that would be unconstitutional because it would violate the separation of church and state. O'Donnell then shocked the roomful of lawyers and law students when she questioned (several times) whether the First Amendment of the Constitution calls for the separation of church and state.

Don't believe me? Watch the video above. Click here to read more in the Washington Post about this bizarre episode.


Update (4 p.m., same day): O'Donnell is a litmus test for your Republican friends. From here on you'll know it's a flat waste of time talking politics with anybody who can ignore all the crazy stuff and go on saying she really ought to be in the Senate for six years. Look at it this way: they're either so cynical it would make a goat puke, or they're dumb as a post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yankee Doodle at the Tea Party

The main character in this story, which is fiction, is a 33-year-old man who lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He normally works at least 50 hours a week, although he only gets paid for 40 hours. He works in a warehouse-like building full of audio visual equipment, which he delivers to clients who rent it for big trade shows and conventions; he also works on the crews that set up and tear down the gadgetry. He is one of 21 fulltime employees at the local branch of an AV rental company that has similar branches in seven other cities along the East Coast. He lives in a two-and-a-half room apartment, not counting the tiny bathroom. He has a satellite dish and watches a lot of sports. He is divorced. He makes good on his monthly child support payments over half the time to his ex, who has custody of their seven-year-old daughter; the softhearted ex gives him a hard time but she lets him get away with it. He smokes a pack of Camel Filters every day. He drinks a six pack of Bud Light Lime every night. His name is Josh.

The two men who own the company that employs Josh are millionaires, several times over. Josh admires them even though neither seems to know his first name; one of the owners has never spoken to him in the nearly four years he‘s been on the job.

Like his successful bosses, Josh considers himself a conservative, when it comes to politics. Also like them, Josh’s two favorite sports teams are the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.

In the company trucks on the road, in the process of driving AV equipment back and forth, Josh likes to daydream about being a wealthy man. He thinks about what sort of cars and boats he’d have. He thinks about traveling and staying in fancy hotels. He thinks about watching Super Bowls from inside private luxury boxes. He thinks about drinking expensive Tequila. He thinks about having a beautiful redheaded secretary who travels with him and services his account on a regular basis. He thinks about what cigars he’d smoke. He thinks about wearing a Rolex watch and shoes imported from Italy. He thinks about playing golf on the world’s most famous courses and hobnobbing with the other wealthy men. He thinks about not having to work. Josh can see it all in his mind’s eye.

When he’s not imagining how he’d spend his fortune -- if he had one -- Josh listens to talk radio; politics and sports, mostly. He’s a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and Jim Rome. Although he's not religious, Josh likes televangelist Glenn Beck, too. Those well-to-do men are good at saying what Josh likes to hear, because he's a Yankee Doodle Dandy kind of guy who loves his country and hates trade unions, although he‘s never been a member of a union.

This year Josh is a Tea Party kind of guy, too.

In his Oct. 2 OpEd for the New York Times Frank Rich wrote: "[Christine O'Donnell] gives populist cover to the billionaires and corporate interests that have been steadily annexing the Tea Party movement and busily plotting to cash in their chips if the G.O.P. prevails."

Josh hasn’t ever read what Frank Rich has to say about politics and he‘s not about to start now. He heard Rush call Frank Rich a “Dem Flack,” so Josh doesn‘t care that Rich says the Joshes of the Tea Party movement are dupes who don‘t even know where their bread is buttered. Josh is against taxes and he thinks Christine O‘Donnell is sassy.

Josh wants the Bush tax cuts for millionaires to continue. Not only does he believe in the whimsical trickle-down notion that the super wealthy need tax cuts to create more jobs like his, Josh expects to be a multimillionaire, himself, one day. Josh doesn’t believe in ivory tower theories like evolution, global warming or the national deficit.

Josh wants America to leave the United Nations tomorrow. Josh also believes it would be a good idea to nuke Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan all on the same day. Josh’s favorite movie is “The Godfather.” He loved how Michael Corleone had all of his family’s enemies wiped out in one doomsday of payback. So, Josh would be happy to include Somalia, with its pirates, on the to-be-nuked list. Angry Josh is too conservative to enjoy Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Josh would also be happy to deport every undocumented worker in one day to create jobs for real Americans. Logistics don't concern him. The next day he would close every mosque in the USA and deport every Muslim who isn‘t a U.S. citizen, born in America. Therefore, Josh believes President Barack Obama should be removed from office and sent to Kenya.

To win Josh’s vote, senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell proudly flaunts her angry ignorance as a sign she is more like him than her opponent and her elite detractors. It gets worse.

Josh hates elites almost as much as he hates ethnics with funny accents, gay men and unattractive lesbians. He has no opinion about witches. Although he disagrees with O’Donnell about masturbation, she will get his vote. In fact, Josh particularly enjoys masturbating when he's watching Christine on television.

While all of the above is fiction, nonetheless, it appears there are plenty of Joshes out there, dwelling on fantasies with Election Day approaching. Will these self-styled patriots vote in large numbers? Or will they be too occupied with holding their Bud Lite Limes in one hand and yanking their doodles with the other?

The End.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Five Favorite Directors

My Thursday gig at the James River Film Journal has me making lists of favorite movies. This time it’s favorite directors. Click here to read the post on my five favorites and some of their best movies.

While you're at the web site there are several other recent posts. Unlike my tendency to dredge up old movies for my lists, the other writers at the JRFJ write about the work of contemporary filmmakers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Art: What It Is

Jerry Donato (1941-2010) in the Texas Wisconsin Border Cafe (circa 1985)

In a Richmond, Virginia courtroom in November of 1982 I witnessed an entertaining scene in which an age-old question — what is art? — was hashed out in front of a patient judge named Jose R. Davila. The judge seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the defense attorneys put before him. The room was packed with observers, which included plenty of gypsy musicians, film buffs and art students wearing paint-speckled dungarees.

The defendant in this freedom of speech case was this story’s teller.

When I got charged with a misdemeanor for posting a handbill I had designed that promoted the premiere of a new feature, “Atomic Cafe,” it was a bust I deliberately provoked. At that time I was determined to beat the City of Richmond with a freedom-of-speech defense and knock out the statute prohibiting the posting of flyers on utility poles.

The little poster had been stapled to a pole near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Rather than pay the small fine for breaking The City’s law forbidding such advertising in the public way, as the Biograph’s manager, I opted for a day in court. My defense attorneys, Jack Coaln and Stuart Kaplan -- who were also my good friends -- attacked the wording of the statute as “overreaching.”

They asserted on my behalf that it was my right to post the handbill, plus the public had a right to see it. The prosecution called the handbill “litter.”

Beyond the wording of the statute it was easy enough to see the real push behind The City’s crackdown on posting handbills in the Fan District was coming mostly from people who didn’t want rock ‘n’ roll, or alternative cinema, or all sorts of activities close to where they were living.

Thus, my day in court was one little battle in what had been an ongoing culture war in the Fan District in that era. Some of the Fan’s property owners wanted to get rid of much of the commercial activity in the densely populated neighborhood, especially the restaurants/bars.

The expert witnesses/friends who testified to support my case were David Manning White, Phil Trumbo and Jerry Donato. White had been the chairman of VCU's mass communications department. Trumbo was the best known handbill artist in the Fan. Donato was a painting and printmaking professor at VCU.

We also entered into evidence 100 cool handbills by a variety of artists. We contended that when such flyers appeared on key utility poles, in certain shop windows and on selected bulletin boards, they constituted an information system. We said that an aspect of the citizenry didn’t always trust the mainstream media, especially the daily newspapers, so it frequently relied on information delivered by posters made by people they knew.

The judge was reminded that history-wise, handbills predate newspapers. Furthermore, we asserted that the eight-and-a-half-by-eleven, cheaply printed posters were art — a natural byproduct of having a university with a burgeoning art school in the neighborhood.

At a crucial moment, Donato was being grilled by the prosecutor over just where to draw the line between what should be, and what should not be, considered to be genuine art. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, William B. Bray, asked the witness if the humble piece of paper in his hand, the offending handbill, could actually be “art.”

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

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that it was no better than trash in the gutter.

Eventually, having grown weary of the artsy, high-brow vernacular being slung around by the witnesses, the prosecutor tried one last time to make Donato look foolish.

As Warhol’s soup cans had just been mentioned by the art expert, the prosecutor asked something like, “If you were in an alley and happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that be art, too?”

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

Donato’s punch line was perfectly delivered. The courtroom erupted into laughter. Even the judge had to fight off a smile.

The crestfallen prosecutor gave up. The City lost the case. Although I got a kick out of the crack, too, I’ve always thought The City’s mouthpiece missed an opportunity to hit the ball back across the net.

“Sir, let me get this right,” he might have said, “are you saying the difference between art and randomly-strewn garbage is simply a matter of whose hand touched it; that the actual appearance of the objects, taken as a whole, is not the true test? Would you have us believe that without credentials, such as yours, one is ill-equipped to determine the difference ordinary trash and fine art?”

A smarter lawyer could well have exploited that angle.

Still, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert witness could be compelled to rise up to brand a handbill for a movie, a green piece of paper with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. So, Donato, who was a wily artist if there ever was one, probably would have one-upped the buttoned-down lawyer, no matter what.

Perhaps the question shouldn’t have been — how can you tell fake art from real art? After all, any town is full of bad art, mediocre art and good art. Name your poison.

The better question to ask is whether the art is worthwhile or useful. Then you become the expert witness. However, when it comes to great art, it still depends on who tips the can over.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monkeying with Byrd Park

Should a ropes course be installed in Byrd Park? My latest OpEd piece at asks a few questions about the new proposal.
Hey, if people want to pay money ($55 in Rockville) to swing from trees, why not? Sounds like fun. But true nature-lovers, as well as the neighbors who live close to the park, might suggest this granola theme park activity -- with its considerable liability potential -- seems like it would be far better situated on private property.
Click here to read the entire piece at

Click here to read an article in Richmond BizSense that puts a positive spin on the same project.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Like ... I'm you

This piece was inspired by Christine O'Donnell's campaign ads.
(Click on the art to enlarge it.)

Copy and collage
(and photo-stealing) by F.T. Rea

Friday, October 08, 2010

Swinging course, or slippery slope?

Go Ape!, a Maryland-based company, wants to install a "ropes course" in the wooded area of Byrd Park behind the Carillon. Ropes course?

City officials are working with Go Ape!, a Maryland company, to develop a ropes course that would take people on an adventure 40 to 50 feet above ground in the woods behind the Carillon in Byrd Park. The course would include zip-lines, Tarzan swings and obstacles for a high-stepping experience of two to three hours in the trees.
Click here to read a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about the unusual project now being studied by the City of Richmond. For more on the proposed recreational project, including a map showing the area to be affected, click here to read RVANews' article.

The natural wonders offered by Richmond's parks along the James River are spectacular. Whether this activity should intrude on such public property is questionable. Mountain bikers, bird watchers and joggers pursue their recreational treks through the area Go Ape! wants to appropriate without making a mark on the land.

The RT-D article says Go Ape! will build the course at its expense and assume the liability for participants. But does the City Attorney advise that there's no way a personal injury lawyer could bring the City into a lawsuit, should there be some catastrophe? After all, Go Ape! and the City would be partners and the land would still be owned by the City.

Hey, if somebody wants to pay $50 to swing from trees wearing a helmet and harness, why not? But on the face of it this activity seems like it would be better situated on private property.

Some frequent park users, as well as those who live in the neighborhood adjacent to the park, might say the more natural (and free of charge) the trails through that part of town are, the better. They might also see this theme-park-like development as a slippery slope that will allow for more public/private partnerships that could run roughshod over the quiet subtleties of nature.

Instead of invading this publicly-owned sanctuary, which now stands largely undisturbed by modernity, perhaps Go Ape! should cut a deal with some property owner along the river. Or it should simply buy some land and keep all the profits.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

War/Anti-War Films

Still from "Forbidden Games" (1952)

My five favorite heroic war movies and five favorite anti-war movies are listed in the latest installment of Five Film Favorites at the James River Film Journal.

Click here to read the lists and comment, if you like.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Curtain Call for a Class Act

Going into the last regular-season series of his storied career, a three-game affair with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bobby Cox has managed for teams that have won 2,503 games. In Major League Baseball’s history only three skippers have more victories.

Although the Phillies have clinched the National League’s East Division, at this writing the Braves (90-69) hold a two-game lead over the San Diego Padres (88-71) for the league’s fourth postseason qualifying spot -- the wild card.

No matter how it turns out, playoff-wise, Cox will hang up his spikes for good once the Braves are through with their 2010 campaign. Fittingly, this season Cox has turned in one of the finest jobs of guiding a clubhouse full of egos and superstitions in his 29 years of calling the shots from the dugout.

Well, not always from the dugout. Cox holds the all-time record for managers being tossed out of ongoing games by umpires -- 158 and counting.

Although Braves pitching has been strong this year, there’s been no one the likes of Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine or John Smoltz on his staff. On offense it’s been done with smoke and mirrors more than power and speed.

Incidentally, Glavine and Smoltz both hurled for the Richmond Braves in the 1980s, when Cox was in Atlanta’s front office as the franchise‘s general manager. He was the guy who drafted/signed the players who formed the Great Eight of Richmond’s 1993 season, when the local all-time attendance record for a season was set (540,489).

The biggest star of that season at The Diamond, Chipper Jones, has played his entire 17-year career with one manager -- Bobby Cox, who, by the way, played third base for the Richmond Braves in 1967.

No doubt, there will be more than a few old R-Braves fans watching Saturday afternoon’s Phillies vs. Braves game at 4 p.m. on Fox. Lots of retired Braves players will be on hand to help the fans honor Cox's days in a baseball uniform during a pre-game ceremony.

Before that broadcast ends this Braves fan is hoping to see the old and new Braves players gathered around the crusty and crafty Bobby Cox, 69, to celebrate seeing him in the postseason picture for his last hurrah.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Monday, September 27, 2010

Remember the Fan District Softball League?

The Facebook group page for the Fan District Softball League is here. Pictures and comments. Join up if you like. The photo above (circa 1976) is of WGOE's popular disc jockey, Jim Letizia.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Way Conservative, or Just Crazy?

The Republican Party's agenda and the ambitions of the Tea Party movement seem to be coalescing. With Tea Party-endorsed candidates having upset more traditional GOP candidates in a few primaries, the Republican establishment is begrudgingly hopping aboard the ultra conservative bandwagon.

Karl Rove had to eat his words after the dust settled on Christine O’Donnell’s stunning defeat of Mike Castle, a well-connected moderate Republican, in Delaware’s recent primary. Soon it was announced that Gov. Bob McDonnell will be participating in the upcoming Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention, scheduled to unfold at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, Oct. 7-9, 2010.

In the past Flat-Earth Republican strategy has picked at scabs, hoping fresh blood from yesterday’s thought-to-be-healed cultural troubles would distract Democrats from the present and tie them up defending gains made long ago. Whereas, now, it seems many Tea Party activists actually want to march us all back across the bridge to before the New Deal, perhaps as far back as the Gilded Age.

With Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin stealing his thunder, a couple of weeks ago Rush Limbaugh launched a new campaign. Limbaugh called for the newly coined Limbaugh Rule to be observed by his followers from now on:
“In an election year when voters are fed up with liberalism and socialism, when voters are clearly frightened of where the hell the country is headed, vote for the most conservative Republican in the primary, period.”
Which opens the door to wondering how one is to decide who is the “most conservative.” Like, how far right can you go before you fall off that flat earth? Moreover, where’s the line to be drawn to separate an I’m-more-conservative-than-you Tea Party style Republican from a lunatic who hears trees falling in the woods, when there are no woods?

After all, this season Arizona’s sitting governor, Jan Brewer, has made campaign news by seeing headless bodies no one else can see.

Hype? Hallucinations?

She won’t say.

Christine O’Donnell used to earn her living campaigning against masturbation, calling on teenagers to abstain. Is that way conservative, or what?

Obviously, being a “conservative” now hasn’t got much to do with what it meant a generation or two ago. Now the most passionate conservatives seem to want to turn back the hands of time, to when wealthy Christian white men controlled everything.

When your program is to do away with Social Security, is that conservative, or is it actually crazy in today's world? When you say you want to shrink the deficit, but you also want to give huge tax breaks to millionaires -- while remaining the planet’s policeman! -- is that realistic? When, instead of science, you want to teach Creationism in public schools … well, what is that?

Speaking of religion, what about the Fred Phelps clan -- the Westboro Baptist Church people from Kansas, who are coming to Richmond on Sunday, to stage their God Hates Fags stunts, etc., at local places of worship?

Are the Westboro haters just as Republican, but more conservative than Beck and Palin?

If you say that's a stretch, remember that same dynamic duo recently lent its support to the mustachioed Rev. Terry Jones, when he threatened to burn copies of the Quran.

So, when push comes to shove, which one is the more righteously conservative preacher, Jones or Phelps? Which is just crazy?


Update: Click here to read about the RT-D's account of the Westboro haters' work at three churches on Sunday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

'What train?'

What follows is an excerpt of "The Natural" by Bernard Malamud (It's a conversation between Iris and Roy on page 142 of the Avon paperback):

Roy felt like crying, yet he told her -- the first one he ever had. "I was just a kid and I got shot by this batty dame on the night before my tryout, and after that I just couldn't get started again. I lost my confidence and everything I did flopped."

He said this was the shame of his life, that his fate, somehow, had always been the same (on the train going nowhere) -- defeat in sight of his goal.


"Always the same."

"Always with a woman?"

He laughed harshly. "I sure met some honeys in my time. They burned me good."

"Why do you pick that type?"

"It's like I say -- they picked me. It's the breaks."

"You could say no, couldn't you?"

"Not to the type dame I always fell for -- they weren't like you."

She smiled.