Monday, May 31, 2010

Favorite films about war

Most of the best war movies, in my book, have at least a hint of anti-war sentiment in them. Some might call it sanity; war isn’t just hell, it’s crazy hell. Still, to me a traditional war movie is about the quest to bravely fight through that crazy hell as part of a larger purpose. Most of the time such stories are set in wars that actually took place.

Whereas, an anti-war film is usually more about the toll of war, or the sheer folly. Some of the best anti-war flicks don’t have many battle scenes. Some aren't set in what were real wars. Thus, two different sets of five favorites must be made on the war front.

Five Favorite Heroic War Films

Breaker Morant” (1980): Directed by Bruce Beresford; Cast: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown
Das Boot” (1981): Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; Cast: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann
The Deer Hunter” (1978): Directed by Michael Cimino; Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
The Great Escape” (1965): Directed by John Sturges; Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
Thin Red Line” (1998): Directed by Terrence Malick; Cast: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel

Five Favorite Anti-War Films

"Dr. Strangelove ..." (1964): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
Forbidden Games” (1952): Directed by René Clément; Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly, Amédée
King of Hearts” (1966): Directed by Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold, Pierre Brasseur
Paths of Glory” (1957): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
Seven Beauties” (1975): Directed by Lina Wertmüller; Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler

Friday, May 28, 2010

Captain Renault: I'm shocked!

Now it seems we have some Republicans and conservative talk show guys who say they are outraged, or perhaps disgusted by the news that former President Bill Clinton tried to talk Rep. Joe Sestak out of running against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic senatorial primary in Pennsylvania. Which certainly makes it look like the White House had made some promises to Specter, when he changed parties a year ago.

Who would have ever thought that?

Apparently, the outraged conservatives had no idea modern politics could involve such backroom deals. They would have us believe the GOP would never have similar behind-the-scenes negotiations, when more than one politician wants the same job. The idea that an incentive might be offered in order to convince one of them to step aside makes their little heads throb so badly that only thinking about impeachment soothes them.

All of which is too silly to be presented as anything but comedy. Perhaps Saturday Night Live could work up a nice parody using the famous scene in “Casablanca,” when Capt. Renault expresses his astonishment that “gambling” is going on in Rick’s American Café.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart): How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault (Claude Rains): I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

[A croupier hands Renault a big wad of money]

Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Tenth Commandment


Originally published by STYLE Weekly in 1999

According to the Old Testament, Moses heard directly from God about standards of behavior. A portion of the instructions Moses is purported to have heard, The Ten Commandments, is still well known and even in the news frequently.

There were several other rules offered atop Mount Sinai that we hear less about. If you read much of the book of Exodus, it won’t take long for you to see why. Let’s just say that some are rather old world, including the regulation of established practices such as slavery and burnt offerings.

However, the Ten Commandments are to-the-point and very basic stuff: Honor your God and your parents. Be willing to make sacrifices for what matters most to you. Don’t kill, lie, or steal, and don’t cheat on your spouse(s). Of course, even then, it depended on what “cheating” meant. In the final of the ten, Moses claimed God said people should not “covet” their neighbors’ goods.

Well, I find it interesting that after a simple list of shalt-nots, the last rule is against even thinking about a shalt-not. It seems redundant. Covet? Come on Moses, what’s the problem with a little coveting? Why not stick to nine commandments?

Hopefully, the reader will permit me the post-modern license to move directly from the Bible to a Hollywood thriller, in order to help Moses with his answer: In “Silence of the Lambs,” the brilliant but evil psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, instructs the movie’s detective heroine, who is in search of a serial killer, that people only covet what they see all the time.


Of course the ravenous doctor was right about what fuels obsessive cravings. If one hasn’t seen it, how can one lust for it? To dwell on wanting something, to the point of no return, one must see it regularly. Coveting is a festering of the mind; it's a craving for that which one cannot, or should not, have. No good can come from it.

Today, because of the modern media, everyone sees how wealthy/powerful people live all the time. One sure thing movies, sitcoms, soaps, and the celebrity news all do -- in addition to telling a story -- is to show us how well off some people are. Then, every few minutes the advertisements tell us where to buy the same pleasures and accouterments the stars in those stories possess.

If you’ve got the dough to buy the stuff, that’s one thing. If you don’t that’s another. That might spawn some coveting.

The lifestyle of a celebrity is constantly sold to consumers as the good life. Wanting that good life is a carrot on the stick that helps drive our consumer culture. Therefore, in some ways, it has been good to all of us. My thesis for today’s rant is that there is a dark side to this strategy.

When powerless/poor people see that same contrived entertainment they want the good life too. However, if they are trapped in their circumstances and have no hope, they don’t believe the good life is available through legitimate channels. So, instead of feeling motivated to work overtime, to earn more money, the powerless are left to covet.

Eventually all that desire for the unobtainable can lead to trouble. I’m convinced that some part of the violence we have seen from teen-agers, lately, stems from their exaggerated sense of powerlessness. In the worst cases, their impatience boils over while waiting for what they imagine to be an adult’s awesome power over life and death.

The good news is that kids grow up. Most of our children won’t shoot up their schools because of frustration with having so little say-so over their schedule. The bad news is that for many of the world’s underdogs their sense of powerlessness is something that isn’t going to dissipate so easily. In the so-called Third World, the longing for First World goods and options is festering as you read this.

Meanwhile, these powerless coveters aren’t thinking about where to shop for knockoffs of what they see flaunted on the tube. Watching the images on television and the Internet -- as everyone in the world now does -- they are coveting, and at the same time, they don’t see a way for them to get over being poor in their lifetime. A hundred years ago, 50 years ago, the world's underclass wasn't wired into the rest of civilization. Now it is.

Now they know how soft life is for the well-off. History isn’t much help here because it tells them that the unwashed masses usually have had to take what they wanted by force.

How much longer we can rely on the gentle patience of the world’s hungriest millions is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, perhaps the other side of “thou shalt not covet” is “thou shalt not flaunt.” If the wisdom of the ages — the Ten Commandments — suggests we should discourage destructive cravings in the shadows, perhaps we ought not to promote them so much with our brightest lights.

– 30 –

– Words (1999) and art (1982) by F.T. Rea

Monday, May 24, 2010

Does Blumenthal have '70s-Fibs Tourette’s?

Connecticut's beleaguered attorney general Richard Blumenthal, 64, has issued an apology for his repeated bogus claim that he served in Vietnam during the war. The Connecticut Democratic U.S. Senate candidate has been under fire over the last week for what he now says were misstatements.
Blumenthal, Connecticut's attorney general, received the Democratic nomination for the Senate race Friday. Blumenthal, who served stateside in the Marine Reserve during Vietnam, says he unintentionally said he served "in" Vietnam when he meant "during" Vietnam.
Click here to read the entire AP article.

But perhaps Blumenthal's critics should cut him some slack; he may not be able to help himself. It's possible Blumenthal is suffering from a particular disorder, more common to his age group than some might realize.

It’s a special Baby Boomer version of Tourette Syndrome known as "1970s-Fibs Tourette’s.”

Perhaps the most common fib for those suffering from this syndrome has been: “Sure, man, I was at Woodstock. Stayed away from the brown acid, too.”

It was like millions of Boomers seeking ultra-hippie status in the ‘70 couldn’t help themselves. I knew one guy who claimed he edited the well-known documentary film on the festival. Same guy also used to claim he was a member of a band (Count Five) he was never in.

The wannabe dangerous dude, saying he went to Vietnam, was another of the most popular of the ‘70s fibs. This one was a little more dangerous than the Woodstock thing; it could get your ass kicked if you lied about going to Vietnam in front of the right veteran in the wrong bar.

Blumenthal may have apologized for what may have been his syndrome-driven slips of the tongue, however many there were. But he’d still be smart to stay out of the wrong bar.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Top five reasons for more offshore drilling

How about a Top Five list of what the steeped-in-denial, armed-to-the-teeth Drill Baby Drill crowd will eventually say to try to make more drilling with less regulation seem appropriate, and to put the slippery blame for the unfolding oil-leak disaster where they please.

  • It was the federal regulators' fault. Get rid of regulation and it won't happen again.
  • It was a once-in-100-years, perfect storm of boo-boos. Couldn't happen again and won't, because BP will pay all legitimate claims for damages, so the marketplace will fix everything.
  • It happened because Muslims charge too much for their oil, trying to make America go broke. So, they forced us to dig for oil in difficult places. From now on America should simply confiscate any oil it needs from Middle Eastern Muslim countries ... at least from those countries that aren't one of America's allies.
  • The spill was sabotage. But it wasn't done by the North Koreans in a mini-sub (as was first suggested by right-wingers). No-o-o, it was done by an elite Greenpeace swat team secretly working for the Obama White House. The DBDers will say when the Kenya-born Obama spoke favorably about offshore drilling possibilities, just before the ongoing oil spill, it was just to fake us out. Why? Obama, ever the socialist, is planning to use this catastrophe to nationalize the oil industry. Then, of course, he'll confiscate all handguns, and ...
OK, dear reader: Help me out here. How about a suggestion to complete this list of five?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cuccinelli the Corrector

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has already become the most visible Virginia AG since Massive Resistance, according to political scientist Bob Holsworth. A piece I wrote for, "Cuccinelli the Corrector," hinges on just that point.
In the past, Virginia’s attorneys general may have been hard-nosed and partisan when provoked by events, but Cuccinelli’s fights, so far, have been handpicked. Yes, Cuccinelli, 41, seems to have some new ideas about the role an AG should play.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Click on the links below for more recent stories about Cuccinelli:

You are very STYLE Weekly if...

STYLE Weekly has been around since 1982. In 1985 the weekly tabloid began running an annual feature called "You Are Very Richmond if...". Readers sent in blubs, hoping one of their submissions would be picked as a winner and appear in the magazine. Then, after some time, the feature was discontinued.

This year the editors at STYLE dusted the concept off and last week the contest winners for 2010 were revealed.

Like it used to, the Very Richmond contest brought in all sorts of boosterism and wisecrackery. The winner was Mark Schairbaum for his -- "Your favorite monument is Arthur Ashe because it proves Richmond isn’t racist." I'm not sure which of those two categories that one falls into but I suppose there's a kernel of truth in it.

My favorite Very Richmond quip this time might have been Jay Bohannan's -- "You live in Chesterfield County".

Now I'd like to run a similar feature of my own here at SLANTblog. Please put your blurbs in the comments section under this post.

Here's the deal. Your comment should respond to this: "You are very STYLE Weekly if..."

This long overdue gimmick gives readers the chance to characterize STYLE's own style, such as it has been.

Note: If your comment is too extreme on syrupy sweetness, meanness, or vulgarity, I may delete it, unless it's so funny I have to let it go. Sorry, no prizes. But isn't making up a good blurb that gets published its own reward?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ghost Spider's Skitter

Twelve years ago, a spider bit me on the temple area next to my right eye. The first symptom was an itchiness that got steadily worse. Initially, I thought it was poison ivy. It was my then-girlfriend who first suggested, “Spider bite.”

At first, I doubted her call. Since I hadn't seen or felt the little culprit poisoning my face I didn't know if she was right or wrong. By the end of the first day there was some swelling and redness. Over the next couple of days the swelling increased dramatically until my eye was completely closed by it. By then I felt weak and nauseous, with chills and body aches.

Usually, I don't go see doctors. This time was different; the doctor I saw confirmed the spider bite diagnosis. He guessed it was a brown recluse; he told me he didn’t know all that much about spider bites and most doctors don’t. He told me it was just a matter of how my body would react to the venom. An antibiotic was prescribed to deal with the infection problem that sometimes comes along with any sort of bite.

"Unfortunately," said the doctor, there was nothing he could give me to prevent the venom's tricks from running their course in my body.

Once I started taking the medicine, some of how I felt for the next week probably had something to do with a reaction to the pills, too. In general, I wasn’t as sick as the worst day of a full blown flu. It was somewhat similar to the flu, but it was much more disorienting.

As the swelling went down, the seven spots that had formed in the middle of it gradually turned from reddish-purple to bluish-black. Naturally, I looked at them every few minutes, to see what would happen next.

To understand my problem better I read about brown recluse bites online. That only scared me more. Yeah, at this point it was scary. I came to understand the spots I was seeing on my face, grouped within an area the size of a penny, were necrotic flesh.

It was a sobering thought -- my flesh was dying. Not somebody on the Internet. Me. After looking at gross photographs of people who had huge tissue losses from brown recluse bites, I swore off my research.

The sick feeling gradually went away. The swelling disappeared. The dark spots, most of them the size of a piece of rice, rotted away and dropped off, leaving seven little holes.

Today the scars are mixed in with the crows feet lines extending from the corner of my eye, so mostly they are only noticed by someone who remembers the ordeal and wants to look for them.

Like other healing wounds there was itching problem that was a distraction at times. That went on for months. Yet what was the strangest aspect of it all came later, after I had stopped worrying about the spider bite all the time: Every so often, there was a feathery, fluttering sensation that felt just like an insect -- or a ghostly spider! -- was skittering across my eyelid, or the eyeball itself.

Each time it happened I flinched, believing, at least for a fraction of a second, it could be a spider on my eye. It was torture. Maybe a year after the spider bite that last spooky effect of it faded away, too. I've since believed that meant the healing was over.

Never worried about spiders much before this experience. Live and let live was my approach. After that fluttering eye thing, if I see a spider indoors these days its biting days are over.

Eventually, I began to wonder -- why seven holes? Were there seven separate bites? Or, was it one big bite and seven reactions? The doc said he didn’t have the answer.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Punch Drunk (again)

Originally published by STYLE Weekly on June 26, 2002

In case the sports-minded reader was distracted by the Triple Crown, the French Open, the World Cup, the NBA finals or interleague baseball games during the second weekend of June, please note that pugilist Mike Tyson was in the news as well. This time it wasn't about parole violations. Nor was it anything to do with his oft-stated desire to eat children. It was about the boxing match held in Memphis, Tenn., on June 8.

After an avalanche of pre-fight hype, once in the ring, reigning heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis punished Iron Mike for seven rounds. Perhaps then Lewis was satisfied that the man who had bitten his leg at a January press conference had been sufficiently softened up for the knockout punch. In the eighth, Lewis, 36, sent a bloody and thoroughly beaten Tyson crashing to the canvas for the 10-count. (Click here to see the knockout punch at YouTube.)

The ripples from the Tyson/Lewis affair resonated beyond the traditional audience for boxing. Because of Tyson's much-reported propensity to lose his grip, this was a spectacle with the brand of sizzle that trash culture consumers can't get enough of.

Television's sports talkers went so far as to claim the aforementioned weekend, with its wide variety of stellar attractions, was the greatest weekend of sporting events in history. At this desk it isn't known who keeps track of such records. However, I do have a take on whether professional boxing should still be viewed as a sport in 2002.

In a word the answer is "no."

Boxing is an archaic, sometimes compelling spectacle that features men who bleed for cash. Whether boxers bleed willingly is not the issue. People will do a lot of things for money. Whether the old "sweet science" has overstayed its welcome, that is the issue.

Isn't convicted rapist Mike Tyson, a longtime protégé of boxing boss Don King, precisely the shameless personality we've needed to look directly in the eye to finally ask ourselves, "Why in hell is boxing still around?" Since professional boxing has long been directed by the worst elements of society, why should a civilized people continue to countenance a practice that really has no upside to it?

Boxing calls upon its participants to strive to injure one another in plain sight. No legitimate sport permits that. Violent games, such as football and hockey, allow plenty of contact. But both prohibit players from deliberately trying to injure an opponent.

This scribbler turned the corner on boxing after interviewing a Richmond neurologist, Nelson G. Richards, for a boxing article in 1985. At the time, Dr. Richards was making national headlines for his leadership in persuading the American Medical Association to change its position and call for the outright banning of boxing.

After listening to Richards describe what had been recently learned about how the puncher's blows can move the punchee's brain around inside his skull — apparently it compresses and ricochets like a bouncing rubber ball — boxing's traditional defenses withered for me.

"The public should be made aware of the intentionally dangerous effects of boxing," Richards said.

Beyond the vexing medical and moral considerations of boxing, there are some legal questions, too. Why does the label "boxing" immunize the participants from facing what would be the legal consequences of anyone else repeatedly striking a person with their fists? Why should the presence of ropes, a referee and an audience trump a community's laws against assault and public brawling?

Modern society no longer permits dueling with pistols or swords. Boxing is dueling with fists.

While I don't follow boxing closely these days, at one time I did. I remember watching Emile Griffith literally beat Benny "Kid" Paret to death on TV when I was 14. Paret collapsed into the ropes in such a way that they held him up.

Griffith blocked off the incompetent referee and repeatedly hit the totally helpless Paret until the job was done. It was their third fight, and supposedly, there was some bad blood between them. (Click here to see the almost surreal end of that fight at YouTube, including some commentary by Norman Mailer.)

Given the chance to decide whether this commonwealth should continue to allow professional boxing matches, my guess is, Virginia's voters would say "no." After all, once it becomes an issue, and the pros and cons are debated, how many people would really step forward to defend boxing as a legitimate sport that gives something positive back to the community?

Back to Tyson: Even at his best, 15 years ago, Tyson, 35, wasn't a skilled boxer. He was a hard puncher, a first-round knockout artist. Sonny Liston, a surly heavyweight champion in his day (1962-'64), was a feared puncher, too. But you don't hear many boxing aficionados throwing Liston's name into discussions of the great heavyweights.

For what it's worth, it says here that Tyson and Liston are roughly equal in the all-time heavyweight rankings. Both were brutal. Yet, neither ever showed the deft skills or competitive heart the most revered champions have exhibited.

This is all to say that much of the drawing-card power Tyson brought to Memphis was due to publicity about his wretched doings outside the ring and the ridiculous Holyfield ear-biting incident five years ago.

Immediately after the Memphis fight, with his face swollen and shredded, a subdued Tyson wasted no time in begging Lewis for a rematch in that creepy baby-voice of his.

Don't be surprised to see Tyson's blood flowing on the small screen, again. For every guy who paid $54.95 hoping to see Tyson win, or bite somebody's nose off, there will be another guy happy to see the washed-up bully get thrashed more severely next time around.

Television or not, eventually the boxing match itself is bound to be banished to Third-World countries and offshore barges. It's just a matter of when. Although men such as Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were seen as heroes in their day, that day is fading into the mists of history.

Hasn't the time run out for putting up with the stench of professional boxing?


Update: So what has changed? Why does Virginia allow professional boxing in 2010?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bruce Baldwin, baseball stadium expert opines

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch sportswriter John O'Connor opens a window into Bruce Baldwin's thinking about building a new baseball stadium in the Richmond area. Yes, the same Bruce Baldwin who served as general manager of the Richmond Braves from 1987 - 2008.
"One of the things that happened in the past is that everybody would get so hooked up on one specific spot that I don't think there were clear eyes. It just became combat," said Baldwin. "It was, 'I like this, I don't like that,' instead of having a little give-and-take about what makes this good in your opinion, and what makes this bad in your opinion, and go from there.
Click here to read the rest of what Baldwin had to say.

Sure, Baldwin has some experience with the issue. But some local baseball fans might wonder about the smell of any advice Baldwin would be willing to offer. Isn't asking Baldwin about anything to do with the best interests of baseball in Richmond a little bit like asking golfer Tiger Woods about what it takes to make a good marriage?

Isn't asking Baldwin about the best place to build a new Richmond baseball stadium akin to asking wide receiver Terrell Owens how to be an unselfish teammate in professional sports?

Doesn't it seem too much like asking Pete Rose how a former baseball star should best go about giving something of value back to the game that gave him every opportunity?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

What does 'I want my country back' mean?

At the web site t r u t h o u t, "The Motto of Mad Men" by David Sirota examines the slogan being made popular by the Tea Party -- "I want my country back."
But then, that's the marketing virtuosity of the "I Want My Country Back" slogan. A motto that would be called treasonous if uttered by throngs of blacks, Latinos or Native Americans has been deftly sculpted by conservatives into an accepted clarion call for white power. Cloaked in the proud patois of patriotism and protest, the refrain has become a dog whistle to a Caucasian population that feels threatened by impending demographic and public policy changes.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Living in the Moment: May 1970

From "Living in the Moment: May 1970," at the Fan District Hub:

Although it was not a political rally the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was similar in its look to the one the day before in Washington.

As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, a 17-year-old boy — Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. — was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

Click here to read this firsthand story from 40 years ago, penned by yours truly.

Click here to read "Kent State and the Frisbee Revolution" by Michael Wineship.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

STYLE Weekly defends the indefensible

Ordinarily, when I’m reading a STYLE Weekly Back Page that seems in its first few paragraphs to be hogwash, I just stop reading. However, Dale Brumfield’s “Divinity Abuse,” in this week’s STYLE, is such infuriating hogwash I slogged through it, because I knew I would write this post.

Ostensibly, Brumfield's piece is a vigorous defense of the Catholic Church’s way of handling the many cases of child abuse that have surfaced in recent years. Actually, it's an attack piece aimed at shadows the writer calls "the media."
The ruthless condemnations by the media and critics are offset by the hypocrisy of their howls of empty outrage against the religious leaders’ crimes. Critics rightfully decry the sexual mistreatment of children by a few Catholic priests yet they remain silent, even supportive, of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who fled the United States into European exile in 1978 after admitting to forcible sex with a 13-year-old girl. Polanski is revered as a gifted yet misread artist, defended and forgiven by his supporters of a crime that happened so long ago. They are silent in the sexualization of children by Hollywood, the media and even the makers of pre-teen Halloween costumes.
Click here to read the piece in its entirety.

Brumfield’s tedious writing style almost suggests that he is meticulously using logic and well-documented facts to attack those journalists he feels have unfairly criticized the Catholic Church. But when one’s premise is rather bogus and too many of their convenient facts have been bent into shape, well, about all we are left with is tedium.

Hey, if this week's Back Page had merely set out to defend a silly bunch of Tea Party activists, or bungling public officials, it would have been easy to have laughed it off. But abusing the truth to deflect the richly-deserved criticism of an institution that has made the betrayal of trust systematic goes too far.

To borrow a phrase from an old friend who has a special way with words, Mr. Brumfield’s suggestion that the Catholic Church is the real victim in the child abuse scandal is enough to make a goat puke.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

From Yeats to Greene to Stone

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

-- From “The Second Coming”
by William Butler Yeats

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 his one-dimensional 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. 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.

-- Photo of Greene from Harmon Meek Gallery web site

-- 30 --

Monday, May 03, 2010

10 most notable midnight shows

Making lists is nothing new to me. Lists of the best this or that in sports, music, whatever. Used to make film lists regularly. Favorite Westerns, or Film Noirs, etc.

Looking for something else, I just ran across a list I made about 20 years ago. It’s what I considered then to have been the 10 most notable Midnite Shows to have played at the Biograph during my years as its manager (1972-83). Some on the list were workhorses, others were pop sensations at a particular time. The film’s first play-date at the Biograph follows the title.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- 6/30/78
2. Deep Throat w/ Un Chien Andalou -- 11/10/72
3. Reefer Madness -- 1/7/72
4. Eraserhead -- 2/16/79
5. Monterey Pop -- 3/17/72
6. Woodstock -- 4/19/72
7. Night of the Living Dead -- 3/4/72
8. Chafed Elbows w/ Scorpio Rising -- 4/7/72
9. Yellow Submarine -- 3/9/72
10. Gimme Shelter -- 3/17/72

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Cuccinelli's Fashion Statement

Virginia's headline-making attorney general is back on the job, proactively protecting us from threats to our liberty, virtue ... and, er, so forth. The Pilot Online has the story.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli apparently isn’t fond of wardrobe malfunctions, even when Virginia’s state seal is involved. The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, Virtus’ bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.

Click here to read the article.

As Larry Sabato has pointed out, Cuccinelli knows perfectly well this stunt is going to get him back on MSNBC, et al. Since we've already seen what happened to Ashcroft, with his infamous blue drapes of decency, we know the headline writers are all atwitter over the potential for puns with this silly business. In sports, Cuccinelli is what we used to call a showboat.

Update: Another article with a poll and many comments -- here.