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 Richmond.com 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 Richmond.com.

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