The Limits of Power: Andrew Bacevich on the End of American Exceptionalism
Bacevich is my kind of conservative.
Since 1985, in one format or another The SLANT -- an independent voice based in Richmond's Fan District -- has offered its readers original commentary on politics and popular culture, plus cartoons and selected sundries. All rights are reserved.
Thanks to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, we now have a statistical picture of the tea party movement. There are few surprises. It turns out that not quite 20 percent of Americans are tea party supporters. They tend to be white, Republican, male, over 45 and wealthier than the rest of us. Fifty-seven percent hold a favorable opinion of George W. Bush. And where most Republicans describe themselves as "dissatisfied" with Washington, tea partiers are apt to use a different term. They say they're angry.
May 31, 2000: The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The Madrid study marks only the second time that THC has been administered to tumor-bearing animals; the first was a Virginia investigation 26 years ago. In both studies, the THC shrank or destroyed tumors in a majority of the test subjects.Click here to read "Pot Shrinks Tumors: Government Knew in 1974" at Alternet.
Allen made reference to the gaffe yesterday, when he speculated that the reason Shad Planking organizers had asked him to speak this year was because "they wanted to make sure they were on YouTube."China!
There were no slipups this time, save perhaps the baseball caps being circulated by former aide Tucker Watkins that Allen signed. Emblazoned with an American flag, Allen's name and the words "Take our country back," the hats were made in China.
Unlike the competition, Jack Cooksey of Richmond was flying not a fastback but a heavier Ultimate Frisbee disc. Its heft and design made it more challenging to work with, but on this windy afternoon it gave Cooksey an advantage of stability. Cooksey, 43, dropped a few blades of grass to see which way the wind would take them. Then he ran into a smooth toss, the disc lofting high.Click here to read the entire article at Fredericksburg.com.
On the first Saturday of May, every year since 1980, a softball reunion is held. Anyone who ever played on one of the Biograph softball teams from any year has been welcome, plus their families, friends, etc. This year the party will unfold at Bryan Park in Shelter No. 3, from noon until about 6 p.m. (A couple of years ago we stopped playing the actual softball game, because so many guys got hurt warming up that we couldn't field two teams.)
Chiefly, the annual get-togethers were set in motion by the initiative of the original Biograph team’s third baseman, Ernie Brooks, who had left Richmond to resume graduate studies at Virginia Tech in 1979.
Brooks corralled enough former players to challenge what was then the current Biograph team. At this time the Biograph’s softball franchise was one of the cars, maybe the clown car, attached to the runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League.
Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was staged on the afternoon in which the Kentucky Derby would be run. The game was played at Thomas Jefferson HS. Afterward most of us went to the Track Restaurant to join a Derby-watching party already underway.
It’s been Derby Day ever since. The game has moved around to various locations over the years. Several of the guys at the most recent gathering were teammates of mine in 1976, which was the the first summer of organized softball at the Biograph. We called our team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie.
That year the Swordfish played a schedule that was not set in advance. Instead, our practice was to challenge established teams to play us for a keg of beer. With a keg of beer on hand for fans and players to drain, those outings were parties, every bit as much as they were athletic contests.
The lucky Swordfish won 15 games of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster made up of employees, old friends and a few film buffs -- including two French guys who'd never seen a baseball game -- we probably won half of those keg games by coming from behind in late innings.
Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced/athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory. That first year, it was uncanny how often those supposedly better teams seemed forever willing to overplay their hands.
Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that virgin Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. In any sport, it was the loosest team with which I’ve ever been associated.
Both of the Swordfish’s losses came in extreme situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. Yes, we won the other one.
The second was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary. Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s).
As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J.W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. During a conversation there he asked me if the Biograph team — I played outfield and served as the coach — would consider taking on the prison’s softball team on a Saturday afternoon. Chuck Wrenn had already told the guy the Rayle team would do it, so I went along with it.
As it turned out the first date he set up was canceled, due to something about a small riot.
A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. We had been told to bring nothing in our pockets.
As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.
The umpire for the games — Rayle played the prison team first, then the Biograph -- was Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson, a rather high-profile Fan District character, at the time, who played on yet another team. Among other things, Johnson did some professional wrestling, so he was good as hamming up the umpire's role.
The fence in leftfield was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 230 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.
The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards, hundreds of other prisoners seated in stands cheered for the home team. Actually, they cheered good plays in the field and collisions on the base paths more than anything else.
During a conversation with a couple of my friends behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach immediately stepped toward me. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era — it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.
Most of us wore cut-off blue jeans and one of the two models of silkscreened Biograph T-shirts that were on sale for three busks at the theater.
“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, somewhat sternly, as he pointed to a tortured-graphics mural on the prison wall that said, “Home of the Raiders.” It looked a little like a jailhouse tattoo, blown up large.
OK ... it was obvious I’d made a not-in-my-house sort of faux pas.
“While we are on the field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with, ahem, conviction. “We’re the Raiders.”
“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”
“And, all our games ... are home games,” he deadpanned.
We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. He patted me on the back and thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.
In a tight, high-scoring affair the Raiders prevailed. Johnson knew how to play to the crowd with his calls, too. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders.
Now, I remember I was glad to leave, too. Located smack dab in the middle of Richmond that prison was a nightmare in so many ways.
Nobody is sorry it's gone. The next summer, we were invited back for a rematch with the Raiders. The team went in. But I found an excuse not to go. One dose of that place was enough for me.
In terms of winning and losing, the Biograph teams that played on in the Fan District Softball League, until it folded in 1994, never found anything close to the success that first team knew. Still, I'll wager most of the guys from the 1976 team remember more details about their meeting with the Raiders than any of the games we won.
See you on May 1st?
Civility in the political arena has taken a real beating in the last year. Most of the time it seemed that no matter what the Democrats liked the Republicans were bound to hate it. Sometimes it seemed that no legislative act and court decision could ever settle the running sore differences between the opposing factions. Other times, it has appeared that both major political parties had actually turned in on themselves.
It was less than three years ago that Richmond’s government split into pieces and turned against itself. That happened with the Friday Night Fiasco (Sept. 21, 2007). But, if the reader thinks that strange stunt, engineered by then-Mayor Doug Wilder — to evict local public schools officials from City Hall — was totally unprecedented, in that it had the local government at odds with itself, then read on.
That little tiff was small potatoes compared to what happened in these parts in 1870-71. Here's a glance at the disastrous outcome of allowing a perpetual feud to take root. Here's what can happen, even in Richmond, when people refuse to accept the results of elections or ruling from the court:
The Bloody Interregnum was the name given to the politics-gone-wrong brouhaha over whether George Chahoon or Henry K. Ellyson was the lawful mayor of Richmond. When the five-year military occupation of Virginia following the Civil War ended on January 26, 1870, Gov. Gilbert C. Walker promptly appointed a new City Council for Richmond. That body in turn selected Henry K. Ellyson, publisher of The Dispatch — forerunner to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch — as the city’s mayor.
However, George Chahoon, who had served as mayor during the last two years of Reconstruction, refused to recognize the validity of the process. Although the transplanted New Yorker had a considerable following around town, he was seen by Ellyson’s backers as a lowdown “carpetbagger.” After all, Chahoon had served at the pleasure of the military overlords.
When neither man would give ground, the city itself fractured. As positions solidified, the split became a chasm; the result of which created two separate city governments. There were two police departments, two City Halls, etc. Brawls became commonplace as the supporters of both men sought to press their case on every street corner. Chaos, with gun-play aplenty, ensued.
Notably, in spite of the fact that Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy during a portion of the Civil War, it was not without its Union sympathizers. In fact, Richmond was quite divided on the topic of secession before the war. During and after the war there were substantial elements present that could have been characterized as pro-Union.
Like America’s 2000 presidential election, in 1870 the impasse found its way into court. On April 27, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met to hear arguments from the two camps on the third floor of the state Capitol building.
The anxious citizens shouldered onto the balcony to witness the spectacle. Suddenly it collapsed under all the weight. The balcony and spectators crashed onto the hapless below. Widely known as The Capitol Disaster, when the smoke cleared the tragedy left 62 people dead and 251 injured.
Two days later, the court reconvened at City Hall. In due time, a verdict favorable to Ellyson was returned. A month later, a citywide election took place. But no clear winner emerged from that exercise, either. This time the contentiousness stemmed from the disappearance of a ballot box from a precinct friendly to Chahoon. Same as ever, both sides traded more accusations. Although Ellyson was certified as the winner by the election board, he declined to serve because the election results were tainted, therefore inconclusive. Thus, the battle raged on.
Eventually Chahoon left town to avoid facing the consequences of several felony indictments — supposedly of a nonpolitical nature — that were heaped upon him. For his part, Ellyson grew weary of the struggle and withdrew from the race.
It finally ended on July 1, 1871, with the election of Anthony Keily as the one and only mayor of the exhausted city of Richmond. The actions of those who were most caught up in the 17 months of The Bloody Interregnum left stains that perpetuated grudges in Richmond for generations to come.
As a child growing up in Richmond, I heard adventure tales from my grandfather about this bizarre time. He claimed his salty old Uncle George (who was a sheriff, among other things) told him that most men in Richmond carried guns on the street in those wild days, much like what we’ve seen in western movies. Duels were not unusual.
All of which makes our current political scandals and imbroglios seem rather tame.
– Illustration: W. L. Sheppard’s wood engraving of the Capitol Disaster for Harper’s Weekly (1870)
Perhaps we will get to watch this scene unfold on live television: It will be a 20-year-old schizophrenic with his finger on the trigger of a portable nuclear device that somehow got misplaced during the Cold War.
This attention-seeking kid will be full of sweet red wine, homemade speed and zealotry. As his hostages weep and beg for life, he’ll rant relentlessly for the benefit of the little camera and microphone hooked to a computer, sending his doomsday message to the whole world, via live news on television. After laughing like a bad actor in a cheap horror flick, he’ll blow Beirut, or Buenos Aires, or Baltimore off the map.
Yes, one day a sicko's awareness of the camera may kill us all.
More and more we are seeing news stories that are tantamount to stunts staged for willing cameras. While it’s fashionable these days to scold the media for their tasteless and excessive coverage of certain events, it’s not all their fault. The stories they encounter, in some cases, have been planned and perpetrated by people who are good at planting a story. Other times, maybe the press is in on the scam.
A precedent setter in this area occurred 30 years ago, with the cooperation that developed between the TV networks and the Iranian “students,” who demonstrated on a daily basis in front of the American embassy during the hostage crisis (1979 – 81).
Now we know that much of the feverish chanting and fist waving was done on cue. Now we know the camera shots were pushed in tight, because the angry horde yelling, “Death to America!” into the networks’ lenses and microphones was often only a dozen souls deep.
Over the years since, we’ve seen a steady stream of publicity stunts, press releases, and photo ops presented as news. It’s so routinely done now that we don’t question it. But is should be noted that most of the news we see has been portered to the press, rather than the press finding it on its own.
The 20-year-old wired to the bomb-in-briefcase has seen what celebrity has been heaped on sullen bombers. Maybe he just wants to be feared by people who ignored his suffering, and remembered by the survivors.
Who knows? Maybe he’ll be a terrorist from Palestine and his hostages will be Jews. Maybe he’ll be a anti-abortionist and his hostages will be doctors. Maybe he’ll be a former alter boy and his hostages will be priests.
As you read this he may be armed to the teeth, posing in front of a full-length mirror, practicing his final rant and his quick-draw, like poor Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” (1976).
“Are you talking to me?”
Yes, our wannabee Travis Bickle is hearing a voice in his head. It’s the Goddess of Payback is a Bitch talking to him, like she has counseled other violent maniacs. At the end of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant film the director has the press misunderstanding Bickle’s bloody suicide run and making him into a hero. Or, since it made a good story, did it not matter what he really was up to?
No doubt, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh saw himself as a hero. The suicidal high-jackers of 9/11 had to have believed they were heroes, too. Likewise, even old Charlie Manson was a man on a mission.
The Christian Militia types coming out of the woodwork today probably see themselves as soldiers for a righteous cause. Heroes.
The angry anti-government firestorm being stoked by some in politics today could eventually flush out a few more Travis-like poseurs from the shadows. Will the lure of celebrity via the camera be irresistible to a few of them?
Don’t you wonder if the modern press could muster enough common sense to collectively ignore the dangerous player in the first paragraph, if it became clear that its coverage was truly throwing more fuel on the fire?
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office says records that would document the time, resources and meetings involved in its lawsuit against federal health-care legislation either don't exist or are classified as confidential "working papers" of the agency. Stephen R. McCullough, senior appellate counsel for Cuccinelli, was responding to a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act filed by Democratic Party officials and several media outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch.Click here to read the entire piece by Jim Nolan.