Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Richmond's Halloween Move

Let the record show the 15-day Occupy Richmond demonstration/encampment at Kanawha Plaza was broken up by forces of the Richmond Police Department in the wee hours of the chilly morning on Halloween Day, 2011.

Irony aside, most of the local occupiers left the area when ordered to go by the cops. That, while reports say nine stalwarts were arrested for refusing to move. A meeting in Monroe Park was called for the afternoon.

What’s next?

As cynics have predicted, maybe the movement itself will fizzle, nationwide, as the nights get longer and colder. Then again, the entire Occupy Wall Street/The 99% phenomenon may have taken on a life of its own. So, like an impossible-to-kill monster in a midnight show, it may be mutating into something much more formidable and relentless.

Happy Halloween.


Cain's past under scrutiny

A story that dredges up something about sexual harassment on the job from Herman Cain's past, when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association, was published by Politico last night. So far, we don 't have the raw details. Whether this still-developing revelation will turn out to be a loose thread that unravels Cain's long-shot bid to win the Republican presidential nomination, or a false alarm, remains to be seen.

The Cain camp is hitting back, but the language being used is not necessarily a good sign for Cain. Among other things, J.D. Gordon, a Cain spokesperson, said, "...Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before — a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics,” Gordon said.

Perhaps Cain's spinner knows that a "liberal" gave the story to Politico. But if he doesn't know that to be true, I have to say it's more likely that a trickster who supports one of Cain's Republican rivals planted this story, a story that isn't likely to go away by simply blaming unnamed liberals and the media.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Pursuit of Extremism

In 1964, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (1909-98) famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Now, in the name of defending liberty, Republican candidates are debating one another over who is more against abortion in every case, to the point that some now seem to be opposed to birth control. They argue over who is more willing to allow the environment to be poisoned for the sake of quick and dirty money. They fight over who is more willing to beat up on teachers, veterans and firefighters to protect the fortunes of corporate CEOs and the zillionaires of Wall Street.

In 2011, Republican candidates are striving to top their opponents in the all-out pursuit of extremism … for the sake of extremism.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Through a partisan prism darkly

From its inception, what we’ve seen of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon has been shaped in some part by our own point of view. The occupiers hadn’t been in Lower Manhattan long before the gathering movement was being seen through familiar partisan prisms.

Some Democrats rushed to praise the demonstrators, some Republicans rushed to put them down. For the first week, it seemed the mainstream media were rushing to trivialize what was happening in Zuccotti Park. Outside the ranks of party politics and beyond the reach of slanted newsy talk shows there had to have been millions of regular people who were mildly amused and wondered what was going on.

So millions of Americans awoke to find themselves in the midst of a stampede to label the movement as good, bad or insignificant. “What do the protestors want?” demanded a discordant chorus of liberal and conservative pundits.

Since its first week the burgeoning OWS movement that has labeled itself The 99% has spread from Manhattan to cities coast-to-coast, and to other countries. So, most people who want to see for themselves what’s going on can simply take a look by visiting one of many “occupations” in public spaces all over America.

However, for some people, rather than seek out firsthand knowledge of what’s been going on, it’s too easy to project their own feelings.

Conservatives can depend on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to tell them all they really want to know:
(To paraphrase) Occupiers are mostly moochers and lazy good-for-nothings. Plenty of communists and jihadists are embedded within the OWS/The 99% movement, which reeks of George Soros’ money ... and so forth.
Still, opponents of the OWS/The 99% movement aren’t the only ones who are complaining about how the demonstrators seem unfocused and in need of forming a clear agenda. Democrats have been projecting their preconceived notions, as well. Clearly, some want to see today’s demonstrators as resembling Civil Rights marchers and Vietnam War protestors.

Well, from my vantage point, this year’s demonstrations look different from their supposed counterparts in the 1960s. There is no particular overriding law or governmental policy the demonstrators have been citing as the bull‘s-eye for their protests. If anything, perhaps a general opposition to the concept of “corporate personhood” is a popular target.

Rather than pursuing specific goals through influencing the government, OWS/The 99% seems to be about the process, itself. It seems to be about refusing to obediently accept the ticky-tacky future the young demonstrators sense is being foisted upon them by the powers that be.

These demonstrations will end, one way or another. Sadly, we have already seen violence break out in some cities. My guess is that brutal police tactics will do little to make the OWS/The 99% movement fold up its tents and go away.

So, this can be read as a heads-up to Richmond’s Mayor Dwight Jones -- don‘t create a problem you can‘t possibly solve. Later on, there will be plenty of time to worry about what precedents are being set and whatever complaints the Tea Party wants to hurl your way.

Still, nobody knows when or what will cause the demonstrations and sleep-ins in public spaces to end. Not in New York, Oakland, or Richmond. However, when they do, what happens next is what this thing is really all about.

That’s my view.

Once all the tents have been folded up and people go home, or wherever, what happens next will depend on what the process has taught the demonstrators. It will depend on what they, especially the youngest among them, take away from their experience as occupiers.

The demonstrators have been learning how to cooperate and how to organize. They are learning about how tedious democracy can be; they are learning civics. Then, too, they are connecting with their counterparts, who empathize with their concerns about the future, all over the world.

What began on September 17, 2011, has set a new force in motion. The most important thing about this force probably isn’t what it demands now, or what shape it will take this week. People who think they already know what effect it will have on 2012’s elections are kidding themselves.

Yes, it’s been disappointing to see some of the local reactions to what Occupy Richmond has been doing in Kanawha Plaza. To scrape the bottom of the barrel there’s Dale Brumfield’s snide Back Page piece for STYLE Weekly, which hardly passes as an analysis of the movement. Rather than an essay, Brumfield offers his readers a heap of low-brow zingers crafted to piss off folks he likes to irritate.

Fortunately, there are ways to follow this movement’s story without having to rely on the likes of STYLE Weekly.

Bottom line: There are times when it's better to rely on your own firsthand knowledge, rather than the labels others might want you to use.

Too many cigarettes

These little drawings (click to enlarge) were part of a pitch I made to the Virginia chapter of the American Cancer Society in 1985, to make a 30-second public service announcement for them in 16mm. Each frame shown here represented a decade, starting with the 1950s. The film was to have used a series of about 10 still photos, one fading into the next. Essentially, it was about women smoking too long.

My aim was to make the act of smoking cigarettes look less stylish. The last scary frame (not shown here) of the PSA would have depicted the brunette in a hospital bed with tubes going into her face. 1985 was the year after my mother had died of lung cancer. The executive director of the ACS turned me down, saying she liked it, but it just couldn't be done ... not in Richmond, Virginia. So, the little film was never made.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lou DiBella on the stadium issue

In response to this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the Richmond Flying Squirrels' managing partner put out a statement via press release. Here is Lou DiBella's statement:
“The Flying Squirrels will continue to provide the quality of baseball, entertainment and community impact that the Greater Richmond area has grown to expect from us. We are not actively looking to other locations at this time, but we have always maintained that our long term success is dependent upon a new facility that our terrific Front Office Staff [sic] can maximize for the benefit of the entire metro region. We believe that the RMA and its’ [sic] stakeholders share this same desire and that we will collectively work towards accomplishing this common goal sooner rather than later.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A new JRFJ piece

To read my piece about midnight shows in the James River Film Journal click here.

OWS/The 99% Is Already Winning

Occupy Wall Street/The 99% is already transforming the political landscape. In ways that matter the demonstrators have already started to win. Tired of waiting for politicians to affect change, the energy emanating from Lower Manhattan is being felt by young people all over the world.

On Saturday, September 17, the “occupation” in Manhattan began. Wishful thinking aside, no one really knew it would spread to other cities in the USA, then across the world. But it has. No one knows for sure what it will lead to next, or when it will end. After all, the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon’s agenda is coalescing, but it says here that the genie is out of the bottle; this thing now has a life of its own.

As The 99% movement grows many are cheering it on, even some are joining in on it. Some are puzzled by it, even flabbergasted. Others are ignoring it, even laughing at it. Still others are thoroughly peeved by it, even afraid of it.

Eventually, books will be written about what is happening, telling us who did what to set it in motion. No doubt, some Americans who stand in support of Wall Street’s billionaires, against OWS, will find nefarious conspiracies and villains in the shadows. But how it started will be much less important to people in the future than where it’s going.

Yes, I’m one of those who is already convinced that this movement -- OWS/The 99% -- is going to reshape politics in America. How much impact it will have on the rest of the world is anybody‘s guess.

Enemies of the movement and others baffled by it ask, "What do the demonstrators want? What's all the fuss about?

My answer is one word -- dignity.

Although it can’t be said that all of the demonstrators are liberals, or Democrats, this explosion of outrage in the streets is going to embolden frustrated liberals within the Democratic Party. In the next year it is going to put pressure on Democratic candidates to embrace some of what the movement is talking about.

Furthermore, I’m expecting it to eventually reverse the gradual drift to the right that America’s politics has been suffering from for 30 years. Yes, something had to do it, and I think this is it.

One thing OWS/The 99% has already given us is the “human microphone.” Born out of necessity, to sidestep New York’s law about electric amplification, it is spreading fast.

Each speaker at a General Assembly meeting talks in brief bursts, sentence fragments, so their listeners can repeat what they heard to amplify it to allow others further away from the speaker to get the message. This improvisation apparently started in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Park in New York. It has already spread to Richmond and probably most of the similar protests in other cities.

For those who can adapt their speech-making to this style, it works like a call and response style in a church. I suspect we will be hearing this human microphone way of speechifying for a long time.

In my view, the Occupy Wall Street/The 99% movement became inevitable with the infamous Supreme Court decision that ratified the Wall Street-friendly notion of “corporate personhood,” which the Court expanded with its Citizens United decision of Jan.21, 2010.

People have families; they have parents, siblings, children and friends. They have business associates and colleagues. Those are ties that bind to form a collective sense of duty and morality that comes to bear on most people. Untethered from such connections to life itself, rather than being born corporations are invented. The purpose of their existence is to make money for the stockholders. The corporate veil conveniently shields those owners from responsibilities and liabilities in a way no one enjoys as an individual human being.

You can’t put a corporation in jail.

While right-wingers are happy to make war on America’s students and public education system, on the health of the nation’s workforce, on trade unions, on needy veterans and our voting rights, on everyone’s firefighters, on the planet’s environment, even on your grandma, who really thinks a little symbolic class warfare from some peaceful demonstrators is such a bad thing?

Mic check ... MIC CHECK: You know ... YOU KNOW ... The answer ... THE ANSWER ... To that one ... TO THAT ONE.

-- 30 --

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Unregulated, Kepone Truckin’ Blues

With the economy struggling Republicans are demanding lower taxes on so-called job creators and less government regulation. They want the feds off of the backs of the energy industry, Wall Street, etc. Although history tells us they‘ve been calling for the same things for a hundred years -- no matter what else was going on -- it hasn’t stopped Tea Party devotees from pretending those are fresh, tailor-made solutions to current problems.

So, the GOP would want job-creators the likes of BP and Massey Energy to worry less about government regulators. Never mind those corporate citizens' recent records for disasters.

Conservatives of a certain stripe still like to claim the marketplace will always take care of correcting for problems, mistakes and so forth. They say consumers will buy what proves to be the best medicine, dog food and automobile every time. Such conservatives blithely ignore the effects false advertising and withholding scary product information can have on their precious marketplace. So, it's a snap to go own pretending that when capitalists fail the system reacts quickly to correct for the dangers that stem from blunders and bad luck.

To bring it closer to home, consider how easily Allied Chemical’s top dogs got off for deliberately flushing truckloads of a powdered pesticide, Kepone, into the James River (1966-75). Production was suddenly shut down when employees packaging the stuff for shipment were discovered to be alarmingly sick -- some of those workers were trembling so badly they couldn't work.

This bizarre episode dealt a serious blow to Virginia’s seafood industry for years. Moreover, a lot of that now-banned pesticide still rests on the bottoms of the James and the Chesapeake Bay. So, we Virginians hope nothing, dredging or a storm, will stir up the old poison.

In the late-70s, as some millions of dollars changed hands, nobody at Allied ever did a day in jail for what Kepone did to harm innocent Virginians in a myriad of ways, some we’re still finding out about.

Recent news from France offers evidence that Allied’s recklessness dramatically increased the chance its employees, who stood ankle deep in Kepone as they shoveled it into bags, would get prostate cancer. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published findings last year that bear on this matter:

Although it was totally banned in the USA in 1976, from 1973 to 1993 chlordecone (Kepone) was used as an insecticide to fight banana weevils in the French West Indies. A significant number of the population of Martinique and Guadeloupe were directly exposed to chlordecone for years. The JCO cites a telling study which says chlordecone is responsible for at least half of the epidemic of prostate cancers found on the two islands.

One is left to wonder at what point does a reckless disregard for the health of others become criminal? Is there some point where the wanton poisoning of the planet is so egregious it should be considered criminal?

Moreover, how did the marketplace do anything to react to the problems Kepone in our water presented?

Nobody said, "I'm buying a different pesticide because Allied's stuff is too nasty for the environment." If its production hadn't been outlawed by the government in 1976, nobody knows how much more Kepone would have been dumped into the James before the marketplace would have made a correction.

Here’s a serious question that should be considered by lawmakers: If a big cheese at Allied Chemical had pulled a year or two for poisoning the Bay, how much might it have changed the culture in this country?

If that episode of bad acting had been criminalized, how much would that have curbed some would-be polluters over the last 35 years? For instance, would the explosion at Massey Energy's mine in West Virginia that killed 29 have happened? Is it possible the BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused the spilling of untold zillions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico wouldn’t have happened?

Instead of less government oversight, doesn’t society need more federal protection from the next batch of risky shortcuts the most aggressive capitalists -- the Allieds, Masseys and BPs -- have always been willing to take?

Of course, if you think miners have always been killed on the job, so it doesn’t matter, then such questions may not concern you sufficiently to open your eyes to reality. If you don’t believe pollution is anything to worry about, not when it takes one dollar out of a billionaire’s clutches, then your answer to the question in the paragraph above is “no.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mic Check at Monroe Park

In case you missed the Occupy Richmond discussion/meeting at Monroe Park, today, this short video report I've thrown together is for you.

The Occupy Richmond meeting was held on what was a spectacular sunlit afternoon. With the Richmond Folk Festival drawing overflow crowds to the river bank -- just a mile away -- in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, the folks in Monroe Park were deciding where their local occupation would take place. Cops watched from a distance; all was peaceful.

A decision was eventually made by the collective that moved many of those assembled further downtown to Kanawha Plaza. Now we'll see what Richmond's powers that be will do with an "occupation" aimed at embarrassing banks.

Click here to read the Richmond Times-Dispatch's story.

This mostly young and idealistic crowd is about to get its first dose of how the establishment tends to react to such challenges to its authority. No doubt about it, there's something happening here...

Friday, October 07, 2011

Justice for Wall St. Swells

The swells of Wall Street who created the economic meltdown of 2008 should be brought to justice. If Eric Holder can’t find those culpable, the USA needs a new attorney general. It's time for some powerful people to face the music.

Moreover, the notion of corporate personhood is not only absurd, it is poisonous. Rather than being a person, a multinational corporation is more like a Frankenstein Monster, jacked up on speed. With no sense of family, community or morality, such an entity exists only to make money. Its nature is to devour our common resources and destroy anything else in its way ... including our environment, including us.

Wise up.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


An excellent photographer, Jack Leigh (1948-2004), was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974. While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play Half-Rubber, a game he said originated in his home town, Savannah. Half-Rubber is a three-man baseball-like game that is played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball.

Jack’s best known picture was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photograph in a Savannah cemetery that would appear on the cover of what became a bestselling book -- “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. Later the same photo was used to promote the movie with the same title.

When I knew him, Jack was earnest and quick-witted. He liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In his Biograph days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through two rolls of Tri-X. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He eventually authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreword by James Dickey.

So, to kill time one warm afternoon, I cut a ball in half, ruined a broom and crossed the street with Jack and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall, to play a new three-man game. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph.

It turned out the key to pitching was to throw the half-ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching the damn thing was quite another matter. Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint.

The pitcher threw the half-sphere in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, the batter was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the best reason to play, other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the bat like a rocket. It felt better than crushing a golf ball. Smashing it over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas.

Click here to visit Jack Leigh’s online gallery.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Egg McGuffin

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery area of the Biograph Theater's lobby displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists that was not always the case. In the first three years, or so, when the gallery regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, occasionally art by renown artists was on display.

Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and sculptor George Segal.

In the summer of 1978 we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, a VCU-trained artist, who later played in a popular band that got some MTV exposure -- Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a flat field of a single color; the colors varied. The renderings were done in the sparse style one might have seen in a '50s government pamphlet's illustrations. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something.

Maybe Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them.

Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me on the telephone to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonald's fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonald's was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonald's signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonald's wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!”

Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonald's side.

Well, I called a lawyer friend, Jack Colan, to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up to see what how it would play out.

Never heard from the wannabe McDonald's lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

Phil Trumbo had at least three shows at the Biograph, maybe more. For 50 bucks or less, I could have bought that infamous painting Phil did, which depicted a scene in which Mickey Mouse's little gloved hands had been chopped off with an ax. Missed out on that one, too.

Bottom line: When you see art you like a lot, for whatever reason, buy it if you have the money. Later, you'll be glad you did.

Drake the Flake's departure

In the first months of operation at 814 W. Grace St. there was the series of annoyances that led up to Linwood “Woody” Drake (pictured right) being literally thrown out of the Biograph Theatre. Owing to his talent for nuisance, the staff had already dubbed him “Drake the Flake” before he landed face-first on Grace Street.

Although Drake resembled many of the hippie-style hustlers of the times, it was his ineptness at putting over the scam that set him apart. Every time he darkened our door there was trouble. If he didn't try to beat us out of the price of admission or a cup of popcorn, there would be a problem of some sort in the auditorium … and so forth.

His ruse was usually rather transparent. Then, when confronted, he'd go into a fit of denial that implied a threat. Eventually that led to the incident in Shafer Court, on VCU's campus, when Drake choked a female student, Susan Kuney.

Susan was also a cashier at the Biograph.

That evening Drake showed up at the theater to see the movie, just like nothing had happened. Shoving his way past those already in line, he demanded to be admitted next. An argument ensued that became the last straw. Drake the Flake was physically removed from the building and banned from the Biograph for life.

The next afternoon as we were about to open for business Drake made what would be his final appearance at the Biograph. He burst through the lobby's exit doors and ran around the lobby for a few seconds, testifying. He claimed I had humiliated him. Then he stopped suddenly and issued a finger-pointing death threat directly at me.

Although I tried to act unruffled by the incident, it made me more than a little uncomfortable. In spite of the anger of his words, there was an emptiness in his eyes. For a moment Drake had pulled me into his world. It was scary and memorable; he left the building promptly, this time without any persuasion from me.

On Nov. 8, 1992, 20 years later, a revenge-driven crime spree in California ended as the man I remembered as Drake the Flake blew out his brains with a .32 caliber revolver.

Shortly before Drake ended his wretched life, he woke up a 60-year-old woman who was his former landlord by smacking her in the head with a blackjack. She scrambled to hide under her bed and miraculously lived to tell the story. In the 11 hours before taking his own life Drake, who had grown up in Richmond, had shot and killed six people.

The lurid news reports said that Drake, who had always fancied himself an actor, had made a list for himself of people he intended to pay back, going all the way back to Virginia. Drake wore theatrical grease paint on his face when he committed his murders.

As the cops were closing in on him, Drake the Flake punched his own ticket to hell.