Monday, November 28, 2011

Norquist's legacy ... under a bus

George W. Bush must be liking Grover Norquist more each day that goes by.

Hopefully, readers are now wondering how anyone in their right mind could find Norquist increasingly more likeable. Even those who agree wholeheartedly with Norquist’s strategy to starve the federal government into utter dysfunction might wonder about how any lobbyist could be easier to like ... each day?

OK, here’s my premise: Former presidents are always keen on polishing their legacy’s surface. But plenty of disgruntled Republicans have been mad at the most recent President Bush for some time. They say he was a bogus conservative and he did much to damage the so-called Big Tent coalition of conservatives that Ronald Reagan erected with his presidency in the 1980s.

The most unhappy of them have hurled more blame toward Bush for that transgression than any other Republican.

Now comes Norquist, with his notorious Pledge, which has most elected Republicans bound to Norquist’s self-serving whims and proclamations about revenue streams. Republican office holders fear the wrath of Norquist like nothing else. Without ever having to run for public office, by virtue of his file cabinet full of signed pledges, he has become the most important player on the GOP side of the aisle.

So, when either former-Speaker Newt Gingrich or former-Gov. Mitt Romney loses to President Barack Obama, and Democrats do surprisingly well -- coast-to-coast -- in next year’s elections, who will get the blame? What Republican will be blamed most for inciting the third party challenge from the right that will siphon off key conservative voters in swing states?

Of course, the loser at the top of the ticket will be denounced roundly, as was Sen. John McCain in 2008. With control of the House of Representatives returning to the Democrats, Speaker John Boehner will be in trouble.

But it says here that when the pundits start examining the Democratic landslide, asking what could have brought it on -- with so many still out of work -- the truth will emerge: One man did more to crash Reagan‘s Big Tent than anyone else. One rather unattractive person, who wielded his power so foolishly that history will brand him a crackpot, will emerge as the guy who destroyed a 30-year-old coalition and scattered it like leaves in the wind.

My prediction is that Grover Norquist will be named the culprit. He will be called a Judas goat. He will be likened to a sadistic inquisitor during the Spanish Inquisition. Eventually, a DC Transit bus will run over him, twice to make sure, and not a single Republican will attend his funeral.

No doubt, Bush has a nickname for Norquist. I bet it’s a doozey.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pepper-spraying cop, Lt. John Pike, for president?


In what country was this photograph of police brutality taken?
Given what we've seen with this year's kaleidoscopic GOP presidential nominating process, for those picky Republicans who still can't stomach the chameleon-like Mitt Romney, what's next?

In the opinion polls we've seen a series of candidates rise and light up like fireworks, then waft dimly back to Earth. Donald Trump's gravitas flashed over the political landscape, briefly, followed by Michele Bachmann's crazy eyes and crazier statements. Rick Perry was fine until he started talking. Then Herman Cain bumbled and tumbled into scrutiny -- uh, oh!

Now, even with his uniquely ponderous baggage, Newt Gingrich seems to be having his day in the sun. All the while, Romney's approval rating in the mid-20s has remained remarkably stable ... whatever that means. 

Who's the next anti-Romney?

My guess is UC Davis cop, Lt. John Pike (pictured above), who enthusiastically pepper-sprayed passive student protestors, to become a YouTube star of the first magnitude. With his nonchalant style, as he tortured those he had power over, Pike has surely become an instant folk hero in certain quarters. How long before Fox News hires him as a political commentator is anybody's guess. 

Channeling the dogged spirit of Bull Connor, and in the recent tradition of non-traditional candidates like Joe the Plumber and Christine "I'm Not a Witch, Anymore" O'Donnell, Pike has already demonstrated the peculiar star power that could go a long way toward getting the vote out in those early Republican primaries next year.

First screening: 'The Harder They Come'

Once I began to understand more fully what an opportunity my job as manager of the Biograph Theatre offered, I wanted the theater to be a place both detached from its surroundings and a good neighbor; like nothing else in Richmond, but a part of the Fan District’s bohemian milieu.

As a promoter, I wanted the Biograph to have an underdog personality that was likeable beyond whatever movie might be playing that particular day. I suppose an adman today would call all that stuff “branding.”

Still, I learned the hard way that when I made a mistake there would be a price to pay. When the wrong movie was booked, or if I didn’t promote a festival or midnight show properly, it led to losing money. If I hired the wrong person, we all had to live with the negative effect it had on the staff’s morale. As with any team effort, morale was one of the keys to whatever success we hoped to enjoy.   

Too many bad decisions and I could lose the manager’s keys to the funhouse. Learning just how far to push the envelope in Richmond, how to be ahead of the local curve without being too scary to the wrong people, was one of the keys.

*

Radio played a large role in the early days at the Biograph Theatre. For a couple of years we had a sweet deal with WGOE-AM, the most popular station for the under-35 set in the Fan District. For 30-second spots we were paying a dollar or two for each airing. 

In the fall of 1973, David Levy, then the most significant managing partner of the Biograph Theatres in Georgetown and Richmond, asked me to look at a film to evaluate its potential. From time to time, he did that for various reasons. In this case he had a new 35mm print of “The Harder They Come” (1972) shipped to me. 

In those days at the Biograph, we used to have after-hours screenings of films we obtained in one way or another. Usually on short notice, the word would go out via the staff and our friends that we would be watching a movie at a certain time. These gatherings were essentially movie parties.

A couple of times it was 16mm boxing films from a private collection. Sometimes films that were in town to play at a film society, or a VCU class, would mysteriously appear in our booth. In those cases the borrowed movies were always returned the next day, before they were missed ... so I was told. 

Although I don’t remember any moments, in particular, from that first screening of “The Harder They Come” at the Biograph, I do remember the gist of my conversation with Levy the next day. After I told him how much I liked the Jamaican movie, he asked me how I would promote it.

Well, I was ready for that question, because I’d done some brainstorming with friends after the screening. So, I told him I’d have an open-to-the-public, sneak preview free showing of the movie. I said I’d use radio only to promote it. He loved the idea.

So, on a Friday morning in November the deejays at WGOE began reading announcements of a free showing of “The Harder They Come” at the Biograph that afternoon at 3 p.m. Then, each time, they would play a song by Jimmy Cliff, the film’s star, or perhaps one by Toots and the Maytals. This pattern was continued maybe three times an hour, for four or five hours, leading up to the screening.

As I recall, some 300 people showed up and they loved the movie. It must be noted that at this time Reggae music hadn’t hit its stride in Richmond, yet. Although it was building a following in America, it was still a year, or so, away from becoming huge, nationally. Of course, Reggae was being heard in Richmond before that screening, but it was clearly still on the periphery of popular culture.

After the audience at the Biograph reacted so well, Levy wanted to book it to run as a regular feature, rather than as a midnight show. In most previous runs in other markets, it had been treated more or less as an underground movie. As it was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its American distribution, it had a grainy, documentary look to it. Given our confidence in our reading of the test-screening’s effect on the audience, the Biograph’s brain trust decided to try playing it at regular hours. 

It all worked like a charm. While, it didn’t set any records for attendance, “The Harder They Come” returned to play subsequent dates at the Biograph in Georgetown, as well as the one in the Fan.

Levy became a sub-distributor for “The Harder They Come” and when he rented it to theaters in other cities within his region, he urged them to use the same radio-promoted-free-screening tactic.

Over the next few years Reggae music became ubiquitous. It crossed over from niche to mainstream. For me, in this case, it was fun being in a position to see -- from the inside, out, to some extent -- how popular culture was developing, flying by the seat of its pants.

*

On the other hand, as a promoter, sometimes I bit off more than I could chew.

On October 22, 1982, “The Honeymoon Killers” (1969) opened as a midnight show. I had seen it somewhere and become convinced it would appeal to the same crowd that loved absurd comedies by Luis Buñuel and Robert Altman, plus those trash culture aficionados who had adored previously popular midnight shows, such as “Eraserhead” (1977), or “Harold and Maude” (1971).

A droll murder spree movie in black and white, it turned out “The Honeymoon Killers” mostly appealed to me … when I was in a goofy mood. I saw it as a comedy. In its two-week run, it nearly set the all-time record for worst attendance for a Biograph midnight show. As far as the sad tale of the record setter goes, that little fiasco's story is best left for another time.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Big Stretch


-- This piece was originally published by STYLE Weekly in 2002.

The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain, a collaborator held one end of the contraption as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Squinting to sight along the taut line to take proper aim, finally, I let go.

The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder. The released tip smartly struck a target several feet beyond the holder. While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching felt transforming.

Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it was soon determined how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the room were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild -- dubbed The Stretch -- the spitballs that routinely flew around classrooms in 1961 at Albert H. Hill Junior High -- were strictly old news.

The following morning, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had with me an updated version of the previous day’s invention. This one was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch.

Once it was tested on the schoolyard, demonstrating its amazing new range, boys were soon shoving one another aside just to act as holders. Most of the time I did the shooting. Occasionally, one of the guys from my inner circle was permitted to be the shooter. As the wonder whizzed by it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by the holder was a thrill, too. On the asphalt playground behind the yellow brick school building an enthusiastic throng cheered each flight.

The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its operators established to the delight of the audience that cheerleaders on the sideline at a football game could be zapped on their bouncing butts with impunity from more than 25 yards away. After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, again, I significantly lengthened the chain of rubber bands.

But the new version -- about 100 rubber bands long -- proved too heavy for its own good. It was not as accurate or powerful as the previous model. Then came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players weren’t content with taking a single turn with the new Big Stretch. Although there was a line behind them they demanded another go.

Surrounded by seventh-grade devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground and refused. But my fair-weather-friend entourage was useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted. They fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered.

By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so I gathered my dignity and shrugged off the whole affair, as best I could. I choose not to make another version of the Big Stretch. A couple of other kids copied it, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it had gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze ran out of gas at Hill School.

It was over.

At that time the slang meaning of “cool” had an underground cachet which has been stretched out of shape since. We’re told the concept of cool, and the term itself, seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. That may be, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.

Wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker wasn’t cool, who the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, constructivism, and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.

Cool’s zenith had probably been passed by the time I became enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Widespread exposure and cool were more or less incompatible. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class. Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy.

The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool. However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce.

By the ‘70s, the mobs of Hippies attuned to stadium Rock ‘n’ Roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a buzz and gave up.

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go.

Since then people say, “ku-ul,” simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.

The process of becoming cool, then popular, pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the experimental aspect of it was over it got old, like any worn out joke. Then it began to play as just another showoff gimmick, which was something less-than-cool, even to seventh-graders a long time ago.

Cool was elusive by its nature. More importantly, in that time being a copycat was never cool.

-- 30 --

History written on the fly

For an account of how the Occupy Wall Street movement got started, click here to read "Reawakening The Radical Imagination: The Origins of Occupy Wall Street" by Matt Sledge for the Huffington Post.

Here's a brief excerpt:

The movement didn't get that big simply because AdBusters, a Canadian magazine, sent out a flashy email promoting it, or because the hacker collective Anonymous flicked out a few tweets. Instead, it took a group of about 200 committed activists 47 days to outline the ground rules that have allowed the protest to flourish.
Previous SLANTblog posts on Occupy/The 99%:
  • Mic Check at Monroe Park is here.
  • Occupy/The 99% Is Already Winning is here.
  • Through a Partisan Prism Darkly is here.
  • Occupy Richmond's Halloween Move is here.
  • The 99% @ City Hall is here.
  • Cantor's Overplayed Hand is here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cantor's Overplayed Hand


The video above is my three-and-a-half minute take, Cantor’s Overplayed Hand, on part of what spawned the Occupy/The 99% phenomenon. More specifically, it's a commentary on the link between the Republican Party’s longstanding gross-out-the-voters-to-keep-the-turnout-down tactics and the OWS/The 99% movement.

Note: There may be off-the-wall, or even satirical, material included. So don’t let that scare you. And, for the record, or just in case you’d rather not view the film, the script I wrote for it is as follows:

For decades Republicans have been using a low-road tactic that has helped them win elections: They have deliberately tried to make politics seem so frustrating and disgusting that a lot of people have opted to ignore that side of life … when they can. The process has worked like a charm, because it usually discouraged more Democrats than it did Republicans. It’s no secret that Republicans have seemed to benefit from low turnouts for a long time.

The elections of 2010 provided a good example of what I mean. Lots of liberals were so grossed out by the growling repetition of the Tea Party’s rants, together with what they perceived as the Democrats’ wimpy response, they simply ignored Election Day.

Rather than cite a laundry list of other examples of how this style of gaming elections has worked over the years, usually to the advantage of the GOP, I’m going point out that I sense a change in the air that stems from recent events. Over the summer, to protect the interests of America’s wealthiest one percent, Congressional Republicans threatened to push America into a default, to renege on its debts.

But that time Rep. Eric Cantor and his teammates overplayed their hand so egregiously it became a tipping point. The GOP’s unprecedented brinkmanship blew back into its face. Forget about the phony Super Committee, this time the gross-out strategy helped launch the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.

When some good number of young citizens returned to school this fall, it seems they had lost their faith in governments at all levels in America. Of course, lots of factors caused the OSW/The 99% movement to materialize this fall. What happened in Egypt and in Wisconsin earlier this year surely played a part, too.

Now the seven-week-old movement has already changed the national conversation. A new, free-spirited force seems to be affecting the political landscape. My hunch is that this country’s three-decades-long drift to the right ended abruptly on Sept. 17th, with the birth of this year’s Occupy movement. Wishful thinking?

Maybe, but Mic Checks are changing political vernacular.

Moreover, in a message aimed at Cantor, and other cock-of-the-walk politicians who routinely do the One Percent’s bidding, I’m saying this: The previously scheduled frog-marching of the American culture back to when it was OK to dump Kepone in the James River, back to before Democrats provided Americans their Social Security program — that forced march back to Gilded Age — it has been cancelled.

Meanwhile, will the GOP’s propaganda machine stop trying to hold down election turnouts, using whatever means necessary?

Of course, they won’t.

Will that immoral, anti-worker, anti-student, anti-99% strategy keep working forever to serve the 1%?

We’ll see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The 1982 Handbill Art Show


Starting with the second anniversary, the Biograph Theatre’s birthdays always meant a party. Some of the celebrations were promoted and open to the public, others were small affairs for the staff and friends. Former staff members were always encouraged to attend, so the parties served as reunions, too.

On Friday, February 12, 1982, the Biograph celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party that surrounded the Richmond premiere of “My Dinner With Andre.” It was especially fitting, because the artsy film had been shot for the most part in Richmond.

To prepare for the occasion we did some touch-up work on the big collage in the hallway to Theatre No. 1 and the entire lobby got a new paint job. To make the party more fun we brought in the caterer who had prepared the dinner for the characters featured in the film, Chris Gibbs (a friend), to serve our $25-per-head guests exactly the same dish. The whole shebang was a benefit for VCU’s Anderson Gallery.

Each day of the shooting of the Louis Malle movie in the old Jefferson Hotel -- it was closed at the time, soon to be renovated -- Gibbs had shown up with a platter full of Cornish game hens and bowls of wild rice, etc. That's what the actors, Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory, had for dinner in the movie’s imaginary restaurant, supposedly in New York City.

About a year-and-a-half before the Biograph’s movie premiere party had been imagined, I had gone with Gibbs to the set, to see how it all looked. For each scene, the production crew had to pick apart the fresh sets of meals to make them look eaten/aged to the point that they fit the timing in the story.

*

While putting the party together with the Biograph’s staff, Gibbs and the Anderson Gallery was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun. Fortunately, the Biograph’s owners in DeeCee were 99 percent behind such promotions. For me, it was the sort of special project that I loved, even as my passion for the day-to-day routine of operating a movie theater was slowly dissolving into a blur.

Later that same year another special project appeared, to become my raison d'être for months. Although it was a big distraction from my duty to find solutions for the cinema’s endemic problems, winning the “handbill case” still stands as my favorite singular achievement as manager of the Biograph.

In my thinking, first it was about free speech. I had long admired freedom-of-speech heroes and people who fought censorship, so I was eager to do my bit. In a more practical sense, it was also about defending a promotional tool I had relied upon for 10 years. So, it was about keeping the theater open. From experience I knew eye-catching handbills posted on certain utility poles and in particular shop windows were vital to promoting our smorgasbord of attractions, especially midnight shows.

In the larger picture, culturally, it was Rock ‘n’ Rollers vs. Yuppies. The Fan District Association was dead set against handbills promoting nightlife. Prompted by that civic association’s pressure, the City of Richmond officially proclaimed the matter to be strictly about trash.

So, early in 1982, City Council tweaked the statutes about posting notices in the public way. Then the police department began cracking down directly on those who posted handbills. Not so much the notices posted about yard sales or lost dogs. No, the focus was strictly on flyers promoting entertainment.

After noting the arrests of fellow handbillers, musicians who played in popular bands, David Stover (Prevaricators) and Charles Williams (Good Guys), I decided to confront the situation. While some other promoters in the Fan District chose to let the crackdown stop them, I simply went about my routine handbilling rounds, as I had since 1972.

Which led to an 8½-by-11-inch paper poster for “The Atomic Café,” which opened on June 24, 1982, becoming evidence. When a cop brought the flyer to the Biograph, to issue us a warning, I freely admitted to having posted it on a utility pole. So, he handed me a summons to appear in General District Court.

Subsequently, I told my bosses it would cost the Biograph nothing in legal fees, but that I wanted to fight the City of Richmond on freedom of speech grounds. I assured them a couple of my friends who were lawyers would handle the defense.

The study of laws and decisions about free speech and using the public way for the common good became my obsession. Scheming about how to present the argument filled my head for the next four months. First, I wanted the court to see an important context -- our society tolerates all sorts of signage on utility poles, because the messages are considered useful.

Then, I wanted to convince a judge that once you considered all the handbills in the neighborhood around VCU, as a whole, it could be seen as an information system. It was a system that some people were relying on for information, just as others might rely on newspapers obtained from a box sitting on public sidewalk.

One person might read the entertainment section in a local periodical, another person might glance at the utility poles in their neighborhood, to read the posters touting live music shows or poetry readings.

To gather plenty of good examples to use as evidence, we had a handbill art show at the Biograph. On October 5, some 450 flyers, posted on black foam core panels, hung in the theater’s lobby. In all, there were probably three dozen, or so, different artists represented. A group of impromptu art experts acted as judges to select the best five of the show. Naturally, there was a keg of beer on hand to grease the wheels of progress.

One of Phil Trumbo’s Orthotones (later Orthotonics) handbills was named Best in Show. Most people who knew much about the handbill artists in the Fan would have said Trumbo was top dog, so it was a popular decision by the judges. Trumbo would later testify at the trial as a “handbill expert.”

Two of the handbill art show judges from that night also served as expert witnesses at the trial. They were: Gerald Donato and David Manning White. Donato was an art professor at VCU; White was the retired head of the mass communications department at VCU. The best 100 of the handbills from the show went to court as evidence.

After all was said and done, we won. On Saturday, November 6, the Frank Green-penned story about winning the handbill case was draped stylishly across the top of the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s front page.
In dismissing the case, the judge (Jose R. Davila) appears to have opened the question of the enforceability of the city law used by police to combat the proliferation of advertising and other signs on utility poles and other “fixtures” in “public ways.”

The case concerned the seemingly simple issue of the allegedly illegal posting of a handbill. But before it was over, the proceedings touched on topics that included free speech, soup cans, and nuclear energy, and invoked names of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol and the city’s public safety director.

Rea’s attorneys, John G. Colan and Stuart R. Kaplan, argued the city ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated Rea’s right of freedom of speech.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William Bray argued that Rea had means of expressing himself and of advertising the movies other than the posting of handbills on public property.

Davila did not rule the city ordinance unconstitutional, but he dismissed the charge despite the defense’s concession that Rea had the handbills posted.

Without elaborating, Davila said he was concerned about the use of the term “public way” in the ordinance.

“The city, the GRTC, VCU, churches, the Boys Club and all the candidates use the public’s utility poles to post their signs. They know as well as the general public that there is nothing pretty about a naked pole. Handbills pose no danger to anyone. Is free speech only for some?” Rea asked in a handbill he had printed up before yesterday’s trial.
*

So I walked. We probably had a little party, but I don‘t remember.

A month or so later, I began planning the Biograph’s 11th anniversary program, which would feature Abel Gance’s restored masterpiece, “Napoleon” (1927). That would prove to be the last special project, the last anniversary party that I planned for the Biograph ... while it was still open.

Stay tuned...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Key questions about the Penn St. coverup


A question about the Penn State facilitating-the-predator scandal for which there is no good answer:

If Mike McQueary had walked into a room and seen Jerry Sandusky beating a cornered 10-year-old boy with a bullwhip, or a two-by-four, would McQueary have walked away? Would he have simply told his boss, Joe Paterno, something about the incident the next day and let it go at that?

After all, short of paralyzing the victim, would a beating such as that really be any less damaging to his long-term health than what is alleged to have happened?

Unfortunately, the next question has to be:

If McQueary had walked in on what one might assume was one of the most disturbing sights of his life, could he really have walked away without taking any direct action to stop the crime from continuing? So, that makes me wonder what else McQueary might have seen in his travels that would make what he claims he saw Sandusky doing to a helpless child seem like something to mostly keep quiet about?

What could possibly make the eyewitness, McQueary, opt to participate in such a coverup?

A question about the Penn State facilitating-the-predator scandal for which there is no good answer:

If Mike McQueary had walked into a room and seen Jerry Sandusky beating a cornered 10-year-old boy with a bullwhip, or a two-by-four, would McQueary have walked away? Would he have simply told his boss, Joe Paterno, something about the incident the next day and let it go at that?

After all, short of paralyzing the victim, would a beating such as that really be any less damaging to his long-term health than what is alleged to have happened?

Unfortunately, the next question has to be:

If McQueary had walked in on what one might assume was one of the most disturbing sights of his life, could he really have walked away without taking any direct action to stop the crime from continuing? So, that makes me wonder what else McQueary might have seen in his travels that would make what he claims he saw Sandusky doing to a helpless child seem like something to mostly keep quiet about?

What could possibly make the eyewitness, McQueary, opt to participate in such a coverup?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Spinning won't cure the problems at Penn State

This Washington Times article, “At Penn State’s stadium, profanity, scorn greet one father’s protest,” penned by Nathan Fenno, suggests the shameful denial problem up in Happy Valley still needs a lot of work.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — In the middle of Curtin Road, John Matko held one handwritten sign in his right hand and rested another against his jeans. Two inches of black tape obscured Penn State’s logo on the 34-year-old father’s hat, as he tried to ignore the jeers, slaps and beer hurled at him.

“Put abused kids first,” one of Matko’s signs read. “Don’t be fooled, they all knew. Tom Bradley, everyone must go.”

Penn State's Beaver Stadium loomed 30 yards away, rumbling with the first roars of Saturday’s game with Nebraska. The sea of blue-clad supporters wearing gray fedoras and camouflage hunting jackets and “This is JoePa’s house” T-shirts parted around Matko.

“That is such [expletive]!” one young woman screamed at him after glancing at the signs. “Who the [expletive] do you think you are?”

Eyes hidden by blue aviator sunglasses, Matko didn’t respond.
As I watched (about half of) the Nebraska at Penn State game on TV this afternoon, much of the commentary I heard about the facilitating-the-predator-coach scandal amounted to gushing over how the healing has already started. How the riot Wednesday night was an aberration, not at all indicative of how Penn State people truly feel … now, upon reflection.

Listening to the damage control -- the ESPN spin and the Penn State slant -- I had to wonder if a college town community that for decades has been bound together by its idolatry of Paterno could actually wake up, snap out of its denial and start to change so fast.

Change in the football-worshiping culture at Penn State?

Maybe ... some day.

Today?

Nebraska 17, Penn State 14.

Friday, November 11, 2011

700,000 Americans have moved their money

A note from Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos:
To SLANTblog,

Since September 29, at least 700,000 Americans have moved their money out of big banks and into credit unions.

The big banks say they don't care because they are getting rid of their least profitable clients. In reality, they are so freaked out by what's happening that some have locked their doors and even called the police on customers who tried to close their accounts.

Click here for ten amazing stories about big banks desperately trying to stop customers from closing their accounts. Please share the stories with a friend, too. Everyone needs to know we have the big banks on the run.

Saying it ain't so for too long

The unfolding story of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's alleged crimes is truly mind-boggling. The firing of 84-year-old Joe Paterno -- heretofore, a living legend -- who has been Penn State's head football coach since 1966, was unthinkable in most sports fans’ minds until the horrific Sandusky child abuse story broke over last weekend.

But as shocking as this has been to most of us, it's obvious there are people in Happy Valley who have known this day of reckoning was coming for some time. From here on that part of the story is going to get steadily more important. It may lead to people going to jail, besides just Sandusky.

In my memory there’s never been a sports-related scandal like this one. But as others have already pointed out, this is more than a sports story. It's more than an aberrant story about a predator. This story is about idolatry. It’s about money and politics. At the bottom line, it’s about the corrosive effect power can have when it grows, unchecked, to bully all sorts of supposedly decent people into doing shameful things.

Eventually, Penn State is going to have to fire everyone who was in any way connected to Paterno. That's going to mean everybody! To clean house, all the assistants, the secretaries, the people who washed the uniforms, popcorn vendors at the games, etc., will all have to go.

Who knows? This may even mean a SMU-like death penalty for football at Happy Valley.


Over the last few days, each time I’ve read about what’s been going on at Penn State, I’ve said to myself, that's it! I'm so disgusted that I'm not going to read any more about it. Then I read/watch the next story, anyway.

So here are some links to related stories that seem worthwhile, without being over-the-top on being sensational:
  • Click here to read “Penn State tragedy shows danger of making coaches false idols”
  • Click here to read “Coaching icon Paterno sacked in ignominy”
  • Click here to read “Abuse victim's mother says Paterno had to be fired”
  • Click here to read “The Question Joe Paterno Needs to Answer”
  • Click here to read “Will Paterno Scandal Hurt Pennsylvania Republicans”
  • Click here to read “Who knew what about Jerry Sandusky?”
  • Click here to read "Penn State Sponsors Anxiously Watch How Events Unfold at University"

A long way from home ... on a horse


A Veterans Day Remembrance: In 1916 the fit young men who had already volunteered to be members of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas, to watch over the border and chase Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had crossed the border to stage a few raids on American soil ... or, so people said.

To do the job the Richmonders were quickly converted into a cavalry unit.

My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen at the age of 23 in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues outfit.

Following that campaign, in 1917 the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills, near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was across the pond to France to finish off the Great War -- the war to end all wars.

Frank Owen grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. Before his active duty he had mostly made his living as a vocalist. The stories I remember him telling from his years as a soldier were all about his singing gigs, playing football and poker, and various other adventures.


Owen is on the right in the photo above. Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he'd seen. At least I never heard such stories. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many in Richmond as an elite corps.

Eventually, he became a draftsman, then an architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (forerunner to CSX), which was then based here in Richmond. He continued to perform as a soloist, as a studio backup vocalist and in barbershop quartets into his 60s.

F. W. Owen believed there was a coward at the heart of every bully. Without hesitation, he depended completely on his own view of life. He passed what he could of that self-reliance on to me. The badge below is from the mid-1950s.


My grandson's middle name is Owen. It's a name he should always wear proudly. A long way from home, almost a century ago, his great-great-grandfather certainly did.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Origins of Occupy Wall Street

For an account of how the Occupy Wall Street movement got started, click here to read "Reawakening The Radical Imagination: The Origins of Occupy Wall Street" by Matt Sledge for the Huffington Post.

Here's a brief excerpt:
The movement didn't get that big simply because AdBusters, a Canadian magazine, sent out a flashy email promoting it, or because the hacker collective Anonymous flicked out a few tweets. Instead, it took a group of about 200 committed activists 47 days to outline the ground rules that have allowed the protest to flourish.

Abuse is Forging Tomorrow's Bloody Monsters

The mind-boggling story at Penn State has reminded me of a piece about child abuse I penned for STYLE Weekly in 1999. "Abuse is Forging Tomorrow's Bloody Monsters" was written not long after the shocking Columbine High School incident.

Today I might write it somewhat differently, but the point still hits home about how our society, as a whole, routinely refuses to look unflinchingly at the obvious cause of so much trouble and heartache.

Hey, I know people who usually believe the accusers are making most of it up, regardless of what sort of abuse is being reported. They think the reports of child molestation by Catholic priests have been greatly exaggerated. They even believe disgraced boxer Mike Tyson was not a rapist.

Here's the text of the 12-year-old piece:
We've all had to listen to almost monotonous explanations of the reasons for the explosion of teen-age mayhem: too many guns, not enough morality, too much violence on TV, not enough personal responsibility. These are all true. But as the news directors and speech writers spin in their desk chairs to find out what we want to hear, there is one aspect of the picture that is being avoided.

Perhaps this reason is considered an uncomfortable subject. Maybe it strikes a little too close to home. Consequently, we aren't hearing much about the common denominator in many massacres, wherever they occur. Instead of recognizing the systematic abuse of children as the key factor it has always been in such matters, we fret and search for peripheral reasons to explain the bewildering carnage.

In a knee-jerk response to the recent school yard blood baths, some would make schools and streets safe by putting a cop with unlimited power in every classroom and on every street corner. Hopefully, most Americans would still see such a cure as worse than the malady.

But the truth is we don't enjoy absolute freedom and never have. It is the balance between freedom and control that is the secret to making our system of democracy, free speech, and free markets work.

America is a representative democracy, not a pure democracy. Elections are held at regular intervals to control public policy. Freedom of speech doesn't allow for a fool to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, and so forth. What we do have is a tradition of wanting as much freedom as possible because we believe that it brings out the best in us. Amen.

Returning to the trouble that launched this most recent national debate — teen-age violence — I'm convinced we need to divide our thinking into long term and short term, or perhaps indirect and direct.

The long-term/indirect approach should recognize that the four obvious reasons for the escalating violence are excellent areas for concentrated efforts.

However, there is a solid reason that violence on TV, or the availability of guns, hasn't made us all blow each others' brains out. And that reason is tragically simple: Most of us have not gone through a soul-crushing experience of abuse as a child.

Some children who are tied up and beaten bloody will not break. Some little girls who are sexually molested by an adult they naturally trusted will outgrow the painful confusion and learn to trust again. Some little boys, who hear gunshots outside their windows most nights, will resist giving in to fear and grow up without joining a street gang. Some kids who suffer from cold neglect will be strengthened by the ordeal and become good citizens.

The others, the ones who can't overcome their bad luck, may shoot each other at school. If they survive the nightmare of their childhood, they are likely to end up being a perpetual nuisance to everyone. At some point it's probably too late to help them. However sad that may be, it's the truth.

By the time the most damaged kids are in school, they aren't really that hard to spot.

Here's the unvarnished truth: We can't continue to allow kids that we know are powder kegs to play with matches. Children of this ilk must be watched constantly and have absolutely no access to weapons with more potential than a spitball.

Here's the short term/direct strategy: We have to accept that children who are being subjected to systematic abuse must be taken away from the source of that abuse immediately. It's their only hope. It may be our only hope.

Yes, in some cases this essay is advocating the government's bold intrusion into private rooms behind locked doors. And that will always be painful. Yet, in order to protect the freedom of the many, we must be willing to focus our effort on the few who are central to this particular problem.

Once again, it's a matter of balance.

So forget about ranting at Goth fashions or the Internet. Unless we slow down the assembly line process of neglect and overt abuse that is forging tomorrow's bloody monsters, there's precious little use in talking about what else we are going to do to make schools, streets, workplaces or homes safe.

If we continue to allow our politicians to demagogue this issue, if we allow an irresponsible media to go on promoting aberrant behavior in the name of reporting on it, we do ourselves no good.

Furthermore, if we fail to act effectively to slow down the assembly line, then the very tenets of our free society could soon be ablaze on the altar of order, at any price.
Not much has changed on this front in recent years. Most people are still averting their eyes. Then again, there is this discouraging news about child abuse.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cantor's Overplayed Hand



The video above is a commentary on the link between the Republican Party's longstanding gross-out-the-voters-to-keep-the-turnout-down tactics and the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street/The 99% movement.

Note: There may be off-the-wall, or even satirical, material included. So don't let that scare you. And, for the record, or just in case you'd rather not view my three-and-a-half-minute film, the script I wrote for it is as follows:
For decades Republicans have been using a low-road tactic that has helped them win elections: They have deliberately tried to make politics seem so frustrating and disgusting that a lot of people have opted to ignore that side of life ... when they can. The process has worked like a charm, because it usually discouraged more Democrats than it did Republicans. It’s no secret that Republicans have seemed to benefit from low turnouts for a long time.

The elections of 2010 provided a good example of what I mean. Lots of liberals were so grossed out by the growling repetition of the Tea Party’s rants, together with what they perceived as the Democrats’ wimpy response, they simply ignored Election Day.

Rather than cite a laundry list of other examples of how this style of gaming elections has worked over the years, usually to the advantage of the GOP, I’m going point out that I sense a change in the air that stems from recent events. Over the summer, to protect the interests of America’s wealthiest one percent, Congressional Republicans threatened to push America into a default, to renege on its debts.

But that time Rep. Eric Cantor and his teammates overplayed their hand so egregiously it became a tipping point. The GOP’s unprecedented brinkmanship blew back into its face. Forget about the phony Super Committee, this time the gross-out strategy helped launch the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.

When some good number of young citizens returned to school this fall, it seems they had lost their faith in governments at all levels in America. Of course, lots of factors caused the OSW/The 99% movement to materialize this fall. What happened in Egypt and in Wisconsin earlier this year surely played a part, too.

Now the seven-week-old movement has already changed the national conversation. A new, free-spirited force seems to be affecting the political landscape. My hunch is that this country’s three-decades-long drift to the right ended abruptly on Sept. 17th, with the birth of this year’s Occupy movement. Wishful thinking?

Maybe, but Mic Checks are changing political vernacular.

Moreover, in a message aimed at Cantor, and other cock-of-the-walk politicians who routinely do the One Percent’s bidding, I’m saying this: The previously scheduled frog-marching of the American culture back to when it was OK to dump Kepone in the James River, back to before Democrats provided Americans their Social Security program -- that forced march back to Gilded Age -- it has been cancelled.

Meanwhile, will the GOP’s propaganda machine stop trying to hold down election turnouts, using whatever means necessary?

Of course, they won’t.

Will that immoral, anti-worker, anti-student, anti-99% strategy keep working forever to serve the 1%?

We’ll see.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The 99% @ City Hall



The footage for this short video piece was shot outside of Richmond, Virginia's City Hall on Nov. 2, 2011. The commentary on the demonstration at City Hall and about the Occupy/99% movement, in general, is by yours truly.

At Mayor Dwight Jones' behest, the Occupy Richmond encampment at Kanawha Plaza had been disassembled by the Richmond Police Department two days before. Nine arrests were made. The charges ranged from trespassing to being in a public park after dark.

More demonstrations in front of local branches of big banks are apparently in the works for Occupy Richmond.

Click here to view an earlier video of mine on Occupy Richmond in Monroe Park.