Saturday, March 31, 2012

1968: A Year that Left Scars

Recent polls suggest that most Americans are tired of the war in Afghanistan, but they're more than ready to start a new war with Iran, if it looks at us wrong. No joke.

After the Vietnam War, I foolishly thought I'd never see my country mired in a long, unpopular war again. Of course, before the Bush administration’s power-grabbing reaction to 9/11, I never anticipated such a thing as a never-ending war on a tactic -- the War on Terror.

Thinking about how wrong well-meaning people can be about about the justifications of a war reminds me of 1968, a year that began with most Americans supporting their nation’s undeclared war in Southeast Asia. We were being told the war was winnable and it was necessary. Supposedly sovereign countries were being seen then as dominoes in a theory about world domination. My generation's able-bodied men were being told that we had face down the communists in Vietnam, in order to keep the hungry USSR from gobbling up the entire Free World.

The toll 1968 took on what had been as America’s collective sense of self-confidence put all such thinking about fighting a war Vietnam in a different perspective. With the still-escalating war in Vietnam as a backdrop, the stormy events of America’s 1968 unfolded the year after San Francisco’s Summer of Love. It was the year before our swashbuckling astronauts first set foot on the moon.

*

Jan. 23: The USS Pueblo was seized on the high seas by North Korean forces; at least that’s the story I got. At the time I was in the Navy and I had little doubt we would rescue the Pueblo’s crew, even if it meant another war.

Subsequently, as captives, the Pueblo’s 83 men endured an ordeal that was shocking to an American public that had naively thought its Super Power status meant such things could not happen.

Jan. 30: The Tet Offensive began, as the shadowy Viet Cong flexed its muscles and blurred battle lines with simultaneous assaults taking place in many parts of South Vietnam. Even the American embassy in Saigon was attacked.

Mar. 16: Some 500 Vietnamese villagers -- women, children and old men (animals, too) -- were killed by American soldiers on patrol in what came to be known as the My Lai Massacre. It would be another 20 months before investigative journalist Seymour Hersh would break the horrifying story of the covered-up massacre, via the Associated Press wire service.

Mar. 31: Facing the burgeoning antiwar-driven campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew from the presidential race, declining to run for reelection by saying, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination...”

Apr. 4: America’s most respected civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was shot and killed in Memphis. Riots followed in cities coast-to-coast. The bitterness that remained after the dust settled was scary.

In Richmond, it ended an era. Young adventurous whites who followed music could no longer go in the black clubs they had once patronized.

May 13: The USA and North Vietnam began a series of negotiations to end the war in Vietnam that came to be known as the Paris Peace Talks. Ironically, as a backdrop, France, itself, was in chaos. Workers and students had shut down much of the country with a series of strikes. The trains weren’t running, the airports were closed, as were schools, etc.

May 24: On the same day I was discharged from the Navy, Father Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis (of Artists Concerned About Vietnam) got sentenced to six years for destroying federal property, stemming from an incident where duck blood was poured over draft files at Baltimore’s Selective Service headquarters.

June 3: Artist Andy Warhol nearly died from wounds received from a gunshot fired by Valerie Solanis. She was a sometime writer and one of the many off-beat characters who had occasionally hung out at Warhol’s famous studio, The Factory. 

June 5: Having just won the California primary, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. The hopes of millions that the Vietnam War would end soon died that night, since it’s hard to imagine that Richard Nixon would have been able to defeat Kennedy in the general election.

Just as JFK’s death in 1963 had played into the radical escalation of the war in Vietnam by his successor, in 1968, RFK’s death meant that war would go on for several more years. A lot of money was being made by companies supplying the war effort.

June 8: James Earl Ray was arrested in London. Eventually, he was convicted of murdering Martin Luther King. Yet, questions about that crime still linger today.

July 23: After watching “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Westhampton Theatre, I saw The Who play live on stage at the Mosque (now the Landmark Theatre). Looking at the line to get into the concert I was quite surprised at how many hippies there were in Richmond. This was in the period the band was into smashing up its equipment to finish off shows.

The acid I took that day served me well.

Aug. 20: Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush what had been a season of renaissance. As it had been with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of World War III being one button-push away was commonplace.

Aug. 28: In Chicago the Democratic convention that selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey to top its ticket melted down. With tear gas in the air and blood in the streets 178 demonstrators/bystanders were arrested. Many were roughed up on live television. As cops clubbed citizens in the streets, CBS reporters Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were punched on the convention floor.

Watching the riots surrounding the Democratic convention on television, I began wondering if those who were saying our society was coming unglued might be right. Consequently, for the first time my political ideas were aired out in a newspaper, when my letter to the editor was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That experience began a love affair with seeing my name in print.

Oct. 18: At the Summer Olympics at Mexico City, American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves (and other symbolic accouterments) for a protest gesture that was widely seen as a “black power” salute.

Nov. 5: Richard Nixon (depicted above) narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey, himself, was for peace, out of loyalty, he refused to denounce Johnson’s failing war policy. It cost him dearly.

Also elected that day was Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. She was the first black female to serve in the House of Representatives.

Dec. 21: The first manned space mission to escape Earth’s gravity and orbit the moon began with the launching of Apollo 8.

Dec. 24: After having its way with them for 11 months, torture and mock executions included, North Korea released all of the members of the Pueblo’s crew but kept the ship. Although the U.S. Navy seemed to blame the Pueblo’s captain, Commander Lloyd Butcher, for the entire painful fiasco, mercifully, the Secretary of the Navy called off any official punishment.

After 1968, the general public’s perception of the antiwar movement’s protests as being unpatriotic began to kaleidoscope into something new. The government’s veracity came into question, more and more. The nature of true patriotism in postmodern America came into question, too. 

In June of 1969 LIFE Magazine published “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” It was a ten-page story that featured photographs and the names of 242 men who had just died in the war in one week. Looking at all those hopeful young faces was too much for millions of Americans at home to bear. That, when everyone knew each coming week’s grim action in that far-away land was going to snuff out the lives of another two or three hundred young men.

The Hawks' picture of how a victory in Vietnam would look had faded into a blur. The Doves had won the propaganda war.

*

By the time the Vietnam War ended, we’re told 58,138 Americans were killed. Anyone my age knew someone they had grown up with who had died over there. Their names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall designed by Maya Lin. Now I pray there will never be a memorial built in DeeCee for Americans who died fighting in a war against Iran.

Chasing Dignity

-- An earlier version of this piece was published by STYLE Weekly in 2006
“…Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were — and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”

– from “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1978, with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” playing to the delight of a midnight show packed house, a fight broke out in the middle of Grace Street. Insults, rocks and bottles flew back and forth between the two factions of four each: VCU frat boys vs. an Oregon Hill crew. Their battle was unfolding a perilous 25 to 30 yards from the Cinemascopic all-glass front of the Biograph Theatre, a Fan District cinema I then managed.

The box office had just closed and the cashier had started her count-up. At the same time a group of my Biograph Swordfish softball teammates was in the lobby playing a pinball machine. As manager, I felt obliged to drive the danger away, so I opened an exit door and yelled that the cops were already on the way, which they were.

That was good enough for the frat boys, who scampered off. Their opposites simply switched over to bombing me. As they advanced rocks bounced closer. A tumbling bottle shattered on the sidewalk. I closed the door, then a piece of brick smashed through its bottom panel of glass to strike my right shin.

When we lit out after them, there were six or seven men running in the impromptu posse of employees and pinball players. The hooligans scattered, but my focus was solely on the one who’d plunked me. Hemmed in by three of us in a parking lot, he faked one way, then cut to the other. His traction gave way slightly in the gravel paving. As he stumbled to regain his balance I tackled him by the legs.

The others got away. With some help from my friends, we marched the captured 19-year-old back toward the theater. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my limbs. During the trek east on Grace, the culprit said something that provoked one in my group to suddenly punch him. That, while the punchee’s arms were being held.

A policeman, who had just arrived, saw it. He sarcastically complimented the puncher for his aggressive “technique” before the street-fighting man was hauled off in the paddy wagon. In contrast, I told the vigilante puncher he had overreached in hitting the kid unnecessarily, especially while he was helpless.

Surprised by my reaction, my softball teammate laughed.

Which prompted me to say something like, “Hey, we’re no better than the fascist bullies we’ve claimed to deplore if we resort to their tactics.” He disagreed, saying essentially this — that his summary punishment would likely be the only price the little thug would ever pay for his crime. Another in the group agreed with him. Others saw it my way, or they said nothing.

It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” The excerpt above is the evocative piece’s last paragraph. During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me.

Yes, as the '70s fizzled away we baby boomers were about to discover that our sweetest day in the sun -- with its righteous causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems -- had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux.

A month later I agreed to the court’s proposal to drop the assault charge, provided the brick-thrower was convicted of a misdemeanor for breaking the glass and paid for the damage. A payment schedule was set up. As we spoke several times after that, I came to see the “hooligan” wasn’t really such a bad guy. Payment was made on time. Eventually, he asked for the name of the man who’d punched him. While withholding the name, I agreed with him that the blow had been a cheap shot.

About a year later, on a late summer afternoon, a thief snatched a handful of dollar bills from a Biograph cashier, then bolted out the front door. The cashier’s frightened look triggered an alarm in your narrator’s sense of duty/propriety; her face was quite expressive.

As this happened half of my lifetime ago, I was still young enough to think chasing criminals down the street was normal. Quaint as it may sound now, it seemed then that some collective sense of dignity was at stake.

In short, it took less than 10 minutes to discover the thief’s hiding place, then turn him over to the policemen who’d shown up. During the search I received some unexpected help in cornering the thief. As I had run west on Grace Street behind the 20-year-old grab-and-run artist, another young man — a total stranger — had jumped out of his pickup truck to join in the chase.

Later, when the dust settled, I thanked the volunteer and asked him why he’d stopped. He answered that he knew I was the Biograph’s manager, because a buddy of his had once pointed me out. His friend? It was the same Oregon Hill street-fighter I’d tackled a year before.

My assistant thief-chaser also told me his friend assured him I’d dealt fairly with him. Consequently, a favor was owed to me. Before he left, my collaborator said that in his neighborhood the guys stick together. Thus, he’d supported me in my time of need, to help pay off his friend’s debt. We shook hands.

Over the years what connects those two chase scenes has become increasingly more satisfying. No doubt that’s because so many times over the years, in dealing with bad luck and other ordinary tests of character, I’ve done nothing to write home about — even the wrong thing.

At least in this story, maybe, I got it right.

The point?

Dear reader, in spite of the wall-to-wall cynicism of our current age, there really was a time when cheap shots were seen in a bad light. Moreover, returning favors was part of what held things together.

Through the mist of “ghostly rumbles” and “asthmatic whispers,” to some graying hippies, that hasn’t changed.

– 30 –

All rights reserved by F.T. Rea.
1181 words

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Music of March Madness

The video above is to be played while you read this piece. 

More than any other sport I’ve played, basketball is about the “chemistry” that develops among the players on a team. When I say “chemistry,” I’m referring to the players’ awareness of their teammates’ intentions, their ability to coordinate to write and instantly rewrite scripts for themselves. A good basketball team thrives on its knack for improvising within a structure.

Put another way, basketball is like a jazz tune with endless variations. There’s a beat, a bass line and solos that can appear out of the blue. 

The other sports I grew up playing were baseball, football and tennis. As an adult, I took up (organized) softball and Frisbee-golf. I still play Frisbee-golf (disc golf) regularly. Consequently, I’ve played sports virtually all of my life.  

Baseball was my first love. At the top level of play, there are 25 men on a Major League Baseball roster. Still, while baseball is obviously a team sport, the players are stationed far apart on defense and rarely move out of their designated area to defend. On offense, for the most part they act one at a time at the bat, and somewhat in cooperation on the base paths. When a substitution is made the player who came out of the game cannot return to action in that contest.

First loves are always special, so none of this is meant as a putdown of baseball.

Under current rules there are 53 men on a National Football League active roster. When a play is in motion there’s a good deal of interaction among the 11 players on the field, while 42 teammates stand and watch from the sideline. Players on the offensive squad are never in on the same play as their defensive counterparts. For the most part, in practices they are coached by different men.  

Football plays last a few seconds, usually less than 10. Then everyone stands around for a while until the next play. With football, sometimes the momentum one team is riding can be palpable, but no refers to that group mindset as chemistry. 

Baseball, naturally, has a meandering pace all of its own. It's been suggested to me that soccer has a basketball-like chemistry. I don’t know since I didn’t play it much as a kid, or ever.

An old friend who also used to play basketball told me he liked my basketball is jazz thing, OK, but as a drummer in a blues band he had to point out there’s an element of blues in most jazz. Perhaps that's true, but I'm not much of music historian. Still, toward his point, I’ll say that the most basic offensive play in basketball, the pick-and-roll, is maybe that blues element of basketball.

The pick-and-roll is a two-man play. In a nutshell, it works like this: While facing the basket I’m dribbling the ball, some 18 feet away from it. My teammate is standing just inside the free throw line on the right side of the key. By passing by my teammate so closely that the man guarding me runs into him, I am forcing the defense to make a choice: Does the man who had been guarding me continue to try to keep up with me, as I pass by my teammate and head toward the basket? Or, does the man who had been guarding my teammate switch and pick me up?

Each time that happens it depends on what the defensive team has planned to do in that situation. And, it depends on the moment’s truth. No matter what the two defensive players do, if I run the play correctly there will be a split-second when there will be gaps to exploit. I might keep going toward the basket. Or, I might pass the ball to my teammate, who rolls to his right into the key and also heads toward the basket.

That play is like a basic blues riff. It’s the same notes every time … it just depends on how you play it.

In a basketball game a team only has five players on the floor at one time. Until a referee blows a whistle, usually because the ball goes out of bounds or someone commits a foul, the play is continuous. One team shoots, whether they score or not, the games moves on. The game doesn't stop for runs scored or made goals. When a good team is running a fast break all the players know the angle they should take by something akin to instinct. When the chemistry is right, stopping a well-run fast break, or a perfectly executed pick-and-roll, is anything but easy to do. 

For my musical friends, who like to follow March Madness but never really played much basketball, I hope this helps.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Epps on the 'Resilient Constitution'

This video is a professorial look at the current unconstitutional/constitutional health care questions and other hot topics. Not much action, but former-Richmond Mercury staff writer Garrett Epps is a Richmonder by upbringing, and it’s probably better watching than what's on your TV.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The solution to the health care debate

Arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act are being heard as I’m writing this. It's hard for me to say how it will turn out, when the Supreme Court finally sorts this out. Not only am I not a lawyer, but I'm not sure I understand how the required purchase of health insurance even works.

Still, I am totally in favor of universal health care in America, however it is achieved, as soon as possible. I understand that some see the ACA as a half-step toward that goal. And, I understand that others who want the same thing as I do see Obamacare as a dead end. On top of that, I can understand why still others say Obamacare is unconstitutional. 

However, outside the courtroom ordinary citizens might argue that health care in today's world has become integral to our rights to “life” and the “pursuit of happiness.” With regard to precedents for mandates, they might point at laws that require motorcyclists to wear helmets and people in automobiles to wear seat belts.  

But others might say their right to “liberty” means the government shouldn’t be able to force them to buy something they don‘t want, just to protect themselves. They would use that logic to stiff-arm the point that governments already force drivers to buy liability insurance, because it protects the health and property of others. They might also say they helmet and seat belt laws should be tossed out, along with Obamacare.

So, to me, the most import reason for extending health care to all citizens should rest on something less abstract than the pursuit of happiness or protecting an individual's liberty. It should be totally practical and be based on what's good for the commonweal.

Here's my take in a nutshell: America’s greatest natural resource is its citizenry -- it’s workforce. The federal government should protect that resource above all others in every way it can that's feasible.

Reared in a literate, freedom-loving society, America’s sons and daughters work every day to build a good life. In their pursuit of happiness they establish families and build communities.

Moreover, just as we have recognized that other vital natural resources need to be protected from amoral fast-buck artists, why would we not choose to also protect our families' wage-earners in the most effective way we can?

Otherwise, what's the practical point of protecting the water we drink, or the animals with which we share the planet?

A few years ago there was a scandal in America over poisonous toys that had been imported from China. It was found that some of the materials weren’t safe, health-wise, for children to handle. The toys were pulled off retailers’ shelves.

Those toys never made it into France. Like some other civilized countries, the French regulators never let the toys across the border, in the first place.

France had rigorous standards and inspections that kept those bad toys out of the curious hands and mouths of French kids. They didn't have to recall the dangerous products, because in France the standards were higher and the regulations were already in place. People were put before profits.

Why?

It’s actually simple -- France picks up the tab on everybody’s hospital bills.

Since France’s government has a stake in keeping French children healthy, its government naturally feels obliged to move proactively to reduce risks. One day those French kids will either be healthy, or unhealthy, workers. In this sense, France is doing more to protect its future workforce than we are.

When the government pays the health care bills, it follows that it will take more of an interest in protecting everyone’s health. In the long run, as far as paying for a nation’s health care goes, investing in prevention is practical because it will save money. More importantly, it protects the workforce. 

Universal health care with periodic mandatory examinations is the only way to monitor the spread of dangerous diseases that could become epidemics, which have the potential to put the kibosh on the economy, to say the least.

It seems to me that eventually America will embrace a single-payer universal health care system.

Bottom line: Will a healthy America choose to walk upright to that inevitability? Or, will it crawl toward it on its belly, sick and tired?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rightwing propaganda 101

Don't think I've ever called anyone an "elitist" or worse, an "elite."

No doubt, I've said far meaner things too many times to count. Still, "elitist" is just not a term that would have occurred to me to use as a putdown, before I was old enough to realize that it reeks of pettiness and jealousy to use it that way.

Now, in 2012, there' a new angle to calling a particular person an "elitist."

Some who use that word to denigrate President Barack Obama were actually born with silver spoons in their own mouths; others are quite well off because they went to top shelf universities and have been successful in their chosen fields of endeavor. Yet I read and hear those same comfortable conservative Republicans use “elitist” as a putdown all the time. 

Why that word? Is it simply more confounding anti-intellectualism? Or, is it more than that?

My guess is that rightwing propagandists, both amateur and professional, use that tactic -- with a wink -- because they are speaking in a code. It's a code they hope will be understood by relatively uneducated conservatives, who don‘t necessarily make a lot of money. They assume such conservatives are overstuffed with resentment toward certain well known people who don't deserve their celebrity status ... one, in particular.

Hey, how much sense does it really make for someone who supported former-President George W. Bush, and now supports former-Governor Willard "Mitt" Romney, to be playing the elite card against Obama?

But this strategy isn't about logic or proportion. No. The propagandists to which I am referring repeatedly say/write “elitist,” because they are savvy enough to know better than to call Obama “uppity.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Lucky Break

The 1982 Biograph Naturals

Each year the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament is a blessing during the month of March. It helps get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter.

Of course, to be a junkie in full bloom one must still play the game. Since I quit playing basketball in 1994, I suppose I’ve been a junkie in recovery. Yes, I’ll always miss the way a perfectly-released jump shot felt as it left my fingertips. Nothing has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbled over his hubris.

Covering college basketball, as a writer, has helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball always appealed to me, especially, my inclination is to pay particular attention to players who have a special knack for seizing the moment.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, there are brutal truths to be reckoned with. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I’ve not completely forgotten what it felt like to dislocate my right ankle on the afternoon of April 20, 1985; I was undercut finishing a one-on-five fast break lay-up.

Take it from me, dear reader, popping your foot off your leg hurts too much to forget -- think James Cann in “Misery” (1990).

Three years before that injury, my then-34-year-old nose was broken in the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a team in a league called the Central Basketball Alliance. Other teams were sponsored by the Track, Soble’s, Hababa’s, the Jade Elephant, etc. Personnel-wise, it was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters ... and, I do mean characters.

The morning after my nose was bashed in by an opponent’s upwardly thrust elbow, while I was coming down from a failed attempt at snatching a rebound, I went to Stuart Circle Hospital for treatment.

My nose wasn’t just broken, it had been split open at the bridge in three or four directions. The emergency room doc used Super Glue and a butterfly clamp to put it all back together. This was before such glue had been approved for use in this country, so he asked me not to tell anyone what he had done; I hope the statute of limitations has run out.

Then, while I was waiting around in the lobby to sign some papers, my grandmother -- “Villa” Emily Collins Owen -- was wheeled by, stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same shock effect as accidentally seeing one’s parent in such an abrupt context.

We spoke briefly. She said she was feeling a little weak from a cold and had decided to spend the night in the hospital. She lived just a few blocks away. Pretending to ignore my gripping sense of panic, I calmly assured Nana (pronounced Ny-nuh) I’d be back during visiting hours, to see how she was doing.

Six decades before she had trained to be a nurse at that same hospital, which has now been converted into condos.

Later I took my then-12-year-old daughter, Katey, with me to see Nana. The doctor came in her room and told us she’d be fine with a good night’s rest. Katey and I spent a half-hour making our 83-year-old Nana laugh as best she could … feeling a little weak.

Nana died in the middle of that same night, March 5, 1982.

Katey and I probably wouldn’t have had that last visit with her, had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak. Which means I have to say the palooka who elbowed me in that basketball game did me a favor. Perhaps in more ways than one.

In order to keep playing in the Biograph’s games in that season, I needed to protect my nose while it healed. So, I got one of those protective aluminum nose-guards I’d seen players wear. It was a primitive version of the clear plastic masks in use today.

As a kid, I saw NBA great Jerry West wearing such a broken-nose-protector in a Southern Conference tournament, when he was playing his college ball at West Virginia. It impressed the 12-year-old version of me to no end. I marveled at how tough and focused West was.

Wearing what was to me a Jerry West mask, I played the rest of the CBA season -- maybe five more games. Now I believe that period was about the best basketball I ever played. Not wanting another whack to the nose made me a little more careful.

The team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. It has taken the passing of time for me to realize that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West tested his, I had been living out a dream.

It seems some lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror.

-- 30 --

Friday, March 23, 2012

'Losing Hearts' is Hogwash

STYLE Weekly's current Back Page piece is overflowing with false equivalencies and other twisted truths. "Losing Hearts" pretends to scold both sides of a debate. But for the most part, it is hogwash.
Behind the histrionics there's indeed a lot for pro-life supporters to like in the new ultrasound law. Its intention is the safety and informed consent of the mother and the life of the unborn child. Shown an image of the life inside, it is hoped that women will fully understand the decision they're making for what it entails for her child and her own well-being.
To read the entire piece click here

The opinion piece fails to explain how government-mandated ultrasound tests are for the “safety” of women in Virginia.

Moreover, it implies that women don’t have sense enough to understand what an abortion is. Then it touts the bizarre notion that government should morph itself into the Catholic Church, and attempt to shame women out of getting sinful abortions...

Dr. Franken-Smart’s Monster

Shaka Smart speaking his first words to VCU fans in 2009

In the last week reports have said Shaka Smart turned down a chance to make $2.5 million a year coaching at the University of Illinois. Why did Smart stay on at Virginia Commonwealth University?

Click here to read a Richmond Times-Dispatch article, “Shaka Smart: 'I love it at VCU',” written by Tim Pearell. 

Meanwhile, it says here that Coach Smart probably had a list of good reasons to stay. Maybe he likes his job. Maybe he likes Richmond. Maybe he’s not chasing money, so much as it is chasing him.

Maybe baby ... but I think the biggest reason is that VCU’s 34-year-old phenom of a basketball coach is still in the process of building a monster. Smart’s monster is being built to consistently compete for the national championship.

And, before Dr. Franken-Smart the mad scientist leaves his West Broad Street laboratory, he wants to see his artfully designed brainchild strut its monster stuff -- Total Havoc! -- in the last tilt of the NCAA’s Big Dance.

Coming off of its Final Four appearance last season, before the 2011-12 season, VCU was thought by many observers to be an inexperienced team in a rebuilding year -- not at all an outfit that would win a game in the NCAA tournament. Of course, VCU won the Colonial Athletic Association’s tournament and went on to defeat Wichita St. University, 62-59, before losing to Indiana University, 63-61.  

Moreover, given what he just accomplished with the ninth youngest team among the 344 in Division I, it now seems within the realm of possibility that in the next two or three seasons Dr. Franken-Smart’s monster could feel a magic bolt of lightning and beat a major conference powerhouse in the championship game, fair and square.

Background note from VCUAthletics.com: “Smart played college basketball at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he graduated magna cum laude with a history degree.  He also earned a master's degree in social science from California University of Pennsylvania.”

When Smart first came to VCU he talked about his new system. He called it “Havoc.”

After one of his first games, in the media room in the Siegel Center Smart explained how it would work. He said no one would likely be on the court for 38 minutes a game very often, because to go at the pace he wanted, no player -- no matter how well conditioned -- would have the stamina. Consequently, he would use his bench more liberally than many coaches do, because starters would play fewer minutes.

It was all part of the plan Smart brought with him. It was a plan for how a special kind of team could upset all the big boys with a defense no one could practice to play against. 

The problem then was that he was using the previous coach’s recruits. Not to say they were bad players. But to make Havoc really work, Smart needed players with more heart than Larry Sanders. He needed better defensive players than Joey Rodriguez. He needed big men who could run the floor better than Jamie Skeen. And, yes, he needed a couple of slashers who could drive to the basket faster and with more finishing ability than Brad Burgess.

Don’t get me wrong. All four of the former Rams stars mentioned above were good basketball players, guys who gave their all to the program and brought glory to it. While Smart coached them quite effectively, they weren’t handpicked to execute his original trapping, overplaying defensive scheme, but (sophomore) Rob Brandenberg, (freshman) Treveon Graham, (sophomore) Juvonte Reddic and (freshman) Briante Weber were.  

Smart’s game plan also calls for unselfish play on offense -- a total commitment to group thinking. Truth be told, it’s harder to find the sort of player who is capable of thinking that way on the rosters of perennial Top 25 schools in the top six conferences.

The pampered star players at Kentucky and Kansas don’t want to have to practice or play the smothering defense Smart insists upon. It takes too much effort, without worrying about who gets the credit. They want to put up eye-popping statistics and they don’t necessarily expect to play four years of college basketball, either.

Whereas, at VCU, the players plan to play all four years and graduate. If Smart were to take his system to a major conference school, it would be harder to sell it to talented one-and-done kids on their way to pro basketball.

What Smart now has at VCU is a group of teachable, bright kids, who are all fast afoot. They want to prove they can beat a Kansas or a Kentucky with a well-executed plan and an all-out effort. With Smart as their coach/mad scientist they believe they can do it.

If Smart had decided to go to Illinois he would have had to start all over, and maybe with superstar types who think they already know it all.

Since I haven't ever turned down an extra million dollars (per year), I don't know what it feels like. Perhaps it's a liberating feeling. But I can imagine how much Smart’s players adore it that he walked away from the money. Coach is all in, too, is what they have to have taken away from Smart’s demonstrated dedication to building a program at VCU and his fidelity to shared promises.

Bottom line: Stay tuned for Rams in dancing shoes, doing the Monster Mash, as Dr. Franken-Smart finishes cutting down the national championship game’s net. 

-- 30--
-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why only second-string candidates for the GOP?

With good reason, we hear every day how a lot of Republican voters are unhappy with their field of presidential candidates. What we don’t hear much about is why ALL of the guys who might have made better candidates stayed out of the race.

Instead of supporting a viable candidate, Republican voters spent months dallying with Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and so forth. Now the unhappy choice seems to be between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, a pair of out-of-office fizzlers.

Question: In 2012, with high unemployment and a painfully slow recovery from the Bush Recession, why did Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, et al, sit this year out?

Answer: I think those on my list of GOP darlings were savvy enough to see that the compromise-is-a-dirty-word wing of their party is unhinged. So those men correctly anticipated the Tea Party activists and the backward cultural warriors were going to deliberately sabotage the primary process, as well as the convention.

Analysis: It appears those saboteurs aren't as interested in winning the White House this year as they are in taking over the Republican Party. Perhaps they believe a loss by the shape-shifting Romney will drive the GOP even more to the right, off the map, and into their clutches.

Bottom line: The smart guys knew such party-splitting shenanigans would make it nearly impossible to elect ANY Republican this year.

Friday, March 16, 2012

VCU wearing black to the Big Dance

Last season the Colonial Athletic Association put three teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s postseason men’s basketball tournament field of 68; one was the automatic bid, two were at-large invitations.

Some readers may remember what Virginia Commonwealth University did with its chance to measure its chops against its opponents from supposedly superior conferences in 2011.  

This year, only the CAA’s tournament champion, VCU, was invited to the Big Dance; the CAA received no at-large bids.

On Thursday night, playing in the NCAA tournament’s South Regional as a 12th seed, the VCU Rams wore their black away-game uniforms. Their opponents, the 5th seeded Shockers of Wichita St. University, were outfitted in their white home-game togs. The upset-minded Rams won: VCU 62, WSU 59.

The more highly regarded Wichita St. team had received its invitation as an at-large team from the Missouri Valley Conference, which is yet another league that’s supposed to be better than the CAA.

Not only are the Rams going to be the underdogs in every game they play from here on, they are the 9th youngest team among the 344 teams in Division I.

VCU’s only senior, Brad Burgess (pictured above) led the Rams scoring attack against the Shockers with 16 points. His three-point jumper from the corner, as the clock ticked down, was the biggest shot of the game; it stiff-armed a Shockers comeback and put the Rams ahead for good.

Click here to see the box score.

Click here to see video highlights of the game at YouTube (from VCU Athletics).

VCU (29-6) will wear black for its next game on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. The 4th seeded Indiana University (26-8), of the Big Ten Conference, will be wearing white. Underdogs in this format always wear the darker colors. Underdogs usually lose…

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Adamantly 'pro-life' ... sometimes

There’s something, in particular, I don’t quite understand about Virginia’s new law dictating the pre-abortion test for almost all patients. Why the exception for victims of rape or incest?

Oh, I understand it, politically. It would gross out a lot of voters if they didn’t allow for the exceptions. But if one truly believes that personhood/citizenship begins at the point of conception, then why aren’t all pregnancies the same?

Back to the first paragraph’s question: It seems to me the answer is that women who become pregnant by cooperating with their male partner deserve some punishment for wanting to end the pregnancy. They must submit to, and foot the bill for, the test.

So, it turns out the party that abhors mandates from the government to do with health care, only abhors some mandates. And, what of the noisy poseurs who claim to be protecting life? They only protect it sometimes. 

Apparently, Virginia Republicans have decided that a so-called “person” whose father raped their mother deserves less protection than other persons. Maybe I'm forgetting a verse, but I’m not sure where in the Bible's New Testament the Christian Republicans, like Gov. McDonnell, are finding their guidance for this concept.

It could be their justification is more Old Testament, sandwiched in between the regulations for burnt offerings and selling daughters as slaves?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Satchel Paige: 'Don't look back'

Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian
With another baseball season soon to get underway, and the Richmond Flying Squirrels about to open their season on Apr. 5 -- home opener Apr. 12 at the Diamond -- I can’t help but think of what was a temple of baseball in my youth, Parker Field, which was located where the Diamond is now.

Parker Field opened in 1954 to serve as home for a new International League club — the Richmond Virginians. The Baltimore Orioles (formerly the St. Louis Browns) joined the American League that year, leaving an opening in the IL for the Richmond entry.

As the V’s became one of the New York Yankees’ Triple A farm clubs, in those days the Bronx Bombers paid Richmond an annual visit in April. Just before Major League Baseball’s opening day, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and the other great Yankees of that era played an exhibition game in Richmond against V’s.

It was always a standing-room-only affair.

Other than the pinstripe-clad hometown V’s my favorite club of the IL then was the pre-revolution Havana Sugar Kings. They played with an intensity, bordering on reckless abandon that made them a lot of fun to watch, especially for the kids.

One of my all-time favorite players I saw pitch at Parker Field was Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-82). Yes, the legendary Paige, with his windmill windup, high kick and remarkably smooth release still working for him, plied his craft on the mound here in Richmond to the delight and other reactions of local baseball fans.

In 1971, Paige (pictured above, circa 1949) was the first of the Negro Leagues’ great stars to be admitted to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, based mostly on his contributions before he helped break the Major League color line in 1948, as a 42-year-old rookie. The statistics from his pre-Big League days are mind-boggling. It's been said he won some 2,000 games and threw maybe as many as 45 no-hitters.

Furthermore, long before the impish poet/boxer Muhammad Ali, there was the equally playful Satchel Paige, with his widely published Six Guidelines to Success:
  • Avoid fried meats that angry up the blood.
  • If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  • Keep the juices flowing by jangling gently as you walk.
  • Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying-on in society - the society ramble ain’t restful.
  • Avoid running at all times.
  • Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.
Long after his days as the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues, following his precedent-setting stint in the American League, Paige was on the roster of the Miami Marlins (1956-58). Like the V’s the Marlins played in the International League. When I saw him Paige was in his 50s. Not a starter, anymore, he worked out of the bullpen.

In the late-1950s live professional baseball in Richmond was mostly a white guys’ scene. Which meant the boos would start as soon as the crowd noticed Paige’s 6-3, 180-pound frame warming up in the middle of a game. When he’d be called in to pitch, in relief, the noise level would soar. Not all the grown men booed, but many did. That, while their children and grandchildren were split between booing, cheering, or embarrassed and not knowing what to do.

Naturally, some of the kids liked seeing the grownups getting unraveled, so Paige was all the more cool to them. Sadly, for some white men in Richmond, then caught up by the thinking that buoyed Massive Resistance, any prominent black person was seen as someone to be against. So, they probably would have booed Duke Ellington or Sugar Ray Robinson, too.

The showman Paige would take forever to walk to the mound from the bullpen. His warm-up pitches would each be big productions, with various slow-motion full windups. Then the thrown ball would whistle toward home plate with a startling velocity, making the kids cheer and laugh to mix with the boos.

Paige as a Miami Marlin

Paige, from Mobile, Alabama, must have understood what was going on better than most who watched him pitch then. He was a veteran performer, who knew perfectly well there wasn’t much he could do to change the boos; they were coming from folks trapped in the past.

So, Paige played to the cheers, as experience over time had taught him to do.

Of course, as a 10-year-old I lacked the overview that what I was seeing was an aspect of the changes the South was going through, to do with race.

My guess is few knew the reaction to Paige, largely being split on generational lines then, was a sign of how America’s baseball fans were going to change -- one day Jim Crow attitudes would have no place at baseball temples.

Now, with the benefit of decades of reflection, I understand that Satchel Paige was a visionary. He was seeing the future by following his own advice -- Don’t look back.

– Images from satchelpage.com

Thursday, March 08, 2012

VCU Post-CAA Notes

Darius Theus drives into the paint in regular season action. Theus was named as the CAA tournament’s MVP.

Good news: As we approach Selection Sunday, which will open the starting gate for March Madness, the bubble-talk for the VCU Rams is over.

Yes, the absolute addicts will keep the bubble-talk going by questioning whether Virginia needs to win a game in the ACC tournament, or talking about Drexel’s chance of getting a second bid for the CAA. But for avid Rams fans, now the conservation is about where VCU will go for its first-round game … and, of course, will Shaka Smart being lured away to coach elsewhere?

More good news: the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association’s postseason tournament set a new attendance record for the four days of hard-fought college basketball games at the Richmond Coliseum — 47,833. It was a first class show and my hat goes off to CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and his staff.

VCU took 20 three-point shots against Northeastern; nine were good. The Rams fired up 25 treys against Mason; they made 11 of them. In the championship game against Drexel they shot outside the arc only 15 times; just four went through the net.

Drexel’s defense had a lot to do with limiting VCU’s scoring from outside, but the number of log jumpers the Rams took from in that game also seemed somewhat by design. I saw the Rams long-distance marksmen passing up chances to shoot treys several times. It was obvious they wanted to drive to the basket as part of a game-plan.

Drexel’s coach, Bruiser Flint only wanted to use six men, seven at most. VCU’s coach Shaka Smart knew that and had to figure going inside would put a lot of pressure on the Dragons, who understood they couldn’t risk fouling out early.

What I wondered before the game was whether the Rams had the personnel to pull off such a strategy, successfully. Could they set the screens just right? Could they handle the ball? Did they have the confidence?

Well, (junior guard) Darius Theus, (senior guard/forward) Brad Burgess, (sophomore guard) Rob Brandenberg and (freshman guard) Treveon Graham provided the answers. Maybe the Rams couldn’t have done it two months ago, but they sure did on Monday night. And, remember, it was accomplished against an excellent defensive team.

The coach of the team that draws the Rams in the first round of the Big Dance is going to be sweating it after he watches a couple of video tapes from the CAA tournament: The first one will be of the first nine minutes of the Mason game (the 32-4 run); the other will be highlights of how steady and unflappable VCU was in defeating an excellent grind-it-out team, in Drexel.

After the Mason game, Brad Burgess was asked how it felt to break Patrick Ewing’s all-time collegiate record (142) for consecutive starts. Burgess who now has 144 straight starts under his belt said, “I’m very grateful … appreciative for it.” Then he added, “I love the game.”

After Drexel’s loss to VCU, Flint was asked several annoying questions. He handled them with patience and class. Then one reporter asked him a longwinded question about how unfair it must be to play the tournament in Richmond every year.

Flint would have none of it. He laughed and said, “It is what it is.” Then he said he’d rather have it staged in Drexel’s [tiny] gym. Flint went on to say the tournament just completed was a great atmosphere and how much he loved that.

VCU (28-6) heads into Selection Sunday’s news of their first NCAA match-up with a nice head of steam. The Rams’ RPI is now No. 38 and they have been getting votes in the AP poll for the last month. The Rams are a versatile team that rightfully feels it can play with anybody, from any conference.

The Rams are both the 9th youngest squad in all of Division I (344 teams) and the team that led D-I in steals. Smart’s hungry VCU team is also an outfit that doesn’t depend on one or two players so much that they can’t win without superior performances from such stars. The 2011-12 Rams have developed into a well balanced machine. In some ways it’s a scarier team than last year’s model.

Finally: As for whether Smart will leave VCU after this year’s Rams squad finishes its postseason play, well, I have no inside track. Perhaps others do.

This is Smart’s third year at VCU. My guess is that right now he’s looking forward to being back on Broad Street to see his third-year players through their fourth season. But who knows how far the Rams will go into the NCAA tournament or what offers my come his way?

Friday, March 02, 2012

Cooch's climate change suit screwed the pooch

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli got some bad news today.
The Virginia Supreme Court today sided with the University of Virginia in its fight against the state attorney general's investigation of former U.Va. climate scientist Michael Mann.
The court upheld the Albemarle Circuit Court ruling setting aside Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's civil investigative demands for documents related to grants Mann receive to study global warming.
To read the entire article at the Richmond Times-Dispatch web site go here

In answering the suit Cuccinelli filed against the University of Virginia in 2010 the school's attorneys asserted this: 
The Attorney General's opposition itself makes clear that Attorney General did not issue the civil investigative demands under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers act to investigate fraud on Commonwealth taxpayers.Rather, the CIDs were issued in an unprecedented attempt to challenge a university professor's peer reviewed data, methodologies and conclusions. But FATA does not authorize the Attorney General to police academic debate -- and it certainly does not authorize the Attorney General to target for government investigation those who conduct scientific research with which the Attorney General disagrees.
In a 41-page brief filed on July 13, 2010, Cuccinelli answered that a cadre of conspiratorial scientists, including Michael Mann who once worked at UVa., have been doctoring their conclusions for years.

Well, I am among those who accept that when the vast majority (99 percent?) of scientists say that pollution is affecting the climate in a way that's dangerous to our species that it's true. I don't believe they are making it up, just to get grants.

However, Cuccinelli has said he believes the scientists are lying, conspiring to perpetrate a hoax, and that’s basically what he was trying to find evidence of with this suit. Unfortunately for Cuccinelli, he hasn't been able to find enough Luddite judges to agree with him; not even in Virginia.  


Still, that’s how Flat-Earth Republicans operate. They pick at scabs, hoping fresh blood from yesterday’s thought-to-be-healed problems will distract Democrats so much they will lose their focus on today’s battles. 

*

Update: Perhaps self-styled climate scientist Ken Cuccinelli should go to Marysville, Indiana, and explain to the folks how climate change had nothing to do with the tornado that wiped out their town today. He might say that since real scientists can’t prove if a particular tornado was made more severe by man-made pollution, then there’s no such thing as climate change.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Bukowski on soul


"If you don't have much soul left and you know
it, you still got soul." -- Charles Bukowski
Bukowski illustration: F.T. Rea