Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Society needs fewer massacres

Those of us who are in favor of banning assault rifles and large magazines are seeking to balance the needs of society with the needs of individuals. Striking that balance, properly, is how freedom is supposed to work in the USA. The pursuit of your happiness can't just trample my pursuit of happiness.

For the individuals who like them, military rifles designed for combat and big clips may be fun things to use and possess. But civilians don’t need them for hunting or protection. There are plenty of reasonable options that will fill those needs.

Whereas, society needs fewer massacres. 

So, you say you need an assault rifle to fight the government or an invasion of zombies? Like, you're stocking up provisions for your bunker, to be ready for the day you need to go Rambo?

Rather than needing military weaponry, you need better taste in movies.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Bounce

To organize the 347 programs there are 32 Division I conferences in NCAA men‘s college basketball. There are just two teams that are independents, operating with no conference affiliation.

A glance at today’s RPI (CBS Sports) shows that half of those conferences have at least one team in the top 60. On Selection Sunday (Mar. 17) schools not in the top 60 then will have little or no chance of getting an at-large invitation to the Big Dance. Teams in the 40s and 50s of the RPI that don’t win their conference’s tournament, to get an automatic bid, are the ones we tend to see as being “on the bubble.”

Four D-I conferences have just one team on the list of 60: Mid-American; Ohio Valley; Patriot; Sun Belt. Three of the leagues have two teams: Conference USA; West Coast; Western Athletic.

That leaves nine conferences with three or more teams in today‘s top 60. They are: Big East w/9; A-10 w/7; Big 10 w/7; Big 12 w/5; SEC w/5; Mt. West w/5; Pac 12 w/5; ACC w/4; Mo. Valley w/3.

ACC fans may not like to think of their favorite league as being the eighth best in D-I, but that’s exactly how it looks today.

March Madness-wise, this may not be such a good year for college basketball fans in the Commonwealth of Virginia, either. The only in-state team currently in the RPI top 60 is VCU at No. 36. So, with UVa. sitting at No. 73 and Richmond at No. 78, both have some work to do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

AP Poll: VCU No. 24


In the new Top 25 lists published today, both the AP Poll and Coaches Poll have VCU (21-5, 9-2 in A-10) ranked at No. 24. In case you haven't noticed, the Rams are having another pretty good season. The Associated Press says:
VCU was the only newcomer to the poll this week. The Rams, who had been out of the rankings the last three weeks, moved in at No. 24. The only team to fall out of the rankings was Kentucky, which was No. 25 and dropped out after losing [to] Florida and Tennessee last week.
Meanwhile, in both polls the team just outside the list of 25 -- among those also receiving votes -- the first team mentioned is Saint Louis (19-5, 8-2 in A-10), meaning the Billikens are essentially No. 26.

Currently the Rams are a half-game ahead of the Billikens in the A-10. The two teams will face one another in St. Louis on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

What's a Billiken, anyway?

Go here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Like Mike? No thanks

Please count me among those who could hardly care less that former NBA star Michael Jordan has turned 50.

Is Jordan the best pro athlete born on Feb. 17? Maybe, but Jim Brown was a pretty good football player in his day. Jim is 77 today, in case you want to celebrate. However, not unlike Mike, Jim’s troubled life away from his sport has not been particularly heroic or all that worth emulating.

Since Paris Hilton, Huey Newton, Wally Pipp and many other Americans with Wikipedia pages were also born on Feb. 17, Jordan may not be the most significant modern celebrity to have come into the world on that date. And, the list of well known people who were also born in 1963, like Mike, is way too long to even think about.

So, by way of much sports news hype, we know that Mr. Hanes Nike Gatorade Rayovac Ball-Park-Franks has turned 50 today. 

So what!  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Where the Frisbee Landed

The Carillon's stairway up to a tee

Post No. 2: Designing and naming  
(Read Post No. 1 here.)

The concept of Frisbee-golf came to us from a friend of Stew’s who worked with him at Sam Miller’s, a popular restaurant/night club in a part of Richmond’s downtown called Shockoe Slip. The friend, who was called “Muh,” was from California.

In 1976 Larry worked the night shift. He and I were both 28. Stew, who was probably 22, was a student/bartender and I managed a movie theater. So we three had lots of time available in the afternoon to devote to improving our skills at the game. As we walked the loop around Shield's Lake, occasionally we made changes to improve the course. That basically meant moving a tee or changing the target object. Different styles of throwing were tested.

At one time the same site had served Richmonders as a giant swimming pool with diving boards. The public swimming era had ended abruptly some 20 years before this time, so we had the area to ourselves on many of those afternoons spent developing our customs. Larry kept a little notebook in which he recorded all the scores. He also made notes about the weather and any other noteworthy occurrences or oddities.

The Frisbees we used then all floated, so when they landed in the water, we easily fished them back out with a hook and line. As we were using a public space we were careful not to be intrusive on picnicking families. Our courses have never been marked in any way, so when we leave the park it hasn't been changed ... expect for the trash we find and pick up. 

It’s likely we started calling the first course The Lake in 1977, once we started playing our second nine-hole course in another part of Byrd Park. The second course was close to The Carillon, so that’s what we called the second nine. Like the first course we configured it with four par threes, four par fours and one par five.

By this time we had about a dozen guys playing regularly. At this point we were only throwing discs made by Wham-O, like the All American model and a couple of others even smaller. We didn’t allow any discs heavier than 115 grams. One point of that restriction was to distance ourselves from other groups we’d seen playing the game. From our vantage point we saw them as being too serious about Frisbee-golf.

Essentially, the initial trips to the park to throw Frisbees at trees were just impromptu jaunts, something to do while we smoked pot and laughed at whatever seemed funny.

Yes, in those early days, marijuana smoking was associated with the game which was being played by outdoorsy hippies. Of course that changed long ago. Like, decades. Now I can say with confidence aplenty that few, if any, modern disc golfers anywhere smoke weed while they pursue their happiness slinging plastic discs at targets.

Early on, our group decided to make up and follow our own rules for the game. We had become aware there was a national governing body that was seeking to regulate disc golf and we wanted no part of such a thing. So our rules were and they remain a little quirky.

Early on, we also outlawed gambling money on the game, which was probably one of our best decisions. That rule still stands.

When we organized and set up our first tournament, it was an invitational affair in the spring of 1978. We rented the picnic shelter at Shields Lake from the parks department and threw a party with lots of food and a (discreetly hidden) keg of beer. Maybe 50 people attended and half of them played the 27 holes of that singles tournament. That meant playing nine at The Carillon and 18 at The Lake.

Larry won, Stew came in second and I placed third. No doubt Larry was pleased with that victory but our group was much more concerned with who held the course records than who was the reigning singles champ. That all came later. That first tournament was much more of a party than it was an athletic competition.

However, the name of our group came from that first tournament. For the event I had drawn up a handbill-style invitation and had also made a scoreboard out of cardboard that mimicked the scoreboards for ball golf tournaments. To stretch the association further, I wrote Greater Richmond Frizbee-Golf Association at the top of the scoreboard in Magic Marker ink.

That same weekend the professional ball golfers on tour were playing a tournament called The Greater Greensboro Open. So I was mocking that televised event, hoping for cheap laughs. At the time there was no intention on my part to name the group with that gesture.

Actually, no one in particular called our group by that name, or its acronym, until a second group of friends with a new nine-hole course in Libby Hill Park sought to establish a rivalry with us.

Over the summer of 1978, by trial and error our burgeoning group designed what we intended to be our most challenging set of nine links at Maymont, a park (with a creek and some wild animals) adjacent to Byrd Park. Again, the par was set at 33, but the new course had more hills and was a good deal longer.

Consequently, the use of 133-gram Super Pros became accepted. Thus we unwittingly signed onto the bandwagon pursuit of power and distance that has driven the game's equipment evolution ever since.

Super Pros were used in the second GRFGA singles tournament, which was won by Jack in the fall of 1978. The 27 holes played in that championship incorporated all three of the group's courses. This established the tradition of playing the 27-hole singles tournament twice a year, which is still observed.

These were still hippie times and the GRFGA's members were not particularly interested in being missionaries to spread their game/pastime to the masses.

-- Photo and words by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where the Frisbee Landed

Post No. 1: Frisbee Friends

After I started playing Frisbee-golf in Byrd Park in the summer of 1976 I soon grew to love the game. Still, as my Frisbee friends and I played that first course around a lake in a public park I certainly had no sense then of how important the game itself would prove to be for me in time. Now, over 36 years later, I still play on Sunday mornings and on weekday afternoons, when I can and weather permits.  

So, in all those years of throwing Frisbees at trees in the park (no baskets, we still throw at objects), I’ve thrown a good number of different flying discs. In use, some of them became favorites I remember fondly. Some even earned nicknames.

Ol’ Crush No. 3 was an orange Super Pro Frisbee (133 grams) that was the only disc I used in winning two consecutive singles tournaments in 1979. That has to  make it my all-time favorite of many Super Pros I’ve had. I still use one for most of my putts.

Had an orange Eclipse in the late-'90s that I called Tom Matte, after an old football player from yesteryear (Baltimore Colts), who played various positions on offense.

With the evolution of the game, new styles of discs have superseded some that were in wide usage 20 and 30 years ago.  So some of my favorite models from yesteryear can’t be easily replaced today, because they aren‘t being made anymore. 

Now I usually carry five or six discs with me as I play. Each is used for a specific type of shot. Most of my fellow disc golfers carry more equipment in their golf bags than I do. Toting a dozen or more discs is not unusual. 

Before taking up Frisbee-golf, originally with two friends, Larry and Stew, I hadn’t had more than a casual interest in throwing and catching flying discs. I surely had never thought of a Frisbee as a piece of sporting equipment, like a ball or a bat. Yet, once there was a specific target to aim at, instead of just tossing it back and forth, I fell in love with throwing Frisbees and watching them fly.

For those who've never seen disc golf it's played much like its predecessor, ball golf. We tee off at an appointed spot and keep throwing until we hit the designated target. The player who accomplishes the feat in the fewest shots wins the hole. Like other terms from ball golf, "hole" is used, but there are no literal holes in the ground.

When we designed our first nine-hole course, Larry and Stew were both better than I was at the game of Frisbee-golf. Eventually, I caught up.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Flashback: A Beer with Mayor Kaine

Note: The piece below, "A Beer with the Mayor," was written by yours truly and published by on Sept. 29, 2000. Tim Kaine has come a long way since then.
As an observer of matters political, when I learned of Tim Kaine's interest in running for lieutenant governor, it got my attention. Having been favorably impressed with his performance as mayor of Richmond, I was curious about his plans. To get some answers, and to get a feel for Kaine as a player, I asked him to set aside some time to meet with me and spend a few minutes talking politics.

The busy councilman/attorney was kind enough to agree to get together on what is familiar turf for me - the Baja Bean at Friday happy hour.

Kaine and I sat down at a small table and the waitress took our order; a Rolling Rock for me and a Miller for the mayor. I was glad to see, as a good Democrat, he ordered a beer and not a Slice - the soft drink he has been seen shilling for in local television commercials.

Once we got past the normal exchange of introductory folderol, I asked him why he wanted to be lieutenant governor. He pointed out that he hadn't officially announced his candidacy, but conceded he was looking hard at running. Then he cut to the chase: He admitted that his long-range sights are on the governor's chair.

He went on to say that for a number of reasons, the lieutenant governor's job seemed like the best move for him to make at this time.

Most of us would probably agree that in politics, little - if anything - is more important than timing.

In July, the sudden withdrawal of state Sen. Emily Couric of Charlottesville - the presumed Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor - threw the door open for Kaine, as well as two others who are reportedly testing the waters: Del. Jerrauld Jones of Norfolk and Del. Alan Diamonstein of Newport News.

Essentially, Kaine indicated he likes the looks of the part-time position of lieutenant governor because it would allow him to move on and up, yet stay in Richmond.
He said he thinks eight years on City Council will be enough for him. He puts value in being able to remain in his Richmond home, to spend time with his wife and three children, ages 5 through 10.

As far as his agenda is concerned, Kaine pointed to education as his chief interest and what would surely be at the center of any campaign of his for statewide office.

"Virginia is deeply underfunded in education, K through 12," says the mayor with the assurance of a man who can back up what he just said.

He explained that Virginia's Republicans - in order to strike the populist pose of tax-cutters - have shifted a greater portion of the burden of the cost for public education to the localities. They did this by cutting local taxes, such as the car tax, rather than income taxes. So while we are in a time of general prosperity, the cities and counties are hurting for revenue even as the Commonwealth remains flush.

Beyond education, Kaine is already on record as a supporter of tougher controls on access to handguns and other common-sense measures to restrict exotic weapons. As well, he intends to run against the death penalty. In his view, taking what I'd call a progressive stand on these issues will play better across the state than some would argue.

His Republican opponent, should Kaine secure his party's nomination, will likely characterize those positions as liberal. But Kaine doesn't flinch at the prospect. It is his reading that such positions on guns and the death penalty are consistent with mainstream thinking in Virginia today.
Cheerfully, he told me it's his intention to run on what he believes. He hopes to win. If he loses, he'll be happy to go on to live the good life of a successful attorney and family man. I gathered that he wants to be governor one day, but he doesn't need to be governor at all costs.

"I like public service. And I think I'm good at it," Kaine says.

When time permits, he plans to stump for Chuck Robb. He'll put off any official announcement concerning his own running for office until after November's general election.

I do have one bit of free advice for Richmond's savvy and genial mayor: He should make that silly Slice commercial the last of its ilk. Although it may have seemed harmless when the prospect was pitched to him, as it appears on TV, the gesture comes off as bush league (not a whit of reference to anybody named Bush is intended), even if it's not inappropriate.

Maybe an eager police chief, even a small-market mayor, does it for a laugh. But in my view, it's not the sort of thing a Virginia governor does.

Or, maybe I'm being a stick in the mud.

Nonetheless, I suspect Tim Kaine has a bright future in politics. His grasp of the circumstances in which he is operating sounds sure. His natural confidence in his own view of the political landscape strikes me as refreshing. He comes off as a man who does his own thinking, and his sense of purpose seems genuine.

If Tim does get as far as the governor's mansion, I hope he'll still find the time to have a cold beer and talk politics at happy hour.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Feb.11: Biograph Theatre's 41st anniversary

"Matinee Madcap," a nine-minute homage to one-reel silent comedies, was shot in 16mm at the Biograph Theatre in 1974. It was shown there almost too many times.

On February 11, 1972, Richmonders got their first dose of a Biograph party. That was the day of the Biograph Theatre's invitational opening, which offered a screening of "King of Hearts" (1966) and all the champagne you could drink. It was wall-to-wall film buffs, scenesters, media folk and so-called beautiful people.

Chuck Wrenn called this morning to wish me a happy 41st anniversary. As always, it was fun to hop aboard the Wayback Machine for a few minutes with my old friend. 

In its first year of operation at 814W. Grace St. the optimistic Biograph, which billed itself as a repertory cinema, presented over 200 different feature-length films. That year's avalanche of movies and new associations proved to be an eye-opening education for the somewhat cocky kid who was the Biograph's 24-year-old manager.

Fast forward to December of 1987: With the Golden Age of Repertory Cinema already in the rear-view mirror, the exhausted Biograph closed its doors forever.

During its run, that little independent movie house not only encouraged us dreamers to seek out a world outside of Richmond's traditional limitations, it focused our attention on subtle details that tattooed our minds with images. For some who poured our time into watching light move on a screen at 814W. Grace St. those
images still have the power to enlighten. 

Like me, Chuck was on the Biograph's staff for its opening. To follow suit, I want to wish everyone who worked at the Biograph -- with just two exceptions -- a happy 41st. And, please don't forget to have a good time.

Here are links to some stories about the Biograph at a web site of mine called Biograph Times:
OK, about the two exceptions. One of them was an usher who got fired after wigging out and roughing up a cashier at one of the mid-'70s Christmas parties. The other was a projectionist whose name I still don't speak or write. Warning: the story of that dark episode is not happy nostalgia. Still want to read it? Go here -- The Jellypig

Want even more? There are plenty of other stories at that web site.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Shills Protecting Thrills


Don't tell me most of America’s mass-murdering shooters would simply have switched over to bombs, or poison, if they couldn't have gotten a hold of their favorite tools.

Those killers craved the raw thrill of shooting rapid-fire weapons at living people so much they finally did it. Killers they were, but they weren't bombers or poisoners. They were shooters.

While Wayne LaPierre and the rest of the shills for the firearms industry talk incessantly about protecting constitutional rights, the angle they don't want to discuss is protecting thrills ... real and imagined.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

No More Taylor to Blame at ODU

Why would ODU fire its top-winning men's basketball coach of all-time?

Well, some might say Blaine Taylor has been such a nasty combination of a tedious whiner and a swaggering braggart over the years that all he needed was one bad season to get bounced out of Norfolk. The Monarch’s current 2-20 mark certainly qualifies as a ba-ad season. 
While at first glance the firing isn't a surprise given the team's record, you'd expect a coach who has achieved so much—as Taylor has at ODU, leading them to the NCAA tournament four times and a first-round win three years ago—to be able to survive a single wilderness campaign. After all, under Taylor's leadership the Monarchs have finished with 20 or more wins six times (including the past four seasons) and he's the all-time ODU wins leader.
Read this short piece in Deadspin and be sure to watch the rather strange video.

VCU Rams fans remember "Blame" Taylor as their favorite guy to mock (click here for another laugh at Taylor's expense).