Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Past GOP schisms: The 1994 Senate Race

The schism that is developing in the Virginia Republican Party this year is nothing new. In the past similar splits have played significant roles in deciding statewide elections. Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson are hardly the first extremists to divide the GOP along familiar ideological lines.

In the summer of 1994, with O.J. Simpson on television 'round the clock, a four-way political race developed in Virginia. Three candidates emerged to challenge the incumbent Chuck Robb for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Republican Ollie North was nominated by a convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Which prompted Marshall Coleman, a Republican former attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, to run as an Independent. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, jumped into the game as an Independent.

Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen as spoilers by many observers. The national press was all over the circus-like story of the four heavyweight candidates. In late August, I issued what was then my fourth set of collectible cards: “Campaign Inkbites: The ‘94 VA Senate Race.”

After swearing he was in the race 'til the finish, mercurial Wilder suddenly withdrew in October. Wooden Coleman stayed the course, with stubborn Sen. John Warner as his chief backer. North, ever the checkered-shirted dandy, raised and spent over $25 million; what was then a new record for the most ever in a U.S. Senate race ... any state.

In the end, the awkward Robb shook off his own scandals and outlasted them all.

As I produced the cards for the series, it was an interesting challenge to try to write lines for the dialogue balloons that would hold up for a month or two, no matter what the developments.

Beneath the 1994 newspaper article about that card collection are scans of 12 of the 15 original cards from the set. Without the context of this campaign's news being fresh, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully the caricatures are still fun to look at.

Right out of the gate, this edition was lucky with publicity: First the story below, then an AP story (with illustrations), then lots of newspapers picked that up and printed versions of it, then a five-minute report by Bob Woodruff appeared on CNN. 
Sept. 6, 1994: David Poole and Dwayne Yancey (Virginian-Pilot)
Odds and ends from the past week of Virginia's U.S. Senate campaign: I'll swap you two Doug Wilders for a Tai Collins. The colorful U.S. Senate race has spawned a set of trading cards featuring the four candidates and a host of supporting characters - including the former Miss Virginia who gave a nude massage to Chuck Robb in a New York hotel.

There’s U.S. Sen. John Warner sounding defensive about his hand-picked candidate, Marshall Coleman: “Why should I strain to name an office he hasn't sought, or an abortion stance he hasn't taken? The point is: Marshall isn't Ollie.”

There’s conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assessing the race: “The choice in Virginia is simple. You’ve got a stained, lap-dog liberal, a bleached and petulant liberal, a fair-weather conservative, and a genuine, world-class hero.”

There’s political pundit Larry Sabato reporting on the latest poll results: “Fifty-one percent said the race is so embarrassing they plan to leave the state.”

The “Campaign Inkbites” are the brainchild of F.T. Rea, a Richmond artist who a decade ago issued a similar
deck of cards commemorating a massive death-row escape at Mecklenberg Correctional Center [by the notorious Briley brothers and four others]. The set of 15 Senate cards is available at Biff’s bookstore [also at Chickens, the snack bar in the State Capitol] in Richmond for $12 a pack.

The most unflattering likeness in the set is that of Sabato, whose green skin gives him the look of a vampire.

“Ironically, he’s my best customer,” Rea said of Sabato. “He bought 12 packs.”
In all, about 250 sets of cards were sold in about seven weeks. Wisely, Sabato also bought the original artwork for his card.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Marching Against Monsanto

Here’s my video report on the March Against Monsanto in Richmond on May 25, 2013. In editing this piece I was struck with how easy it would be, given the footage I had, to make the demonstrators or the cops look better, or worse. I tried to be fair and not dwell on the angry scenes too much.

Hopefully, the viewer can see the vast majority of both groups behaved well. The demonstrators and the cops who were deliberately provocative were few in number. And, I suspect those individuals who were over-the-top confrontational have some history that played into how it went down.

Most of the shoppers in Carytown had probably never given Monsanto a thought. Now they have to wonder -- what was that all about?  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Imagine Limbaugh, Hannity and Santilli with nothing to say

The people who say they love their country but hate government, those who always say whatever they can to run down government workers, they have the right to call themselves "patriots." But then I have the right to laugh at such absurdity.

People who hate their federal, state and local governments don’t love America, they just like to say they do. They are ideologues who abhor paying taxes and covet power. They can’t stand the idea their tax money might go to benefit people they see as shiftless lowlifes, socialists or foreigners.  

Moreover, the America they claim to love doesn’t exist, it never has. It’s propaganda. Like Ronald Reagan’s Shining City, it’s pure hogwash. 

The United States of America is a country built by immigrants, waves of immigrants. Unlike most countries, and in spite of what some protestant Bible-thumpers might like to say, it doesn’t have a predominant religion. The American culture is a crazy quilt of influences, including Native-American.

In 1776 our bold forebears started the revolution business on this planet. That revolution spawned the checks-and-balances system of government we have today. That system of government is what turns the much-revered words in the Constitution and hundreds of years of legal precedents into action. 

Moreover, without spreading fear and blaming government at some level for all the trouble under the sun, today’s rightwing Republican politicians wouldn't have much to talk about. Take away spewing hate at Democrats and government workers, in general, and commentators the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Pete Santilli, etc., would have little or nothing to say. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Here's what Republicans hate more than Muslim terrorists

Terrorism became a magic word for Republicans after 9/11. The Bush administration declared war on “terrorism,” at least when it's perpetrated by Muslims. Never mind that a country can’t really declare war on a tactic, propaganda-wise, it worked like a charm.

Waving bloody shirts from the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and using a color-coded scale to keep Americans jittery, a Republican White House seized new power to spy on virtually anybody, any time. It allowed for Bush to invade countries without asking taxpayers to foot the bill. It provided cover for Bush to deal out death and torture as he pleased.

Now, a dozen years after 9/11, many Republicans seem obsessed with Benghazi. Once again, they're spewing angry words about terrorism and religion.


Because it seems the Obama administration didn‘t cite last year's raid that killed four Americans as an act of “terrorism“ with the proper verve. In the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, apparently Obama didn't rant at the terrorists with the sort of blustery passion many Republicans demand of a president.

Moreover, the State Dept., Pentagon, CIA, etc., weren't on a worldwide full-blown alert for an attack on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. So in GOP-vision Obama was not only disrespecting the so-called "lessons" of 9/11, he pretty much invited the Benghazi attack.

The only thing such Republicans hate more than Muslim terrorists is the prospect of their magic word losing its power to provoke knee-jerk anger and fear.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Napoleon in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967

A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met last year brought to mind a special movie-watching experience of mine. Later, I laughed to myself about the related eye-pain memory it had dusted off.

The conversation was with Chapin Cutler. He told me he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge in his youth. In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with that famous movie theater’s manager (I don‘t recall his name). Occasionally I talked with my counterparts at repertory cinemas/art houses in other cities about shipping prints back and forth, etc. The Orson Welles was known as a trend-setter.

Cutler also said he was working in the booth at Radio City Music Hall when I saw Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon” on October 24, 1981. He had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece in a fashion that was faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some color.

The restoration of the film was a great story, itself. It had been a 20-year project supervised by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Then the film, which had been released over the years at various lengths -- with versions that ran over five hours and some than ran under two -- was edited down to a four-hour version by Francis Ford Coppola, whose company, American Zoetrope, released it.

Just as the French filmmaker had originally envisioned, a live orchestra accompanied the silent film. It played a new score that had been written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford. The power the music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. It cost a theater a lot of money to install all the equipment it took to present it properly, with three projectors working in unison. So its first run didn’t go well. Talkies soon came along and silent films, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although he kept working on film-making projects, Gance sometimes spiraled into dark periods of despair. There was a point when he was said to have burned some of the footage from his original cut of “Napoleon.” Who knows what its true running time ought to be? I’ve read accounts that suggest Gance wanted it to run nine hours. And, he wanted to make sequels.

Eventually, Gance became somewhat obsessed with re-editing “Napoleon,” perpetually trying to transform some version of it into an important film that could be watched and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers must have seen him as a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to DeeCee and took the train to New York. During the Metroliner trip from Union Station to Penn Station I read several Charles Bukowski stories from a paperback edition of “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.” It had been purchased at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco eight months earlier that year, but I hadn‘t read much of it since the airplane trip home.

Reading several of Bukowski’s tight, briefly-told tales back-to-back on a fast-moving train really knocked me out. The feeling I had about the story called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” is still easy to conjure up. To top it off, the whole trip was part of a business project -- I was traveling on other people’s money!

My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential for “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film.

Then, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye during my walk to the theater. When the movie started I couldn’t watch it because I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my eye. It felt like a sharp-edged boulder. Since my mission was to WATCH the movie I had to do something, fast, so I went out to the lobby.

Corny as it sounds I asked the first Radio City Music Hall employee I encountered if there was a doctor in the house.

The answer was, “Yes.”

Hey this was Manhattan. Of course there was a doctor on duty to take care of medical emergencies and yes, to flush blinding cinders out of the patrons’ eyes; although the cinder had packed quite a punch, the thing actually weighed less than a pound.

The movie was spectacular. It was overwhelming. I returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters in the region.

Unfortunately, the notion of playing Gance’s greatest film in cities all over the country, accompanied by live orchestras, withered and died. When it went into general release the sound was put on the film in a conventional way. Cinemascope was used to show the triptych effect.

So the deal my bosses had in mind never materialized. Still, the new four-hour version of “Napoleon” did run at the Biograph in February of 1983, to mark the theater’s 11th anniversary. It was still impressive, but not at all what it had been like at my first viewing. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He had lived long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon.” Once again, critics were calling him a genius. Which, to me, represents a happy ending to this meandering story.   


This story is part of a series of stories at Biograph Times
All rights are reserved by the author. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Positive Vibe in the Gym: Coaches' Cook-Off

The Coaches: VCU'S Shaka Smart and UR's Chris Mooney

On April 25, 2013, Benedictine’s gym was a big roomful of positive vibes. That was the evening that saw the Coaches' Cook-Off event, as outlined here by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, fill up that Museum District's storied gymnasium at $100-a-head for a good cause.

Not having $100 for my head or anyone else’s, I went as a guest of a generous benefactor and I had a good time. Saw some old friends and witnessed a splendid event that pitted the University of Richmond’s head coach for men's basketball, Chris Mooney, against his counterpart at VCU, Shaka Smart.

The coaches hammed it up, as did anyone who could get their hands on a microphone. It was all in fun. There was more than enough good food and drink on hand. However, the contest had the coaches cooking for a panel of five judges who passed as celebrities.

Mooney’s meal was voted the winner. But the biggest smiles were on the faces of the people who organized the event and worked it. They did a great job and they had to know it. The Coaches’ Cook-Off benefited the Positive Vibe Café in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center at 2825 Hathaway Road.

If you don’t know the story behind that very special restaurant/school, then click here. Here’s a blurb from the Positive Vibe’s web site:
Since 2004, Positive Vibe Café has trained over 400 students, all with scholarships. The training program aims to prepare students for the work world and includes basic food service skills; is hands-on, builds self-confidence and readies students for real world employment. Graduates of our training program also acquire skills in cleaning and sanitizing, proper use of kitchen utensils, food safety, commercial dish washing, communication in a work place, interviewing, and job seeking. The program typically lasts four weeks and culminates with a graduation ceremony. Each graduate, in the end, is prepared for job seeking, interviewing and working in the food service industry.  

Next event: VibeFest’13.
Sun., May 19, at the restaurant, from noon until 6 p.m.

Featuring: Honky Tonk Experience, The Hullabaloos, The Taters, Blue Line Highway, The Janet Martin Band, Cardinal Compass, The Dreamers, The Sommervillians with Solomon Miles
and more.

Admission: $5. 

Images of coaches from the RT-D

GOP's 'my way or no way' style

After a shipwreck in the middle of the night 11 surviving passengers end up in a lifeboat. All are adults. At dawn the group can see two seemingly identical islands in opposite directions. To the port side is Island A, to the starboard side is Island B. No other land is in sight.

Both islands are apparently the same distance from the boat. As the group has no provisions a decision about strategy needs to be made, ASAP. When the discussion covering which way to go gets underway it is revealed that six in the group are Democrats, five are Republicans.

Eventually, the six Democrats agree to paddle toward Island A. The five Republicans bitterly disagree. They say Island B is the better choice and denounce the vote itself as, "Premature and wrongheaded." The Republicans insist upon more debate before any paddling starts.

The Democrats declare: "It's all been said and it's time to move on."

The Republicans reply: "Premature and wrongheaded, premature and wrongheaded ... premature and wrongheaded." 

The Democrats say, "Majority rules, so help us get to dry land.” The Republicans start punching holes in the boat. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

May 9, 1970: Living in the Moment

Note from Rebus: On Thursday, April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon went on television to announce that he had authorized the invasion of Cambodia. During the Saturday morning nine days later Rea drove his baby blue 1956 Cadillac to the demonstration in Washington D.C. he describes in this story. To document what would play out that day Rea took his new Ricoh 35mm single lens reflex.

Without much in the way of a plan two friends rode the 100 miles with Rea. Thousands of their fellow baby boomers did much the same. For the moment, it was the only place to be. The outpouring came in response to attacks by authorities on anti-war protests that had followed Nixon's announcement. Four students had been shot to death on the Kent State campus; two more students were killed at Jackson State. On Saturday, May 9, the demonstrators' collective sense of outrage was focused on Nixon.


The blistering heat added to the growing sense in the air that anything could happen. Before the program of speakers and singers began, as the burgeoning crowd was being funneled into the grassy ellipse south of the White House — the designated demonstration area — the morning’s temperature had already reached the upper 90s.

The White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by DC transit system buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards.

Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. In those days crowd-estimators frequently let their politics color their numbers, so there may have been 200,000 there. Home-made signs were everywhere, including a sprinkling of placards that denounced the mostly young war protesters. The smell of burning pot gave the gathering a Rock ‘n’ Roll festival feel, too.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations of that era, which were planned for weeks in advance, if not months, this time it all fell together spontaneously. Many of them had never before marched in protest or support of war, or anything else, had felt moved to drop whatever they were doing, to set out for Washington, D.C. — to live in the moment.

As a convoy of olive drab military vehicles drove into the park area many in the crowd booed. When it turned out the uniformed troops were bringing in bottled water for the thirsty, the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem that cloudless day.

After the last speaker’s presentation, the ever-present police stood by watching as thousands of citizens spilled out of the park area, to stretch a line of humanity all the way around the wall of buses. The idea in the air was that whether he liked it or not President Richard Nixon, who stayed hidden from view inside the White House, would at least hear the crowd’s anti-war chants.

The demonstration flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctively squat DeeCee buildings. Fully-equipped soldiers were crammed into basements, visible in the doorways, awaiting further orders.

Many of them must have been scared they might be ordered to fire upon their fellow Americans. If they weren't afraid that could happen, who knows what they were thinking?

Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look. A few minutes later a cheer went up because a determined kid had managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag. When the cops hauled the flag-waving disposable hero off, a commotion ensued, briefly ... only to fade into the larger commotion.  

Soon the scent of tear gas spiced the air...

The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured plenty of live music. Information booths and displays were set up by the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Voter Registrar’s office and Planned Parenthood.

Although it was not exactly a political rally the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was rather similar in its overall look to the one the day before in Washington.

As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- a 17-year-old boy -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

The photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the next day, May 11, 1970, is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the convergence of strong feelings from the extraordinary week that had preceded Cool-Aid Sunday had set the scene. Shortly before Donivan fell, I remember seeing him on the fountain, seemingly caught up in much the same spirit as the hippies climbing on statues the day before.

Without that week’s unique momentum Donivan may not have felt quite so moved to demonstrate his conquest of that old fountain. Witnesses said he was rocking it back and forth, just before it crumbled.

The way that Sunday afternoon’s be-in ended with tragedy was burned into the memory of hundreds of young Americans who had gathered outdoors, to celebrate being alive and free to pursue their happiness peacefully.

In those days the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Every night on the televised news the death counts were announced -- numbers appeared next to little flags on the screen that represented the armed forces at war. It was a time in which living in the moment was killing off the young and unlucky … wherever they were.

All rights reserved by F.T. Rea. 
This story is part of a series of stories at Biograph Times. 
Click here to read more.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Cuccinelli the Corrector

Although Virginia's sitting attorney general likes to strike the pose of a conservative, traditional kind of guy, so far he has eschewed a tradition his predecessors followed when they resigned from the AG's job, to actively campaign for governor.

Cuccinelli is Virginia's fifth straight Republican attorney general. The last Democrat was Stephen D. Rosenthal, who finished out Mary Sue Terry’s term, when she resigned to pursue the keys to the Governor Mansion in 1993. The AGs since Terry also stepped down to run for governor. Jim Gilmore and Bob McDonnell were successful. Mark Earley and Jerry Kilgore were not.

Then again, many of today's most outspoken conservatives seem happy enough to walk away from traditional Republican positions when it suits them. So, perhaps calling Cuccinelli a "right-wing ideologue" comes closer to describing his political brand or philosophy. Whether such an image will be useful to him in his gubernatorial run remains to be seen.

Three years ago I wrote a series of pieces on the then-new attorney general for Here's a blurb from the one published on May 17, 2010:
So, it’s fair to assume Cuccinelli is considering a gubernatorial run, too. Whether the sitting AG will stand aside in 2013, to let Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling have a clear path to run for governor, remains to be seen. That's what is supposed to happen, but we'll see ... However, to find Cuccinelli’s counterpart in history, perhaps we need to look further back in time, all the way back to a colorful 18th century figure — Alexander Cruden (1699-1770). Cruden is better known by his self-imposed nickname, Alexander the Corrector.
Click here to read all of "Cuccinelli the Corrector."

-- Image from 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

When patriotism means not 'helping'

It seems many extreme conservatives detest all governments. But governments at every level are made up of their neighbors -- school teachers, firefighters, park rangers, soldiers and the folks who test the water in our lakes and streams. The government haters don‘t tell us how any modern society could get along without the contributions of such workers.

Of course, the grumpiest conservatives direct their most intense hatred at elected politicians. Not all politicians, mostly their enemies. Liberals! Which means rightwingers must save some of their loathing for their fellow Americans who support liberals ... maybe those wishy-washy moderates, too.

So when such throwback conservatives say they love their country -- U! S! A! -- to some extent, what that means is they hate what they’ve been taught to hate. Moreover, patriotism means opposing anything a Democratic president wants to see done.

“In the end it didn’t pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” [Sen. Pat] Toomey admitted on Tuesday.
Click here to read more about Sen. Toomey's (R-Pa.) explanation of how that twisted sense of right-and-wrong worked to defeat a bill on background checks, post-Sandy Hook massacre prevention legislation.

And, yes, a vast majority of Americans still want to see it passed, but it seems today's most ardent conservatives don’t have much use for the concept of majority rules, either. They are cocksure the voters will have short memories.