Sunday, June 30, 2013

Let the people speak about where to play ball

During the month of July, Richmond's City Council is scheduled to decide whether to hold a referendum about where minor league baseball games should be played in the future.
On June 17, City Council President Charles Samuels called for Richmond’s voters to finally have a say in settling the matter of where to play professional baseball games. Samuels, who represents the Second District on the Council, wants an advisory referendum to be held on Election Day in November. To appreciate why that’s such a good idea, it’s helpful to look back on a bit of history:
Click here to read my OpEd piece, "Let the people speak about where to play ball," in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Click here to read a related editorial,"Boulevard of dreams," also in today's RT-D.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Snowden's Choice: Door No. 3

As the Edward Snowden story evolves it is getting steadily more difficult for me to see him in the same light as Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), the quintessential whistleblower. What Snowden has done can’t authentically be seen as civil disobedience, because he hasn’t stayed to face the music. So, Snowden is certainly no Rosa Parks on a bus in Alabama, or Muhammad Ali resisting the draft. Snowden’s tactics haven’t reminded me of other courageous whistleblowers, like Karen Silkwood (nuclear power) or Jeffrey Wigand (tobacco), either.

Once Snowden decided to go ahead and release the information he had collected, he had some choices about what to do next. Among them were:

Door No. 1: Like those listed above, he could have bravely stood his ground in the USA and faced whatever his action would bring on from the federal government.

Door No. 2: He could have stealthily disappeared and stayed hidden underground somewhere in America, or in another country. With his mission accomplished he could have vanished.

Door No. 3: He could have fled to another country, one he hoped wouldn’t extradite him, and promoted himself as a celebrity through the media.

Obviously, we know which door Snowden picked.

Of course, one is free to try to separate the worrisome surveillance issues raised by the story from Snowden himself. But much of the sudden outrage over what the NSA and other governmental agencies and their hired-gun operatives have been doing for years seems a bit like lamenting the loss of a horse that left the barn a decade ago.

Hey, I was as opposed to much of what was in the Patriot Act the Bush administration rammed through Congress. I didn't want to legalize all that spying, but authorizations or not, the digital world we live in makes it possible to spy on virtually everybody. So it is happening and today's post-Snowden accusations aren't likely to stop it. Bluster aside, personal privacy died long before Obama became president.

Maybe it feels good for folks to puff up and shriek, via Twitter and Facebook, about the Big Brother-like government looking over their shoulders. But for people who routinely use the Internet, cell phones and credit cards for the sake of convenience to squawk about the compromising of their cherished privacy is kind of silly. It's just making noise. 

Moreover, in 2013, as far as collecting data on citizens goes -- spying on us -- I worry more about what mammoth corporations might be doing than the government.

Still, I'm glad Snowden let another cat out of the bag. A better-late-than-never national conversation about surveillance issues could be a good thing. But as celebrities go, my guess is Snowden will be forgotten sooner than most of the popular contestants on television's game shows. That,  in spite of his father's attempt to play Let's Make a Deal with the Justice Dept.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Remember the Filibuster!

Texas has a new star -- Wendy Davis. Texans have a new Alamo-like battle to remember, too. 

So, in spite of what Gov. Rick Perry and the embarrassed Texas GOP do from here on, the extraordinary events in the Texas Senate -- the Wendy Davis lone-star filibuster, followed by the people’s filibuster -- will continue to teach lessons.

While flinty Republicans are likely to soon plow over what those filibusters accomplished, the genie is out of the bottle and the inspiration will be felt for a long time to come ... especially by young females.

As did many people outside of Texas (thousands? millions?), I watched the way it happened on a live YouTube video feed. In the emotion of the moment, it felt like witnessing a turning point in history. After sleeping on it, I still think it will prove to be just that. But I wish I could read what Molly Ivins would have written about this story.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Apologies Upon Demand

Political stories about impatient demands for apologies from the deeply offended are an everyday thing. It seems the surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to puff yourself up with blustery indignation and call upon a politician or a pundit to apologize.

Typically, a planted outrage story goes through its predictable cycle, which usually plays out something like this:

Player No. 1: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “War is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the battlefields of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

Player No. 2: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Player No. 1: That’s your opinion.

Player No. 2: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is true that offense was taken.

Player No. 1: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

Player No. 2: What have they got to do with this?
Player No. 1: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind them of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

Player No. 2: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

Player No. 1: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm. I demand a full and unqualified apology, immediately. And your elitist opinions about movies are only making it worse.

Player No. 2: Does saying “war is heck” make it any better?

Player No. 1: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists, is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

Player No. 2: The First Amendment says you can't put blasphemy and treason in the same sentence. How about I phrase it this way?: “War is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

Player No. 1: You’d only be emboldening the enemy.

Player No. 2: To hell with the enemy!

Player No. 1: Better, now we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Baseball stadium referendum; a needed dose of direct democracy

Charles Samuels has come up with a idea that could do much to settle the issue of where to play professional baseball games in the city of Richmond. Or, where not to play those games. And, since that issue has been flapping in the breeze for over 10 years, why wouldn’t the best solution be to let the voters weigh in on it?

Samuels, who is the Second District’s representative on City Council, and the President of the body, said in an email released from his office yesterday that on June 24th he will propose a referendum be held in November that will put the question of baseball stadium location before the voters. He wants it on the election day ballot

Having followed this issue since I first wrote about it for 12 years ago -- samples: herehere and here (there are plenty more but those links should do) -- I am delighted to say that I support Samuels’ bold initiative. While it won’t settle every issue associated with minor league baseball, in my view the results of the referendum would be likely to finish off the persistent push to stuff a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom. 

On the other hand, for any number of reasons, there will be some number of people who will oppose the referendum idea; oppose it with a passion. A portion of them will be happy to tell you exactly why. Some will say this a decision that elected representatives ought to make. Problem is -- that hasn't worked.

Others will criticize the referendum, while hiding their motives; they will try to nitpick the referendum solution to death. Most of those hidden agendas will be more about politics and real estate values than baseball. Those agendas will be more self-serving and shortsighted than anything else. 

To paraphrase Matthew 7:15 and 7:16: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their poppycock.


Yes, I'm all for it. After a decade of back and forth debate, why not a shot of direct democracy? Straight up ... no chaser.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Samuels calls for baseball stadium referendum

Good news came to me by way of email today. That doesn't happen often. You see, I call it good news because I began calling for a referendum over where to play baseball in Richmond in 2009.

Then the point SEEMED to have become moot, when the big push to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom fizzled. But the curious notion of stuffing a minor league baseball stadium into the Bottom wasn't as dead as it seemed, it didn't stay in its grave.

Now, with renewed talk in the air about moving pro baseball away from its North Boulevard home turf (since 1954), Councilman Charles Samuels has decided that he wants the voters to weigh in, at long-last, to provide some guidance to City Council.

Accordingly, Samuels will call for a referendum to settle the issue at Monday's City Council meeting (June 24). The message below (with its two attachments) is from Samuels:
The Honorable Charles R. Samuels, Councilman, North Central 2nd Voter District

Regarding: Richmond City-Wide Referendum on Baseball Stadium

Richmond, Virginia U.S.A.) – "Today I am releasing, prior to Richmond City Council formal introduction, draft versions of the necessary Council legislation to start the process for a Richmond City-Wide Referendum to be added to the November ballot. The referendum will help Richmond City Council to determine where the residents of Richmond wish a baseball stadium to be located. This legislation will be introduced during the Richmond City Council Formal Meeting on Monday, June 24, 2013. The question on the referendum boils down to this:

Do the citizens of Richmond want baseball to remain on Boulevard?

The purpose of releasing this legislation prior to its formal introduction is to encourage public comment and dialogue. I invite interested residents to submit their comments by email, mail, fax or telephone but I would appreciate written comments."

[To be] INTRODUCED: June 24, 2013


To prohibit the use of City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium.

Patron – President Samuels

Approved as to form and legality by the City Attorney


WHEREAS, baseball has been played in the City of Richmond at The Diamond, at 3001 North Boulevard, since 1985; and

WHEREAS, in recent years, considerable discussion in the Richmond region has revolved around whether a new baseball stadium should be built at a location in the city other than in the North Boulevard area, such as the Shockoe Bottom area of the city; and

WHEREAS, all proposals to date for a new baseball stadium to replace the Diamond have included participation with regard to financing and real estate by the City; and

WHEREAS, the City has the power to sell, lease, dispose of City-owned real estate and to control and regulate the use and management of City-owned real estate pursuant to section 2.03(g) of the Charter of the City of Richmond (2010), as amended, and the power to acquire, own and make use of real estate pursuant to section 18.01 of the Charter of the City of Richmond (2010), as amended; and

WHEREAS, in the opinion of the Council of the City of Richmond, it is in the best interests of the city of Richmond that no City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west shall be used for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium;


§ 1. That no City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west shall be used for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium.

§ 2. This ordinance shall be in force and effect upon adoption.


[To be] INTRODUCED: June 24, 2013


To order the submission to the qualified voters of the City of Richmond of Ord. No. 2013-___, concerning a prohibition on the use of City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium for an advisory referendum thereon.

Patron – President Samuels

Approved as to form and legality by the City Attorney


WHEREAS, Ordinance No. 2013-___, introduced on June 24, 2013, proposes to prohibit the use of City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium; and

WHEREAS, in accordance with section 3.06.1 of the Charter of the City of Richmond (2010), as amended, the Council of the City of Richmond is authorized to request the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond to order the submission of any proposed ordinance to the qualified voters of the City of Richmond for an advisory referendum thereon;


1. That the Council determines that it is advisable and in the best interests of the City of Richmond to conduct an advisory referendum on the following question: Should the City Council of the City of Richmond adopt Ordinance No. 2013-___ to prohibit the use of City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium?

2. That to that end, the Council hereby orders, and requests that the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond order, that an advisory referendum be conducted on the particular question stated above, it being the desire of the Council that the referendum take place in conjunction with the next general election on November 5, 2013.

3. That the City Attorney is directed to file a certified copy of this resolution with the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond and to take all other necessary action with regard thereto, including, but not necessarily limited to, forwarding a certified copy of this resolution, along with other supporting documentation, to the United States Department of Justice for approval of the advisory referendum pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To contact Samuels about this matter call him at: (804) 646-6532; or send him an email at:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Where the Frisbees Landed

This is the art for the 2013 GRFGA T-shirt, celebrating the 38th summer of Frisbee-golf for our group in Richmond. Click on the art to enlarge it.

On the heavy duty 100 percent cotton shirts, which will be your choice of either an athletic gray or a military olive, short or long sleeve, this black and white image will be about 10" wide. Send me an email if you want one.

"Where  the Frisbees Landed" is also the name of a history of our group that is in the works. Here's how it starts out:
Like particular notes blend to create harmony, a perfectly released shot combines factors. Among them are the proper grip, the thrower’s weight-shift from back foot to front, and most importantly -- the angle, timing and righteousness of the snap. Once it’s on its way, spinning in flight, the magic of sudden breezes often determines just where the Frisbee will land.  

During the summer of 1976,when I was playing Frisbee-golf on a course laid out around a lake in Byrd Park, I certainly had no sense the game itself would matter to me decades later. It was new to me then. Three of us simply agree upon which trees to aim at. Then we counted the strokes it took to hit them from a certain spot.

After 37 years I’m still an avid Frisbee-golfer. These days I play what my younger colleagues call “disc golf” on Sunday mornings and on most weekday afternoons. Without membership cards or dues, our group of regulars plays all year round, weather permitting. At times, we’ve shrugged off what problems blizzards and hurricanes have thrown our way. Since 1978 our group has been known as the Greater Richmond Frizbee-golf Association. More about the name later.

Frisbee-golf began in Southern California in the late-’60s, when a visionary designer/marketer at Wham-O, Ed Headrick (1924-2002), created/codified the pastime. Headrick eventually became totally devoted to the game he is credited with having invented. In the beginning Headrick used discs already being made by Wham-O. Later discs designed for the game came into use.

Of his game’s first 25 years “Steady Ed” Headrick observed: “Thus we have a new generation of young and old whom we can welcome into our home, our parks, and yes our lives, with confidence and open arms. The vast majority set examples for others on a daily basis. They share their lives, teach other and most of all, they clean up other people’s trash.”

Likewise, our group plays its version of disc golf in public parks on unmarked courses without leaving a trace that we’ve been there ... except that we tend to pick up trash we find. There are no baskets or tee boxes. When we encounter picnics and other scenes that might be in a fairway, we pick a different tree to shoot at and avoid the clash. 

Ol’ Crush No. 3 was an orange Super Pro Frisbee (133 grams) that was the only tool 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.

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. And, yes, old golf discs are collected and sold via the Internet.
To be continued.

More fun than a barrel full of spies

When it came to spies Prohias nailed it.

When Republicans wholeheartedly supported the Patriot Act and other spy-on-everybody authorizations after 9/11, they must have thought Bush would be followed by another Republican, and another, etc.

After all, their strategy then -- as directed by Karl Rove -- was to create a permanent Republican majority. So, in those cowering days of color-coded fear alerts, there was no problem with giving the executive branch such extraordinary power … oops!

Speaking of colors, watching the purple outrage over being spied upon pouring across my Facebook news feed has been mostly funny, to me. Yes, exhibitionists who are fine with exposing themselves online all day long, getting their secret feathers ruffled because Obama’s NSA is listening to their “private” conversations on their cell phones (which are basically two-way radios), seems quite laugh-worthy.

In 2013, are the Republicans the spies dressed in white or black?  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Too much Newtown info? Don't click here

Photo: Washington Post
Friday, June 14, is flag day. It’s also the six-month anniversary of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

At this point, after all that's been said about that mind-boggling tragedy, what should we remember most about it? What is most important to mark as essential? And, what upsetting details should we be glad are already fading from our memories?

Do we need to count Sandy Hook Elementary School's dead students and teachers, again?

Twenty kids; six adults.

Is it necessary to say again how many bullets the shooter fired in the four-minute killing spree?


When considering the cynical political ramifications of the bloodbath’s aftermath, must we shake our heads in frustration, again? For our own sakes, do we really need to try, AGAIN, to understand what the heartbroken families of those lost first-graders have been going through?

Regardless of your political persuasion, the answers to the last two questions are: Yes and yes. And, considering what subject matter Eli Saslow was writing about in his piece for the Washington Post, “After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet,” there were any number of ways -- as a writer -- he could have swerved out of control and run into a ditch.

Yet, that doesn’t happen.

Still, that doesn’t mean Saslow’s excellent article is for everybody. If you can’t read anything longer than a blurb, forget it. If, on Friday, you don’t want to lower the flag in your heart to half-mast -- remembering the face of a little boy (Daniel Barden, pictured above) who ran along side his school bus, to race it each morning -- then better not to click here

Can't remember the last time I thought something ought to win a Pulitzer Prize immediately after reading it in a newspaper, but I sure did on this one.   

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Flashback: The 2006 Blog Summit in Charlottesville

The site of the gathering was Saunders Hall

It’s been seven years since I attended what was billed as a Blog Summit. It was held on the University of Virginia's campus. The two-day event unfolded under the auspices of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.

In some ways it seems much longer ago, especially in the context of the development of social media. Most of us, then, didn‘t realize we were already near the end of what was a Golden Era.

One day someone (WCVE?) should put together a documentary film on that rather optimistic era. Focusing on that "summit" meeting, in particular, would be a good way to gather what was the spirit of the blogosphere in 2006. 

Click on the links below to read some of SLANTblog’s coverage of the Sorensen‘s unusual event. Although many of the links within the stories below are dead, not all of them are.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Monsanto's legacy of hidden dangers

Guys my age, who have friends who were poisoned in Vietnam by Agent Orange, don’t necessarily think of scary wheat when we hear the name Monsanto. No, we’re more likely to be reminded of the unlucky veterans who came home from the war to become the parents of children born with severe birth defects.

The wheelchair-bound daughter of one of my friends gets a monthly check from the federal government, because of what happened to her father during the Vietnam War.

After stonewalling for decades, in the late-‘90s the government finally admitted the connection between exposure to Monsanto’s Agent Orange and veterans’ children born with spina bifida (and other conditions) was undeniable.

Trusting Monsanto to know the hidden dangers of its products was foolish in the ’60s. Given its record and legacy, it’s even more foolish today.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Big Stretch

This piece first appeared in STYLE Weekly as a Back Page in 2002. The Dorothy Parker illustration was done in 2013.

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

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

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

A couple of days later, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had was an updated version of my invention. This one was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch. No one at school had seen it and I was only too happy to change that.

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

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

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

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

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

It was over.

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular.

Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go. Since then, when people say, “ku-ul,” usually it's to express their ordinary approval of routine things.

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

Cool has always been elusive, never easy to corral. In the early-1960s, it was essential to grasp that a copycat could never be but so cool.

Words and art by F.T. Rea. 
This is part of a series of stories (a work in progress) 
at Biograph Times. All rights are reserved.