Thursday, August 29, 2013

Remembering Lies That Led to Wars

 Sec. of Defense Robert S. McNamara lying through his teeth in 1964.

With the drumbeat for war sounding as you read this post, it's worthwhile to remember that sometimes a president’s advisers have lied to him with devastating consequences.

For instance, I don’t believe Johnson thought up the bogus information that led to the Gulf on Tonkin Resolution in August of 1964, which led to a massive escalation of the Vietnam War. Somebody else made it up ... then Johnson decided to believe it, or pretend to believe it.

The same goes with Bush; with regard to Iraq, he didn’t make up the weapons of mass destruction "evidence" that proved later to have been based on lies. No, he lacked the imagination to have dreamed all that stuff up. For whatever reasons, somebody else fabricated the lies Bush heard and then-Sec. of State Colin Powell repeated to the United Nations in February of 2003.

Now I wonder who is lying to Obama about what’s happened in Syria … and who is telling him the truth. Moreover, although I am an unqualified Obama supporter, I wonder if he -- as other presidents before him were -- is being tempted to believe convenient lies.

Of course I don’t know what has happened in Syria, to do with chemical weapons attacks. Some people are acting like they do, but I’m old and I’ve seen that sort of thing before. And, as long as big shots in the USA think Uncle Sam should go on being the world’s policeman, there will always be provocations -- both real and imagined.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Justice for Toots

Toots Hibbert, the legendary lead singer of Toots and the Maytals, wants justice. He wants to see the culprits pay. The culprits in this case include all of the people he holds responsible for the injuries he sustained during a live performance in Richmond on May 18, 2013.

That night, while on a Brown’s Island stage at the Dominion Riverrock festival, Hibbert (pictured above) was struck in the head by a flying bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

William Connor Lewis, 19, a college student who lives in Henrico County, was arrested and has been charged with being the bottle-thrower. Accordingly, on June 4, Hibbert, 67, filed a $21 million lawsuit against Lewis. On top of the lawsuit, Lewis is facing a felony malicious wounding charge.

More recently, according to a second Richmond Times-Dispatch article, Hibbert has filed a $20 million lawsuit against local entities his lawyers believe they can show are also culpable, in that their negligence facilitated the incident in which Hibbert was injured. Those named in the new lawsuit include Venture Richmond and the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers.

Who knows how this will be settled?

Well, due to his unfortunate accuracy with throwing a bottle Lewis is probably looking at doing some time. How much is anybody's guess. But it’s most likely the lawsuit part of this story will end with settlements in both cases. The figures will probably be less than $21 million and $20 million, respectively.

Those two numbers were the opening salvos of battles that will play out in the months ahead. No doubt, how seriously Hibbert was injured will be important. What his losses have been and can be anticipated to be will be considered. Eventually, all the lawyers will come to some sort of agreement. That’s how matters like this are handled in our society.

Instead of throttling the people he holds responsible for his troubles, or merely sucking it up and going away, Hibbert is relying on the American legal system to deliver up some justice.

Nonetheless, if you read the comments under the RT-D article about the most recent lawsuit, it appears some people think the money is excessive, so now those named in the lawsuits as defendants are the true victims.


Moreover, it appears some of the RT-D's readers are so twisted they see Toots Hibbert as a con man for turning to courts for relief. Comments also mention what good people the local promoters of the ill-fated concert are, as if that matters when considering their possible culpability.

OK, I’m not really all that surprised. Crazy, bitter people frequently dominate the comments sections under newspaper articles. In this instance I’m just glad I don’t know any of them (so far).

What has been surprising has been the similar comments on Facebook from people I do know. Some of them are my so-called "friends" who are exposing an ignorance, or perhaps a prejudice, that has been quite surprising. They ought to know better ... or at least pretend they do. 

-- Image from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Saturday, August 24, 2013

From STYLE Weekly: Looking back and looking ahead

By coincidence the STYLE Weekly has mentioned yours truly twice this week. One of the articles is about the past and the other is about the future.

The first link will take you to "Exile on Grace Street" by Rich Griset. It's a brief glance back to the days during which the hippies and then the punks ruled on Grace St. Those were also the days when I managed the Biograph Theatre.

By the way, in the comments below that piece, there's a list I've never seen before. It purports to have all Bruce Springsteen's live performances in Richmond in the late-1960s and early-'70s on it. As it was posted by VCU's Ray Bonis, it's probably accurate. 

The second link will take you to "Parrish leaving the James River Film Society" by Brent Baldwin. In telling how James Parrish has stepped down as co-honcho of the JRFS, it offers a smattering of information about the new movie theater project with which I am involved -- the Bijou Film Center.

If you're interested in more local pop culture nostalgia from the '70s and '80s, click on this link to look at Biograph Times. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The worst part of the GOP's scandal problem?

When the snowballing Uncle Jonnie’s Rolex scandal or Gov. Bob McDonnell’s disapproval rating are mentioned, about all any Republican spokesperson in Virginia can manage to say is: Yes, tsk-tsk, all the politicians accept gifts/money under the table.

The pathetic all-the-kids-are-doing-it excuse? That's all they seem to have.

Just as too many Republicans appear to be blind to the truth that both the Tea Party's and Ken Cuccinelli's popularity are shriveling steadily, in 2013 they can’t even bring themselves to say: Yes, the McDonnells are a stunningly tacky couple.

And, maybe the worst part of this year's scandal problem for Virginia Republicans is that for Gov. McDonnell to step down it would automatically upgrade Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling -- the same guy the Cooch stabbed in the back -- which would do the statewide Republican ticket no good whatsoever. 

Should the governor go away? Or should he serve out his term?

As far as November 5th goes, it probably doesn't matter.

Movies About Making Movies

A new Five Film Favorites column is up at the Bijou Backlight. This Thursday's edition is on movies about making movies.

Maybe you have a favorite film about filmmaking? Click here to see if it's on the list.

The Bijou Backlight is a new blogzine devoted to appreciating film in all of its forms. I am serving as its editor. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unvarnishing Virginia History

Note: The piece below was originally published by STYLE Weekly in 2007. The recent chatter about a giant Confederate flag waving over a highway into Richmond made me want to post it here. A few years ago, a retired educator gave me the history book mentioned in the piece. I hope he enjoys seeing what his gift inspired.


Having grown up in Richmond, I've been steeped in its dual sense of bitterness and pride over matters to do with, and stemming from, the Civil War. Perhaps thinned out somewhat by time, it remains in the air we breathe at the fall line of the James River.

Most of my life has been spent in the Fan District, which is home to four statues honoring heroes of the Confederacy. Beyond monuments, to know what it was like in Richmond in the past, we look to history. It comes to us in many ways — stories told, popular culture and schooling among them.

In 1961, my seventh-grade history book, which was the official history of Virginia for use in all public junior high schools — as decreed by the General Assembly — had this to say about slavery at the end of its Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.
In 1961 I had no reason to question that paragraph's veracity. Baseball was my No. 1 concern in those days. Now those words read quite differently.

Living through the struggles of the Civil Rights era, with its bombings, assassinations, marches, sit-ins, boycotts and school-closings, did much to show me a new light, to do with truth and fairness. However, for me, there was no moment of epiphany, no sudden awareness I was growing up in a part of the world that officially denied aspects of its past. More than anything else, it took time. Life experience taught me to look more deeply into things.

Now I know that dusty old history book was a cog in the machinery that made the Jim Crow era possible.

Nonetheless, that same history book's view of how it was for those enslaved is one that some Virginians still want to believe. It's probably what they were taught as children, too. Some call it "heritage." Many of this persuasion also cling to the bogus factoid that since most Southerners didn't hold slaves, the Civil War itself was not fought over slavery.

Which is preposterous.

Of course poor Southerners, those who weren't plantation owners, had little to do with starting the Civil War. Generally speaking, poor people with no clout don't launch wars anywhere; rich people with too much power do.

So, for the most part, the men who fought in gray uniforms were doing what they felt was expected of them. As with most wars, the bulk of those who fought and died for either side between 1861 and 1865 were just ordinary Joes who had no say-so over declaring war or negotiating peace.

In Virginia, many who chose to wear gray did so to reverse what seemed to them to be an invasion of their home state. That's the reason the heritage clingers like the best.

Yet, if the reader wants to understand more deeply why Virginia eventually left the Union, to follow the secessionist hotheads of South Carolina and Mississippi into war, here's a clue from Chapter 30 of that same history book, which opened with this:
In 1790 there were more than 290,000 slaves in Virginia. This number was larger than that of any other state.
Those 290,000 slaves were worth a lot of money to their owners and such wealthy families had a lot of say-so.

Thus, the largest part of the real blame for the bloodshed of the war, and the subsequent indignities of the Reconstruction era, probably rests with wealthy slaveholders who would not give up their investments in cheap labor without a fight.

Readers interested in how much the official record of the Civil War has changed over the decades since the Civil Rights era should pay a visit to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. Its telling of the story of the Civil War is now based on the unvarnished truth.

Moreover, I am proud to be a Virginian. There's plenty of Virginia history that has nothing to do with picking sides in the Civil War. My ancestors go back to the 1600s in this commonwealth. But I will not stand with anyone who chooses to stay the course with the absurd denials of history — to do with slavery — that were crammed into that old public school textbook.

As for my friends in Richmond who haven't had a fresh thought on matters racial since they were seventh-graders, well, I don't want to pick a fight with them. So mostly we talk about other things — baseball still works.

All that said, Robert E. Lee, whose spectacular monument I see every day, remains a Virginian I admire. I realize his reputation has taken somewhat of a beating in recent years, but the dual sense of tragedy and dignity his statue conveys remains striking. In his time and place, torn between loyalties, it seems to me Lee tried to do what he saw as his duty.

After the war a weary Lee urged his fellow Virginians to let it go — to move on. That was good advice in 1865. It still is.

-- 30 --

Note: The illustration was fashioned after Jean Antoine Mercie's Lee Monument (unveiled in 1890). "Mercie's Lee," by yours truly, was done in ink and pastels.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Bijou Backlight

The Bijou Backlight is a new blogzine based in Richmond, Virginia. It is devoted to the appreciation of film in all of its forms. Beyond its focus on movies, old and new, it exists to help develop and promote the Bijou, a "little cinema" that is a work-in-progress.

Click here to visit the blogzine to learn more; I am serving as its editor.

Click here to see the Bijou Backlight’s Facebook page.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Splattergate 1998

In 1998, with impeachment in the air and the Clinton administration being hobbled by the investigation of the nature of the president’s relationships with various women -- most notoriously, Monica Lewinsky -- I felt called upon to lampoon the scandal. So I created a series of caricatures featuring some of the main characters and wrote goofy captions for them.

That was "Splattergate," which was my fifth series of collectible cards on a theme. Below the reader will see seven of the nine frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it).

Haven't done another set of cards since this one. Now I'm working on a new series of caricatures based on a political scandal. At the center of this scandal, rather than a randy president, we have a tacky governor. We'll see what comes of that.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Nixon Got What He Deserved

Note: This is piece a I wrote for in 1999 (with some touch-ups to update it). I did the illustration back then, too.

August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon-fed anniversaries to contemplate: Hiroshima’s 68th, Woodstock’s 44th and 39 years ago Pres. Richard M. Nixon took the fall -- he resigned.

The entire culture shifted gears the day President Nixon threw in the towel. The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building.

August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate’s storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were legion.

Either way, Richard Nixon’s departure from DeeCee left a void that no personality has since filled.

For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late-‘40s, Dick Nixon didn’t matter. With Nixon gone being anti-establishment promptly went out of style, too. With the war in Vietnam no longer a front burner issue, "streaking" -- running around outside naked -- replaced the anti-war rally as the most popular gesture of defiance on college campuses.

Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the ‘60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in basements. Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration’s chance of instituting national health insurance. Many people have forgotten that his regime was also easily more liberal on racial and environmental matters than any before it.

Although he was a hawk, Nixon was moderate on some of the social issues. His opening to China and efforts toward d├ętente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of Nixon's ability to maneuver deftly in the realm of foreign affairs. No doubt, that was his main focus. But at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the President who was driven from office. And for good reason.

Nixon’s nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon came between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War he demagogued and exploited the bitter division between World War II era parents and their baby boomer offspring in such a way that many families have never recovered.

However, Nixon’s true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people have no longer felt drawn into public service. Since Watergate, for 30-some years now -- taken as a whole -- the citizens who’ve gravitated toward politics for a career have not had the intellect, the sense of purpose, or the strength of character of their predecessors.

Some trace the cycle of endless paybacks across the aisle to that era, as well. We can thank Tricky Dick for all that and more.

So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended. On top of that, he had twenty years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn’t do it. He didn't even come close. In the two decades of his so-called “rehabilitation,” before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did. While I acknowledge his guile and I'm still astounded at his monumental gall, President Nixon was a man who choked on his own bile.

So, spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon years.

Yes, dear reader, I’m here to remind you that Tricky Dick Nixon's fall from grace should be a lesson to us all -- he got what he deserved.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Flashback: Armageddonville, Texas

From the cover of SLANT, December 2003

Armageddonville, Texas is the story of the proud Blusterbush clan. G. Phineas T. Blusterbush, the patriarch, owned miles and miles of all he surveyed. The scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, young Gee-Phinnie Blusterbush settled in Texas for a reason that was never quite clear.

With his utter determination to succeed, and a carpetbag full of Wall Street bread, Blusterbush eventually became a cattle rancher of mammoth proportions. A tall and flinty man, Gee-Phinnie believed he owned the Armageddon River that flowed across his land. To make his belief a reality, over the years, he steadily bought up any property along the river he could. He had a special way of convincing the small ranchers and sod-busters to sell off their land and leave the area.

Note: This character’s costume is patterned after Phineas T. Bluster, a puppet villain on the Howdy Doody Show television show of the 1950s. He carries a derringer, hidden in his coat pocket.

Gee-Phinnie’s oldest son, G. W. “Dubya” Blusterbush, a ne’er-do-well in his youth, swore off booze and subsequently found religion (or maybe it was the other way around.) Always on the trail of two nasty villains, Dubya was out to prove he was worthy of walking in his father’s boot-prints.

Dubya was convinced that the two villains were allies - O’ Sammy Benlion and Sa’ad Hellsbells - because it came to him in a dream in which a dead horse rose up and spoke to him in the voice of Jesus.

Note: That's the dream that makes Dubya get off the sauce. Since Dubya had always been afraid of horses, anyway - he rides around in a blue designer stagecoach to keep from having to mount a horse - this dream rocks his world. Dubya’s signature outfit is an all-leather affair. For protection Dubya always carries his matched pair of .44 caliber Colts - blue, of course.

Gee-Phinnie also owned Amageddonville’s sheriff, a defrocked preacher named Johnny Asskleft. Asskleft had to leave his final post as a pastor in great haste. Blusterbush, the elder, was the only man who knew the reason, thus, he had a firm grip on Asskleft.

Note: Asskleft bares a strong resemblance to Paul Lynde, of Hollywood Squares fame. He wears the stock Western Movie sheriff wardrobe.

Gee-Phinnie also secretly owned half of the town’s saloon, The Tumbleweed, operated by his partner, who fronted the business - the lovely and semi-talented Miss Candi.

Note: The sloe-eyed, sepia-toned Miss Candi is cute as a button, but she has no originality whatsoever - her wardrobe is a total ripoff of Miss Kitty’s (Gunsmoke). Still, Miss Candi was loyal to Gee-Phinnie to a fault. Whoa, Nellie! Is something going on there?

Dickie Chains was the foreman of the Blusterbush family’s ranch, the “Flying W.” As a teenager Chains was at the Battle of the Alamo. He survived because he proved to be quite an actor - Chains convinced Santa Anna that he was the shy female servant of an officer. He and a handful of others were released to tell the bloody story of what happened

Note: The swaggering Chains dresses as a cowhand and rides a huge red horse. The horse swaggers, too.

Don Rumdummy was part-owner of an expanding railroad company that wanted to put tracks through the town. He had a secret alliance with Gee-Phinnie to acquire the land. Even more secretly, Rumsdummy and Chains were partners in slime - they sold whiskey and guns to renegade Indians, highwaymen and anyone with the cash to pay.

Note: Rumdummy dresses in the all-black garb of a Pinkerton agent, which he had once been. He carries guns of various sizes, wherever he can.

Collard Kungpowell was the figurehead mayor of Armageddonville. He had no real power and he was eaten up with guilt. He was addicted to laudanum.

Note: Once a soldier, Kungpowell had hung up his guns. He dresses like a banker.

O’ Sammy Benlion, a half-breed, was the adopted son of an Indian chief, who was assassinated by Chains’ henchmen. The kindly old chief had been unwilling to sign the bad treaty the federal government was offering. Before the tribe moved to the reservation O’ Sammy took several young warriors with him. The group became marauding renegades. O’ Sammy and his band of snake-handling, whiskey-drinking followers were determined to wreak havoc. They blew up barns and poisoned water holes, just for fun.

Note: O’ Sammy dresses in a skintight outfit with an “O” on his chest and a cape! He thinks Hellsbells is yesterday’s heavy, riding for a fall.

Sadistic Sa’ad Hellsbells was a mustachioed Mexican bandito chief with a mean-as-dirt gang. They rustled cattle and robbed the stagecoaches that passed through the region with impunity. They shot up the town when they felt like it, too. Sa’ad also had a prize stock of Arabian horses, in his secret mountainous hideout.

Dubya spent most of his waking hours searching, in vain, for those nasty hidden horses.

Note: Hellsbells wears the obligatory bandito outfit - big sombrero - “we don’t need no steenking badges!” - and ammunition belts across his chest.

This swashbuckling story, set in Texas - the land of hot air and bum steers - will continue.

-- This piece appeared in the special Summer 2003 issue of SLANT. 
Words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Now there's a Bijou Backlight

The Bijou Backlight is a new blogzine about film in all its forms. It is based in Richmond, Virginia. Beyond its focus on movies this new publishing venture exists to help develop and promote one particular movie theater, the Bijou, which is still a project-in-the-planning-stage.

A famous backlit scene from "A Clockwork Orange" (1971).

The Bijou Backlight is being edited by yours truly and it just went live today. James Parrish is its publisher.

Click here to visit the Bijou Backlight, where you can read about some good movies and learn more about the "little cinema" that is in the works.