Thursday, October 24, 2013

This View Is Our View

Echo Harbour is a proposed development on the northern bank of James River. It would go just below Libby Hill Park. Because it's a rather controversial plan it has been in the local news for years. Four year ago I wrote an opinion piece about it for
"This view belongs, not only to near-by residents, but to tourists and visitors from around the world," said Tom Layman, who also lives close to the park.
Will a proposed high-rise condominium and hotel development, Echo Harbour, eventually be interposed between Libby Hill Park and the James River? Will old postcards, wedding photos and Super 8 clips be all that preserves The View for future generations to appreciate?

Click here to read the entire piece, "This View Is Our View."

Since 2009 I haven't kept up with this project's changes, if any. So I wonder why it's been on hold so long and what, if anything, has changed. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Talking Tough to Mirrors

My newest contribution to STYLE Weekly's Back Page, "Tongue Tied," is about the differences between tough talk and straight talk. The differences between bluster and reality. And, it looks at how much the Republican brand has changed.
In the blacklisting era, Sen. Joe McCarthy, the supreme hunter of embedded reds, blustered accusations like a fountain. During the Vietnam War, Vice President Spiro Agnew enjoyed talking tough when he aimed his remarks at the antiwar crowd. More recently, Vice President Dick Cheney followed suit by growling at microphones on a variety of topics.

Whatever the colorful trio’s flaws might have been in office, these red-blooded Republicans were much admired for their rhetorical style. Undiluted conservatives have adored bluster and tough talk for a long time.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Boomer Guilt

Some of us were once hippies who had a central cause: we were going to right the most grievous wrongs we saw all around us. We couldn’t going to wait to get started, either.

Hey now! So we read antiestablishment journals and we marched. We announced to our parents' generation, shaped by the Depression and WWII, that the times were changing. Some of us told them to stand aside. As resisters, a few of us went to jail. More of us just stopped getting haircuts and started smoking pot.  

However, most of the 75 million, or so, baby boomers weren’t all that wrapped up in social causes. More of the children born between 1946 and 1964 were attracted to the hippies’ defiant look and the psychedelic rock music than they were to causes. Millions more boomers weren’t hippies at all; they didn’t identify with the counterculture at all.

Still, my generation has been characterized as one that was particularly idealistic in its salad days. Which makes it more than a little ironic that we have let our collective greed and the seeking of ease trump the spirit of most of our youthful causes. Although we baby boomers may have been slightly less willing to exploit powerless people than our predecessors, some of the ways we have knowingly allowed the future to poisoned have been shameful.

Start with the neglect of the nation's infrastructure. It’s the citizens/voters who are between the ages of 49 and 67 today who should not have let it happen. Then consider the damage that’s been done to the environment over the last three decades...

Assuming they can be fixed, my grandchildren are going to have to do some heavy lifting to fix the worst of the baby boomers' mistakes. Those kids' cause is waiting for them, like it or not.

When allies can't work together

There are a lot of people in the Richmond area who are opposed to building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. A recent Richmond Times-Dispatch poll suggested that two out of three oppose it.

On Nov. 5th that number might have been confirmed or challenged by a referendum on where to build a new stadium. That won't happen, because in the summer members of City Council put the kibosh on the referendum concept. The vote was 6-3 against letting the voters have a say in resolving this 10-year-old controversy.  

Nonetheless, because they think it’s not the best use of land that was an important slave market before emancipation, we know thousands oppose such a development. And, we know thousands oppose baseball in the Bottom, because they think the Boulevard is a better location for professional baseball to be played. There may be other reasons to not shoehorn a ballpark into Shockoe Bottom, but those are the two most often cited.

But it seems the two largest groups opposed to baseball in the Bottom -- who should be political allies -- haven't found a way to work in unison effectively, to achieve a common goal. Which very well may be a big reason some officials at City Hall seem to think they can do as they please on this matter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Boehner's Evolving Feelings About Compromise

On 60 Minutes on Dec. 12, 2010, reporter Leslie Stahl asked: “Why won't you say you’re afraid of the word [compromise]?"

The new Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner responded: “I reject the word.”

Tea Party Republicans applauded Boehner's style. Regular Republicans were amused, but had to wonder where such an attitude might lead. Well, now we all know.

It seems the same extremists who applauded Boehner then are outraged today because Democrats won’t accept squirrelly “compromise” offers from Boehner ... disingenuous offers to win something -- anything! -- in exchange for ending the House Republicans' shutdown stunt.

So how does perhaps the weakest Speaker of all time feel about his "no compromising" words in that 2010 interview today?

Maybe a little weepy and somewhat orange-faced?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

High on the Hog Obit

Note: The following piece was published by Brick Weekly on Oct. 11, 2007 (during its Pete Humes era). At the point I wrote it, although it looked pretty much like High on the Hog had run its course, there was no way to know for sure. It turned out HOTH No. 30 (in 2006) was indeed the last one, so my story served as an obituary.

The Big Pig Postmortem
by F.T. Rea

High on the Hog 8 (1984)
Due to the intrusion of an all-day downpour, last year’s edition of High on the Hog, No. 30, was a soggy affair. Two of the bands scheduled couldn’t play under the circumstances. Yet, in spite of the stormy weather, the Bop Cats and the Memphis Rockabilly Band performed using a scaled down sound system. Tarps were lashed to the sides and back of the stage to block the wind-driven rain.

A few party stalwarts danced in the mud with umbrellas. The show went on … but perhaps for the last time.

“It was a Nor’easterner that settled over Richmond,” said the longtime director of matters musical, Chuck Wrenn. “We’ll see what the future brings.”

Meanwhile, there certainly will be no High on the Hog 31 this year. So, the director of matters porcine, Larry Ham, won’t be slathering his Carolina red vinegar basting sauce over slow-cooking pork this Saturday in Libby Hill Park.

Moreover, it seems likely that High on the Hog—which for three decades has served a generation as a reliable reunion party—has probably happened for the last time.

The heavy losses sustained from last year’s fizzler meant the handful of friends/neighbors who have staged and financially backed HOTH since its inception took a bath in red ink ... the rainy day fund was wiped out.

Going back to HOTH’s origins, other than Ham, among Wrenn’s chief co-conspirators have been: Bobby Long, Dave O’Kelly, John Cochran, Randy Smith and Steve McKay. For such veterans last year’s weather had to bring to mind another rainy day, 26 years before. 1980 was the year they significantly enlarged the plan for what had originally been a small annual neighborhood party.

Three rousing rock n’ roll bands played on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind Wrenn’s 2808 East Franklin Street back yard for what was the then-largest HOTH crowd ever.

Yet, this was a time when one couldn’t get a permit from the proper authorities for such an event. Amplified rock simply wasn’t allowed at outdoor shindigs in Richmond, most especially on public property. So, in a sense HOTH 4 was flying below, or perhaps above, the radar. For whatever reason the cops on the beat chose not to bust it.

When it suddenly began raining in 1980, rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and clearing the stage—to wait out the downpour—Wrenn broke out his staple gun and large rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. With the help of volunteers an awning was hastily improvised to keep the rain off the stage. A portion of the yard closest to it was also protected, somewhat.

Then, with the electric guitars of Don’ Ax Me ... Bitch wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by those dancing in the mud was unforgettable. The full potential of live rock n’ roll music to simultaneously express both lamentation and celebration was realized.

In 1983 HOTH had outgrown its alley venue, so it shifted gears and moved into the park across the street. The throwdown even went legit. Subsequently, HOTH’s rollicking success and noteworthy lack of trouble planted the seeds for Jumpin’ in July, Friday Cheers and the outdoor music festivals that have blossomed since.

The HOTH record for beer sales on a Saturday afternoon still stands at 209 kegs; it was some time in the early ‘90s, according to Chuck. At its peak, it took some 350 volunteers to chop the pork, serve the beer, tend the stage, etc. Each year volunteers got a new HOTH T-shirt for their trouble; extras were sold to the public. There have been 25 different models.

What was a beloved local gospel group, The Silver Stars, holds the record for most HOTH appearances with 10 (1987-‘96). The Memphis Rockabilly Band played the gig seven times (1980, ‘81, ‘84-‘87, ‘06).

“The Silver Stars, we got every year we could ... until they died,” Wrenn recalled.

What were locally-based bands with multiple appearances include: The Bop Cats, The Good Humor Band, Billy Ray Hatley’s bands, Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon and The Wall-O-Matics. Maybe the three most noteworthy national acts were: Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band in ‘83 and ‘85; NRBQ in ‘87; Marcia Ball in ‘01.

Presented with the prospect that HOTH has run it course, a smiling Chuck Wrenn offered familiar advice, “Don’t forget to have a good time.”

Those coveted laminated backstage credentials, which meant free beer to the wearer, will probably be selling on eBay soon. Who knows what T-shirts will eventually be worth?

Appropriately, as it stands now, the last band to perform was the impeccably authentic Memphis Rockabilly Band. Although it was unplanned, they were the perfect act to play an encore for 30 years of smiles … one last fast dance in the mud. 

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Last Laugh of the Shutdown

Next week’s news today: At a jam-packed press conference an ebullient John Boehner will stand behind a podium to announce that votes on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling will take place later that same day. A slightly sneering Eric Cantor will be at his side.

“Republicans have come through the battle to create more jobs with flying colors,” Boehner will say. “Now many Americans will have work again, in spite of the president’s plan to kill their jobs.”

The two Republican Congressional leaders will brush aside questions about how the two-week-old shutdown will affect the upcoming election in Virginia.

Boehner will thank Barack Obama for relenting on his refusal to give the Republican leaders anything in exchange for a clean continuing resolution and an unconditional increase in the debt ceiling. Prompted by Boehner, Cantor will raise up the genuine Virginia State Fair kewpie doll they will claim the president gave them to seal the deal.

Boehner will say, “No way we could come out of this business empty-handed.”

The snickering in the room will begin to swell.

To grab the spotlight Cantor will say, “You'll see, Republicans will have the last laugh when the Cooch carries Virginia.”

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Tea Party Nullifiers

Virginia’s Gov. J. Lindsay Almond on TIME's Sept. 28, 1958 cover

A partial shutdown of government, because you disagree with its policies, well, that's something we Virginians know about. Some might even say it's part of our Virginia "heritage." Look away...

With Massive Resistance as their slogan, in 1959 Prince Edward County’s elected leaders closed the public schools in their county by defunding them. That, rather than comply with the law of the land and integrate them. Private schools for white children popped up like mushrooms, while the county‘s public schools stayed closed until 1964, when the federal government finally compelled the county to change its ways.

Today’s Tea Party Republicans are walking in the footsteps of the Massive Resisters. Like their counterparts half a century ago, they flaunt their contempt for the federal government and want to nullify any of its laws they don’t like.

Moreover, they see hating America’s first black president as one of their strengths.

Look away. Look away...