Thursday, January 28, 2016

Emperor Trump 's Clothes

One way to look at the biggest political story of the 2016 presidential campaign is to see that Donald Trump sure as hell knows how to play the press. Hasn't he proven he's chock full of savvy about how to capture the spotlight? Isn't everyone impressed with his skill for holding its attention? 

Conveniently, those rhetorical questions set up the concept that Conductor Trump has orchestrated his big lead in the opinion polls. Not votes. Polls. While that is a good story, it's not the complete picture. 

Front-runner Trump is competing with a particularly unattractive and bumbling group of rivals. Jeb Bush's zillion-dollar ineptitude has been stunning.

On top of that, a lot of Americans now hate the federal government and they aren't so happy with whoever seems to be in charge of Team Elephant, either. Yes, Trump is good at appealing to the passions that fuels those grievances. Plus, there's another angle to consider. 

The establishment media presenting the story of the 2016 campaign have a big stake in creating the impression that they can still have a lot of impact on the making of a president. They want us to blindly believe in the credibility of their polls. Their polls results are frequently at the top of the news. They also don't want us to question whether political advertising is still working as well as it ever did. Thus, stories about clever or ham-handed political ads also fill up time and space.

Those stories about polls and ads work together to boost us into buying their crafted in-house truths. They also help to promulgate a sense that today's editors and news directors and adverting executives have as much influence on society as their predecessors did.

But my take on this scam-in-progress is that the advertising world is desperate to reverse a dangerous trend. Every day more people can tell the advertising industry just isn't producing such predictably profitable results. Ask Jeb Bush how well the fortune that's been spent in advertising on his behalf has boosted his campaign this year. He's not the only candidate whose ads are not delivering. And, who hasn't noticed that today's press-release-driven news business has lost its charm on consumers? In well appointed board rooms, both entities' fear of the potential of social media has to be escalating.

So the manufactured story the establishment media are selling this chilly season is that Emperor Trump's fascinating success is living and breathing proof the folks who brought us our lovable consumer culture are still in charge of shaping perception. After all, haven't they just put front-runner's clothes on the newest poobah? 

As always, readers are advised to believe what they will.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Recollections in High Contrast


Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow makes the world around us resemble a high contrast black and white photograph, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. It's a look we don't see every year in Richmond, Virginia.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

Maybe the best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off-hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not know it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; she pitched for the Biograph's women's softball team had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the face ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper abruptly quit his stance and retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the radically sloped park down to Main Street below, next to Poe's Pub. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison Macdonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track as slick and quick as greased lightning.

Eventually, that night, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding, which wasn't a problem for those of us standing around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Chuck Wrenn still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death. After a snowfall a few years ago he and I laughing recalled that night. The sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a big shaggy dog down the chute was cited. For whatever reason, the dog happily went along with the gag each time Duck hoisted him up. Please note Duck didn't really ride the dog down the hill, but that pair of comics had us laughing so hard, it's still funny thirty-some years later.

Of course, to fully appreciate this story, you should be standing in snow up to mid-calf ... drinking Irish whiskey.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Color Radio (1982-84)

On August 26, 1982, Color Radio began beaming its signal to what its creators hoped would be an eager listening audience in Richmond and Henrico County. Those listeners needed to have a TV hookup via Continental Cablevision. That was the day Color Radio became the soundtrack behind Continental's color bars test pattern at Channel 36 ... so watching the television screen was optional.

To launch the station’s journey, Les Smith signed on with his show -- Music Appreciation 101. In his college days Smith had been a disc jockey (1969-72) at WJRB, VCU’s radio station. Then he performed the same role (1972-75) at WGOE, the daytime AM station that owned the hippie audience in Richmond for most of the 1970s.

Smith probably had the most on-air experience of the original cast of characters who breathed life into the venture, which was the brainchild of Burt Blackburn. He had been a program director at Virginia Tech’s radio station (1977-79). In Blacksburg the cable TV provider had carried Tech’s station on one of its blank channels. Color Radio's first studio was in Blackburn's Fan District basement. It was linked to Continental’s facility by an ordinary telephone line.

“In June, 1982 [Burt Blackburn] conceived the idea of a ‘radio station’ utilizing one of Continental Cablevision’s empty channels,” wrote Smith in a 2001 remembrance of Channel 36. “He approached Continental’s Virginia marketing manager, Matt Zoller, who liked the idea and encouraged Blackburn to proceed. Zoller himself had been involved in college radio [at William & Mary].”

By the time I came aboard as a disc jokey in October the station had situated its studio on the second floor over The Track, a popular Carytown restaurant (1978-2009) owned by Chris Liles. The studio was made up mostly of secondhand audio equipment acquired by donation or from yard sales.

While all the staff members were volunteers, it was really more like you had to be asked. Donna Parker asked me to come aboard to alternate with her for one shift every other week. Subsequently, my show, “Number 9,” was on the air, I mean cable, for three hours, on alternating Thursday afternoons.

Later, when Donna changed the time for her show, I asked Chuck Wrenn to replace her.

In April of 1983 the studio was moved downtown to the second floor of 7 E. Broad St. As the station had been acquired by the corporation that owned Throttle magazine (1981-1999), the two entities began awkwardly sharing a huge office space over what was then the Neopolitan Gallery (1983-85).

Along the way, I eventually took charge of advertising sales and promotions for the station. The handbill above was for a 1983 fundraiser that I booked into Rockitz, to benefit Color Radio. The headliner, 10,000 Maniacs, was a group out of Jamestown, N.Y. The band had been building a following from its well received appearances at two of the most popular clubs in the Fan, Benny’s and Hard Times. The lead singer was a 19-year-old Natalie Merchant.

A few weeks prior to the live show at Rockitz, I taped an interview with Merchant for my Number 9 program. What follows is the text of the beginning of that 1983 interview; Merchant starts by answering my question about what it was she and her friends in the band were looking to gain from touring and recording their music. Was it all for fun, or did they want to spread some message, or get rich, or what?

With a pleasant mixture of shyness and confidence, she laughed, then dealt with the question.
Merchant: We haven’t yet assumed our adult responsibilities. We don’t have enough income to live away from our parents yet. Sure, I’d like to be independent of my parents. After that, anything … any success that comes, I’ll accept that. I’m not intimidated by the mass media. I think it would be a great tool to reach more people.

Rea: Reach them with what?

Merchant: With what we’re saying … with what I’m saying.

Rea: What are you saying?

Merchant: I write the words. Most of what I’m saying is that music should be instructive.

Rea: Instructive?

Merchant: It should teach you something, even if it’s just building your vocabulary and making you realize you feel good when you dance. Anything you can learn … I don’t know (she laughs). Probably by the time we can reach more people, I’ll be more sure of what I’m trying to say.
Later in the interview, I asked Natalie about the name of the band. She said one of the guys took it from a movie, a 1960s low-budget gore fest. Ever the incurable movie expert, I laughed and suggested the actual name of the film was “2,000 Maniacs.”

Natalie barely smiled and almost shrugged, as if to say — 10,000 sounds better, so who cares?

Others I interviewed for the Number 9 show included movie director Penelope Spheeris and former adman and WGOE personality, now known as the Pope of Peppers, Dave DeWitt.

We didn’t know it then, but Color Radio was an aspect of the last gasp of the Baby Boomer-driven, live music scene that had been centered in the Fan District for nearly 20 years. That time spanned the sunset of the Beat Era, through the heyday of the hippies, to the last of the punks at the party. As the 1980s wore on Shockoe Bottom became the happening part of town for clubs featuring live music.

At Color Radio, when the microphones were switched on there was no filter. Authorities at Continental Cabelvision seemed unconcerned with what went on. It was wilder than WGOE had been in its rather freewheeling days in the early ’70s, before it got busted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unlike WGOE, Color Radio had no FCC oversight.

The programming at Color Radio was left totally to the DJs, many of whom were connected to the local live music scene in some way. It was sort of like an offshore pirate station; the ride lasted two years. That nobody got sued or went to jail was amazing.

The format, in unrelated blocks, ranged from Punk to Funk, from Rock to Bach and beyond. Some shows were all talk. There were comedy programs and, yes, sometimes things got raunchy, or weird. What follows is a list of the shows that made up the 92 hours of programming a week that Color Radio offered its listeners in February of 1984.
9 a.m. – 10 a.m.: World Watchers International
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: World Traditions
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Out to Lunch
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Kaleidophonic Merry-Go-Sound World
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: The Bedlam Broadcast
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Fontana Mix

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Like What You’re Told
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Bubba Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Mark Mumford

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Down on the Collective
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Big Music
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Heavy Metal for Housewives
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Beef Lips Special

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Life in the Gladhouse
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: All My Tapes
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Tommy the Rock
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Blood Blister, alternating w/ Georgeann
1 a.m. – 2 a.m.: World Watchers International

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: D-Virg Anti-Fascist Radioshoe
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Number 9, alternating w/ Rockin’ Daddy & the Cold Ones
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music Appreciation 101, alternating w/ Test Bands
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Arash Show

1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Hiding from Suburbia Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Hour of Power
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Down on the Collective

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Two-Tone Tony’s Lost Highway
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Frontline
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Chasin’ the Bird
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music I Like
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Kenny Substitute Show

One of the things Color Radio did, much more so than any other local station, was to support local bands. So low-budget recordings were played and musicians were interviewed. Thus, Color Radio contributed to the feeling there was an authentic scene with a keen awareness of itself. It was a loose scene that orbited tightly around VCU.

Some of the locally-based bands that were heard on/promoted by Color Radio were: Awareness Art Ensemble, Beex, The Bop Cats, The Bowties, Burma Jam, The Dads, Death Piggy, The Degenerate Blind Boys, The Good Guys, The Good Humor Band, The Fabulous Daturas, The Heretics, Honor Role, L’Amour, The Megatonz, The Millionaires, The New York Dux, The Non-Dairy Screamers, The Offenders, The Orthotonics, The Prevaricators, Shake and the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Surrender Dorothy, Ten Ten, The Tom and Marty Band, The Toronados, White Cross.

All rights reserved by the author.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Note from Rebus: In 1978 and 1981 Rea was dispatched to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, to work on projects for his bosses. They owned a couple of other theaters and sometimes acted as regional sub-distributors of independently produced American movies, as well as some foreign films. And, they had other movie-related interests.

This story is about another business trip, this time to New York City. To get there Rea drove his Volvo wagon to Washington and took the train to New York. That way he got to visit a grand old train station and he avoided using the sad little station in Henrico County. Which, in 1981, was a good idea for anyone wanting to take along an appropriate supply of already rolled reefers.

'Napoleon' in Manhattan 
by F.T. Rea
A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met a couple of years ago 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 that 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 Coppola. 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 of “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. 


Fan Free Funnies

About this time of year in 1973, I was working on the inking of my page in the first issue of Fan Free Funnies. It featured a nine-panel strip starring Rebus and at the bottom of the page I did a political cartoon hammering Nixon. At the time I was playing a lot of chess, so I used that context. What follows is an excerpt of Biograph Times -- a work in progress.
Note from Rebus: During the spring semester of 1973 the student newspaper at Virginia Commonwealth University published three tabloid supplements that were inspired by the underground comix of that age. The first of these issues featured my breakthrough role in an edgy strip in which Rea presented me for the first time as just Rebus, an everyman character apart from the Biograph spokesdog persona. A version of this story appeared in STYLE Weekly in 2009. 
Fan Free Funnies
by F.T. Rea
Rebus was having a bad day; detail from the first
Rebus strip in Fan Free Funnies.
The timing was perfect for Fan Free Funnies, as this was the zenith of the hippie era in the Fan District neighborhood VCU's academic campus is part of.  

In the Fan, in the early-1970s, there was a group of young, mostly VCU-trained artists, who created paintings and prints in a style that owed much to old animated cartoons. Some of them were also making short films in Super 8 and 16mm and hung out at the Biograph.

Due to his well-honed talent for drawing cartoons, the most obvious of this pack was Phil Trumbo. “We were all influenced by the amazing work of sixties underground cartoonists," said Trumbo, “like Robert Crumb, Rick Griffith, S. Clay Wilson and Trina Robbins.”

R. Crumb was the most celebrated of the underground artists from the days when cartoonists bitterly lampooning the tastes and values of middle class America were having a noticeable impact on popular culture. Spontaneously, Crumb launched the movement in 1967, selling his Zap Comix No. 1 out of a baby carriage on San Francisco sidewalks. 

"Ed Slipek, the editor of VCU's student newspaper, Commonwealth Times, approached me to help create an underground-comix-style supplement,” said Trumbo. “I suppose he contacted me because I had done some independent comics and was exhibiting paintings influenced by comics imagery.” 

Slipek asked each of the invited artists to create a full page, drawn to proportion, in black and white. Some submitted a page of images set within traditional comic strip frames; others wandered into loose, more avant-garde styles.

For me, it meant creating the first strip for Rebus. Before Rebus even had a name, he had been appearing in my flyers touting midnight shows at the Biograph Theatre. I went to school on how R. Crumb used Mr. Natural as a spokesman, sometimes like a carnival barker.  But Rebus wasn't a holy man, he was a schlemiel with a dog's head.

Not long after the first issue of Fan Free Funnies came out, my three-year-old daughter, Katey, asked me a question. Pointing at her most recent birthday card pinned to her bedroom wall -- with Rebus on it -- she asked, “Is Rebus real?”

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

She said, “Like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck.”

“Sure,” I said, “Rebus is real. But only the cool people know about him.”

Phil left Richmond in 1984 to pursue a career in animation, which eventually led him to the West Coast and being the Art Director of Entertainment Media at Hidden City Games. Along the way he picked up an Emmy Award for his art direction on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. 

Charles Vess was another of the artists who participated in the Fan Free Funnies project, who has made a name as an award-winning illustrator. Vess’ art has been seen in Heavy Metal and National Lampoon. He has worked for comic book publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Epic.

The other featured FFF artists were: Bruce Barnes, Damian Bennett, Eric Bowman, Michael Cody, Jeff Davis, Joanne Fridley, Stanley Garth, Gregg Kemp, John McWillaims, Nancy Mead, Dale Milford, Bill Nelson, Trent Nicholas, Alan R. O’Neal, Ragan Reaves and Verlon Vrana.

“Fan Free Funnies was a really diverse collection, representing vastly different graphic styles and inventive, experimental approaches to sequential storytelling,” said Trumbo.
Phil Trumbo's cover art (from VCU Libraries) 

Monday, January 18, 2016

VCU and Its RPI

Unlike the AP Poll, which is based on supposedly expert opinions, the computer-generated RPI numbers are calculated to reflect the relative strengths of the 351 college basketball teams in Division I. By their nature the numbers are expected to steadily become more reliable as the season wears on.

At the end of the regular season in March, those numbers will weigh heavily on decisions to invite 36 at-large teams to the NCAA championship tournament. At-large, in this context, means teams that didn't win their conference's championship but are nonetheless deemed worthy, based on their records and the perception of their conference's strength among the 32 conferences in D-I.

So 68 teams get to go to the Big Dance. Every season pundits stimulate fans to argue about which teams have been unjustly snubbed. And, so it goes...

As of today, VCU (13-5, 5-0 in A-10) is sitting at No. 71 in the CBS Sports RPI. If it's still about the same place in March that won't bode well. To date, the Rams have only beaten two teams with a better RPI – Mid. Tenn. St. (No. 56) and St. Joe's (No. 33). VCU has lost to three teams with a better RPI – Duke (No. 19), Fla. St. (No. 49) and Georgia Tech (No. 60).

Beating teams with a worse RPI doesn't reward you much in this game, it might even hurt your rating, because strength of schedule is a big factor. So convincing wins over the likes of American (No. 336), Prairie View (No. 342) and Liberty (No. 343) don't convince the NCAA powers that be of anything that helps the Rams' cause. However with VCU riding an eight-game winning streak, its RPI has slowly improved during that stint. Slowly, because for the most part the Rams haven't been beating more respected teams.

Soon the opportunity to change that factor will present itself. Upcoming match-ups with St. Bonaventure (No. 54) and Dayton (No. 10), and two games apiece with George Washington (No. 34) and Davidson (No. 35) will be watched closely by the selection committee.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Obama Was Too Happy

When I watched Obama's speech on Tuesday night I was struck by one thing more than any other and it wasn't anything in particular he said. It was his relaxed tone. How much it reflected his state of mind and how much of it was projected – a performance – I'll resist speculating about. 

However, Obama's words weren't nearly as sharply partisan as they have been at times. He wasn't as entertainingly sarcastic as he can be. I think that may be part of why we aren't hearing Republicans complain so much about his proposals. Obama seemed more a president and less the Democrat's top dog. And, so far, the fury of the GOP's spokespersons and presidential candidates has been directed at Obama's manner more than the substance of his speech. 

Obama didn't use his last State of the Union speech to fume at opponents and it pissed some of them off. He seemed optimistic, almost lighthearted. He wasn't threatening enemies, real and imagined; he wasn't issuing ultimatums.

Moreover, Obama seemed so genuinely comfortable in his shoes that it provided a rather stark contrast to how uncomfortable and phony most of the Republican hopefuls seemed last night. So, I'm guessing Obama isn't much surprised that Republicans are inventing apologies to Iran that were never made.

It makes me think that with his mild-mannered speech Obama deliberately set up the angry Republicans he figured would jump at the bait 48 hours later. Interestingly, with her response, the poised Nikki Haley didn't.

As time goes by we'll see how that plays out, but I think Haley was wisely looking at the future – when some of the trash-talking Republican on stage in South Carolina last night will have been assigned their proper place in the dustbin of history. 

In the meantime, we'll all have to put up with Republicans on the make who are outraged about Obama's speech, because he was just too damn happy.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Enter Eugene Trani

This time columnist Mark Holmberg is right -- whether Eugene Trani's train station becomes a part of what happens, or not, for several sound reasons baseball should stay on the Boulevard.
Enter Eugene Trani, the grizzled warrior who has saved Richmond before. He is revered by many and reviled by others, so his 76-year-old voice carries across the battle lines. This week, his opinion piece on the matter — published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch — got lots of attention. He proposed renovating The Diamond on the Boulevard, but make it a state-of-the-art multiuse facility so we can have concerts and other events there.
Click here to read the entire piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (and as painful as it might be, glance over the comments under it).

The train station component sounds interesting, but I'll have to see more information about it before I hop aboard the bandwagon for that aspect of Trani's proposal. However, the notion of making that neighborhood into a transportation hub makes sense to me.

Beyond its apt commentary, Holmberg's column (online) offers a chance for all of us to see an aspect of why this debate has gone on for over 10 years. Take a look at the blustery comments section. Yes, it's typical, in that much of what appears under the article amounts to useless venting by people who post the same sort of guff under any article. However, one comment, in particular, stands out as a perfect example of why many of the people in Richmond who agree with Trani about where to play baseball haven't been able to build a consensus, to work in concert to settle this controversy.

Please note: the writer of the aforementioned comment under Holmberg's piece couldn't resist bashing Eugene Trani (pictured above), even if the commenter basically agrees with the thrust of Trani's proposal to keep baseball on the Boulevard. The commenter says Trani's support for keeping baseball on the Boulevard is late in coming. Problem is, that's simply not true. Beyond that false charge, this commenter is suffering because Trani didn't give activists – like him! – credit for opposing baseball in The Bottom; then the sufferer digresses into pure character assassination.

This sort of pettiness poisons the debate. And, it's been going on for most of the 10 years this brouhaha has been underway. If this particular commenter were the only one dwelling on his own personal grudges, under the guise of community activism, it wouldn't matter all that much.

Unfortunately, the baseball stadium issue has drawn so many vociferous poisoners to it – on all sides of the issue – that the Save The Diamond movement has been somewhat tainted by the splatter of poison. Likewise, the movement to build a museum devoted to telling the story of Richmond's slave market has been slowed by that same sort of poisonous splatter.

In no way should my observations here be construed to be anti-activist. What I'm against is hurling poison into debates, based on one's personal grudges. Calling such mean-spirited mischief "activism," sometimes puts a bad face on the sincere efforts of a lot of good people who are working in earnest to solve problems, rather than perpetuate them.   

-- 30 --

Monday, January 04, 2016

Saying Goodbye to the R-Braves

 Paul DiPasquale's "Connecticut"

Reading former-VCU president Gene Trani's piece in yesterday's RT-D was interesting. Wisely, Trani seems to think baseball ought to stay on The Boulevard. While reading it, I chuckled thinking of some regular bashers of Trani and all things VCU, who now find themselves on the same side of the stadium issue.

Rather than the frustrating politics of the longstanding brouhaha, sometimes mulling over the baseball stadium issue brings to mind memories of particular games. In 2008 I covered the last game the Richmond Braves played at The Diamond. Here’s what I wrote for
Saying Goodbye

F.T. Rea
Tuesday, September 02, 2008

On a warm sunlit Labor Day afternoon, before a nearly packed house (12,167 officially), the Richmond Braves put on a crowd-pleasing display, soundly defeating the visiting Norfolk Tides by a score of 9-3.

After the second out of the ninth was recorded the fans came to their feet in anticipation of the final out. Braves pitcher Brad Nelson walked Brandon Fahey. Then leftfielder Scott Thorman lost a routine popup in the sun and there were two on base. The last putout was made by R-Braves centerfielder Carl Loadenthal, who caught a fly ball off the bat of Luis Terrero.

With that last putout, 42 years (43 seasons) of Braves baseball on the Boulevard ended. Basically, the team’s owner, the Atlanta Braves, decided it would rather its Triple A farm club play its home games in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta.    

A sign of the change was in the press box, as a reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post, Guy Curtwright, was covering the game.  

Leonard Alley, who was the official scorer for Braves games for 30 years (1977 to 2006) sat to my left. Alley’s familiar presence added to the sense of history that was in the air throughout the stadium. There were lots of reminders in the signage. Sitting to my right, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Paul Woody recalled the last game played at Parker Field in 1984.

That night fans were allowed to grab souvenirs, because the grandstands were going to be demolished soon, anyway, to make way for what became the Diamond. Lots of people walked out of there carrying old wooden seats, signs and so forth, they had liberated. We laughed remembering the mood of that bizarre scene, which may have been somewhat wilder than the Braves management had imagined it would be.

After a few innings in the press box, I left to walk around the stadium to take in the sights from different angles. Behind home plate, next to the camera platform, a young woman wearing a No. 18 Ryan Klesko jersey walked by, which for one fan brought to mind the night at the Diamond 15 summers ago, when Klesko (who played for the R-Braves in 1992-93) won an extra-innings game with a home run.

"It was my birthday," said Jack Richardson.

Naturally, longtime fans were waxing nostalgic. Charlie Diradour said he’d been coming to Braves games since the late ‘60s. His favorite player, or moment?

"Seeing Chico Ruiz play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played," said Diradour, "at his age! That’s what Triple A baseball is all about. Players on their way up ... and, on their way down."

Ruiz was an extremely popular R-Brave who played here for what was most of his career (1973, 74, 76-84). While he wasn’t on hand for the occasion, several other popular former R-Braves were. Among them were: Ralph Garr (1969-70), David Justice (1988-90), Dale Murphy (1976-77), Tommy Greene (1988-90) and Johnny Grubb (1988). There were long lines to get their autographs.

There was a silent auction underway during the game. Autographed baseballs and jerseys drew bids from fans, with the proceeds going to Children’s Hospital. Murphy’s jersey beat Lopez’s $435 to $425.

After the game some of the former Braves players came onto the infield to unfurl a banner for the fans to see.

"Thanks for the memories," it said.

Many fans lingered as the shadows lengthened, clearly not wanting the day at the ballpark to end. Kids crowded up the fence just behind the Braves dugout, hoping to pick up souvenir bats or balls. A few of them were rewarded. Invited guests posed in groups on the field for pictures.

The Diamond’s giant sound system switched from its usual peppy pop music to "Auld Lang Syne."

The Governor’s Cup is the International League’s prize which goes to its champion. The R-Braves won it five times: 1978, 1986, 1989, 1994 and most recently in 2007.

Richmond’s two winners of the circuit’s Most Valuable Player award have been Tommie Aaron in 1967 and Brett Butler in 1981. Winners of the Rookie of the Year award were Dale Murphy in 1977, Glenn Hubbard in 1978, Brook Jacoby in 1982, Brad Komminsk in 1983 and Chipper Jones in 1993.

Winners of the Manager of the Year award were Eddie Haas in 1982 and ‘83; Grady Little won it in 1994.

How long the City of Richmond will go without a professional baseball team to call its own is anybody’s guess. At this point the regional cooperation it will take to make that happen seems out of the picture. Tomorrow the fiberglass Indian figure (a sculpture by Paul DiPasquale) that has peered over a concession stand roof for all of the Braves games at the Diamond will watch the franchise pack up its balls and bats, and fade into the sunset.

Richmond finished its final season on the Boulevard with a 63-78 record.

Note:  Here's a short list of some of the standout players who have worn the uniform of the Richmond Braves: Tommy Aaron, Sandy Alomar, Steve Avery, Dusty Baker, Jim Beauchamp, Steve Bedrosian, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Blauser, Curt Blefary, Jim Breazeale, Tony Brizzolara, Brett Butler, Paul Byrd, Francisco Cabrera, Vinny Castilla, Bobby Cox, Mark DeRosa, Joey Devine, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Estrada, Darrell Evans, Ron Gant, Jesse Garcia, Ralph Garr, Marcus Giles, Tom Glavine, Tony Graffanino, Tommy Green, Johnny Grubb, Albert Hall, Wes Helms, Mike Hessman, Glenn Hubbard, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Brad Komminsk, Javy Lopez, Adam LaRoche, Mark Lemke, Rick Mahler, Andy Marte, Kent Merker, Dale Murphy, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Larry Owen, Gerald Perry, Chico Ruiz, Paul Runge, Harry Saferight, Jason Schmidt, Randall Simon, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Brad Woodall, Tracy Woodson, Ned Yost and Paul Zuvella.

-- My photo.