Friday, June 29, 2018

Queen of Claptrap

Laura Schlessinger
If you write about certain public figures or particular hot topics it can bring on reprisals that can be startling. In 2000, when I took an assignment to write an opinion piece about
Laura Schlessinger (better known as Dr. Laura) for Richmond.com, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of that column was "Queen of Claptrap."

Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were affiliated with a group known as Free Republic

Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. At first I attempted to answer some of the angry emails but soon enough I realized that was a waste of time. I asked a veteran journalist who was a colleague just what the hell to make of it all. He just chuckled and said, "It means you're doing your job." 

Here's the 18-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.

Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.

To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.

However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.

Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.

From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.

Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out stopdrlaura.com.

Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too: drlaura.com.

"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?

Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.

The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.

While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.

Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.

It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.

Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.

Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.

By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.

It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.

With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.

In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.

Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.
There you have it. That's what it took to set off a bunch of creeps who were hoping to make me back off. What I didn't understand then was that I was seeing the future.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tillman to play with Miami Heat in the NBA Summer League

From VCU's  Chris Kowalczyk:
Justin Tillman will continue his quest for the NBA this summer.  The 6-foot-8 forward, known for his dynamic skill set and on-court flair, says he has agreed to play for the Miami Heat in the NBA Summer Leagues. Tillman worked out for a number of NBA teams this spring, including the Spurs, Celtics, Nuggets, Thunder, Pistons and Lakers.

The Heat are scheduled to field a summer league squad in Sacramento, Calif. July 2-5 and in Las Vegas, Nev. from July 6-17.

A four-year standout for VCU, Tillman was named First Team All-Atlantic 10, A-10 All-Defensive Team and NABC All-District as a senior in 2017-18 after averaging a team-high 18.9 points and a league-best 9.9 rebounds per game. Tillman’s 18 double-doubles this season were the most by a VCU player since the 1995-96 campaign.

In four seasons, Tillman compiled 1,415 points, 18th-most in program history and 922 rebounds, third-most by a Ram. He also ranks third in school history in double-doubles (34) and second in career field goal percentage (.573).

Tillman will look to become the 11th former Ram to play in the NBA and the sixth since 2009. Last season, VCU alums Treveon Graham (Charlotte), Troy Daniels (Suns) and Briante Weber (Rockets, Grizzlies) saw time on NBA rosters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

VCU to face Temple at Barclays

Note: The following information comes via VCU's Chris Kowalczyk

VCU will face Temple in its return to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as part of the Championship Round of the 2018 Legends Classic, presented by Old Trapper. 


In all, the Rams will play four games in the prestigious event, including a pair of match-ups at the E.J. Wade Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. VCU and Temple will square off on Monday, Nov. 19 at Barclays following the completion of a contest between St. John’s and California that tips off at 7 p.m. VCU will advance to meet either St. John’s or Cal on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at Barclays. 


VCU will also host regional round contests with in-state foe Hampton on Friday, Nov. 9 and Bowling Green on Monday, Nov. 12. Game times for those tilts will be released at a later date.
 

The Rams previously participated in the 2015 Legends Classic at Barclays, where they topped Oregon and fell to a ranked Villanova squad. VCU’s history at Barclays Center also includes the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament from 2013-16. The Rams won the league crown over Dayton on that floor in 2015. The A-10 Tournament is set to return to the arena in 2019.

VCU has not faced Temple since the 2012-13 season. The Rams topped Cal 83-69 last season at the Maui Invitational and defeated St. John’s during the 2016-17 campaign at the Battle for Atlantis. Hampton and VCU have met eight times previously, but this will be the first game between the two programs since the 2009-10 season. The Rams are 7-1 all-time in the series. VCU and Bowling Green have never met.

2018 LEGENDS CLASSIC 

Presented by Old Trapper (VCU Schedule)
 

Friday, Nov. 9
Hampton at VCU (Richmond, Va.)


Monday, Nov. 12
Bowling Green at VCU (Richmond, Va.)

Monday, Nov. 19
Temple vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Tuesday, Nov. 20
Cal or St. John’s vs. VCU (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


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Friday, June 08, 2018

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow in 1967
A few years ago, a chat with a master projection booth technician I met brought to mind a unique movie-watching experience. The conversation was with Chapin Cutler; we were talking about old movie houses when he told me that 40-some years ago he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge. 

In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with the manager of that famous movie theater (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 (1969-86) was known then as quite 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 told me he had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece. It was no easy task to present it a fashion faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some splashes of 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 over the years, was edited into 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. The new score was written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power that music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, a visionary, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. In 1927 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. Because few theaters opted to install such a system for one film the first run engagements were limited. Talkies soon came along and silent movies, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although Gance kept working on film-making projects, he 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, maybe 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 seen and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers considered him to be a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.

To get to Manhattan I drove to D.C. 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 flight 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. My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential for “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. So I was traveling on other people’s money!

Then, during my walk from the hotel to the theater, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye. 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, 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. Back in the auditorium, the movie was spectacular.

I left the theater overwhelmed and returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the same movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters with orchestra pits 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 viewing in Manhattan. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He lived just long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon,” during the run promoted in the 1-sheet above. At the time of his death in 1981, once again, critics were calling Gance a genius. Which provides a happy ending to this meandering story.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Prayer or Protest?


The photograph above (lifted from the Internet) shows three men in Philadelphia Eagles uniforms. Unless it's a doctored photo we can probably assume they are real professional football players at a stadium. Why they are on one knee isn't exactly clear.

So we can't say for sure what they are doing. Which means President Donald Trump can't tell if he should applaud or attack the trio with his next tweet. To cut to the chase: Are they praying or protesting?

Hard to say without more information. This morning it seems Fox News used it as a photo to document three Eagles players protesting during the playing of the National Anthem with the familiar take-a-knee gesture that so outrages Trump.

Then Fox News soon had to apologize, because it turns out the photo documented three Eagles players praying. Which means that what's in the minds of the kneeling men, in the moment, is what matters in the long run. Their intentions and perhaps the context.

Were those three Eagles players exercising their freedom of religion, or their freedom of speech?

That dilemma reminds me of the flag-burning issue that used to rile situational conservatives and prompted a drive to create a Constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning.

And it reminds me of a piece I first wrote on that issue in SLANT, back in the day: This link will take you to a shorter version of it, a 2006 rewrite I posted on SLANTblog entitled “The Third Man.” Note: Four days after this June 23, 2006, post the effort to pass the anti-flag-burning amendment in the U.S. Senate failed by one vote.

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Friday, June 01, 2018

2018 GRFGA T-shirts

The art for the 2018 GRFGA T-shirts is above. For what it's worth it's the ninth in the series I've designed. The ink colors will be black and white. So what you see above as black will be that on your short. The fabric colors will surround the white circle (an imaginary golf disc).

The new T-shirts (100% heavy duty cotton), long sleeve and short, will be available in three familiar colors – the red, blue and athletic gray that was used for the last T-shirt (Where the Frisbees Landed). Color swatches are shown below. 

 The prices are:
  • short sleeves: $18.
  • long sleeves: $21
  • sweatshirts: (crew neck, gray only) $28
They are all available in S, M, L and XL. Add $2 for XXLs. Add $3 for XXXLs. 

Please note: As before, these friendly prices are based on the customer paying in advance and picking up the T-shirts, as per usual, once they are available. Last day for placing an order is June 25. Thanks.

 My email address is: ftrea9@yahoo.com.

Labels That Don't Stick

This illo by STYLE's art department ran with the piece.
Note: The piece that follows was published as a Back Page by STYLE Weekly on April 7, 2004. Thinking about today's ideology-defying brand of politics brought it to mind. In 2004, I didn't certainly see Trump's presidency coming. While I could easily have imagined a television celebrity might one day pull it off, in that time I saw Trump mostly as a buffoon and I was ignoring "reality television" as a genre. 

Still, in this 14-year-old piece I was seeing the coming of a different way of framing politics in the USA. The old definitions of left and right were being blurred beyond recognition, curiously, even as Americans seemed to be becoming all the more label-conscious. In hindsight, now I have to say I was seeing the cynical poison that the "branding" concept was injecting into the culture.
Labels That Don't Stick
by F.T. Rea

The terms “liberal” and “conservative,” as used by many of today's chattering pundits and campaigning politicians, are as outdated as your Uncle Dudley's lime green leisure suit ... or that open can of beer you left on the porch railing yesterday afternoon.

In the turbulent 1960s, such convenient left–right labels may have been misnomers at times, too, but at least they made some sense. In the context of the Cold War Era – with explosive issues such as the Vietnam War and civil rights in the air – it was useful to see a left-to-right political spectrum.

In those days, segregationists and hawks derisively called their most vocal opponents “liberals” and “pinkos.” Civil rights demonstrators and doves didn’t mind calling their opposites “right-wingers” and “fascists.” And in spite of how the circumstances and issues have changed since then, the same threadbare labels have remained in use.

Why?

Well, it’s mainly because it has suited the people attempting to cash in on conditioned reactions to words such as “left” and “right,” “liberal” and “conservative.”

Howard Dean is best described as a political maverick. His record as governor of Vermont was hardly that of a left-winger. Yet because he was for a spell the most effective critic of the Bush policy in Iraq, the feisty doctor was branded by pundits and Bush apologists as an extreme leftist from a silly state that might as well be part of Canada.

In 1991 a radio news story described a political brouhaha in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard, the stubborn communists — who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.

No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.

The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” When considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political — capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left — the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.

George W. Bush likes the tag “compassionate conservative.” It’s a label that served him well in the 2000 election. But Bush’s steering of the nation’s economy, his unprecedented accumulation of debt, have hardly been conservative in the traditional sense. Nor has Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy been in the least bit prudent or conservative.

Being aggressive and being conservative are altogether different things. Leading up to World War II, the conservative Republicans wanted to keep America out of the fray much longer than did the FDR Democrats.

When Bush eschewed the idea of nation building in his first presidential campaign he was talking like a traditional, somewhat isolationist conservative. Now he walks like anything but a conservative with what is going on in Iraq — whatever that is.

In the contemporary American political game, when players call themselves or their opponents “liberals” or “conservatives” they are probably just trying to jerk you around by what they see as your shallow understanding of the situation.

Today’s political issues divide along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences that split generations, classes, lifestyles and you-name-it. Trying always to frame such issues in a left-right context tortures the truth.

In this election year, the wise voter will brush aside the labels and remember that neither conservatives nor liberals have ever had an exclusive on two considerations that matter a lot more than labels — honesty and competence.

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