Friday, November 22, 2019

Single Bullet Theory?

Camelot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave lasted 1,036 days. In particular, for the children in school on Nov. 22, 1963, the murder of President John F. Kennedy was stunning in a way nothing has been since.

On Nov. 24, 1963 a live national television audience witnessed the murder of the assassination’s prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. There was no doubt that Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, was the trigger-man. What made him do it is still being questioned.

Shortly after JFK’s death, columnist Mary McGrory expressed her dark feelings to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “We’ll never laugh again.”

Moynihan, who was an Assistant Secretary of Labor then, famously replied, “Heavens, Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”

The cynicism spawned by the cloaked-in-secrecy aftermath of the JFK assassination has tinted everything the aforementioned school children have seen since those dark days. Everything.

However, I’m not at all convinced there had to have been a complicated conspiracy to kill the president and cover up the tracks. Furthermore, after he was dead, just because some people deliberately obscured related information, we don't necessarily know why they did it.

In some cases it was probably people trying to cover asses, hither and yon, for a myriad of reasons. Please don't get me wrong, though, I’m not trying to say I doubt there was such a murder conspiracy.

So, for now, let's skip past the argument over whether, or not, Oswald acted alone. For the moment, let's not speculate about whether Oswald was a dupe, or one of the greatest marksmen who ever lived. The point of this remembrance is to recognize that the secrecy that rushed in that obscured the truth about what happened in November of 1963 poisoned the American culture in a way that is still being felt. 

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24, 1964: Essentially, Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin. Which immediately unleashed the questioning of the Commission’s findings.

Perhaps its famous “single bullet theory,” which had one projectile traveling circuitously through two victims was great sleuthing. Or maybe it was just an unbelievable reach.

*

In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an auditorium in Manhattan. Three years later Rev. Martin Luther King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by a sniper. Only two months later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's presidential run shockingly ended, he was shot to death in a Los Angeles hotel. It was a shock, but in 1968 it was not a surprise.

Unfortunately, the official stories on those three shootings were widely doubted, even disbelieved. In the ‘60s more public scrutiny of how those assassination probes were conducted might have led to different conclusions. More importantly, even if more sunlight into those investigations failed to produce different outcomes, at least Americans might have felt better about the good faith of the processes.

Instead, it seemed then the authorities generally believed the citizenry didn't really have a right to see the whole truth and nothing-but. Too often it seems to have been decided on high that the public was better off not knowing some things, as if we were all children.

Of course, such secrecy can hide everyday malfeasance, as well. Shielding the citizenry from such information is the sort of thinking that went with world wars, with spies lucking about. In the 1960s, perhaps as part of the Cold War, the public more or less expected its government to routinely withhold all sorts of secrets.

That, whether the public like it, or not. Eventually, it took the rudest of revelations to snap many Americans out of blithely tolerating an over-abundance of secrecy:
  • The My Lai Massacre horrors.
  • The publishing of the Pentagon Papers.
  • The Watergate Scandal hearings.
  • The Iran-Contra Scandal hearings.
  • The bogus justification for invading Iraq. 
As those events paraded by, America steadily morphed into a nation of cynics. Now, those of us who recognize the damage that's been done by official lies know better. We were wrong to ever have accepted such skullduggery in the name of keeping America safe.

*

In 1997 Sen. Moynihan’s book, “Secrecy: The American Experience,” was published. In the opening chapter he wrote:
In the United States, secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined. There is a formidable literature on regulation of the public mode, virtually none on secrecy. Rather, there is a considerable literature, but it is mostly secret. Indeed, the modes of secrecy remain for the most part -- well, secret.
On inquiry there are regularities: patterns that fit well enough with what we have learned about other forms of regulation. But there has been so little inquiry that the actors involved seem hardly to know the set roles they play. Most important, they seem never to know the damage they can do. This is something more than inconveniencing to the citizen. At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm's way.
Fifty-six years after the murder of JFK, it’s high time to stop tolerating unnecessary secrecy in government at all levels. After all, secrets that invite speculation and provoke conspiracy theories serve a nefarious agenda just as well as a lie. 

Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote: 
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Today, to trust official conclusions, we need plenty of Brandeis' sunlight. We not only need investigations, we need to be able to see into the investigations. So expert testimony at Congressional hearings is a good thing.

The ongoing impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence Committee have been good for the USA, regardless of how the whole process pans out. Here's why: Millions of young Americans got to see several heroic federal government workers at their best, righteously concerned with the commonweal. Now it will be harder for those young viewers to ever again buy the conservative propaganda that routinely casts diplomats and other government experts as fuzzy-thinking eggheads and incompetent goldbricks.

Lastly, for democracy to have a chance of working properly and delivering good government, we the voters need to know whose money is behind every politician's ploy. Knowing who paid for what always helps. Brandeis was spot on about the power of sunlight. 

Taking it home: Single bullet theory, you say?

Great name for a punk era band.

-- 30 --

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Remembering No. 32

Photo by Dan Dunivan
At the Siegel Center just before noon today a former basketball player who recently died was honored before the game. The player was Edward H. Peeples, Jr. (1935-2019), a longtime Virginia Commonwealth University professor, who actually played his basketball for RPI (Richmond Professional Institute), the forerunner to VCU. The public address announcer spoke briefly about Dr. Peeples' long distinguished career, mentioned that members of his family were on hand and called for a moment of silence.

The record shows Ed Peeples was co-captain of the first RPI men's basketball team to finish the season with a winning record; it was the 1956-57 team. And, I'll get back to Peeples, but first I have to report that the Rams ran the visiting Jacksonville State University Gamecocks out of the gym.

Six of VCU's players scored in double figures to pave the way to a crushing victory: VCU 93, JSU 65. The game really wasn't as close as the score might suggest.

In the tilt's first five minutes the revved-up Rams forced five turnovers, facilitating a 16-0 run. In all, they made 58 percent of their shots from the field, which of course, always helps. Meanwhile, their aggressive defense forced 21 turnovers, blocked 13 shots and held the befuddled Gamecocks to a 38 percent shooting percentage. On offense VCU had 23 assists on 38 total baskets. After the game VCU's head coach, Mike Rhoades, was happy about the 23 assists.

Eleven Rams were on the floor for over 10 minutes. This was such a team effort there's no place here for any individual statistics. It was what some observers like to call a "complete game." Moreover, for Rhoades' VCU team to look this polished on offense and relentless on defense in mid-November is quite noteworthy.

Here's more about Ed Peeples from a webpage about his book, "Skalawag." To see the whole page go here. 
Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr. [was] Emeritus Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at Virginia Commonwealth University where he taught for more than 30  years. Peeples made most of his academic contributions in the fields of medical behavioral science, public health, epidemiology and sociology. But much of his research and writing dealt with contemporary issues of social justice and he spent most of his adult life as a civil rights advocate involved in a variety of human rights reforms in Virginia and other places across the south.
Now I wonder if that brief pre-game tribute to Peeples helped set the tone. Which spawned an idea: Would dedicating the rest of the season to Peeples be a good move to make? It doesn't take much to say that's what you're doing.

And, not that I'm superstitious, but I wonder if a circular black and gold patch, maybe about two inches wide, with a 32 on it (for Peeples) worn on the Rams uniforms, from here on, would help inspire more complete games.

Some players like good luck charms. Coaches, too.

Maybe it would be good fortune of a sort to occasionally boost basketball game announcers on television into explaining to their viewers what the No. 32 is about. Who Peeples was, etc.

Hey, wouldn't that story put VCU, as a whole, in a rather flattering light? It might even be fun to hear it told at the NCAA tournament.

Just a thought.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Save Byrd Park Effort Was Worth It

Nine years ago I was part of an ad hoc group devoted to saving Byrd Park from an intrusion that would have changed the nature of the park in a radical way that we couldn't abide. 

We were a small group of Byrd Park's neighbors and a few park enthusiasts who found one another out at the park. We became activists, of a sort. We did our research. Even had a Save Byrd Park Facebook page we used to communicate.   

Our mission was to prevent a commercial, theme park-like development from invading the last few acres of the original park that still remained unpaved, untended and natural. 

Below are links to two articles I wrote about the situation described above; 

By the way, we won.  



 
 

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Mad Don Zone


After all of the investigating, it's ironic that new and solid evidence of President Donald Trump's impeachable acts suddenly parachuted into the picture. More may be on the way.

Still, while impeachment in the House appears to be likely, because of the politics baked into this situation it's widely believed that no amount of such evidence will ever get a conviction in the Senate. That's because mere proof of his malfeasance seems unlikely to move many Republican senators to do the right thing ... simply because it's right. By now we all know it will take way more than that.

However, just as fear has compelled them to cling to Trump, a larger fear could make them drop him like a burning bagful of batshit. The “fear” I mean is fear of Trump's unbridled impulsiveness. 

Yes, I'm talking about fear of what his willful ignorance could spawn. Fear of his need to lash out and act alone. Fear of his unchecked power to direct the departments of State, Defense and Justice as his reckless whims dictate. Fear of his insatiable lust for more power. Fear of his disgusting cruelty. In other words, fear of Trump's craziness.

The unfolding nightmare in Syria underlines the danger of waiting until January 20, 2021, to be rid of Trump. The possibility that a coast-to-coast, snowballing fear of what the hell he might do, if he's pushed too hard, may have the potential to change enough minds. Enough to spare the USA from another year of life in the Mad Don Zone. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

It Paid to Advertise

The distinctive front windows of the Bearded Bros.,
black lights and Dayglo-painted panels (1969).

As the doorway into show business opened for me, 50 years ago, I entered gladly. At the time I had a sales job I was itching to quit. What I wanted was to be a cartoonist/writer and eventually a filmmaker. So serving sandwiches and beer in a Fan District dive then seemed like a step in that direction. At least more so than continuing to sell janitorial supplies.

Thus, when a friend, Fred Awad, offered me work at the restaurant he was operating my coat-and-tie job was history. Actually, my coming aboard as a bartender/manager was part of a larger plan we had cooked up to convert what was then a typical blue collar neighborhood beer joint/eatery into the Fan Distict's most happening night club.

The restaurant belonged to Fred's parents, who wanted to retire. Toward that goal, they had turned it over to their sons, Fred and Howard. The brothers changed the name of the place from Marconi's to the Bearded Brothers. It was located on the southeast corner of Allison St. and West Broad St.

Growing beards was easy, but as it happened the Awad boys couldn’t agree on how to run the business, so the younger brother, Howard, left to pursue the quest of opening a place of his own.

In a series of conversations Fred and I had talked ourselves into believing the fun-loving baby boomers in the Fan District needed a place to enjoy cold beer, hot food, live music and a psychedelic light show. That, together with the edgy spectacle of go-go girls on stage -- dancing topless. At this time, in 1969, such "dancing" was going on in Roanoke. But it had yet to make its way to Richmond.

And, speaking of booming babies, at this time my wife, Valerie, was six months pregnant. Fred’s wife, Mary Ann, was seven months along. So while Fred and I were brimming over with youthful confidence that the new scheme for the restaurant would pay off, in truth, it was under pressure to do so right away.

It took us a couple of weeks to paint the walls of the interior flat black and build the stage for the dancers and light show apparatus. We also painted the front window panes that faced Broad Street in Dayglo colors illuminated by black lights. While I did most of the window painting, a handful of volunteers also painted a few of the panes. 

Fred booked a couple of local rock ‘n’ roll bands. They performed maybe three or four nights a week, and that went over well as the '60s wound to its conclusion. As we had planned, the live music immediately brought in a fresh nighttime crowd. A four-man group calling itself Natural Wildlife became a regular attraction.Then it came time to hire the go-go dancers. So a help-wanted sign went up in the restaurant.

A few young women came in asking about the dancing job. Eventually, we settled on two. One of them had some go-go girl experience, the other didn’t. But only the dancer new to the exhibitionism trade could be there for the first night, which we advertised in the local newspaper. The ad art was my work; it featured a pen-and-ink rendered silhouette of a female dancer and a new Bearded Bros. logo I had designed.

By 8 p.m. the place was packed, wall-to-wall. We were selling beer like never before. The only problem was that our featured dancer with her new sequinned costume, which included tasseled pasties to cover her nipples (Alcohol Beverage Control Board regulation), was scary late. She hadn’t called, either.

With the crowd clamoring for the promoted dancing aspect of the show to get underway, a woman with a sculpted hairdo, wearing shades (at night), waved to get my attention. As the joint was noisy, I motioned to her to come around to the end of the bar I was behind. In a what was maybe a Queens accent, she asked something like, “Do you need another dancer?”

Trying to hide my pure glee, I called Fred over. She told us she had noticed the Bearded Bros. ad in a discarded newspaper on the counter of the Greyhound bus station’s coffee shop. She claimed she had been dancing in a club in Baltimore. She was chewing gum. Fred promptly offered her $50 to alternate sets with the other dancer.  

That night’s experience gave me new faith in the power of advertising. The Greyhound Girl even had her costume with her in her suitcase. Fred paid her in advance and suggested that since the other woman was running late, she could go on right away.

It all went over like gangbusters. Up on stage, with the lights and music, she danced like the pro she actually was. Natural Wildlife was cooking and the beer taps stayed open.

After the dancer’s first set was over, she put on a robe and found Fred and me behind the bar. She laughed, “There ain’t no other girl, is there?”

Either Fred or I probably said, “Hey, we don’t know where she is.”

“I’ll need another fifty bucks to go back up there,” is about what she said ... firmly.

The money was put in her hand without hesitation. She agreed to do two more 20-minute sets. Yes, a hundred bucks was a lot of money for about an hour's worth of work, then, but there was no use in quibbling.

After that night we never saw her again. Other women were hired, pronto. The show went on. 

It became my duty to paint the dancers with Dayglo paint. I painted vines curling around their arms and legs, stars and stripes on their torsos, etc. Yet, after a few weeks of that, it seemed the most vocal of the customers didn't care much about the artsy aspects of topless dancing, such as they were. They preferred bare skin. So, the Laugh-In-style body decorating stopped.

Although painting the dancers was a pleasant enough task, hanging out after work was the best perk of the Bearded Bros. job (which wasn't always paying me as much as I needed to make each week). Frequently friends, some of them musicians, stayed around late, jamming, smoking pot and playing pinball games. The most notable of the musicians who passed through was Bruce Springsteen, whose band occasionally played in Richmond then. He was a skinny, quiet guy who didn’t stand out as much then as he would later.

When my daughter was born in January the Bearded Bros. scene was lively. Then, as the weather warmed up, the crowds began to thin out. Other clubs opened up offering live music, some of which were closer to VCU. Gradually, the restaurant began to drift back toward being what it had been before it had been painted black.

The restaurant's daytime crowd of regulars from the neighborhood didn't always mix well with the hippies coming in at night for the music. Then the topless angle turned out to be mostly a fad that sort of clashed with both crowds. So it was discontinued.

In the spring I had to look for a real job again. After short runs at a couple of forgettable jobs, I landed a sales position at WRNL AM/FM. Richmond Newspapers still owned the two radio stations then. Once again, I learned it paid to advertise. And, on that job I did my first professional writing, when I began penning commercials and dreaming up promotions for my advertising clients.

Eventually, Fred's mother took the restaurant back over. About a year later Howard Awad opened up Hababas on the 900 block of W. Grace St., where he had a lot of fun making large money (1971-84) serving cold beer and playing canned music on his popular bar’s monster sized stereo.

In the years to come topless dancing morphed into a creepy form of entertainment aimed at an entirely different audience. Truth be told, since the time of the Bearded Brothers I've never had any interest in the places that feature that form of entertainment.

Although I saved copies of the aforementioned newspaper ad, the logo I did for Natural Wildlife cards and handbills, etc., I haven't seen any of that stuff in a long time. The only remaining souvenirs from my initial stumble into show biz are a few black and white photographs, like the shot above of the Bearded Bros. distinctly 1969 front windows,.

All rights reserved.  

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Handbill War of 1982

This clipping is from Throttle's July 1982 issue.

In 1982 the City of Richmond tweaked its City Code to crack down on the posting of unauthorized notices on fixtures in the public way. With a focus on the Fan District, policemen pulled handbills from utility poles and charged whoever they held responsible for posting the flier with violating the new statutes.

On June 28 of that same year, David Stover, a photographer and part-time usher at the Biograph Theatre, was ordered by a General District Court judge, R.W. Duling, to pay a $25 fine. Stover’s misdemeanor conviction stemmed from promoting a gig for his band, The Prevaricators. He admitted to the crime.

In the weeks before Stover’s court date others in local bands had been fined for committing the same crime. In the early-'80s Richmond’s live music scene may have been the strongest it had been in decades. The crackdown suddenly had most clubs and bands afraid to rely on handbill campaigns to promote their shows. As fliers were the main promotional tool for most of the rock 'n' roll shows the crackdown threatened to stifle that scene.

As the manager of the Biograph, I had been using the same sort of handbills on a regular basis for 10 years to promote that repertory cinema’s fare, in particular the midnight shows. In the last couple of years xerography had made the cost of a short run of little posters much more affordable. So, I wasn’t about to accept a ban on that integral method of promotion without a fight.

On top of that, it felt to me like the City of Richmond was not only trampling on my freedom of speech rights, but it was trying to undermine the Fan District's nightlife scene. Given those thoughts, I decided to go on stapling fliers to utility poles, more or less to invite a bust.

*

It wasn’t long before a polite cop showed up at the Biograph, toting a flier for “The Atomic Café,” the movie we were playing at that time. He told me he had removed it from a pole in the neighborhood. I promptly admitted to putting it up. He issued me a summons.

Due to procedural delays, it took over four months for my day in court to arrive. Which was fortunate, because I used that time window to build my case.

In part, the crackdown was spawned by the resentment some property owners in the Fan felt toward VCU’s growing presence. In that time the look associated with punk rock -- how the anti-establishment kids dressed, as well as their art -- was just as off-putting to some cultural conservatives as was the amplified sound of the music, itself. In a larger sense, it was all part of a familiar culture clash, warmed over from the late-'60s.

Consequently, the leaders of the Fan District Association of that era were dead set against the handbills that promoted edgy happenings in the Fan. Prompted, in some part by that civic association’s pressure, the City of Richmond proclaimed outlawing handbills would help with the litter problem.

All of which prompted me to start reading about similar situations in other places. In particular, cases that involved using fixtures in the public way, such as utility poles, as kiosks. I found some useful precedents that backed up my thinking. Plus, I began to study political art and outlaw art, down through history, with a fresh passion. 

Scheming about how to present my argument in court filled my head for the next four months. First, I wanted the court to see an essential context -- our society tolerates all sorts of signage on utility poles, because the messages are considered useful and the practice works.

Then, I wanted to convince a judge that once you considered all the handbills in the neighborhood around VCU, as a whole, it could be seen as an information system. It was a system that some young people were relying on for information, just the same as others might rely on newspapers obtained from a box sitting on public sidewalk. After all, what right did the newspaper company have to block any part of the public sidewalk with its box full of information, including a lot of advertising? What allowed for that?

One person might read the entertainment section in a local newspaper. Another person might look to the utility poles in their neighborhood, to read the posters touting live music shows or poetry readings. Some would trust the information found in a newspaper. Others might put more faith in the handbills posted on certain poles they walk past regularly. 

The only reason privately owned utility poles had ever been allowed to impose on public property, in the first place, was that electricity and telephone lines had been seen as serving the commonweal. So, why not use the bottom of the same poles as kiosks?   

Somewhere along the line, I told my bosses it would cost them nothing in legal fees. A couple of my friends who were on the theater's softball team, who were also pretty good lawyers, would handle the defense.


To gather plenty of good examples of handbills to use as evidence, we had an art show at the Biograph (see flier above). On October 5, some 450 fliers, posted on black foam core panels, were hung in the theater’s lobby. In all, there were probably 40 or 45 artists represented. A group of friends acted as impromptu art expert judges to select the best five of the show.

Naturally, there was a keg of beer on hand to grease the wheels of progress.

Two of the handbill art show judges from that night also served as expert witnesses at the trial. They were: Gerald Donato and David Manning White. Donato was an art professor at VCU; White was the retired head of the mass communications department at VCU. The best 100 of the handbills from the show were later taken to court as evidence.

One of Phil Trumbo’s Orthotones (later Orthotonics) handbills was named Best in Show. Most people who knew much about the handbill artists in the Fan would have said Trumbo was top dog, so it was a popular decision by the judges.

*

Thus, on November 5, 1982, I witnessed a fascinating scene in which an age-old question — what is art? — was hashed out in front of a patient judge, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the defense attorneys put before him. The room was packed with observers, which included plenty of gypsy musicians, film buffs and art students wearing paint-speckled dungarees.

Trumbo testified at the trial as a handbill expert, to explain how to make a handbill and why they were used by promoters of entertainment. He also described how the music and art associated with the bands and clubs were all part of the same scene that flowed out of the neighborhood's university.

My defense attorneys attacked the wording of the city's statute I was charged with violating as “overreaching.” They asserted on my behalf that it was my right to post the handbill, plus the public had a right to see it. The prosecution stuck to its guns and called the handbill, “litter.”

The judge was reminded that history-wise, posters predate newspapers. Furthermore, we asserted that some of the cheaply printed posters, a natural byproduct of having a university with a burgeoning art school in the neighborhood, were worthwhile art.

At a crucial moment, Donato was being grilled by the prosecutor. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, William B. Bray, asked the witness if the humble piece of paper in his hand, the offending handbill, could actually be “art.”

“Probably,” shrugged the prof. “Why not?”

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that it was no better than trash in the gutter. Having grown weary of the artsy, high-brow vernacular being slung around by the witnesses, the prosecutor tried one last time to make Donato look foolish.

As Warhol’s soup cans had just been mentioned by the art expert, the prosecutor asked something like, “If you were in an alley and happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that display be art, too?”

“Well,” said the artist, pausing momentarily for effect, “that would depend on who tipped the can over.”

Donato’s punch line was perfectly delivered. The courtroom erupted into laughter. Even the judge had to fight off a smile.

The crestfallen prosecutor gave up; he had lost the case. Although I got a kick out of the crack, too, I’ve always thought the City’s mouthpiece missed an opportunity to hit the ball back across the net.

“Sir, let me get this right,” he might have said, “are you saying the difference between art and randomly-strewn garbage is simply a matter of whose hand touched it; that the actual appearance of the objects, taken as a whole, is not the true test? Would you have us believe that without credentials, such as yours, one is ill-equipped to determine the difference ordinary trash and fine art?”

A smarter lawyer could well have exploited that angle.

Still, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert witness could be compelled to rise up to brand a handbill for a movie, a green piece of paper with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. So, Donato, who was a wily artist if ever there was one, probably would have one-upped the buttoned-down lawyer, no matter what.

Perhaps the question should not have been — how can you tell fake art from real art? Any town is full of bad art, mediocre art and good art. Name your poison. The better question to ask would be about whether the art is pleasing to the eye, thought-provoking or useful.

Then any viewer can be the expert witness. However, when it comes to great art, maybe it still depends on who tips the can over.

*

The next day the story about winning the handbill case was draped stylishly across the top of the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
‘Atomic Café’ handbill case is still clouded
By Frank Green
Sat., Nov. 6, 1982

Though the case has ended, the fallout from “The Atomic Café” may not be over.

Richmond District Court Judge Jose R. Davila Jr. dismissed a charge yesterday against Terry Rea, the manager of the Biograph Theater, who allegedly posted handbills advertising the movie “The Atomic Café” on some utility poles in the Fan in June…

…The case concerned the seemingly simple issue of the allegedly illegal posting of a handbill. But before it was over, the proceedings touched on topics that included free speech, soup cans, and nuclear energy, and invoked the names of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol and the city‘s public safety director.

Rea’s attorneys, John G. Colan and Stuart R. Kaplan, argued the city’s ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated Rea’s right of freedom of speech…

…“The city, GRTC, VCU, churches, the Boys Club and all the candidates use the public’s utility poles to post their signs. They know as well as the general public that there is nothing pretty about a naked pole. Handbills pose no danger to anyone. Is free speech only for some?” Rea asked in a handbill he had printed up before yesterday’s trial.   
Later that Saturday Richmond’s afternoon daily, the Richmond News Leader, carried this story:
Art or litter? Judge rules handbills not in ‘public way’
by Frank Donnelly
Nov. 6, 1982

One man’s art may be another man’s litter, but the real question was whether it blocks the “public way.”

Terry Rea, manager of the Biograph Theatre in Richmond, was charged in June with obstructing a city sidewalk when he posted handbills on utility poles in the Fan District.

Rea’s attorneys, eliciting testimony on mass media and art from several professors at Virginia Commonwealth University, argued yesterday that the city law limited their client’s freedom of speech.

However, Richmond General District Judge Jose R. Davila, Jr., said the issue came down to whether the posters obstructed the public way, and he ruled that the commonwealth’s attorney’s office failed to prove they did.

Davila dismissed the charge against the manager of the theater but stopped short of finding the city law unconstitutional, which also had been requested by Rea’s attorney’s.

The city now must decide whether to find a better legal argument to defend the city law or to revise it, officials said. The law is used by the police to combat excessive advertising in the public way, which is defined as any place open to the public, such as a street or sidewalk.

“The poles were perfectly clean this morning,” Capt. Robert T. Millikin, Jr., said about the possible impact of the decision. “Between you and me, I don’t know what they’ll [sic] going to look like between now and tonight.”

For the last year, Fan District residents have complained to police about the unsightliness caused by posters on trees and utility poles, Millikin said. The police asked businesses in June to stop posting the handbills and most businesses did so, he said.

Rea said he always has relied on handbills as an inexpensive but effective way to advertise movies at the theater, which specializes in the showing of avant-garde movies. Two weeks later, he was charged with a misdemeanor after posting advertisements for the anti-nuclear power movie, “The Atomic Cafe.”

The manager was charged under a law that states: “It shall be unlawful for any persons to obstruct or use a public way for advertising, promotional or solicitation purposes or for any purpose connected therewith ... by placing attacking [sic] or maintaining a sign on or to a fixture (such as a utility pole) ...”


...David M. White, a former VCU professor of mass communication and author of 20 books on the media, said handbills are a unique form of communication. The theater could advertise in newspapers but the cost was prohibitive, he said.

Jerry Donato, an associate VCU professor of fine arts, said that posters in the Fan District contained both art and messages. “The Atomic Cafe” posters, which contained the slogan, “A hot spot in a Cold War,” criticized the use of nuclear power, he said.

Asked by assistant commonwealth’s attorney William B. Bray whether a bunch of soup cans on the ground is art, Donato replied, “It depends on who arranged them.”

The courtroom, which held about 30 artists and supporters of the theater, erupted into laughter.

Bray said purpose of the statute was to prevent littering but agreed that another reason was to prevent obstruction of the public way. The posting of handbills could block the public way by falling off of a utility pole and causing pedestrians to slip, he said. The posting of the advertisements caused a hardship for the police, which sometimes had to take down the posters, Millikin said...


...Before the trial, Rea had argued, “The handbill posted in the public way is a unique and vital form of communication. Production and distribution is direct, swift and cheap.”

That message was printed on a handbill.
*

In 1985, Richmond once again passed new laws forbidding unauthorized fliers on utility poles. Another crackdown ensued.

This time it spawned a reaction from several of the Fan District’s handbill artists, musicians and promoters -- activists who called themselves the Fan Handbill Association.

Eventually, this issue prompted me to design a two-page, twice-a-week magazine, SLANT, made to be stapled to utility poles. There were cartoons, stories and ads. But that’s another story for another day.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Evil's Second Coming

Herblock cartoon from 1949
Note: This reaction to 9/11 piece I penned was originally published by STYLE Weekly on May 15, 2002. Looking back on it, I have to thank Rozanne Epps at STYLE for deciding to run this one on the Back Page, because the climate at the time was against running opinion pieces that questioned the Bush administration's post-9/11 tactics in any way. Many publishers had become too afraid of losing advertising. I added the famous Herblock 'toon to this post. It didn't run with the original piece.

*

Evil's Second Coming
by F.T. Rea

Washing in on what poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might have called a “blood-dimmed tide,” the specter of evil suddenly emerged from the periphery of modern life eight months ago. In the blue skies of the time before 9/11’s sucker punch, the notion of pure evil had an Old World air about it. Absolutes, such as good and evil, had no seat at the table of postmodern thinking.

After 9/11, a generation of Americans suddenly learned a bitter lesson: Evil never went away. Living in a land of plenty, it had gotten to be a pleasant habit to avert our eyes from evil-doings in lands of want. Evil had gone out of style, as a concept, only because times were so easy.

The last American president to get much mileage out of the word "evil" was probably Ronald Reagan, with his “evil empire” characterization of the USSR and its sphere of influence. Now, 20 years later, we have a president who sees “an axis of evil” — an alleged phenomenon that puzzles most of the world’s leaders, or so they say.

George W. Bush apparently has little use for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stalwart advice to a nation in need of a boost in confidence — “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Rather than urge his people to rise above it, Bush chooses to color-code fear. The propagandists of the Bush administration have been successful in cultivating the public’s anxiety since September. Whether that’s been done for our own good remains to be seen. Perhaps it has, but this much is clear now — all the official danger alerts about nuclear power plants, bridges and crop-dusters have been effective in keeping most of the natural questioning of the administration’s moves at bay.

To hear Attorney General John Ashcroft tell it, the architects of 9/11 are the personification of the most virulent form of evil ever known. Although much of the evidence that would establish his absolute guilt in connection with 9/11 remains a state secret, Osama bin Laden is said to have shot to the top of the chart.

Forget about Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. They were amateurs.Then again, evil, like beauty, has always been in the eye of the beholder.

Wasn’t it evil to deliberately dump tons of potent pesticide into the James River during the ’70s to make a greedy buck? Once it was in Virginia’s water, Kepone wasn’t so different from a bio-terror agent in the same water.

With the news seeping out of the cloisters about child-molesting priests and the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-ups, whose betrayal was more evil, the molester or the higher-ups who hid and facilitated his crimes?

Whether evil exists in some pure form, off in another dimension, is not my department. What’s known here is that in the real world evil is contagious. Lurking in well-appointed rooms or hiding in caves, evil remains as it ever was — ready to spread.

None of this is to suggest that al Qaida shouldn’t be put out of business. It isn’t to say that knocking the Taliban off was a bad idea. There’s no question here about whether the United States should protect itself from the networks of organized terror that are hell-bent on destroying the modern world.

Still, today’s evil is the same evil our forefathers faced in their wars. Evil hasn’t changed; technology has. With modern weapons in their hands, the fanatics of the world have the potential to wreak havoc like never before.

What has changed is the extent to which the hate festering in the souls of the world’s would-be poobahs and their psychopathic followers can be weaponized. It’s worth noting that the weapons of mass destruction that are scaring us the most were developed during the arms-race days of the Cold War by the game’s principal players.

So another question arises, who is more dangerous to civilization, the guys who spent their treasure to weaponize germs, or the guys who want to steal the stuff and use it on somebody?

Decades ago this was a concern expressed by some in the disarmament movement. Its scary what-if scenarios always included the likelihood that the Super Powers would eventually lose track of some of their exotic weapons. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious there was no way any government could keep all that material locked away from the greed and hate of determined free-lancers.

A man with a briefcase-style nuclear device may be no more evil than a man armed with a knife. Either danger could kill you just as dead. Those of us who feel connected to others, those who care about humanity's future know which one we should fear the most. The “rough beast” of dreadful evil “slouching towards” us is traveling on the back of technology of our own making.

While we watch out for organized terrorists in the short run, with a handy color code to guide us, it’s time to think more seriously about how to get rid of a lot of very dangerous weapons in the long run.

-- 30 --

Monday, September 02, 2019

Remembering Hurricane Hazel

As a kid and throughout my young adulthood I liked intense storms. Even liked being outside in them. Seeing a tornado, too close for comfort, in 1968, didn't change that. But growing older gradually did change my feeling about extreme weather. Hurricane Isabel's impact on Richmond in 2003 finished the job of turning me into a total scaredy-cat, when it comes to hurricanes. Now I want nothing to do with them.

This first hurricane I remember was Hazel in 1954. The smell of the storm and the sound of the wind-driven water were exciting. As a six-year-old, looking out of the bay windows of the dining room, Hazel's power made a big impression on me.

The tall, skinny pine trees behind the outbuildings were whipping around in the wind, when I saw what was thrilling ... then sad. The Umbrella Tree (our family name for it, I don’t know what kind it was) was suddenly yanked up out of the ground. It was in the air for a moment with its roots torn and exposed – it was a big tree – before it came crashing back down, almost upside down, to fall on its side.

In a flash of its gray wrath Hazel had killed what was my favorite tree to climb. Never again would it provide shade for the white lawn furniture that rested in the part of the yard we called, The Dell. Hazel left a mark on Virginia that few storms have. Its unusual path brought it up from North Carolina, on its way to Toronto. From the Caribbean to Canada the death total was over 600.

Here’s AccuWeather.com on Hazel:
The strongest storm of 1954 was the legendary Hurricane Hazel, a powerful Category 4 storm that brought estimated winds of 150 mph when it made landfall in the Carolinas on Oct. 15. The storm retained strength fairly far inland, causing 100 mph winds as far north as Pennsylvania and New York.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Big Stretch

Note: A version of this piece first appeared in STYLE Weekly as a Back Page in 2002.


The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain, a collaborator held one end of the silly looking contraption as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Aiming as best I could, looking along the taut line of connected rubber bands, I let go.

The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder. The released tip struck a target, or maybe it was near it, several feet beyond the holder. It worked! While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching was glorious.

Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it wasn't long before I figured out how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the schoolroom were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild, dubbed the Stretch, the spitballs that routinely flew around such rooms in 1961 at Albert H. Hill Junior High were strictly old news. The next two days of playing with the new sensation of the seventh grade had the effect of transforming me into the leader of a crew, of a sort.

A couple of days later, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had was an updated version of my invention. This one was some 60 links long. Of course, it's name was the Big Stretch.

Only trusted henchmen had seen it in its test runs. No one else at school had seen it and naturally, I was only too happy to change that. Once the mind-boggling range of the Big Stretch was demonstrated on the schoolyard, boys were shoving one another, trying to be next in line to act as the holder.

With this new version, early on, most of the time I did the shooting. As the rubber-band wonder whizzed by the holder, it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by was something to talk about. On the asphalt playground, adjacent to the yellow brick school building, each flight was a crowd-pleaser.

The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its experienced operators established to the delight of the crowd that cheerleaders doing their routines on the sideline could be zapped on their bouncing butts from 25 yards away with impunity. In my junior high school in 1961 not much could have been cooler than that.

After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, I decided to significantly lengthen the chain of rubber bands. However, the new version, about 100 rubber bands long, was neither as accurate or powerful as the previous model had been. My theory was that it was just too damn heavy for its own good.

A day or so later came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players insisted on taking a single turn as shooter and holder of the new Big Stretch. OK. Then they demanded a second turn. I said, "No."

Surrounded by seventh-grade devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground, "No!"

But my fair-weather entourage proved to be useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted.

The bullies fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered. By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so I gathered what remained of my dignity and decided to shrug off the whole affair, as best I could.

For whatever reasons, I chose not to make another version of the Big Stretch. I don't remember thinking about it. A few days later a couple of other kids copied it, and showed it off, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it had gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze simply ran out of gas at Hill School. It wasn't cool, anymore.

So, it was over. At that same time, 1961, the slang meaning of “cool” still had an underground cachet. I thought beatniks were cool. The same went for certain musicians and baseball players. Still, I would hardly have known how to convincingly say why.  

Since then I've come to understand that the concept of cool is said to have seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. Well, that may be so, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.

Anyway, wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker's word-smithing wasn’t cool, what the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, suprematism and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.

Cool’s zenith as a style had probably been passed by 1961, about the time I was becoming enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Looking back on that time now I have to think that widespread exposure and cool didn't mix. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class.

Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy. The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool every time.

However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce. By the ‘70s, the mobs of hippies attuned to stadium rock ‘n’ roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular.

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed baby boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a mean buzz and gave up. By the mid-'80s nihilism was masquerading as cool ... then it just stopped mattering. 

Since then, when people say, “ku-wul,” usually it's to express their ordinary approval of routine things. Which underlines the lesson that time tends to stretch slang expressions thin, as they are assimilated. 

At Hill School, the process of becoming cool, then popular, then routine, literally pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the edgy, experimental aspect of it was over, it had become just another gimmick. Its coolness was kaput.

If Dorothy Parker's word-smithing wasn’t 
cool, what the hell was?

-- Photo of Albert H. Hill Middle School from RVA Schools 
My Dorothy Parker illustration was done in 2013. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Living in a Movie: The Walk



Although Susan was quite attractive she wasn't the sort of heavenly brunette likely to stare at a viewer from the cover of a glossy fashion magazine. On the other hand, when she walked across a room, all eyes tended to follow her. Susan had a great walk. Her gait wasn't particularly fast or slow, it didn't seem affected. Her slender limbs were long. The sway of her body was natural, not exaggerated. Her steps had a graceful light-on-her-feet confidence and her head was held high. Her wrists were loose. Susan glided.

Susan was a part-time cashier at the Biograph Theatre (in Richmond) for some five months during the Biograph's first year of operation (1972). She was a full-time VCU student. Although I can't recall anything unusual happening to mark the occasion, for some reason I clearly remember a scene in which I noticed that everyone in the lobby seemed mesmerized, watching her walk across the room. It was like living in a movie. 

Actually, I know that sort of thing happened other times during Susan's stint at the Biograph, but for some reason I still only picture the few seconds I just mentioned. In those days I tended to collect scenes for my imaginary movie. When something caught my eye sometimes I would think it should be remembered, so I could put a scene like it in a film I would someday make. While the movie was never made, some of the saved memories linger.

In a lot of moving pictures that show people watching an attractive woman walking it's about her projected sex appeal and frequently it's played as campy. Think Fellini.

Which is not at all like the scene I'm remembering in the Biograph's lobby. In my scene the woman is smooth and aloof. Think “The Girl From Ipanema” … ahh.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Forced Reverence


The controversy began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick's quite gesture in 2016. Here we are now three years later and the arguments for and against athletes taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem haven't changed much. 

When I see threads on Facebook about it the comments are basically the same each time. It's almost like those commenting are reciting them. Frequently that thought reminds me of an odd episode about recitation rituals from my own childhood.

When I was in elementary school there was a start-the-day ritual that was done each day. First the teacher called the roll. Then one student was summonsed to the front of the class to lead in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer. We kids took turns.

Like some of my peers, I didn't like doing that job. It made me nervous. But in the second grade I hadn't gotten to the point in my career as a student that I would have protested, or flatly refused to do what was expected.

The Pledge came first. So I faced the flag, as required, and started saying the spiel with my hand over my heart. Except, I was reciting the Lord's Prayer – “Our Father, which art in heaven...”

Naturally, the kids laughed ... a lot. 

Of course, I must have changed gears to say the proper speech, but I don't remember that part. The embarrassment and laughter I remember all too well. 

Later some kids were said they were sure I'd done it on purpose, perhaps because I was already somewhat of a class clown type. At some point later on it must have occurred to me that the Pledge of Allegiance was sort of like a prayer.

Gradually, over the years, I grew to be more and more uncomfortable with any kind of prayer/chant that is forced onto people. Maybe WWII movies about Nazis were influencing me.

Consequently, it has been a long time since I've put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem at games. I always stand, quietly, hands clapped together in front of me, but I don't sing along. Yes, I've been glared at more than a few times, but there's never been a scene.

Sometimes I do flash back onto that time in the second grade when I was first made to feel uncomfortable about forced patriotism or forced prayer.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Shooters Shoot

 

Don't tell me most of America’s mass-murdering shooters were just crazy killers who would simply have switched over to bombs or poison, if they couldn't have gotten a hold of their favorite tools. I believe those massacre-makers craved the raw thrill of shooting rapid-fire weapons at living people so much the urge finally became irresistible.

Killers they were, but they weren't bombers or poisoners. They weren't knife-wielders or stranglers. They were shooters. Shooters shoot.

Shooters project their will over a distance with instant results they can see. While Wayne LaPierre and the rest of the shills for the firearms industry talk about protecting constitutional rights, the angle they don't want to discuss is protecting thrills. Truth be told: Possessors of assault rifles adore the thrill of shooting those weapons of war.

As we've seen too often, for the most evil of rapid-fire gun lovers, the thrill of shooting at their selected human targets, even terrified children, can become irresistible.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Night the Earth Stood Still

Note: In December of 1999 the editor at Richmond.com, Richard Foster, asked me to do something with the much-in-the-news Y2K scare. He was happy to let me play with it. The gig had me filing the story a few days before New Year’s Day, to be published on January 3rd. This is what I came up with.   

The Night the Earth Stood Still
F. T. Rea
Richmond.com
Monday, January 03, 2000

To Whom It May Concern: Greetings from the waning hours of 1999 in Richmond, Virginia, USA. And, in case it matters, on Earth.

Sitting at a table outside of Puddn'Heads Coffee House on an Indian Summer morning in November, I read a Y2K paranoia article with smug satisfaction as I consumed my daily dose of black coffee.

When I noticed a woman walk by with a mischievous Jack Russell Terrier at her side, I paused to think - who actually believed that anything significant was going to happen just because another page of the Christian calendar was about to be removed and tossed into the cosmic trash bin of time?

The woman looked a bit like Patricia Neal, which brought to mind "The Day the Earth Stood Still," the 1951 sci-fi classic that anticipated a modern society's panic from the sudden loss of all electricity.

Alas, that was only a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, when I felt so unconcerned about Y2K bugs.

Now my nonchalance about this Y2K business has evolved into something else. Tonight, sitting at my keyboard on Dec. 16, I've started to get spooked by contemplating what's actually going to go down when zillions of pulsing gizmos sense that we have crossed the border between 1999 and 2000.

While I am anything but knowledgeable about matters pertaining to computers and the Internet, the fact is I use them both all the time. Frankly, I don't like to think about a world without word processing and e-mail.

At this point, I don't even know whether my computer will be of any use to me once we cross the great divide. I've been told on some good authority, there is a chance my old 486 may just seize up.

Of course that's a practical fear. Being a writer, I'm naturally concerned about my livelihood.

What is this I'm reading? You ask.

It's days after Y2K. We all know by now that (pick one) a) the Earth has been reduced to a still-glowing fireball; or b) it was all a big bore and we'll never fall victim to mass-hysteria again.

Well, reader, you're one up on me. The real problem looming as I type these words is that I have no idea that modern civilization isn't going to melt down over this splendidly ironic glitch in the system. I'm still weeks behind you, still left to wonder if the lights really will go out at midnight, Jan. 1, 2000. Still left to wonder if it's possible that our whole deal could go down the drain.

So think of this piece as a quaint time capsule beamed into the future - January, 2000.

Despite my Y2K blues, however, I believe that this article will almost certainly appear online as scheduled. I fully expect that you are sitting in front of your monitor reading this on richmond.com.

Then the laugh will be on all the people who admitted they were preparing for all manner of catastrophe. And, I suppose to some extent that will mean me. Fine. I'll be laughing then too.

I hope.

Nonetheless as I sit here, sipping on a bitter Pale Ale, I have no trouble imagining that roving bands of thugs could be out the first night without electricity. Looters could come out of the woodwork. If our toilets won't flush, our phones don't work, and all forms of mass communication are kaput, people could wig out big time.

Then, anything from the familiar post-apocalyptic menu could happen. Yes, I admit it - I'm getting a little worried.

In fact, I'm not at all sure when, or even if, anyone is actually going to read this. It has already occurred to me that maybe the only real point to my writing these paragraphs is to keep my squirmy consciousness occupied.

For that matter, every time a wordsmith plies his trade there is some leap of faith involved: Yes, it will be published. And yes, someone will read it.

Fetching yet another perfectly chilled ale, it just struck me that, for all I know, the entire power grid has gone down hard by the time you're supposed to be reading this.

And you, my dear reader, you could be someone who has stumbled across this material decades into the future. You could be an archeologist studying the artifacts of what remains of civilization circa 1999.

Or, perhaps you are reading this less than a month into the new millennium.

You are huddled in a icy bunker. Your generator-powered PC's monitor is providing the only light for you to pry open the precious can of beans you found in a pile of rubble.

And, with good reason you are reading this little essay with one eye peeled on the only doorway. Your revolver, as always, is at your side. You still have three bullets left.

You could even be the last human being alive. On the other hand, maybe you are not human at all. You could be from ...

Maybe everything is still, frozen timelessly in place.

OK, calm down.

If that is the case, there still could be one last chance. I know it sounds silly, but try saying the following phrase aloud: "Klaatu Barada Nikto."*

How could it hurt?

"Klaatu Barada Nikto!"

From 1999, this is F. T. Rea, over and out ...

Note: *The key line from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" that commanded the all-powerful robot Gort to switch the world's machines back on.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Punch Drunk

Benny Paret (left) died 10 days after this beating.
Note: In this piece I wrote 17 years ago, I anticipated the demise of professional boxing. Looks like I was wrong (again). It was originally published by STYLE Weekly on June 26, 2002

*

In case the sports-minded reader was distracted by the Triple Crown, the French Open, the World Cup, the NBA finals or interleague baseball games during the second weekend of June, please note that pugilist Mike Tyson was in the news as well. This time it wasn't about parole violations. Nor was it anything to do with his oft-stated desire to eat children. It was about the boxing match held in Memphis, Tenn., on June 8.

After an avalanche of pre-fight hype, once in the ring, reigning heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis punished Iron Mike for seven rounds. Perhaps then Lewis was satisfied that the man who had bitten his leg at a January press conference had been sufficiently softened up for the knockout punch. In the eighth, Lewis, 36, sent a bloody and thoroughly beaten Tyson crashing to the canvas for the 10-count. (Click here to see the knockout punch at YouTube.)

The ripples from the Tyson/Lewis affair resonated beyond the traditional audience for boxing. Because of Tyson's much-reported propensity to lose his grip, this was a spectacle with the brand of sizzle that trash culture consumers can't get enough of.

Television's sports talkers went so far as to claim the aforementioned weekend, with its wide variety of stellar attractions, was the greatest weekend of sporting events in history. At this desk it isn't known who keeps track of such records. However, I do have a take on whether professional boxing should still be viewed as a sport in 2002.

In a word the answer is "no."

Boxing is an archaic, sometimes compelling spectacle that features men who bleed for cash. Whether boxers bleed willingly is not the issue. People will do a lot of things for money. Whether the old "sweet science" has overstayed its welcome, that is the issue.

Isn't convicted rapist Mike Tyson, a longtime protégé of boxing boss Don King, precisely the shameless personality we've needed to look directly in the eye to finally ask ourselves, "Why in hell is boxing still around?" Since professional boxing has long been directed by the worst elements of society, why should a civilized people continue to countenance a practice that really has no upside to it?

Boxing calls upon its participants to strive to injure one another in plain sight. No legitimate sport permits that. Violent games, such as football and hockey, allow plenty of contact. But both prohibit players from deliberately trying to injure an opponent.

This scribbler turned the corner on boxing after interviewing a Richmond neurologist, Nelson G. Richards, for a boxing article in 1985. At the time, Dr. Richards was making national headlines for his leadership in persuading the American Medical Association to change its position and call for the outright banning of boxing.

After listening to Richards describe what had been recently learned about how the puncher's blows can move the punchee's brain around inside his skull — apparently it compresses and ricochets like a bouncing rubber ball — boxing's traditional defenses withered for me.

"The public should be made aware of the intentionally dangerous effects of boxing," Richards said.

Beyond the vexing medical and moral considerations of boxing, there are some legal questions, too. Why does the label "boxing" immunize the participants from facing what would be the legal consequences of anyone else repeatedly striking a person with their fists? Why should the presence of ropes, a referee and an audience trump a community's laws against assault and public brawling?

Modern society no longer permits dueling with pistols or swords. Boxing is dueling with fists.

While I don't follow boxing closely these days, at one time I did. I remember watching Emile Griffith literally beat Benny "Kid" Paret to death on TV when I was 14. Paret collapsed into the ropes in such a way that they held him up.

Griffith blocked off the incompetent referee and repeatedly hit the totally helpless Paret until the job was done. It was their third fight, and supposedly, there was some bad blood between them. (Click here to see the almost surreal end of that fight at YouTube, including some commentary by Norman Mailer.)

Given the chance to decide whether this commonwealth should continue to allow professional boxing matches, my guess is, Virginia's voters would say "no." After all, once it becomes an issue, and the pros and cons are debated, how many people would really step forward to defend boxing as a legitimate sport that gives something positive back to the community?

Back to Tyson: Even at his best, 15 years ago, Tyson, 35, wasn't a skilled boxer. He was a hard puncher, a first-round knockout artist. Sonny Liston, a surly heavyweight champion in his day (1962-'64), was a feared puncher, too. But you don't hear many boxing aficionados throwing Liston's name into discussions of the great heavyweights.

For what it's worth, it says here that Tyson and Liston are roughly equal in the all-time heavyweight rankings. Both were brutal. Yet, neither ever showed the deft skills or competitive heart the most revered champions have exhibited.

This is all to say that much of the drawing-card power Tyson brought to Memphis was due to publicity about his wretched doings outside the ring and the ridiculous Holyfield ear-biting incident five years ago.

Immediately after the Memphis fight, with his face swollen and shredded, a subdued Tyson wasted no time in begging Lewis for a rematch in that creepy baby-voice of his.

Don't be surprised to see Tyson's blood flowing on the small screen, again. For every guy who paid $54.95 hoping to see Tyson win, or bite somebody's nose off, there will be another guy happy to see the washed-up bully get thrashed more severely next time around.

Television or not, eventually the boxing match itself is bound to be banished to Third-World countries and offshore barges. It's just a matter of when. Although men such as Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were seen as heroes in their day, that day is fading into the mists of history.

Hasn't the time run out for putting up with the stench of professional boxing?

*

Friday, July 19, 2019

They Persisted

First elected to the House of Representatives out of San Francisco in 1987, Nancy Pelosi (1940-) served as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011. Her fingerprints are all over some important legislation. Since Jan., 2019, she has been serving her second term in that office. She remains the only female Speaker in history.

It should always be remembered that Pelosi has been standing on the shoulders of many brave women. Some of them attended the Seneca Falls Convention that 171 years ago, to this day, kicked off the women's rights movement in the U.S.A.

For instance, in 1916, Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973) was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1917-19. She was one of two at-large representatives for the state of Montana and she was the first woman ever elected to serve in Congress. Rankin was a dauntless suffragette and pacifist. She also served a second term in the House over 20 years later, 1941-43. She was the sort of Republican we don't see much of, anymore.

In 1932 Hattie W. Caraway (1878-1950) became to first woman to be elected to a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate. As a Democrat in the Depression Era she routinely supported Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal measures.

After serving four years in New York's state legislature, in 1968 Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) won a seat in the House of Representatives. That made her the first Black woman ever to serve in Congress. In 2015 Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Nominated by Pres. Ronald Reagan in 1981 the Senate unanimously approved the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor (1930-) to the Supreme Court. She was the first woman to serve on the high court. In 1992 O’Connor proved to be the swing vote to reaffirm the Roe v. Wade decision in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case.

In 1948 Madeleine Albright (1937-) and her family (her father was a diplomat) immigrated to the U.S.A from Czechoslovakia; they settled in Denver. After serving as Ambassador to the United Nations for four years, Pres. Bill Clinton then appointed Albright to be Secretary of State. Thus she became the first woman to serve that capacity, which she did for four years.

Two of the Democratic Party's top tier presidential hopefuls for the 2020 race are women -- Sen. Kamala Harris (1964-) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (1949). Largely, next year it will be how women voters cast their ballots that will decide if America elects its first female president. 

-- 30 --

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Courage

Norman Rockwell's painting of Ruby Bridges on her way to 
school in New Orleans, protected by federal marshals.
The older I get the more amazed I am when looking back at the courage of the Americans who took it upon themselves to challenge the hate-driven established order concerning race – the segregated public schools, the withheld voting rights, the whites-only lunch counters, etc., in the 1950s and '60s – all during my lifetime.

We still know the names of some of the heroic leaders; especially a few of them who were murdered. But in this instance, I'm remembering the followers who took the beatings and wouldn't be turned around. The demonstrators who marched across a bridge; the parents who sent their kids to previously all-white schools; the Freedom Riders, and so forth.

So today I'm thinking of the folks who didn't become famous for choosing to risk their lives trying to make the country a better place. What courage they had.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Stone Post Sundays


In recent years our group has played the Stone Post Course on Sunday mornings. It was designed by Leo Rohr, who grew up playing Frisbee-golf in Byrd Park. The downhill approach to that target is pictured above; this view is from a position about two-thirds of the way there.


The nine-hole object course gets its name from the target on the par 5 eighth. As this series of photos shows the stone post, itself, is guarded by three wooden posts. Thus, a good player will usually try to approach it obliquely to have an unobstructed view of it.


Although it's my favorite hole on this nine that isn't to suggest I've usually played it all that well. I like it for its circuitous path with various options. 


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Flashback: 1992: Smooth Noir


Here's a flashback to an issue of SLANT 27 years ago. It was published when the infamous Joe Camel ad campaign was still popular, so I had to weigh in. In this time the USA's tobacco industry was still riding high ... but not for long. In August of 1992 the art above appeared over the text below:
It's Happy Hour. Rebus starts the Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross tape that he had selected to kick off his shift. In walks his first customer.

It's Joe Camel, smooth matchbook celebrity.

Although Rebus recognizes him immediately, even without his makeup, he doesn't call attention to it. Joe looks like he would rather not be bothered.

Joe: Two shots of Cuervo Gold. No fruit. No salt.

Rebus: Hey pal, if it's been that kind of day, let me buy the first one. It's the...

Joe: THAT kind of day? Yeah, I guess it's been about as bad a day as ... forget it.

The bar's only customer slaps the first empty glass down onto the cold marble as Rebus turns the stereo's volume up a notch.

Joe: The tests came back. It's the Big C. I'm doomed. It's too late to operate. Just like that -- cancer. Kaput!

Rebus: Well, er, in that case, I'll spring for the second one, too.

Joe: Thanks.

Rebus: How about a sandwich?

Joe: A sandwich?

Rebus: Sure. Like something to eat. We've got a killer cold meatloaf sandwich, or...

Joe: Cancer of the hump.

Rebus: The hump?

Joe: They said my five-pack-a-day habit probably had nothing to do with...

Rebus: I didn't even know you had a hump. Like, it never shows in the commercials.

Joe: I wear a corset. We all do. It's part of the act. The Mad Ave. geniuses want smooth camels, not hunchbacks. Hey, let me tell ya, they tighten those babies down with a torque wrench.

Rebus: I won't say anything about it.

Joe: I'm not hungry. How 'bout another shooter?

Rebus: Sure, ah, did the doctor, er...

Joe: Did they say how, how long I've got?

Rebus: Yeah and no offense meant.

Joe: Maybe a week.

Rebus: Cancer of the hump! What a bad break.

Joe: I deserve it.

Rebus: Hey, nobody deserves hump cancer. Not even...

Joe: I do man. I'm paying the price for selling my soul to the devil. All those kids.

Rebus: Kids?

Joe: Innocent children that Joe F. Camel suckered into smoking the product. It's karma.

Rebus: You didn't invent cigarettes.

Joe: Above all else, be smooth. Don't you want to be the smoothest dude?

Rebus: Come on Joe, kids are going to smoke cigarettes regardless of...

Joe: Maybe, but this campaign was slick. They brought in behavioral voodoo scientists.

Rebus: Joe, it's not your fault. You've just been dealt a bad hand. Joe, ah, that is your real name?

Joe: What's in a name? What's real? Way back, maybe before your time, people knew me as Clyde. Since then I've...

Rebus: Right! Clyde. I knew you looked familiar. Yeah, you worked with a cat named Ahab the Arab. But, now you look, like, ah, wider.

Joe: You're talking 30 years since that gig. Who hasn't put on a little weight?

Rebus: I can dig it. But it's still not your fault if a kid smokes. Everybody's got to earn a living. You're like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald, or...

Joe: No! I knew it was wrong. I went to the meetings. I knew the marketing strategy. We were going after third-graders. It was sick.

Rebus: So, what are you going to do?

Joe: Get drunk, then make a plan.

Rebus: Good move. Ready for another?

Joe: I wonder if strapping my hump down made the cancer, ah...

Rebus: Maybe it's never too late to beat the devil. They made you a celebrity; call a press conference. Go public with it. Confess! Drop a dime on the subliminal sleazemeisters.

Joe: Do you really think people would listen?

Rebus: The Marlboro Man went clean.

Joe: You're right! I knew getting drunk was a good idea. Hand me that telephone. I'll do it. I'll blow the lid off the...

Rebus: That's the spirit!

Joe: I've got work to do; call my agent. And, you know what?

Rebus: Chicken-butt!

Joe: Let me try one of those meatloaf sandwiches. And, some coffee.

Rebus opens his eyes. The dream was OK until that business about the meatloaf sandwich. Not to mention the stupid chicken-butt joke.

He gets out of bed and walks toward the bathroom. On the way, Rebus remembers the Joe Camel jacket draped over the chair by the door. A steady customer had given it to him at the bar. He picks it up and throws it into the trash can next to the toilet.

Rebus: Sorry Clyde, I'm not taking any chances.

-- Fini --