Friday, December 31, 2010
As I can see reasons for either man to choose not to run, I doubt we will see it.
So, if former-Sen. George Allen announces he is running for the U.S. Senate seat he lost to Sen. Jim Webb -- as he is expected to do -- how likely is Allen to actually win the nomination of the GOP in a 2012 primary? If not Allen, then who?
On the other hand, if Webb announces he's not going to run for reelection, who is most likely to be the candidate to try to hold the seat for the Democrats?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Hours after the dust settled in the halls of Congress over a contentious fight to repeal the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the U.S. military, the issue has resurfaced anew on a new battleground: Virginia.Click here to read the entire article at the Loudoun Times.
State Del. Bob Marshall (R-western Loudoun and Prince William) announced that he is drafting state legislation “barring active homosexuals” from Virginia’s National Guard units, even as President Obama signed the repeal of the policy into law Dec. 22 at the White House.
For more background on Marshall (depicted above) click here to visit the Fan District Hub.
Last week delivered an unexpected treat for me. So, I wrote about it for Richmond.com.
The assembled bus full of kitsch lovers applauded and off we went to look at zillions of twinkling lights and other illuminated Christmas decorations. By the way, on this Winn Transportation tour almost anything might be considered a Christmas decoration if it's lit up enough.Click here to read "Tacky Lights at 25."
The bright idea began with Mike Garrett suggesting to his friend at Winn, Mark Pounders, that Gottlieb ought to be on hand to kickoff the 25th year of the tours. As Gottlieb has lived in San Francisco since 1998, Winn had him flown in for the occasion.
Click here to see Mayor Dwight Jones' Tacky Lights proclamation.
In the spring of 1985 I visited New York City. While there I bought a 35 mm Nikon, to replace a camera that had been stolen. Along with the camera and a lens I bought something I'd wanted for a long time -- a motor drive.
For the first month or so back in Richmond, I took the Nikon with me all the time, aiming my new lens at whatever I came across.
These two almost identical prints of a sleepy cat sunning itself in a storefront window on Main Street -- taken a fraction of a second apart -- probably made better use of the rapid fire capability of the motor drive than most of what I shot then.
Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow changes the world around us into resembling high contrast black and white photographs, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. In Richmond, it's a look we don't see every year.
We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.
In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.
The best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.
Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not have known it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; Rebby had a decent throwing arm.
When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.
Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the forehead ... ba-da-bing!
Cooper quickly retired for the night.
The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.
We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the sloped park down to Main Street below. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.
There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison MacDonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track slick as glass.
Eventually, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding. Accordingly, we stood around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.
Not long ago, Chuck Wrenn, who still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death, and I talked about that night. We recalled the sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a shaggy dog down the chute. Duck had us laughing so hard, it's still funny today.
Of course, you had to be there.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Are there any liberal Birthers?
In 2008 the Obama campaign posted a scan of his birth certificate online, as certified by the Hawaii Department of Health. That didn't matter to devout Birthers. They consider Obama to be a prevaricator. In other words, no proof of his citizenship will ever satisfy a truly committed Birther.
Fox News likes these stories because its decision-makers would rather report another warmed-over story that questions whether Obama is qualified to be president, for whatever reasons, than report on what the president did on a given day.
MSNBC likes the stories because its angle is to make the Birthers look like lowbrow lunatics. The decision-makers at MSNBC like to cast all uncompromising conservatives as being unhinged from reality, not unlike Birthers and evolution deniers.
It says here that without Fox News, MSNBC and their ilk, the Birther story would have withered and died a long time ago.
The same thing goes for Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church traveling hate-fest show that demonstrates its peculiar brand of Christianity at military funerals. Without the coverage the Westboro group inevitably gets for its stunts, those stunts would probably have stopped years ago. And, in fairness to Fox News and MSNBC, it seems that news publishers in every aspect of the mainstream media also see the disturbing antics of the Phelps clan as easy front page stories.
Back to the Birthers: What are they really committed to? And, when you pull back the curtain, how much of the campaign to undermine Obama’s legitimacy is being fueled by stubborn racism? Just because America elected a black president hardly means we are living in a time untroubled by throwback racism.
Now an Army physician, Lt. Col. Terrance Larkin, has refused to deploy to Afghanistan because he believes the order itself wasn’t legal. Why? Because the Commander in Chief isn’t legit in Larkin‘s book. The story of his court-martial is news outside of the military world, but should it be? We certainly don't read many other stories about military personnel who refuse to follow orders for screwy reasons.
Birtherism needs publicity like a fish needs water. And, the grandstanding Col. Larkin probably needs a spell of quiet time to do some time thinking. Accordingly, if convicted of all charges, he faces up to three years in the stockade.
Monday, December 13, 2010
It's hard for me to say how it will turn out, when the Supreme Court finally sorts this out. Not only am I not a lawyer, but I'm not sure I understand how the required purchase of health insurance works. So far, two judges have liked the healthcare bill's language, Hudson has not.
Still, I am totally in favor of universal healthcare, however it is achieved.
One might argue that healthcare in today's world is as basic a right as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But to me, the concept should rest on something less abstract and totally practical.
Here's my take in a nutshell: America’s greatest natural resource is its citizenry -- it’s workforce. The federal government should protect that resource above all others in every way it can that's feasible.
Reared in a literate, freedom-loving society, America’s sons and daughters work every day to build a good life. In their pursuit of happiness they establish families and build communities. Just as we have recognized that other vital natural resources need to be protected from amoral fast-buck artists, why would we not choose to also protect our families' wage-earners in the most effective way we can?
Otherwise, what's the point of protecting the water we drink, or the animals with which we share the planet?
Universal healthcare with periodic mandatory examinations is the only way to monitor the spread of dangerous diseases that could become epidemics, which could put the kibosh on the economy, to say the least.
Not long ago there was a scandal in America over poisonous toys that had been imported from China. It was found that some of the materials weren’t safe, health-wise, for children to handle. The toys were pulled off retailers’ shelves.
Those toys never made it into France. Like some other civilized countries, the French regulators never let the toys across the border, in the first place.
France had rigorous standards and inspections that kept those bad toys out of the curious hands and mouths of French kids. They didn't have to recall the dangerous products, because in France the standards were higher and the regulations were already in place. People were put before profits.
It’s actually simple -- France picks up the tab on everybody’s hospital bills.
Since France’s government has a stake in keeping French children healthy, its government naturally feels obliged to move proactively to reduce risks. One day those French kids will either be healthy, or unhealthy, workers. In this sense, France is doing more to protect its future workforce than we are.
When the government pays the healthcare bills, it follows that it will take more of an interest in protecting everyone’s health. So, who is not for protecting the American workforce's health? And, who is just pursuing the fast buck?
-- 30 --
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Some of the pundits aren't helping, either. How do you go further into jowl-wobbling, puffy fits of righteous indignation than Keith Olbermann? Then there's weepy creepy Glenn Beck, who apparently answers to unseen forces, perhaps from another planet.
Here in Richmond it's no different. After once having a mayor who tried to forcibly evict the city school board from City Hall, by sneak attack, we now have a sitting mayor who thinks Richmond's taxpayers should pay for his rather expensive reelection campaign signs.
City workers have been attaching rectangular metal posters with Mayor Dwight Jones' name on them to utility poles on sidewalks. The signs, which credit the mayor for certain improvements to the city's infrastructure, also display his semi-visionary slogan -- "Building a Better Richmond."
The mayor's office is actually bragging about what a good deal the taxpayers got on the signs -- just $150 each. Don't believe me?
Read "Richmond mayor's road-project signs irk councilman," at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where you will find that the solution is to paint more incumbent politicians' names on the signs. What sort of twist would make that bogus solution to a problem any funnier?
Saying the signs cost $300? Pretending the signs aren't posters, but are roadside billboards, instead? How about saying Jones has also had his name painted onto the side of the city's police cars?
Oh yeah, that's already been done here in Richmond. Remember Sheriff Michelle Mitchell? There you go -- when reality gets weird enough, it's hard to top it for a laugh.
So, I have to play it straight, because I can't even begin to understand how Mayor Jones ever thought he could pull off such a jive-ass stunt. This campaign propaganda salvo invites anyone who plans to run against Jones in 2012 to start putting up their campaign posters now, to keep up with him, name-recognition-wise.
Will City Hall permit eager candidates to also install metal campaign posters in the public way?
Remember, too, this is the same city that has passed all sorts of laws forbidding the posting of handbills promoting rock 'n' roll shows and yard sales on utility poles.
Meanwhile, according to the RT-D, here's what Jones' office has to say:
The Jones administration has defended the signs, saying they have been produced at minimal cost and are common in other cities with an elected mayor.Oy vey!
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Well, I just had to ask him to explain to me what was wrong with the paper. In a private conference he told me my analysis of the poem didn't jibe with the accepted school of thought on what Yeats was saying. While admitting my writing and analytical technique were fine, he nervously explained that I was simply wrong in my conclusions, no matter how well-stated my case might have been.
That sort of pissed me off, so I told him I thought that ambiguity could imply multiple meanings, and it deliberately invited alternative interpretations. Rather than defend as his stance the man suddenly grabbed his face and broke into tears.
The sobbing professor went into a monologue on the shambles his life had fallen into. His personal life! Worst of all, he said, his deferral had just been denied by Selective Service, so he would soon be drafted.
He was wearing a pitiful brown suit. His thinning beige hair was oiled flat against his scalp. My anger over the bad grade turned into disgust from his out-of-control behavior. As I remember it, I walked out of his office to keep from telling him what I thought.
Now, four decades later, I regret my impatience and feel sorry for the poor schlemiel. Still, when the offer came at the end of the semester to expand my part-time job to full-time, I took the leap. My chief duty was to schlep visiting scholars around Virginia from one university campus to the next in a big black Lincoln.
Each week, under the auspices of the University Center in Virginia -- a consortium of Virginia colleges and universities -- there was a new scholar in a different field. Somebody had to drive them to lectures, dinners, convocations and to hotels throughout the week. For one whole semester that was me.
Naturally, in the crisscrossing of Virginia, the wiseguy driver and the actually wise scholars had a lot of time to talk. Some of them kept to themselves, mostly. Others were quite chatty, in several cases we got along well and had great talks.
Three of them stand out as having been the best company on the road: Daniel Callahan (then-writer/editor at Commonweal Magazine), Henry D. Aiken (writer/philosophy professor) and Balcomb Greene (artist/philosopher and art history professor), who is pictured above.
Callahan challenged me to think more thoroughly about situational ethics and morality. He was happy I was reading the books of Herman Hesse and others. He turned me on to “One Dimensional Man,” by Herbert Marcuse.
Callahan was quite curious about my experiences taking LSD, we talked about drugs and religion. Click here to read about him.
Aiken (1912-‘82) was then the chairman of the philosophy department at Brandeis University, he loved a debate. He was used to holding his own against the likes of William F. Buckley. Talking with him about everything under the sun in the wee hours, I first acquired a taste for good Scotch whiskey (which I haven't tasted in many a year).
From a ‘pragmatic’ point of view, political philosophy is a monster, and whenever it has been taken seriously, the consequence, almost invariably, has been revolution, war, and eventually, the police state.Aiken, like Callahan, agreed to help me with a project I told them about. Inspired by popular new magazines Ramparts, Avant-Garde, Rolling Stone, etc. -- at 21-years-old -- I wanted to jump straight into magazine publishing, with no experience, ASAP.-- Henry D. Aiken
That dream stayed on the back burner for 16 years, until the first issue of SLANT came out in 1985. However, the biggest influence on the way I went about publishing SLANT flowed from my association with Greene (1904-90). He was, by far, the rent-a-scholar who was the funniest and the one who had the biggest influence on me.
The son of a Methodist minister, Greene grew up in small towns in the Midwest. He studied philosophy at Syracuse University, psychology at the University of Vienna and English at Columbia University. Then he switched to art, having been influenced by his first wife, Gertrude Glass, an artist he had married in 1926. He became a founder of the avant-garde group known as American Abstract Artists in 1936.
After World War II, just as abstract art was gaining acceptance, Greene radically changed his style. He began painting in a more figurative, yet dreamy, style that fractured time. Click here,
and here, to read about Greene and see examples of his work.
One day I’ll write a piece about the visit to Sweetbriar with Greene. It was a hoot collaborating with him, to have some fun putting on the blue-haired art ladies of that venerable institution. This time my mention of him is to get this piece to I.F. Stone. It was Greene who gave me a subscription to I.F. Stone’s Weekly.
I.F. “Izzy” Stone (1907-89) was an independent journalist in a way few have ever been. In the 1960s his weekly newsletter was a powerful voice challenging the government’s propaganda about the war in Vietnam. Click here to read about Stone, and here.
"All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."Stone remains one of my heroes. At my best, over the years, I have emulated him in my own small ways. Thank you for the schooling, Professor Greene.-- I.F. Stone
There's also a short video there that you probably haven't seen.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, on Dec. 8, 1980, I can’t help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say today's music, art and politics. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s easy knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling.
In November, 2008, on the occasion of what was the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ White Album, the Vatican newspaper praised the groundbreaking British band for its body of work and forgave Lennon for his flippant 1966 quip about sudden success, “[We’re] more popular than Jesus.”
Even the bloody Vatican has changed, but peace is still waiting for its chance.
In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time most people probably didn’t connect the events, but those two appearances were only three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation following the jolt had something to do with why those early Beatles recordings cut through the heavy airwaves with such verve.
Clearly, there has been no explosion in the American pop music scene since with anything near the equivalent impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.
Then, in 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as if a world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.
Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was the working class hero’s sincerity, his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that helped set him apart from his teen idol counterparts, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were merely hairdos or dance crazes.
With the Vietnam War still underway in the early ‘70s, President Richard Nixon looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.
With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, I have to say that even if that particular nut-case (a man I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one; surely there were other bullets out there with John Lennon’s name on them.
Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good. And, speaking of assassinations, at this time I’m also reminded of an item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article began with this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the early ‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar.
In a nutshell, Gregg and Mike became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever. So they fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.
As the reader may know, this sort of endeavor is frequently best undertaken in the wee hours.
In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”
Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said at the time, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”
Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected for the kill by his stalking murderer was he had a rare ability to move people. In that sense, Lennon was slain for the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago Jesus H. Christ was taken out of the game for much the same reason: He challenged people to change; to take a chance on a life based on something better than might making right.
Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about the former Beatle’s potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that Lennon — in spite of his mischievous streak — was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.
“The cops looked at me and McAdam,” said Wetzel recently, to flesh out the 23-year-old tale, “decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”
After listening to a John Lennon compilation CD, even today, some of his best post-Beatles cuts seem fresh, they still have the feeling of being experimental.
Well into what are strange days, indeed, on the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death, I'm still wondering. Still imagining …
Monday, December 06, 2010
Now that the Tacky Lights Tour has become a traditional kitsch extravaganza, how long has it been going on? Who started it here in Richmond?
Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1996 Bill McKelway offered his readers a brief history of a seasonal tradition in Richmond since 1986, when the Tacky Lights Tour was launched by its creator, Barry “Mad Dog” Gottlieb (pictured above), who was a deejay at a local radio station at the time.
…His fondest memories will be of the outpouring of interest when the tacky house tour began 10 years ago. “I figured I could rent one of those trolleys for about 15 people,” said Gottlieb. “That filled up right away. Then I rented a bus and that filled up in an hour. Then I rented another bus and that filled up.”
At one house decked out in blue lights, tour members spontaneously broke into Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas.’ At another house, they marveled at the lifelike figures on the roof wrapped in lights. “After a while, we realized that the lifelike figures were real people,” Gottlieb said, laughing.
Of course, the tour of way lit up houses still goes on, although Gottlieb moved to San Francisco years ago. By the way, Gottlieb originally called it “Richmond’s Tacky Xmas Decoration Contest and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour.”
Back in 1989, or maybe it was 1990, yours truly was one of small group of judges for Barry’s annual stunt. Chuck Wrenn was one of the other invited judges, as was a radio deejay named Dick Hungate. Don’t remember who else was along for the ride. We cruised around in a limousine drinking beer and so forth, looking at a bunch of houses made up to resemble amusement parks, or perhaps houses of ill fame in a Fellini film.
I still remember the all-blue-lights house McKelway mentioned in his piece (which is a good read). It was by far the smallest house on the list. To me it was a little creepy, too, so I stayed in the limo while the others went in.
Barry greatly enjoyed meeting the people, getting their stories and so forth. Some he already knew because he saw them every year, others were new. At the end of the tour we judges voted and may have gone to a bar.
After that same night, I came to see that stretch limos were just not for me. Although I enjoyed my chance to judge tackiness, while wallowing in it, I’m happy to report I haven’t ridden in a limo since then.
Happy tackiness to all.
Click here to see "Three New Ways to See the Tacky Lights" at Richmond.com.
Friday, December 03, 2010
Of course it does. Other Republicans in Congress had spent yesterday morning talking on C-SPAN about how now is just not the right time to raise taxes on millionaires. Heavens to Betsy, not now! None of them seemed much concerned with what extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires will do to this country’s deficit problem.
The Not Now Republicans were saying we are in the middle of a couple of wars against merciless enemies, so changing the DADT policy now would be imprudent. Which opens the door to the thought that as long as America stays on a war footing, some conservatives would likely go on forever telling us that doing the right thing needs to wait.
And, Republicans have been chanting for decades that cutting taxes for the wealthiest in society is the answer to all manner of widespread vexations. The trickle down ideas being offered up, about sheltering fat cat job creators from paying taxes, are anything but new.
Still, the old "it's not the right time" malarkey also has such a familiar ring -- and aroma -- because in the '50s and '60s that's exactly the tool some Massive Resisters used as a wink toward the obvious moral high ground of the push for full citizenship rights for blacks. At the same time, even though those white politicians knew they were doing the wrong thing, the so-called conservatives of that time continued to stand firmly against court orders to integrate Virginia's public schools, etc.
The smart segregationist cats in that era knew change was coming. The Supreme Court’s orders would eventually have to be respected, but the mean-spirited game was to delay the changes for as long as possible. It took the federal government five years to make Prince Edward County in Virginia reopen the public schools it closed, rather than desegregate.
How is the Not Now wing of the modern GOP all that different from Virginia's shameless Massive Resisters of yesteryear in how it is putting off doing what's right for as long as possible?