The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back in Richmond...
In time for Oscars, and "A Thing Of Beauty" at the Firehouse

That's the graphic for the current offering on the boards at the Firehouse Theatre Project, designed by a good friend of the company, Jason Smith, who creates all the theater's print collateral.

Amie and me are just returned to Colonial Ave after an arduous and at times harrowing, while also surreal and comic, journey into Mississippi. This was one of the most trying experiences I've ever witnessed any family go through and such circumstances bring out everything in stark relief.

I'll give an impressionistic overview of the Mississippi pilgrimage; but seems to me, adapted into a screenplay, and in capable hands, an adaptation of the week's Deep South drama and trauma could make for Oscar material.

The event fills the criteria of a film: the story must have an identifiable rising action and conclusion and involve a singluar important moment in the lives of the people. The period is bracketed by a death and a funeral and self-contained in a car trip, a hotel, a funeral home, a church and a few residences. Perhaps art is a way to make some sense of the whole thing; except this happened to quite real people in actual time and I was there as not a journalist, but a mourner. And though a part of the family through marriage, and affected by their shared tragedy, I was also something of an outside observer, though my origins are in Richmond. Virginia isn't the "South" despite the accident of Civil War history.

A map in the Bypass restaurant next to the Rose Hills Best Western showed the Southeast that begins at the North Carolina border. The Old Dominion is a Mid-Atlantic state; with Delaware, Maryland and sometimes Pennsylvania. And a journey of 15 hours by car demonstrates that Mississippi is a different part of the world, one that is both familiar and possessing idiosyncratic characters and aspects -- for good and otherwise.

We got home, unpacked and sorted out in time to collapse in front of the television to watch the 80th Cinematic Run for the Gold. I enjoyed the memorable past moments montages but learned that many of these came out of the scenes culled for Oscar's launch onto YouTube. I hope they put the opening animation up, which was enjoyable, and I want to pick out the classic film elements that flashed by. I've seen none of the major winners and hope they arrive at the Byrd soon.

But one place in Richmond you can go to see some great performances is at the Firehouse Theatre Project where Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss is on the boards. The Times-Dispatch review calls the show "a thing of beauty" and you can't ask for better than that. Morrie Piersol directs Bill Patton, Jen Meharg, Jeff Clevenger and Scott Wichmann, on sets designed by Maury Hancock. We've not yet seen the show, which opened while we were out of town, but I'm anxious to.

Right now, billion-eyed audience, while we are glad to be home, the pile of work with which both Amie and I must now contend is daunting.

More in the coming days about this and that.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Go Rest High On That Mountain

This song was presented at the memorial service for Elise McDaniel, Amie's sister, at the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, a modest Mississippi back country house of worship where many of their cousins are buried--a number of them automobile related fatalities, early-age heart attacks, and war veterans of U.S. conflicts.

The service was conducted by Reverend Owen Gordon Jr., who is married to Amie's cousin Marie. His remarkes were neither preachy nor pretentious, but real and understanding of the person in the casket, and those who'd come to memorialize her. Elise was the flower girl in Gordon's own wedding held this church almost 30 years ago.

Amie's second cousin Tracey sang an accapella version of "Go Rest High On That Mountain." The appropriateness of this piece, delivered in a big, contralto voice, was complete for Elise's life and her passing. Vince Gill wrote the song; I can't think that the melody ever sounded more poignant or authentic than when sung without accompaniment in that rustic chapel while rain poured upon the small, unadorned cemetery.

This was followed later by "Amazing Grace" which I've heard done almost every way, and every time, it puts my hair on end and brings tears to my eyes, and this was no different. And I'm not a religious person; but the emotion behind the music transcends mere articles of faith.

Go Rest High On That Mountain
I know your life on earth was troubled

And only you could know the pain

You weren't afraid to face the devil

You were no stranger to the rain


Go rest high on that mountain

Son, your work on earth is done

Go to heaven a shoutin'

Love for the Father and the Son

Oh, how we cried the day you left us

We gathered 'round your grave to grieve

I wish I could see the angels' faces

When they hear your sweet voice sing

Repeat (Chorus)

Go to heaven a shoutin'

Love for the Father and the Son.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Goin' South

Billion-eyed audience, I'll be maintaining radio silence for the next several days. Fear not, I shall return. Think of it like the old Apollo mission days, when they went round the dark side of the moon.


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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dying By The Numbers
A family tragedy highlights the violence in U.S. life


On Valentine's night, around 10 p.m. outside a hotel in Nevarre, Fla., my wife's sister was struck and killed by several cars. The first one didn't stop.

Her parents and two of her children, daughters--one of whom is pregnant--heard the impact. Her mother went outside the hotel where they'd gathered to see her daughter's flung shoes and purse. Those on the scene wouldn't let her closer. The deceased woman's youngest daughter witnessed a cover being placed over her mother's remains.

The street was not lit well and traversed by cars traveling at an excessive rate of speed. My wife's sister may have fallen or tripped; at any rate, the car that struck her first either could not or would not avoid her--those left behind heard the terrible squeal of brakes.

We are mourning here, and preparing to head to the deep South for attending the memorial service. This death is but one in a mounting statistical portrait of a nation that doesn't think much of life, despite protests outside abortion clinics or whipped up in frenzy over a brain-dead patient's breathing support apparatus getting disconnected. That's all political stuff designed to maintain control.

Meantime, the nation accepts with blithe indifference the annual grim accumulation of more than 40,000 automobile drivers and passengers who are killed, and pedestrians obliterated by motor vehicles and the more than million injured (see the Fatality Analysis Reporting System encyclopedia); that violent death--homicide and suicide-- claimed in 2003, at least, 49,639 people-- see

If any consumer good was found to kill 40,000 people a year there'd be Congressional hearings and recalls and the makers of the thing would go to jail. Yet our society accepts these deaths out of concern for convenience and ease. Consider how recent a technology the automobile is; a bit over a century, and prior to that, travel and hauling was conducted by muscle, that of people or draft animals.

This resigned regard, an acceptance of casual brutality, is absorbed into our culture. Media gives greater expression and acceptance. Violence and cruelty are part of our everyday language, fashion, entertainment. Oh, I am not naive--the Londoners who took two hours out of their workday to see Shakespeare's plays would, the next night, cheer and gamble on fighting dogs and bears.

And how odd it was to learn that in Virginia, suicide in recent years has surpassed homicide as a cause of violent death. See

Despair is our co-pilot.

We're Living Longer -- If We Live

Natural Life Expectancy in the United States, from the Sept. 13, 2007 posting on Political Calculations, analyzed a Reuters report about greater life expectancy in the United States. Buried in the data, though, is the somber fact that in the United States, we are quite adept at either killing ourselves or getting ourselves killed.

Ours is an angry and frustrated nation. You see this demonstrated in small and great, tragic ways, ranging from the cavalier attitude drivers possess when piloting a two ton, four wheel death machine with one hand on the traffic computer and the other on their cell phone, to some disturbed individual off his meds who stabs an old woman in the street, or goes off his rocker and shoots up a class room.

I think back upon a poster to the site, who in part remarked:

"If the mental health industry were honest, it would admit that the consequences of freedom are aimlessness and anomie, and that a consequence of the market economy is a lifetime of consumerism culminating in death without meaning. If this life is a hell for some, the world we have inherited is why...
Of course, if the mental health industry were honest, nobody would buy their happy drugs anymore; and everybodies [sic.] gotta make a living - right?"

Everything in the media that permeates our lives is war and death all the time, alleviated by bouts of sex, which is just a component part of a war against oversatisfied boredom. Our entertainment is violent. Behind the wheel, U.S. drivers go fast and furious in a war against time and distance and others whose lives they don't care about. The callousness of the collective culture--not each and every individual--is pervasive.

Choose Life, Except When Death Gets You On TV

We can choose not to indulge our Thanatosic tendencies. If our heads are clear enough. As a country, though, we've gotten so medicated and mediated, there's some who either can't make good decisions without a drug, or, are drugged in order to make better choices, except when they get off the drugs. But a long essay, reflecting on the recent Illinois college campus killings, is given at Sigmund, Carl and Alfred.

"Our intellect does not define our humanity. It never has and never will.

What makes us different and distinguishes us from the animal kingdom is the singular truth that we can consciously choose to control our self centered desires and urges. We can make moral decisions and choose ethical behavior notwithstanding those urges and desires- a very unanimal-like condition. The healthy human being is one who is aware of these attributes and chooses to live ethically and morally.

No matter how much the media and 'science' try to tell us otherwise, we are not simply 'more evolved animals.'

Man is responsible for his behavior, no matter how hard media and pop culture desperately want it to be otherwise. We are all accountable, 'root causes' notwithstanding and we all charged with elevating ourselves."

I Am Become Death, The Destroyer of Worlds

This embracing of death and horror is manifested in the war in Iraq (to less degree, the ongoing Afghanistan imbroglio), which was attacked for the stupid reason of giving legitimacy and two terms to the Bush presidency, and deflect our own culpability in creating an oil-addicted culture that is helping to destroy the planet.

The mass media both reflects and stimulates the violence with images that conflate death and sex and make the two one horrendous thing. The spate of "torture porn" films that relishes in young people getting maimed and murdered is one example; but I can't even watch Scream because Drew Barrymore's death in that film seems...not unbelievable to me, given what's happened in Virginia and around the country in the past few years.

Reuters noted, "The United States, a country of 300 million people, ranks 42nd in the world in life expectancy, according to previously released data."

" This low ranking in life expectancy is often pointed to as being the result of the deficiencies of the health care system in the U.S., " counters Political Calculations. "The problem with this thinking however is that it does not account for the fact that the U.S. has a disproportionate number of individuals who die as the result of fatal injuries compared to the other wealthy nations of the world."

Death and Destruction

A Center for Disease Control report noted:

"In 2001, a total of 157,078 persons died from unintentional injury or violence. Although unintentional injury was the leading cause of death for persons aged 1--34 years, unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide were among the 10 leading causes of death for persons aged 1--44 years (1).

In 2001, an estimated 29.7 million injured persons were treated in hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the United States. Although the majority of these persons were injured unintentionally, >2 million of them suffered violence-related injuries (1). Certain types of these injuries have short- and long-term health consequences and adversely affect the quality of life of those who survive severe and life-threatening injuries, especially those suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal cord injury.

Each year, approximately 1.5 million U.S. residents sustain a TBI, of which approximately 50,000 die, accounting for one third of all injury-related deaths (2,3). In 2000, the annual direct medicals cost of injuries was estimated to be $117 billion, posing a substantial burden on society (4)."

Red Tooth and Claw

U.S. culture, like the rest of nature, is "red tooth and claw." But we also have more cars and guns and drugs--and prisons-- than almost anybody else. The CDC goes on to observe--and behind this turgid clinical prose you have to imagine the weeping and trauma of millions of people throughout the country:

"Fatal and nonfatal injuries are a major public health problem for all U.S. residents, because, in 2001, approximately 157,000 persons died as a result of injury and one in 10 persons was treated for an injury in a U.S. hospital ED. For every death, an estimated 10 persons were hospitalized/transferred for specialized medical care, and 178 persons were treated and released from a U.S. hospital ED (Figure 26)...

Violence-related deaths also ranked high among the leading causes of injury death. Females were much more likely than males to attempt suicide, with higher nonfatal self-harm injury rates; however, males were more likely to complete suicide, with higher fatal self-harm injury rates (27). For females, poisoning suicide, firearm-related suicide, and firearm-related homicide were among the 10 leading causes of injury death.

For males, firearm-related suicide, firearm-related homicide, and suffocation/inhalation suicide were among the 10 leading causes of injury death. Fatal and nonfatal firearm-related injury rates from interpersonal violence were highest for males aged 15--24 years; fatal firearm-related injury rates from self-harm were highest among males aged >65 years (9)."

The hydra-headed causes for this lack of regard for life and basic civility is beyond the scope of a blog. Richmond, in the late 19th and early 20th century, was still a violent place, and people in general weren't living far past their 60s due to diseases we can now hold at bay. Reading as I am in 1909-1911 I run across headlines of children run over by street cars, a woman crushed by an elevator, injuries sustained when hit by an "automobilist" and a variety of suicides, and the usual thrum of murder. I don't know the statistical comparisons to then and now.

I do know that it's all just....sad.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"..a slightly less way of being dead."

Photo booth images, Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, introduced by Eric Weaver, at Brand Dialogue. The set first appeared in the Wit of the Staircase posting of Wednesday, September 14, 2005, titled "Gang of Four." Duncan wrote, "Los Angeles Lunar Society three,
plus the invisible elementwe are sworn to protect and emanates as a blank space...or ectoplasmic smear."

These days, I'm barreling through William Gibson's Idoru. I am a latecomer to the writer's works; and I admire his fanaticism for the well-tempered sentence, and find his lean, athletic prose sometimes breathtaking and often poetic. But the themes in the books I've read; Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, are to a certain extent elaborate plots of technological espionage in which the next killer app is a matter of severe concern to a few hyper-intelligent shadow figures who must out wit each other. A couple of critics have said that his prose exceeds the importance of his characters. I wonder if his characters would agree? All I know is, I find these books wild page turners and, at best, revelatory glimpses of our present and potential future.

Members of the billion-eyed audience who've been following along since this past summer know that the Blue Raccoon sacrificed many pixels to the mushrooming blog event following the deaths of writer and bloggeur Theresa Duncan and her partner, the artist Jeremy Blake. I said plenty then, and culled as best I could all the weeping and gnashing.

So as I was following along in Idoru, some lines just jumped out at me. These pertain to one of the protagonists, Colin Laney, who is a "quantitative analyst" who through a kind of "Beautiful Mind" cognitive ability, makes connections in data streams about personalities, in particular the famous, or people who know them, like Alison Shires. She's dating a minor celebrity and Laney observes indications in her data flow of her intention to commit suicide. He is moved to intervene but isn't able to.

He later reflects upon Alison Shire's demi-existence in the data that remains. I thought about all those blogs, and the messages Duncan rigged to pop up on her Wit of the Staircase on Halloween and New Year's. And, too, the potential for the persistence of art and memory once the maker is gone.

Gibson describes Laney's perspective on Alison's death and what remains of her in the world of information. He has left Slitscan, for whom he mined data, and is considering going with Out of Control, a hyper television tabloid sensation outfit.

"...and the whole thing would settle to the sea floor, silting over almost instantly with the world's steady accretion of data.

And Alison Shires' life, as he'd known it in all that terrible, banal intimacy, would lie there forever, forgotten and finally unknowable.

But if he went with Out of Control, her life might retrospectively become something else, and he wasn't sure, exactly, sitting there on the hard little chair in Visitors, what that might be.

He thought of coral, of the reefs that grew around sunken aircraft carriers; perhaps she'd become something like that, the buried mystery beneath some exfoliating superstructure of supposition, or even of myth.

It seemed to him... that that might be a slightly less dead way of being dead. And he wished her that."

Given the eruption of the political season, and how this past summer seemed such a dire time indeed, what she might have to say now, and what art Blake would've been further inspired to create.

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Nobody knows where this is going.

Back in April 2007, before BHO was so much a part of the news cycles, School of the Art Institute of Chicago senior David Codero created this life-sized sculpture and titled the piece My Sweet Lord. The resemblance to the gentleman from Illinois was intentional. The image above came from the Pantagraph site, via AP/Charles Rex Arbogast.

The representation caused something of a snit then and you can read about the to-ing and fro-ing here and here.

Some of the more insightful comments on Pantagraph's site are below:

Jim O. wrote on Apr 3, 2007 10:54 AM:
" To me, this artist's work is more a reflection of how hard up America is for a 'clean' leader. After seven years of the most corrupt regime in U.S. history, the realization that the 2006 Congressional election amounts to a shattered dream where a bunch of cowardly Demo-do-nothings creep about every bit as corrupt as their more blatant Republi-Repulsive counterparts, and manifold doomsday scenarios swimming through the minds of those who possess just an inkling of financial sense, a teaspoon of government knowledge, and the wherewithal to forecast conditions based on the aforementioned concepts, the path for hope has rammed a barrier no less impenetrable than Israel's apartheid wall. And when will they ever leave that poor Jesus guy alone? "

black Je-ZUES wrote on Apr 3, 2007 10:30 AM:

" well at least the artist wasn't lying about the true color Yeshua...We the people should be happy about that. "

Matt wrote on Apr 3, 2007 10:13 AM:

" Did anyone read the article? The artist has a valid point. People are putting Obama on a pedestal (since the Democratic convention a few years back really) without really knowing what he's about. The work is not pro or anti Obama (or pro or anti religion), it's about how people see Obama. "

White Christian wrote on Apr 3, 2007 10:11 AM:

" Perhaps a different spin would be that no one knows when and how Christ will return but He promised He would, and through the centuries the "good Christians" have their pre-determined notions about what He's going to look like. Remove the politics for a moment and substitue anyone else's head on the sculpture: He may be standing next to you and you refuse to see the forest for the trees. "

Thing is, billion-eyed audience -- and this is the problem-- we in the U.S. have failed for a long time to understand that those seeking high public office are just as, and perhaps more, conflicted, contradictory, flawed and riddled with frailties as the rest of us. They are of us, like it or not, and though money and influence and position may separate them from our everyday concerns, they see the same television and occupy our temporal-spatial reality. Some are closer to our situation--or predicament--than others, though.

Presidents preside between three branches of government, that during the past eight years, have morphed into one big prop and sustenance for the collective ego of a handful of nihilistic neo-conservatives.

Presidents aren't miracle workers.

Obama cleaned Hillary's clock in the Crabcake Primaries. He could very well ride this wave through Wisconsin. But the fact is that it's a numbers game, and then it's a persuasion game, and also a matter for the Democrats to wrangle over.

I have enough to keep me busy. My inclination is to just not watch any television until the nights of the upcoming primaries, because until then, what passes for commentary is blather to fill time time before commercials.

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Your cat, does she bite?

Me and Flannery, by Shield's Lake in Byrd Park, during a quite windy
Sunday dusk-time. I've not often seen the lake this choppy. I went with
the beret to keep from chasing a brimmed hat that would've been
yanked off my head due to the updraft. Amie, who took this image, had the big idea to bring
Flannery because it would be "fun." You can see now enjoyable this outing
was for both of us.

Here we are comparing our winter whiskers. Mine aren't quite as
white as Flannery's. Yet.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Exasperation: If you vote, and a superdelegate matters more, what's the point? I dunno. I voted anyway.

Project VoteSmart, via Brian on Myspace.

• Item: I've never voted in a Virginia primary. I'm 46. I stood in the long Bush v. Gore lines. Back years ago, I cast my first ballot for...(drum role) John Anderson. Once, I even voted for Ross Perot. The reasoning then was, he'd get in and provide a needed shock to the system. I remember the late great Barbara Jordan getting asked about whether Perot would make a good president and she paused for several long moments and said in her precise and authoritative voice, "I think the United States could survive a Perot presidency." And so I voted for him, with great misgivings. Oh, Barbara Jordan. We could use her around again. If you look at her keynote address before the 1976 Democratic National Convention, there's some Obamian glimmerings in there, in this excerpt:

"Even as I stand here and admit that we have made mistakes I still believe that as the people of America sit in judgment on each party, they will recognize that our mistakes were mistakes of the heart. They'll recognize that.

And now we must look to the future. Let us heed the voice of the people and recognize their common sense. If we do not, we not only blaspheme our political heritage, we ignore the common ties that bind all Americans.

Many fear the future, Many are distrustful of their leaders, and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work wants. To satisfy private interests.

But this is the great danger America faces. That we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual. Each seeking to satisfy private wants.

If that happens, who then will speak for America?

Who then will speak for the common good?"

Item: This morning, I was standing in line in the elementary school gym that is my precinct. The arrangement of people was out the door at quarter of nine. Here, the quiet majesty of one-person one-vote proceeded at a methodical pace. The registrars checked addresses and used a ruler to keep their vision straight while looking down long columns of type.

Unlike during a general election--and this even varies per precinct here in Richmond as I've learned--there was a Democratic queue on the, um, left end of the table, and a Republican queue on the right.

On occasion, the precinct manager would announce that if anybody was voting Republican, they could come forward, as there was no waiting. Nobody budged.

A few high heeled ladies ahead of me inquired of the manager, though, as they were Republicans voting Democrat, would they need to go over to the Republican end of the table. And the manager didn't know, "You'll have to ask the registrar."

Turned out, you declared your attention to the ladies with the register books. "I'm voting Democratic," I announced.

I marched over to my touch-screen box and made my choice. I joined the mass Obamasm.

And I'm preparing myself for disappointment. This is the nature of my adult political life. I vote for losers, and my winners foul stuff up. My memory is quite clear about seeing Bill Clinton giving his acceptance speech on the television at the Trolley Restaurant on West Main Street -- it's now the Six Burner . And there was young Bill, basking in his victory, and television was on and people quite interested in what he had to say--and a black man, standing and watching, pointed at the television and remarked, "You better not fuck up, is all I got to say."


Item: At my office today, someone had drawn devil's horns and a beard on Hillary's picture on the newspaper's front page.

• Item: The meaning and methods of superdelegates.

From Ben Smith, of Politico:

February 12, 2008
Read More: Delegates

Politico delegate count

My colleagues Avi Zenilman and Josie Hearn have put together an exhaustive, easy-to-use chart of superdelegates and their alleagiances.

Their current count is Hillary 230, Obama 138.5.

One interesting point, which is visible in the chart: Clinton has a lead of three among senators, a lead of 13 among House members, and they're tied among governors. So her real margin comes from the relatively anonymous DNC members, among whom she leads 125 to 57.5.

And some of the comments, also illuminating. The added emphasis is mine.

Posted By: Cathy | February 12, 2008 at 03:35 PM

"...her real margin comes from the relatively anonymous DNC members...." This doesn't surprise me, now that I've read the stories of Bill Clinton calling these lowly, anonymous superdelegates personally, and Chelsea Clinton taking them to lunch (!!) I mean, that's a lot of pressure! How do you say, "No, I'm sorry, Mr. President, but I'm not ready to support your wife?" This whole situation really hacks me off, though.

Posted By: ReasonedAnalysis | February 12, 2008 at 03:35 PM

Most of the state-wide DNC members surely endorse early during the "inevitable" stage of Hillary's campaign. It would have been politically expedient for them to endorse rather than to remain mostly anonymous to the Clinton machinery/presumed administration. ...But now, I think it's safe to assume that MANY of those votes by DNC members are subject to change if political winds start to change.

Posted By: Jade7243 | February 12, 2008 at 03:40 PM

I think this focus on "automatic" delegates is getting a bit out of hand from both sides. Let's get through March and see where the pledged delegate count is and then we can talk about "automatic" delegates. I don't get why either side counts these people in their overall totals, b/c they are fluid and can change their mind one a moments' notice.

It's clear that Politico's count of "super" "ueber" "automatic" "special" or however you want to characterize them are different from NBC's, CBS's, ABC's NYT's, WaPo's and right on down the line. Let's agree to not count any of these people until we get a heckuva lot closer to the Convention. They can change their minds at the drop of a hat -- or loss of a state. Where they stand today may not be where a lot of these people, whose "support" is based on poltical fortunes, stand tomorrow. They are fickle. You may see Clinton's "lead" gone like "dust in the wind."

Posted By: dumbfounded | February 12, 2008 at 03:46 PM

What is this, a basketball game or the struggle for which ideas are going to rule America's future?

The superdelegate counts are going to shift everyday to some extent. That's because the Democrats have foolishly tied their fate to the traditional smoke-filled room politics of yesterday. The leaders, especially Dean, haven't yet settled the MI and FL mess, which stirs needless debates and contentiousness while providing the Republicans a grounds for showing the country that a party not able to reasonably handle its own primary process isn't ready to lead the country.

The Democrats are in deep over the heads; the vote on the telecommunications act proves that. It's been two years and no end to the war. Instead of counting mercurial superdelegate votes it would be far wiser to monitor how disaffected voters are with the party overall. See: That's right the Democrats have become Chickendoves, and that's in the view of liberal commentators.

Out on the campaign trail they're pitching change, but in Congress they're voting moderate or right. You think one presidential candidate is going to change that. Obama's right about this: The direction of the country's in the people's hands. And with that in mind, it's not in very good hands. Where's the outrage, the protests, the unrest regarding the immoral and illegal Iraq War? Gates just came out and said, in effect, that the surge level of troops is going to be continued past July. Yet hardly a peep.

No wonder Feingold didn't run.

He saw the writing on the wall. He saw that the selfish masses are more concerned about their own slice of the pie - better healthcare - than they are about the national welfare. Why? Because they fail to see that an improved national welfare will lead to improved individual welfare.

This isn't liberal politics. This isn't a devotion to the collective whole and the compassion that Democrats have shown for decades. This isn't the party of peace but the party of appeasement. Since Bill Clinton it became the Third Way party, happy to go along with moderate and right wing ideas. Who's anybody kidding about change?

Since '06 how much change have the Democrats sought? Conyers and Kucinich aimed for impeachment, but virtually no takers. But Clinton was impeached for a BJ. How pathetic. How derelict can the party get? Torture? OK. Spying on phone and email messages? OK. Continuing the surge? OK. Threatening Iran? OK. Pouring trillions into the "War on Terror" yet not catching bin Laden? OK. Selling fear? OK. Hey when the masses have exhausted themselves in this ridiculous race and are too tired in Nov. to vote, we'll know why. The Democrats aren't providing much of a reason to get up off our asses.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

I Want The West Wing; Not The Same Old Thing
Richmond's Obamagasm --- But what if none of this matters?

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Ralph Nader were in the 804
this past weekend. [Image via Reuters and the Spiegel Magazine site.]

Barack, HillnBill, all this and Chinese New Year's, too.

This was one of those moments when Richmond appeared to be in the middle of something Important. The Jefferson Jackson event (that's as in past presidents Thomas and Andrew, not Jefferson Davis or "Stonewall" Jackson) at the Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center on Saturday night brought to the podium Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Hussein Obama.

I've been so caught up in rummaging about in events of 1909 that I didn't realize that we groundlings could've paid $35 and heard them both speak. The seats were in the rafters, but that would've been OK to get a glimpse at History In The Making.

Meanwhile, there was a tangential connection to this political season's visitation to Broad Street. Both camps had sought venues within walking distance of the speechifying. The Obama contingent set up a big screen TV to track the primary action, and the JJ dinner. They were smart to also feature the rollicking No BS Brass Band and the toe-tapping wayback-stylings of a group whose name I couldn't ever get straight-- Above Depression or Beyond Depression -- fronted by the wonderful Margaret Fleischman.

Unbeknownst to me, Bill Clinton spoke for about 45 minutes down at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. I was aware, however, that Hillary had chosen to use the Firehouse for a gathering with about 50 supporters. Carol Piersol, with whom I co-founded the place with three others 15 years ago, called at work on Friday to give me the news. Would I be interested in coming down Saturday afternoon to hang some of our framed pictures for the sake of appearances?

But our indispensable Melissa G. got to business right away; put together gift bags and contacted installation/sculptor artist David Turner to install his show that's supposed to go up for Henry Moss. Tad Burrell and Stephen Harris assisted in getting the place straightened up; Saturday afternoon I picked up debris of various kinds in the less than pristine rear parking courtyard behind the Firehouse. Hillary was getting brought in from the alley.

The security people wanted minimal staff, meaning Carol got to meet Hillary, and me and Amie couldn't, nor, to be honest, could any other members of the Firehouse organization. This wasn't a social occasion for HRC, but a business one. She needed to make a sales pitch to these people.

When returning home from my little effort at the Firehouse I came upon a friend stopped in his old Alfa Romeo at an intersection. The day was pristine and perfect for riding around in a convertible sports car, and he gave me a lift. I burbled about my Hillary news and this good man, an self-employed business person who operates a garage that specializes in maintaining and repairing oddball and vintage automobiles, shook his head. Since John Edwards is out of the race, he doesn't know who he can vote for.

I have to agree with Bill Maher, too, that at their most recent debate, Obama and Hillary looked like a local television station's weekend news anchor duo.

One Firehouse comrade who ambled in after HRC's departure, whom we met on the sidewalk, kind of summed up the evening's mood. He glanced at the activity at The Camel. "I'd rather be here, anyway," he said, and gestured behind him, "That's the past, this is the future. And this demographic is a bit more to my liking." The Obamian United Colors of Benetton wasn't similar to the Firehouse gathering, reported our friend. They were ladies of a certain age, who were rallying around HRC's banner to prevent further drooping. "I didn't know there were that many wealthy Democratic women in Richmond," he said. "But I guess they came from all over the state."

We stood and watched Obama's speech broadcast on the large screen and this was quite enjoyable. Around me, all kinds of folks, their heads chin-raised to see, their expressions eager and energized, clung to his words. There was applause and cheering and chanting of "Yes we can!" Amie was impressed because of all these political speeches we've heard of late, Obama's was the only one in which art and music got a mention. Not just a passing nod, but given with a sense of importance to cultural fabric. So much is heard of statistics and wages earned and billions spent, so this was noticeable.

And as he spoke, the screen ticker announced that his campaign had on this day emerged victorious in Washington, Nebraska (!) and Louisiana. This generated greater excitement and no movie could've added such additional drama. But among the faifthful gathered came much furtive discussion about the numbers and meanings of "super delegates." The mandarin mystique of these greater-than-equal delegates is the embodiment of the many ways the Democrats manufacture to shoot themselves in the head as a party. And the existence of such creatures is about as undemocratic as you can get.

But speaking of the audacity of hope:
amid these Obama disciples I bumped into an old friend of mine, Jim, from the Richmond Review days, who wore with pride his Hillary Clinton button. He was circled by several women who were urging him to see the matter their way. This encounter exhibits the difficulty of being a Democrat this February; the supporters of one candidate don't want to disrespect the supporters of the other. So there are these urgent and for the most part good-natured conversations in which the subject comes around to: which of the two is better qualified to go at it against McCain, and with voting margins so narrow in many national contests?

I think Jim is a contrarian, though he claimed to me his display was genuine: the whole "experience" thing. Oh, sigh. Like I told him, my desire is for a different set of problems, and not Clintonian baggage piled up in front of the White House entrance like Rose Dewitt Bukater's in Titanic. No, not all of that baggage is Hillary's but it is Clintonian, and that alone was enough to almost sink a ship of state.

A number of those in the audience, and others whom I'd run into during this weekend, heard Ralph Nader speak at "The Biggest Picture" environmental film festival at the Byrd Theatre. (I was sorry to miss The Milagro Beanfield War, and Sonia Braga as a greasemonkey in denim. I remember seeing this at the theater when it was new, and me more so, too).

Those who heard Nader seemed to like him, and as as one told me, with a shrug, "He didn't sound leftist -- he just made sense."

I admit to a certain affinity for Nader and his pugnaciousness though I'm not over the role, how little or not, he played in the Gore v. Bush match up. In Style Weekly he explained, "
To those who blame him for Bush, Nader has countered that Gore lost a number of states he should’ve won (such as Tennessee), that social scientists have proved his pushing Gore to the left actually won him more votes and that Gore would have won Florida if not for illegal voter removals perpetrated by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris (“Either we’re all spoilers of one another … or none of us are,” Nader has said)."

But I think of Nader while reflecting upon standing there with the Obama crowd and feeling their energy and wishing and hoping such emotions would prove infectious. Political journo/blogger Matt Taibbi--whose sardonic cynicism I couldn't live with and write at the same time, which is why I'm not in Rolling Stone--has made the observation that both Obama and Clinton are just "posturing conservatives" though he prefers the Kenyan-Kansan over the other.

Riding home Taibbi's view, one comes to the conclusion that there is no there there at the center of U.S. politics. What occurs in these wretched campaigns is as meaningless as porn. Perhaps the process would better serve the public if the candidates wore NASCAR jackets featuring the logos of the corporations and sponsorships, with size of the badges commensurate to the amount given. Then none of them could hide who is supplying the gas to keep their private jets and media pool vehicles gassed up and ready to go. Let's just get the bad news out there for everyone to see. I mean this is why Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul aren't going to make much headway. And the oxygen got sucked out of the air John Edwards was trying to breathe.

Richmond has a few Paulists. They've slathered the traffic poles with their "WHO IS RON PAUL?" flyers, and at every public event there seems to be someone raising up a Paulist sign, and I see his name in windows of Fan District apartment buildings. I am friends with a fellow, a lawyer, who was in the U.S. Libertarian party organization when Paul was involved, and my friend got to know him, not well, but enough to see that he was an OK guy. He's no more kooky than anybody else who claims he or she wants the job of President of the United States.

People say they want change-- but really?

The U.S. electorate is, in many cases and with exceptions, docile. We aren't about third candidates. That's just too much work. We aren't marching for revolution -- we've already had one, and George Washington won.

Not much foundation-shifting change is possible because of how the system is rigged. Our founders liked democracy just so far -- the electoral college and the Senate are constant reminders that the national framers feared full participation by the masses at least in equal amount to their hatred of tyrannical whimsy. They tried to set up a system to last in the long term by protecting us from ourselves. They couldn't have foreseen, though, how the rise of mega-corporations and the handmaiden of rampant capitalism would create a nation where 12 different packagings of the same goop with which to wash your hair makes people believe they have real choices.

Our elections, in particular since the time of television, are about rewrapping similar ingredients to pass them off as something different. And 98 percent of incumbent politicians in national and state elections get re-elected. The gerrymandering and reapportionment of districts is one part of the equation to blame; private money and public apathy are the other key components.

How ridiculous is it that in a nation of 300 millions that are choices for nation's figurative leadership comes down to two people. So, yes, I want to cheer and whistle and stomp my feet as my heart lifts to Obama's rhetoric. Except, even if he believes what he says--and I think he probably is convinced in most of his highflown "hope mongering" -- Obama is a mere man, and there's one of him, and he's jumping into the eye of the maelstrom that is Washington D.C. Well, he's got a seat at the edge already. And he wants to stay because he's persuaded of his possessing better methods.

And, tonight, the Democratic voters of Maine...Maine....think so, too.

In Carytown this afternoon, a group of metal-faced, spiky haired 20 somethings were clustering around an Obama campaigner and I overheard one say to the Man from Obama, "We were listening to Hillary last night and it was all God God Jesus God in the first 10 minutes, so we're Obama all the way now."

The young man makes a point. These days, U.S. politicians must refer to the deity or the heavenly hosts with such frequency that you'd think our elections process was on the verge of some ecstatic climax.

So Tuesday is the Crabcake Primaries, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, and here in Virginia, we don't have to register by party, so, I'm going to amble down to the nearby elementary school to press the button; because, yes, I can.

P.S. I hope eighth blackbird gets all their Grammys tonight. Looks like they've won Best Chamber Music Performance for Strange Imaginary Animals. I don't know if they give a Grammy for Best Playing of A Card Table, but they're winners, in my book.

And Barack won a Grammy for his spoken word rendition of his book.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lulu In Nature
It's in the mid-70s in Richmond, Vee-a, with storms and hail for the afternoon.

[Image probably from Pandora's Box, long time ago, when the pitchas were

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stupor Tuesday All's I care about is art (and whether this beard makes me look too old)

Me at the opening of Jillian McDonald's Fanatic
exhibition at 1708 Gallery, via Brad Birchett. Brad
addresses Jillian's obsession by describing me as
sporting a Billy Bob Thornton beard. Y'know, he's
right. I dunno yet if I want to keep the fuzz; five
years ago I looked like Trotsky. I don't know if this is
image inflation or deflation, but I know which Jillian

Billion-eyed audience, fatigued as you are between Super Bowl elation and Super Tuesday depression, or vice versa, I'm not tonight discussing either. This is, after all, Mardis Gras. I've had two Hurricanes.

So fortified, I'm taking up a rather laggard brief summary of the past weekend and the cultural exploration of Richmond in which I'm able to partake.

The rains during February's First Friday subsided by afternoon making the later evening comfortable and suitable for the high art hike. We strolled into a.d.a to partake of the whimsical and perverse fantasyland of Yuliya Lanina with her wicked little creatures and landscapes that seduce the eye and titillate the senses. And made me feel weird. That the editor of Vanity Fair bought one of her pieces made me feel strange; just like when I buy one of the magazines almost every other month. It's People for people who think they are above people. I guess Richmond DNA dampens my sense of ironic fun. But Lanina is having fun turning the Teletubbies, and the Smurfs, and what ever else, inside out.

Between a.d.a and 1708 I got quite a dose of Chelsea. Not Clinton. The New York arts district. But without the art aquarium sensation. The other Chelsea, well, I saw her by Hillary during one stump speech or another and she was wearing black slacks, and observed, well, the audience behind her, all the way up. I thought at first I was seeing wrong; the camera switched to Hillary waving, then back, and yup. If you know what I'm saying. She's a tall, redheaded young woman.

Jillian's installation is dynamic and busy and fun. Plus, she was giving people fake Gothic type-face Billy Bob tattoos. This provided much enjoyment that I abstained from, but that's my issue. The Partner In Art For Life got one, as Brad Birchett via the 1708 blog shows.

Jillian had a steady stream of customers for the entire evening.

Besides here fascination for Billy Bob, Jillian also works in the idiom of...zombies. In one instance, she taped herself while riding on a New York subway transforming into a zombie. This is quite famous. I read about her in the New York Times some time ago, thinking she was one of those types circulating in the arts firmament, who wouldn't be caught dead, much less zombified, in Richmond. [Subway image via NYT, and Jillian]


I was quite wrong.

Here I could offer a dull discursis on how Jillian's art is an extension of vanitas, and embracing the fleeting and fickle nature of fame--what it does to those who experience the expansion of recognition and the audience that appreciates or becomes downright fanatic about that individual's greater presence.

I might go on about how Jillian's examination of the zombie is an understanding of our culture's death-in-life characteristic, and how we are both preoccupied by fatality, yet unable to come to terms with finality.

No matter how true (or not), such a recitation would drain the fun out of the experience, just as fluids seep out of a dead body.

We later had the delightful opportunity to hang out out with Jillian at Tarrant's, and found her to be unassuming, funny, smart, and from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and that's as in Canaday, bay-bee.

Her video pieces about she and Billy Bob, and zombies shorts, have provoked questions about how many were in her film crew. For the most part, it was just her and a camera, or a computer. She doesn't have much ambition to do videos and such things. Not her art, though part of the form she pursues. Wow. That was refreshing.

But prior to sitting down with Jillian, I took the shuttle bus provided by the Valentine Richmond History Center to see Shanna Merola's Tell Me Where You're Marching, Tell me Where You're Bound.

This is an eerie collection of images that seek to capture both the distance and immediacy of Richmond's slave-trading history. Little physical remains of the slave internment cells and wharves and auction houses, so Merola presents moods and poems about these places. She's from Connecticut, and studying here, which again demonstrates to me that those who come to Richmond from outside just see the place as we cannot. I hope she can figure out a way to stay and that I'll see more of her work.

Now amid all this, we also went to the third anniversary of WRIR 97.3 held at the Renaissance Conference Center, built in the 1880s as a Masonic meeting place. This was a big, good time, though the beer line proved lengthy and the service there a bit dilatory, but hey.

As is presented in these images from WRIR, and photographer Monica Marusek, the independent spirit was in full flower.

We arrived in time to see Tulsa Drone, a real treat. They describe themselves as ambient punk, which seems just destined to go into a the film score for an Edgar Allan Poe bio-pic, should one ever get made.

Amie and I enjoyed seeing the whole group under lights. We've been audience members most often in dark, crowded venues, and this night's line up was worth seeing. They had I think seven for so musicians performing, including horns -- a punk ambient big band.

They played, and were loud, and the space suited them, and I noted how several of the players turned away from the audience, so though I had plenty of light to view them, I couldn't see their faces.

Those rock and rollers.

The Richmond Moving Image Cooperative's Fifth Annual Italian Film Festival returned with its roster of classic Italian cinema to the Firehouse Theatre on Satuday. As usual, with every year, I become wintry and wistful in my mind, recalling the nights when I was young and walking to the late and lamented Biograph Theatre nearby on West Grace Street. A whole series of curling waves bearing sensations like lost objects in the water bob up. Of leaving a film and ambling with a friend, or alone, to the old Village Café while amid the raucous and debauched roisterousness of Grace in those days (and brought back to life with vivid impressions by Greg Hershey here.)

Having made it to a little round table, or a squeaking booth with wood darkened by a patina caused by the smoke of several thousand cigarettes, you'd sit there and talk about the film while the Village and Grace Street roared and clamored around you. There was nothing like this experience anywhere near Richmond at the time. This was the mid-1980s when Reagan was the perpetual president--he smiled, got elected; he smiled again, got elected; by then, I was tired of Reagan's smile. But we sort of knew where we stood. There was still a Soviet Union. I protested contra aide. Rent on my Grove Avenue upstairs room was a $135 a month, and I was hard-pressed to come up with the sum.

And the Biograph was an oasis--though an overused metaphor--but this was the truth of the matter. Seeing the latest Woody Allen, or a classic like Abel Gance's Napoléon (five hours cramped in a Biograph seat that sat at a slight backward and awkward incline, like an ancient astronaut's couch), or Rembetika about "the birth of the Greek blues." And you could go out into the evening with a girl and feel good about life. Man Facing Southeast's screening kind of changed my life. An incident that occurred to a friend of mine as we were making our way to The Village embarked me on writing a novel. Not published, but written -- you get my meaning.

Anyway, that the Richmond region is bereft of a true art house, like Charlottesville's Vinegar Hill, is preposterous. The Bow Tie Boulevard theater complex may fill this lapse, but we'll see. At least we'll be able to walk there. And that, too, was half the pleasure, of going to the Biogarph with anticipation, and leaving satisfied and perhaps hand-in-hand, meandering through a warm Fan night checkerboarded by the lit windows of apartment buildings, and townhouses lining Park Avenue, like Edwardian sideboards. Though still absurd, the world appeared to make more sense then, than now.

That the RMIC doesn't have a permenant space frustrates me, knowing that the exact place they needed, the 1926 Capitol Theatre (thank you Cinematour!) a few blocks from the Firehouse at Robinson and Broad, was ripped down with callous glee in September 1995 a mere four years prior to the group's organization under Mike Jones, and three before the arrival of James and Katie Adams Parrish, and Flicker. (I have a brief account of the Capitol's foreshortened life in True Richmond Stories.)

Enough of that: don't look back, as the song says.

At the Italian event was per usual the delicious offerings from Mama 'Zu and 8 1/2 restaurants, red wine, and even an Italian coffee cart parked out front. But there was no Sophia Loren. Due to the scarcity of film prints and even tighter presentation requirements, the anticipated 2 p.m. showing of Mario Monicelli's 1972 La Mortadella (Lady Liberty) starring La Loren wasn't available. So, instead, we were treated to Ettore Scola's 1974 C'eravamo tanto amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much).

This year, the festival utilized rear screen projetion via DVD that prevented silhouettes of wine-drinkers and bathroom-goers from blocking the screen, but also can't give the richness of color that film provides. There was an amusing technical problem at the beginning that caused Mike Jones to soldier through a vamping introduction. The film is told from several perspectives and has three different beginnings. Well, as one of the protagonists is halted midway into a swimming pool dive, a narrator says that we'll return to his splashdown in 30 years. At this point the movie stopped and Mike and James futzed with the set up. I jibed that this is a meta cinematic concept,all we'll see is the three separate introductions, over and over. A woman in the audience laughed, "It's Groundhog Day after all!"

Loved that reference.

Still. The film prefigures a much worse 1983 Hollywood version--The Big Chill, or perhaps, John Sayles' 1980, The Return of the Secaucus 7. Less is at stake in those two than in the Monicelli film.

We All Loved is an epic, really, that embraces friendships several men and women from their days as partisans fighting the Germans in the snows during World War II. Woodstock it wasn't. And the vast themes of politics, of communism, the choice of moving into the middle class and respectability at the cost of shutting oneself off from a more radical past, and how compromise becomes necessary for living, the splendid evocations of love and loss and friendship and betrayals great and small-- they're all in there. And there's plenty of slapping. Men flathanding women, women backhanding men, and screaming and crying and attempted suicide. And the importance of the post-World War II film, and a leif motif of The Bicycle Thief (which I experienced for the first time at the festival, last year).

The audience for the second film, Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits, packed the place and there was much joyous eating, with the food line backed out the door. Also grand was seeing so many friends, and a few whom I'd not seen in a while.

Watching an original after the greater culture has so absorbed its themes and moods is jarring. The camera angles, the hyperreal colors, the antic dream like nature of the film, have been taken and put into films by lesser directors ever since 1965. Was it really that long ago? The hairstyles--in particular the character of Adele played by Luisa Della Noce--and even some of the fashions--and situations, seemed far more contemporary. This causes disorientation of a cinematic nature; the film is old, but it's been so plundered, you can think you're seeing either an hommage or a parody.

This was Fellini's first color project. And wow, was I astonished to see Valeska Gert as a nutty Far Eastern hermaphrodite seer! Members of the billion-eyed audience may recall her as the repressed lesbian overseer of the girl's reformatory to which Louise Brooks gets sent in Pabst's Diary of A Lost Girl.

Amie and me couldn't stay for the final film of the evening, Divorce American Style. But I have to say, the festival was a tremendous success for us, and I hope for the RMIC.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Ipso Facto

What is better than one Louise Brooks? Four Brooksies in a band! All trying to emulate her look in the Eugene Richee portraits! Thanks to Vince from Buffalo for bringing this to the attention. Curious post-punk neo-goth spooky. There's also a bit of reclaiming the detached erotic lassitude of 1980s Robert Palmer videos and here I refer to the bass player in the white blouse. Hear more here. Sounds like they could be from Richmond, Vee-a to me, as though they'd be playing The Camel next week.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Zombies, A Birthday, the Slave Trail, and Big Naked Men

The gals are back for the First Friday's On and Off Broad Art Walk sponsored by Curated Culture that each month injects the kind of liveliness pictured here to midtown Richmond. If you are new to the billion-eyed audience, you may not know that the image is of a long ago opening at the former Three Miles Gallery which is now the new and improved Tarrant's Café, that takes the name and part of their space from the pharmacy that conducted business there for years, and a splendid stained glass transom bears the name.

We hope the rains of the day's forepart may slack and that the street will be busy anyway, as it often is, and that the girls will wear an appropriate wrap around their shoulders.
UPDATE: Yes indeedy, the precip is past, and Watteau clouds and blue sky are treating the eye.

The star turn tonight is the Jillian MacDonald exhibtion at the 1708 Gallery. MacDonald brings her new media/performance work, that has included transforming herself from a normal subway communter into a zombie, and an ongoing artful obsession with Billy Bob Thorton, and the general insanity of the age. And the Partner In Art For Life is bartending.

At art6, gallery go-founder John Bailey is displaying 13 floor-to-ceiling crayon drawings of nekkid men. Hey, if it's what you're into. The curious audience should be worth observing.

Also tonight, the Valentine Museum Richmond History Center opens Tell Me Where You're Marching, Tell Me Where You're Bound, a photographic exhibit of pinhole images by Shanna Merola of the all-but erased images of Richmond's antebellum slave trade. I want to make an effort to get to Court End for this, but as usual there's much going on. There's a gallery talk on February 10. This haunting image represents the holding pens of Lumpkin's Jail (If you follow the link, scroll down)

I'll be checking out the Third Birthday Party of WRIR Radio with its array of musical and performance artists. This is held in what was built as the Masonic Temple and is now commercial and residential, with the Renaissance Center conference center within. This is always a big fun party and I'm eager to hear the No BS Brass and Tulsa Drone. I've liked the snippets I've heard of Erin Tobey, but don't know much else about her.

Now, tomorrow, of course, if you have a cultural bone in your body is the Richmond Moving Image Co-Cop Italian Festival -- the fifth! -- and it's in the intimacy of the Firehouse Theatre, food, wine and cappacino all day long. All that, and Sophia Loren, too! [via]

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