The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm Not Dead, Just Dozing
The challenge of blogging when you're just too damn busy and tired and there's all this yammering election coverage

Image of yours truly, by Jay Paul, taken at Old City Hall, Richmond, Va. One of a series he made to get an "Author's Photo" for Richmond In Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder. Jay came out on a wretched rainy afternoon about a month ago, almost on a moment's notice, and we got the image-making accomplished almost at the 11th minute. Praise Jay -- and technology.

Where I've Been

My intuition has alerted me that some members of the billion-eyed audience are restive and wonder what the hell I'm doing; the nerve of me to have a life and a job and stuff. Well, I know. Some Richmond bloggers have figured out a way to have something up every day, or at least refresh each week.

But I'm a laggard. A distracted laggard.

Occurred to me just today, that if I'd stopped watching cable news six months ago, I'd not be ignorant of much about the current political contest than I am now. That is to say, so much that passes for news is just idle speculation and chatter for chatter's sake. We didn't know who was going to win six months ago, and we still don't.

I would like to report that my cynicism pertaining to the U.S. electorate and that my distrust of the process and general disdain for the two-party system have been overswept by a tide of good feeling. But it's not the case.

Oh, I'm going to get up early on Tuesday and amble over to my p0lling place, because it is three blocks away, and I like to experience the majesty of democracy in action. But I'm not making any predictions, and feel as though something could go quite awry. That's just my own internal pessimist.

Meanwhile, I've Been Reading

I finished William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties and picked up Robet K. Massie's hulking but engrossing and detailed Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, And The Coming of the Great War. I'm working up to a kick-ass Nov. 11 posting, which, if you're a long-time listener, I reserve for ranting about the injustice and illogic of the First World War, and urge that it be stopped.

Today I learned, for example, that Bismarck had tiny hands and feet and a reedy voice.

And that's all I'm saying for now. I'll be back, don't panic. Well. Panic only slightly.

Happy Halloween. We're going to see the No BS Brass lead a crazy second line from Monroe Park to Hollywood Cemetery. May not do costume. Who's got the time?

Oh, finally. On this very eve of Hallowe'en, some 16 years ago, the Firehouse Theatre Project formed. No trick, but a treat.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

We're All Obamans On This Bus
BHO comes to the Richmond Coliseum

Video via Heyzutube, YouTube.

On Wednesday afternoon I glimpsed some history in the making. Barack Obama came to Richmond, the former Confederate crucible, and brought his message to some 12,500 people at the Richmond Coliseum and an estimated 7,000 others who listened to his speech broadcast outside into the plaza.

I was among those who didn't get into the Coliseum; I was at work, and overwhelmed there; but I'm also a student of history and the pure symbolism of Obama's appearance here isn't lost on me. (A couple days ago, a Chesterfield minister who had a large Obama yard sign found it removed and replaced with a Confederate flag).

But a colleague wanted to give it a try, around 1:15. I needed to pay a bill at city hall, so I figured I'd ride along. After searching out a place to park and berthing amid a mass jumble of cars in an honor lot somewhere behind the Coliseum, we wandered toward the massive UFO/Roman Imperium structure and I was struck at first by the lack of traffic and the apparent quiet. This looked to me almost like an ordinary late afternoon in downtown Richmond. We saw two guys in Obama T-shirts heading away from the site, and that didn't seem to be a good indication of our Obama-viewing prospects.

But as we came round the building, passing doors shut to entry, we fell into throngs; a convocation of media trucks, and sellers of election paraphernalia. Then we heard an ear-shattering mass scream, which I equated to the Beatles appearing outside the plane, or Elvis. And tripping in chock holes as we stumbled around behind the studios-on-wheels and dodged yellow police tape -- there the candidate was. Tall, straight, bareheaded, waving from the porch of the 6th Street Entrance.

He said inside was filled up, but wanted to speak to us out here, and emphasize the importance of Virginia and the challenge of the remaining two weeks. Take a friend to vote, take five, he said. But by then, his words didn't matter. His presence hit the audience like a huge wind. People swayed, wept, one woman went to her knees. "I saw him..I saw him..I saw him," she cried.

My coworker and I just stood there, amazed by our luck, and not quite believing our eyes or ears. There he really stood in his element, not as an image on television.

I tried to equate this to another political event, and my mind went to the 1910 visit of Republican William Howard Taft to Richmond. Then, the city shut down and thousands of school children lined the streets with little U.S. flags. The Valentine Richmond History Center's Bill Martin was next to me and I remarked on that and he said, "Well, then it was for the respect of the President and the office," he said. "The party didn't matter."

And there is a lesson of history, to be sure.

I thought, too, and not for the first time during this long campaign, of Billy Mahone (that's him in the image) and the Readjusters of Virginia, which -- as a third party -- ran the state for a good part of the 1880s on a mandate of readjusting the state's pre-Civil War debt and providing public education and legal reforms the likes of which the state wouldn't experience again until the civil rights era.

Mahone, a former Confederate general and not what one would describe today as a civil libertarian, but more of an opportunist, seized the potential of black working class votes and those of disaffected whites and ran circles around the established Virginia "Bourbon" politicians by actually going out and campaigning.

Mahone unfortunately annoyed people who were allied in his cause by making bad choices, and when the Readjusters were winning, he couldn't actually step further into real progressivism. Basically, the Readjusters controlled the statehouse and the Executive Mansion, they gave some low level patronage jobs to blacks and in fact enacted sweeping reforms the likes of which Virginia had never seen, and sent Mahone to Congress -- and then couldn't figure what to do next.

Then a Democrat-rigged riot in Danville on the eve of a state-wide election shattered the party's chances. Mahone was reviled in Virginia for years afterwards, and building coalitions with blacks was derided as "Mahoneism." (You can read of my fascination with this period here.) What followed was Jim Crow and ultimately Massive Resistance -- neither of which needed to be inevitable, as Mahone shows us.

I had business to attend to; I'd gotten my
Punxsutawney County Pete view of the candidate, and needed to get along.

Afterward, I got a bus back to the office and as we lumbered up Broad Street, the event's attenders streamed along the sidewalks and filled the bus. The only comparison I have to the sensation was riding in a New York subway after an anti-Iraq and Bush rally some three years ago. There, the buttons and banners proclaiming opposition to both seemed somewhat desperate and hopeless, and the mood of the riders united by their adversity, but vexed and angry.

Here, on this Richmond city bus, I couldn't help but be affected by the exhilaration and outright joy among the riders. Most had taken a long lunch from work, and many hadn't seen him speak while others in excited voices spoke about his appearance to those standing outside. A clever political move, by BHO, and actually kind of decent.

Now I don't know how this is going to turn out. I know the defeat of one or the other is going to cause gnashing of teeth and wrenting of garments among the extremists of either side. And that more and more this feels like 1860, and how then, as Dr. Ed Ayres pointed out in a talk given some days ago, few foresaw that within a year the nation would be plunged into civil war.

Or how, when a well-known Virginia political analyst at a recent talk announced to a West End Richmond woman's club that they'd need to get used to a black president, he was booed, and at the end of his talk, the chair woman said to him curtly, "You can find the door."

Those women were never going to vote for Obama, or if so, they'd not admit of their choice to anybody they knew. But as my friend Bill explained to me, they've always had a comfortable Democrat or a comfortable Republican for whom to vote. Now, their world is on a verge of a possible shift and they can't get their heads around that concept.

I don't think the potential alteration of the status quo going to be as radical as anybody thinks -- BHO is a politician, he came out of a rough and tumble big city political machine; he has ambitions, he has made compromises. But should he be elected, Obama will cause a shift in the nation's political currents, and that's the minimum I can expect: a seasonal change in the weather.

For other accounts of the Visitation, you can read Amy Biegelsen of Style Weekly recounting the event and the political strange-bedfellowsness of those standing near the speaker's platform here; blogger Jason Guard biked to the rally and got inside, and experienced the power of the moment, here; a Washington Post perspective here; for what he actually said, the Obama-Biden campaign provides here.

A postscript: on CSPAN this a.m. I caught a brief part of a segment devoted to the viability of Third Party candidates -- there is a debate at 9 p.m. tonight between Ralph Nader and Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party. Don't know why the Libertarians aren't participating, with Bob Barr, except that characteristic of Libertarians who expend a great deal of energy fighting among themselves, there are numbers of them who just don't like Barr.

Anyway, the callers I heard were typical. One woman from Tennessee sounded so stereotypical and right wing, quoting scripture, and just shy of calling Obama the anti-Christ said two choices were her preference as though a third party wouldn't really be a alternative; another caller wondered a third party would help or hurt Obama, and another complained of trying to register with the Reform Party in Maryland and getting told the Reformists weren't legal -- a problem common to third parties. And so it goes. In a nation of 300 millions, perhaps more diverse now than ever in our history, we are down to these dual opportunities for not much to really change. To me, this is a shabby way to run a republic.

People will hold their nose with one hand and touch a screen with the other, in states where Third Parties are represented they may get a vote or two thrown their way, and still millions of potential voters just won't cast a vote because of resignation, disgustm apathy, or just out of plain cussedness, as my Goochland County relatives might say. So it comes down to a narrowing margin, and rhetoric, and emotionalism, and the potential for things to go awry.

For me, what it comes down to is three little words: Supreme Court justices. The next president may get to select three justices. And I know whom I'd trust to make those appointments.

These are historic times; which means they are easier to read about in the comfort of some window nook seat, than they are to live through.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bloggus Interruptus Due To Lifeus Busy-ness

Image via Holly Timberline and Facebook: The Firehouse Theater for the first ever Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards. And don't we all look smashing. You can't really seem me except if you blow this up; the light barely reflecting off my glasses, way in the back on the right side, one over from the aisle, behind Stephen Ryan with his white scarf.

Have done a bunch of things, billion-eyed audience; emceed Richmond Magazine's Theresa Pollak Prizes for Excellence in the Arts where I also danced to the funky jazz stylings of the Near Earth Objects; attended artists talk at the Media X show at 1708 Gallery; the Byrd Theatre 80th Anniversary Gala at the Virginia Museum, and this little event pictured above -- at which the Firehouse took the honors for Best Play of the past season, The Late Henry Moss.

And work. And feel like I'm in the wrong line of work without knowing what other possible line of work would have me. Much spinning of wheels. And I'm giving a talk to a friend's Journalism 101 class tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, Richmond In Ragtime is slated to drop in a few weeks.

I'm reading William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties and finding it both exasperating and riveting, and at times just amazed at the man's command of the language. This is all stewing around in my cranium with my Avoid World War I alternative worldline obsession, Thunder At Twilight: Vienna 1913/14 and Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. And how in Gibson's book, there's this search for historic nodal points, the most recent one having been in 1911, with the discovery of radium, which is around the time of the Great War.

The world as we know it is about to end, in Tomorrow's Parties. And Gibson seems to be on to something there.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

These People Vote
And they infect their beliefs on those around them

Yes, here's one more reason Al Jazeera's English broadcasts don't get seen much 'round here. The one that makes me cringe the most is the young man -- a young man -- who insists Sarah Palin is filled with the Holy Spirit. What in blue blazes has Palin's capacity to contain the Holy Spirit got to do with anything? Last time I looked, this was the United States of America, where religion and politics are not supposed to conflate.

Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom -- and adopted right here in Richmond, Va. -- that informed the U.S. Constitution says outright that you can practice whatever faith you want, or none, and not suffer any penalty.

"That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

This criterion of the past 20 years of holding political candidates to a religious litmus test is downright...Talbian-esque. And we've been fighting a war with them over such intolerance (and their oil, among other things).

And you can't blame Al Jazeera for this, when at rallies individuals such as this reporter spoke with -- angry, bitter people -- have shouted for the death of Obama. This is a sickness in the country that the Republicans have encouraged because it keeps getting them elected. As one friend of mine remarked of Wednesday night's debate, "I have never seen such a desperate manipulation of American ignorance."

I can just see Mr. and Mrs. Murgatroyd in their livingroom looking at each other, "What is this ACORN?" Here in, Richmond, it's a fine organization involved in the historic preservation of old buildings. They give annual honors to the best work among preservationists, and you can read about them here.

Well, as elections have shown, fear mongering works. Maybe not this time, though. Maybe.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hot Topic
The "7-Election" of Obama and McCain

So the ruthless commercialization and trivialization of the present predicament known as the election season is no better illustrated by the offering of 20 ounce coffee cups by 7-11.

Sure, let's take the most divisive election since 1860 and reduce it to a paltry act of commerce.

I wonder how many yelling matches or fist fights have been caused by this visible display of party loyalties? Standing in the wending lines at these understaffed and poorly managed so-called convenience stores is difficult enough. Why now add this disconcerting element to the scent of refined sugar and burning sausage-like snacks?

The election-themed cups began in the distant, hazy days of 2000 and I thought it was a little odd then, and even more so now. These days of zero sum, fifty-fifty electioneering that does more harm to the nation than good is given a far starker example at 7-11 than even cable television.

At my office, around 3 p.m., a group of us go on a collective hike down to the corner for a "Mandate." It was called this originally because just two of us guys went, then others decided they wanted to join the later afternoon break. So the Mandate is intergender and bi-partisan.

We've had an informal relationship with the clerks at that 7-11 for more than a year of Mandates, day after day, for weeks. We seldom solicit more than "Next!" but on a rare occasion, "Can I help you, dear?" Now, our 7-11 is on a gritty corner with a share of homeless and addled who gravitate to the place and I don't know what it's like to deal each day with the exigencies of providing minimal service to those for whom society has little use. I'm sure it's vexing, and, at times, outright dangerous.

That said, I did, once, make the mistake of picking up an Obama cup, only because I'd not looked enough to see that there are unflagged 20 ounce cups to choose from. Another colleague did the same, and she went ahead of me. I'm not sure how the exchange started, but soon my friend found herself at one end of a long pent-up frustration on the part of the clerk about the kinds of Obama supporters who come into the store.

My friend is white, and the clerk -- from her accent -- perhaps from one of the Caribbean islands, and of African descent and she appears to be somewhere in her 30s. I cannot quite classify what happened next.

The clerk regaled us on how the young black people who come into her store -- this is her talking, not me -- wearing their pants down around their knees and their baseball caps sideways, and their big Obama T-shirts, she continued, couldn't name a single thing Obama stood for. "Nine out of ten can't say why they want him President!" the woman exclaimed. "Sometimes more than nine out of ten!"

She sneered, "No, I'm voting for McCain. I tell you why. I know how these black people think. They'll vote Obama in, and they think everything's gonna be fine by Christmas."

She shook her head, clicking her tongue against her teeth. "They don't know nothing."

My friend to whom this speech was delivered was, herself, speechless and those of us who heard the talk walked out into the afternoon sun, blinking, and not sure what to make of the clerk's disdain for my friend's choice in coffee cup.

I'm not sure how to figure out how this plays into the statistics, and the so-called "Bradley Effect" or "Wilder Effect" that holds that black candidates who seem to be running ahead in the polls, come election day, are either elected by very narrow margins or not at all.

The other aspect is that the black voting bloc is no more monolithic than the white. And there could be some anomalous (depending on your perspective) voting patterns come November 4 that will puzzle some analysts.

All I know is, the non-election cups are on the other side of the 7-11 coffee island and a couple of times on the coffee girdle you slide on to keep from burning your fingers, I've written "KUCINICH."

But my handwriting is hardly legible. The past few Mandates, I've not emblazoned my coffee girdle with a political preference. Which sort of sums up for me the stupid situation the country is in: offered no other choices, and even trying to give some kind of alternative gets no attention. And that choosing a President is only as important as deciding on a coffee cup. These candidates are just empty vessels into which are poured the expectations of the under half of the registered to vote who bother to.

You can read the official 7-11 take on its civics lesson, here; a blogger view on the fairness of these choices here; pro-McCain snideness -- also showing the potential for violence, here; and a more newsy explanation from BNet, here.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

"The United States of America (1776-2000)"
"Free" market free fall and the concentration of power

"The US government's debts have ballooned so badly the National Debt Clock in New York has run out of digits to record the spiralling figure...The board was erected to highlight the $2.7 trillion level of debt in 1989. The clock's owners say two more zeros will be added, allowing the clock to record a quadrillion dollars of debt. Douglas Durst, son of the late Seymour Durst - the clock's inventor - hopes to replace the Manhattan clock with its lengthier replacement early next year. " --

Billion-eyed audience, I've been plagued by keyboard issues and general busy-ness, and this whole economic collapse business and election madness is proving more distressing than I thought. I've got a 401 (K) and, well, I dunno what's going to happen to us.

Anyway, I offer these few insights.

Falling numbers are exciting and you can show them on television but they aren't telling the whole story, and regarding the economy, we're not getting the goods of truth delivered via the usual media. This should appall those of us who live in a nominal representative republic. But there is so much going on every day in these times that would provoke outrage, that if all we did is get upset, we'd never get anything accomplished.

Which is why so many U.S. citizens get up every morning to support their family and regard whatever the government is doing or not doing with the same resignation as one considers the weather.

Becky, our favorite Girl In Short Shorts, offers up trenchant libertarian observations about this whole mess. Becky is nothing if not provocative, but she can also be quite prescient -- she was advocating McCain pick Sarah Palin as v.p. (at first, I think, as a kind of girl-crush joke) without, I think, knowing much more about her background than perhaps McCain himself. And while I cannot say I agree with her on everything, she's providing some actual sensible views that just aren't getting heard very much, here and here and here.

Max Keiser Explains It All For You

I'd not heard of Max Keiser until yesterday when a friend forwarded to me his assessment of the current crisis. You won't see him pop up probably even on Rachel Maddow -- my guess is trying to explain that he also serves as a world-economic affairs pundit for Al Jazeera would be too much to get him approved for major U.S. broadcast air. He's kind of like a leftist Cramer.

You can read about him here and here.

No matter. Thanks to Facebook and YouTube, here he is, and what he's saying is just, well. Listen.

Why Vote? It Just Encourages Them.

As if this isn't alarmist enough, take a look at what's going on in the precincts where early voting is allowed (a concept itself that seems open to corruption from the get-go, but what do I know), and the already documented efforts to block voting in regions of the country. (Image via Crooks and Liars.)

Below, an assessment from the Nevada blog Desert Beacon, which has aggregated some of the suppression efforts:

In Wisconsin the Republican Attorney General has filed a lawsuit to force the state election agency to “check voter registrations for accuracy dating back to January 1, 2006.” The registrations are supposed to match with “other state agencies,” like the Department of Transportation. [MadisonWI]

In North Carolina, last May the North Carolina NAACP filed a formal complaint against Women's Voices Women Vote for deceptive and illegal robo-calls made to state residents. [VTUSA]

In Michigan the Republicans have allegedly gotten creative and may have launched a “Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote” effort in which they challenge voters based on a listing of foreclosed properties. [TBB] The Democratic Party has filed suit to stop this. [TBB]

In California the Department of Veterans' Affairs is continuing to block non-partisan groups access to recovering vets so that they can register to vote, in spite of an agreement to follow Federal law; the non-partisan Veterans for Peace was forced to file an emergency motion to gain access. [TBB]

In Florida, the Republican Secretary of State announced that as of September 8, 2008 the state would begin enforcing “No Match No Vote” statutes. Project Vote, The Brennan Center, and the Advancement Project have all named Florida “the most hostile state in the nation to new voters.” [TBB]

And from Virginia's own Montgomery County, here; and more from Ohio, here.

So, while I'm trying to look forward to the James River Writers Conference and the Richmond Folk Festival this weekend, and keeping my head focused on the day-to-day, I'm probably not the only one who feels -- like our weather here -- clouded over by current events.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

"The Volcanic Apostle of Pacifism"
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and Sophie) Died For You

Greetings, billion-eyed audience, on this splendid autumn Sunday in Richmond. Yesterday I finished reading the above-pictured book. If you're just joining us, you may not know of my fascination with the thread of events that led up to the outbreak of World War I.

Morton applied a novelist's handling to the years 1913-1914 in Vienna and gives you a front row seat to the tumultuous passage of an entire world. You cannot do anything to stop the events, but watch, helpless.

I possess a profound sadness about the uselessness of this conflict and the more than 10 million people the cataclysm consumed. The War birthed Modernism which was stirring prior, but also propelled the careers of Hitler, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin -- and Sigmund Freud, all of whom, and many more, appear in Morton's inspired narrative history.

But the most tragic character here is its most humanly realized: the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The dynastic successor to the old and ailing Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, Ferdinand wanted to convert the fractious nation into a federalized union that would grant greater autonomy to Serbia. This undertaking didn't have universal support among some of the old guard and Ferdinand may have found himself in an unseemly uncivil situation.

Ferdinand was a blusterer who didn't have the charm and charisma demanded by Vienna. Ferdinand likewise possessed little affection for Viennea due to the court's dismissive attitude toward the Archduke's wife Sophie. She didn't have enough royal bona fides to please them. Thus, when in Vienna, Sophie was treated like a lady-in-waiting; she couldn't ride in a car next to him, nor sit in a theater box by his side. Further, their children would not e allowed to ascend the throne.

A major reason Ferdinand went to Sarajevo to watch military maneuvers (during the Serb nationalist St. Vitus Day holiday) was because of he and Sophie's marriage anniversary. And, outside of Vienna, they could appear in public as a royal couple. I confess, until reading Morton's book I thought of Ferdinand as something of an oaf. Self-indulgent, yes; but that he was a bit of a boor was more-or-less Vienna's "official" view of him and not a fair characterization.

I found myself wanting to sneak into events during April-May 1914 when the revered Franz Joseph lay ill with deepening pneumonia. He recovered, though with just about 30 months remaining to his life, and witnessed the wild fire spreading that he realized was likely to end his nation. Had Franz Joseph gone out gracefully in late April '14, and Ferdinand risen to the wobbly throne, it is possible that the coming disaster could've been forestalled. Thing was, Gavrilo Princip and his Black Hand co-conspirators had already seleccted Ferdinand as their target.

Princip and his colleagues regarded Ferdinand as an oppressor of their people. They had no idea of the regular and furious discussions and communications with which he engaged the Emperor and military commanders on behalf of Serbia. He realized that any attack on that small nation would arouse Russia, and preciptitate the embroiling of all Europe. Franz Ferdinand foresaw that calamity and strove in his way to forestall the eventuality. And for that, he got shot in the neck and his beloved wife slain alongside him.

Thinking now of our present-day's numerous crises, and how many of them have their genesis in the maelstrom of World War I, the incalculable loss to our existence is astounding. Paired with Modris Ecksteins' excellent The Rites of Spring: The Great War and The Birth of the Modern Age, which I read a few months ago, you will find yourself gazing up wistful and nostalgic into the late afternoon sun for a world that could be a radical departure from the one we know. Perhaps no less callous, or crass, or more gracious and kind, but quite different, perhaps in significant -- and better ways.

For one major thing, Mesopotamia would not be such a cauldron of trouble right now, though at the brink of World War I, both Britain and Germany were jousting for access to the newly realized oil resources there. And there was France, too. But long as the Ottoman Turks remained viable, the Western powers couldn't just go and outright reconfigure the region to suit them.

Thus, I advocate the prevention of World War I. But I think that'll require some kind of time-space portal that I'll have to create, to allow me the pleasure of an alternate reality. A European war, or a few of them, was inevitable in the early 1900s. But its scope and scale could've been mediated.

I want to walk down a bosky boulevard in a very different 2008 and hear the conversations at café tables, overhear their concerns about current events, and wander among the shadows of a different sort of shade.

Vienna waits for you.

A program note: the "Return" key of my keyboard is shot, thus, I need another set of keys. This may delay another posting until later in the week.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

First Fridays In Richmond
Just set bailouts and baloney aside, and experience art

The above image was taken, and not by me, at an exhibition opening several years ago at the vanished Three Miles Gallery and this space, and the adjacent one, is today busy Tarrant's Café.

The billion-eyed audience by now knows this story, but if you're just joining us, this pair of Richmond lovelies are displaying the classic duality of Greek tragedy/comedy, the duality of existence, and how in general conditions are one or the other, depending who you are and your perspective on the matters at hand.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, I think you'd agree.

But the ladies pictured here represent for the Blue Raccoon the energy and verve of the First Friday High Art Hike here in Richmond, Va; otherwise known as First Fridays: On and Off Broad, and brought to you by Curated Culture, and you can see it explained here.

One of the big events tonight is the inauguration of Gallery5's momentous annual "Carnival of 5 Fires," with its cornucopia of art, music and performance, burlesque -- and fire jugglers. The whole thing culminates in a huge spaghetti dinner on Sunday. Take a gander here.

A number of galleries still have up the shows that inaugurated "Inlight Richmond" this past month, and the constellation-in-the-sidewalk in front of the 1708 Gallery is a reminder that, yes, even Broad Street can shine.

And if you get to 1708, you got to dance in front of the musical mirror that compliments you as you do so.

Speaking of illumination, over at 309 N. Adams there's the "Church of the Chrystal Light" which explains itself thus: "The Church of Crystal Light is an artist-run space dedicated to experimental visual art/music/performance/video and outsider community activity. Our goal is to offer communal artists – young artists that may have limited opportunities for expression – a venue for solo shows."

Andrew Jeffrey Wright is featured, and you can see some of the fun he has in store for you, here.

At the Ghost Print Gallery, self-taught painter Chris Milk, straight out of Oregon Hill, has an exhibit of his work. Below, is his "Moon," acrylic and metal leaf on wood.

So we'll see you on the art walk, and maybe having a tipple or two at one of the fine establishments designed for imbibing and carousing, thank goodness, and if anybody brings up anything political, I'm just going to stare into my glass as though seeing into a vortex of time and space, and wishing to be in another place with an entirely different set of problems.

Speaking of which, if you get your fill of the art thing, at 10 p.m. at the New York Deli in Carytown there's an elaborate indie fashion show, "Pins + Needles" which you can read about here.

Pictures at left, via Scott Elmquist at Style Weekly,
"Local indie fashion designers Ono Mangano, left, and Erin Taylor, with two of their models wearing a refashioned jacket, left, and a high-waisted velveteen skirt, will present their version of makeshift chic at the New York Deli Oct. 3. "

Back away from the television, get out of the house, and be fabulous to each other.

Tonight is also the first of three for the annual "Two Street Festival" in Jackson Ward. This event celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the Ward which by the 1920s was considered "The Harlem of the South." This was before a highway was allowed to be plowed through its midsection and poorly planned public housing built. But, anyway, the reason to go is music, food, Croaker's Spot (good luck getting in -- the place is packed for good reason) and general street merriment.

Friday, Oct. 3

Waverly R. Crawley Main Stage (2nd and Marshall streets)
6-9 p.m. - Friday Night Kickoff Dance Party featuring Johnny Houston & The Legends

Metropolitan Business League (115 E. Marshall Street)
6-9 p.m. – 2008 Second Street Poster Unveiling featuring Larry “Poncho” Brown

Saturday, Oct. 4

Waverly R. Crawley Main Stage (2nd and Marshall streets)
Noon-1 p.m. – Johnny Peyton Renaissance Big Band
1:30-2:30p.m. – NYCE
3-3:30 p.m. – Grace & Company Fashion Show
4-5 p.m. – The Big Payback
5:30-6 p.m. – Radio One
6:20-7:30 p.m. – Horizon
8:15-9:50 p.m. – PIECES OF A DREAM

Joe Kennedy Jr. Stage (3rd and Clay streets)
12:15-1:05 p.m. – Kip Williams Quartet
1:25-2:15 p.m. – QuintEssential Jazz
2:35-3:25 p.m. – SoulArmy
3:45-4:35 p.m. – Carlton Ayles and Legacy
4:55-5:45 p.m. – Jim Branch Quartet
6:05-6:55 p.m. – “Against All Odds” (from Hampton Roads, Va.)
7:15-8:05 p.m. – “Son Sabroso” (Latin Jazz)
8:25-9:25 p.m. – James “Saxsmo” Gates Quartet

Bistro Stage (1st and Clay streets)
Noon-12:45 p.m. – Ban Caribe
1-1:45 p.m. – String Improv N Me
2-2:45 p.m. – Rumba Drummers
3-3:30 p.m. – Spoken Word featuring Deidre Holland and Friends
4-4:45 p.m. – DJ Williams
5-6 p.m. – Skyline Band

Community Stage (2nd and Leigh streets)
12:30-1 p.m. – Richmond Boys Choir
1:30-2 p.m. – One Voice Choir
2:30-3 p.m. – Milestone Dancers
3:30-4 p.m. – African American Repertory Company
4:30-5 p.m. – City Dance Theatre
5:30-6:15 p.m. – Sisterly Grace Fashion Show and Ministries

Sunday, Oct. 5

Waverly R. Crawley Main Stage (2nd and Marshall streets)
1-1:30 p.m. – M’Renee
2-2:30 p.m. – Lee Walker and Spirit
3-3:40 p.m. – Glorious
4-4:40 p.m. – Bloodline
5-6 p.m. – Black Awakening Gospel Choir at VCU

Joe Kennedy Jr. Stage (3rd and Clay streets)
1-1:50 p.m. – Jason Jenkins Quartet
2:10-3 p.m. – Saxophonist Richard D’Abreu “Jazz In The Spirit”
3:20-4:10 p.m. – Dave Hoggard Quartet
4:30-5:30 p.m. – Debo Dabney and The Happy Band

Bistro Stage (1st and Clay streets)
2-2:30 p.m. – F.L.T.I. Steel Pan Orchestra
2:45-3:15 p.m. – Ephesus Drumline
3:30-3:45 p.m. – Sharon Baptist Church Praise Dancers
4-5 p.m. – Grace and Company Fashion Show

Community Stage (2nd and Leigh streets)
1:30-2 p.m. – Voices of Virginia
2:30-3 p.m. – Sharon Baptist Church Choir
3:30-4 p.m. – Sixth Mt. Zion Church Mime Ministry
4:30-5 p.m. – First African Baptist Church Orchestra

Artist’s Row (2nd and Clay streets)
Larry “Poncho” Brown – Featured guest artist
Purchase the limited edition 2nd Street posted created and designed by this nationally renowned artist. Brown’s tent is located on the corner of 2nd and Clay streets.
Other invited artists: Randy Walters, James E. Murphy Jr., Greg Paige, Kelvin Henderson

Capital One Kidz Zone (Jackson Center Lot on 2nd Street between Clay and Leigh streets)

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Where's Matthew Lesko when you need him?
Uncle Sam should be wearing the question-mark suit

Dressed as Uncle Sam, Miko Sloper holds a sign that reads "No Bailout" while standing in front of the U.S. Capitol October 1, 2008 in Washington, DC. Later, the U.S. Senate voted on a revised version of the financial rescue plan that failed to pass in the House of Representatives on September 29. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America) via

You know Matthew Lesko because you've been annoyed by him. His infomercials have popped up at odd hours in the middle of your movie or comedy show for years. He's the question mark guy who wants you to find ways to have the government pay you to open an ice cream store, or go mountain climbing, and so forth.

Well, now, all of Wall Street is going the Lesko route. See his version of the economic stimulus package here.

You can otherwise see him do his thing, here.

This is what it has coming to: hucksterism has eaten its own head and swallowed the country whole.

And so we've come to the vaunted Biden-Palin debate, in a rigged set up bought and paid for by the corporate-owned Presidentail Debates Commission, which sounds like a quasi-government office, but isn't. Wonder why you don't hear about the non-partisan, non-profit League of Women Voters anymore?

The debates aren't debates. They are informercials -- just like Lesko.

Quoting Fred Barnes from (of all places) the Weekly Standard online...

"There aren’t many outfits as arrogant, self-important, and aggrandizing as the unelected Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), sponsor of tonight’s debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. When John McCain said Wednesday the debate might have to be delayed so he could work on the financial bailout, the commission responded, in effect, “Sorry, John, the debate must go on, whether or not financial markets collapse. The debate is more important.”

That was just the latest example of high-handedness by the commission, which has hijacked the debates from the candidates, the campaigns, and the news media. The commission picked the sites for the debates (three presidential, one vice presidential) and charged the colleges involved $1.5 million for the honor. Then CPD announced the moderators for each debate without consulting with Obama or McCain campaigns or even informing them ahead of time.


The CPB took over the debates in 1987 after the League of Women Voters was sacked as the sponsor. The league had often irritated the campaigns, especially the campaign of President Carter in 1980. Carter aides privately mocked the league as “the plague of women voters” and “the league of women vultures.”

The commission ran the show in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004. One of the biggest complaints this year was the selection of sites in Mississippi, Tennessee, and New York--not battleground states..."

Or, from the opposite extreme, Ralph Nader:

"The debates are controlled by the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation which was created by the Democratic and Republican Parties in 1987.

The Commission is headed by Frank Fahrenkopf -- the former head of the Republican National Committee, and Paul Kirk -- the former head of Democratic National Committee.

Fahrenkopf is a lobbyist for gambling interests, Kirk for pharmaceutical companies.

Debate sponsors have included Anheuser-Busch, Phillip Morris, Ford Motor Co., Yahoo Inc., 3Com, among other companies who gave soft money to the two parties’ national committees.

In 2000, some in the press dubbed the debates as the “Anheuser-Bush-Gore” debates.

In a memo by the CPD, the avowed goal for forming the commission was to "strengthen the two parties."

In 1988, the Commission seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters.

The League had a history of allowing third party candidates to participate in the debates. In 1980 the League invited Congressman John Anderson to join Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the debates.

Anderson was given a boost from the public debates. At one point the polls had him at 21%. He won 7% of the vote."

You can read more here.

Snagged from The Daily Pitchfork.

One Good Aspect of Financial Crisis News Reporting

This is Michelle Caruso-Cabrera who reports on money matters for CNBC. Say her name soft, and it's like purring, say it aloud, and it's like proclaiming love for a Latinate poet.

Here she is, wearing red, in the hope of attracting a bull market.

Watching her explain complicated market gyrations in her exuberant and illustrative manner reminds me of having a debate with this girl you with whom somehow you managed to finesse a date but won't be able to keep dating because she's going places you're not. There would be a pitcher of beer, and she should be explaining in terms you could understand complicated financial matters while gesturing with a chip full of nachos. You just love watching especially when she's all fired up with a topic for which she possesses such passion and knowledge.

She's much better looking than that bald, bearded yelling guy, and probably knows more, too. And, below, giving us the business. Both images from reportercaps.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"The Catastrophe of Victory"
Whatever happens to resolve this mess in the short term, it's still a mess.

Troubled skies over the Capitol. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite via the Washington Post.

Regular visitors among the billion-eyed audience know of my persistent fascination with the series of events leading to the outbreak of the First World War. I'm further intrigued, in a speculative fiction/alternative universe way, about how if that conflict could've been mitigated or postponed from its historical track that the world we wake up into every morning would be quite different. At least, the roster of problems would not seem as familiar.

That all aside, I am reading a book now that I wish I'd gotten hold of prior to writing Richmond In Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder. Upon suggestion from Amie, the other day, I went by Chop Suey books which is closing its near-VCU store and consolidating at Carytown, so specials were avaialble. I purchased there for a whopping 10 samolas five books, all dealing with the near and dear topic.

The one I got that I'm devouring just now is Frederic Morton's Thunder At Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914. In this just about note perfect work, Morton uses his novelist's sense of rhythm, pacing and character and writes not a fiction but a suspenseful factual account of the steady tread toward disaster. It's horrifying to watch events unfold, because the reader knows what's coming, and you're unable to reach in and change a particle of the situation.

Anyway, RIR sort of tries to achieve this on a much smaller scale--I have cameos by Eugene Debs, Anna Shaw and President Taft where Morton got Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Hitler, Freud, Viktor Adler and poor Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is the most sympathetic person in the book. And Vienna, as herself.

One what-if that, as a reader, I found myself rooting for was the death of the elderly Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, who became desperately ill with pneumonia in the early spring of 1914. Had he died, Franz Ferdinand would've come into power with sweeping reforms -- though court intrigue may have stymied him at the top level, and Gavrilo Prinzip was already in motion to leap from the shadows and kill him.

Enter our old pal German Chief of the Armed Forces Helmuth von Moltke, "Moltke the Younger," who among his other duties was in charge of the care and feeding of the German's war preparations. The "Schlieffen Plan" that had been handed down as the road map for taking out France in a quick campaign of motion and envelopment, wasn't even a good idea on paper. But it was treated as holy writ by the arrogant nervous nelly Moltke.

I'll let Morton take it from here:

"[German Kaiser Wilhelm] called Moltke "der traurige Julius" (sad Julius). High-echelon wags in Berlin claimed that he was not sad, just hurting with bruises form his falls from the saddle. As a source of many a grin, the horsemanship of the Chief of Staff contributed to the lighter side of official life in Berlin. One of his celebrated tumbles had been in front of the equestrian statue of his uncle, the Helmuth von Moltke, the great Field Marshal von Moltke, victor over Napoleon III in the war of 1870.

The comparison afflicted the lesser von Moltke all this life. So did the conflict between his duty, which must be remorseless, and his intelligence, which was considerable. "The next war," he told the Kaiser a few years earlier, "will be a national war. It will not be settled by one decisive battle but will be a long wearisome struggle with an enemy who will not be overcome until his whole national force is broken...a war which will utterly exhaust our own people even if we are victorious." Yet, here he sat, in May 1914, discussing the next war. It was von Moltke's job to map out the catastrophe of victory."

What a phrase! And I find it appropriate in looking at this present undertaking by Congress to correct the national economic crisis. Whatever bill they pass, it won't work, or not for long, and we'll be back again at the well soon enough but perhaps in even a worse predicament.

We have, as the sad Julius observed, a long wearisome struggle ahead of us.

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