Saturday, July 14, 2018

From the Archives: Libertarian youth leader from New Zealand discusses his party’s politics

Libertarian youth leader from New Zealand discusses his party’s politics
May 22, 2012 12:25 PM MST

Libertarians are not active in politics solely in the United States. There are libertarian movements and political parties scattered through the Western democracies.

Peter McCaffrey New Zealand ACT Party Rick Sincere
In New Zealand, for instance, there is the ACT Party. That name may seem funny, at first, until one understands that it began as an acronym.

Peter McCaffrey was a parliamentary candidate for the ACT Party in 2008 and 2011, when he was just 21 and 24 years old, respectively. He recently sat down for an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during a Republican Liberty Caucus social event.

At the time, McCaffrey was traveling through the United States on his way to take a job with a free-market think-tank in Regina, Saskatchewan.

About that acronym

The letters A-C-T, he explained, “used to stand for the ‘Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.’ That was when ACT was set up as a think-tank” almost 20 years ago.

“New Zealand adopted the mixed-member proportional electoral system” in 1994, he continued, with plans to hold the first election under that system in 1996. At that time, “the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers decided that with the implementation of a proportional electoral system, actually it would be better to be set up as a party rather than a think tank and so it became the ACT Party.”

The initials do not “stand for anything now but that’s the origin of the name,” McCaffrey said.

‘Classical liberal’

He describes the party as “a classical liberal party but there’s a bit of a fusion there.”

Peter McCaffrey Rick Sincere New Zealand politics ACT Party youth libertarianOlder members, he explained, tend to be “more conservative-leaning” or split among liberals and conservatives, while “the younger membership tends to be much more liberal, even leaning towards libertarian.”

During the most recent parliamentary elections in November 2011, McCaffrey explained, the party’s “main focus was on the economy, getting tax rates down, [and] cutting regulation,” as well as advocating for school choice.

“We’ve been doing a big push for charter schools,” he said.

“In New Zealand, we have some private schools that are generally privately funded and we have state schools that are state-funded and state-run but there’s not a lot of choice in between those, so we ran a big push for more choice in education,” he said.

During the election campaign, he noted, the ACT Party made a coalition agreement with the National Party, a conservative party in New Zealand, and the two partners “pushed for an implementation of some trials of charter schools in New Zealand.” As a result, he said, “we’ll be setting up a couple of charter schools, one in South Auckland and one in Christ Church and hopefully more over the next three years as part of that deal.”

Under the new charter school law, he explained, the schools may “be run by any number of different non-profit organizations. Whether that’s Iwi, which are local Maori groups (Maori are the indigenous people in New Zealand) or charities, church groups, anything like that will be able to set up a school and run it.”

The new rules allow “more flexibility in the arrangements of the school so that there’s more choice for people in which schools they send their children to,” he said.

Liberalized drug laws

Generally, McCaffrey said, the ACT Party does not “get too involved in social issues. We try to focus on economics but that doesn’t always happen. Our leader last year” -- Donald Brash, a former New Zealand reserve bank governor – “surprised a lot of the journalists when he came out in support of liberalization of marijuana laws,” including decriminalization or legalization. That position came after heavy lobbying on the part of “some of the younger members of the party.”

That position, he pointed out, “startled a lot of people and maybe scared off some of our older members and supporters but it really got the media talking about the issue. It surprised a lot of people who saw us as sort of an old white conservative party, which, I think, was good for the image of the party long run.”

McCaffrey’s own involvement in ACT is relatively recent but it has spanned his whole adult life, so far.

Learning in high school

“I turned 18 in 2005,” he said, which is the voting age in New Zealand, as it is in the United States.

While he was still in high school, he said, “I just read the web sites of all the main parties that were in the parliament and had a bit of a think. ACT seemed to make the most sense, and so I voted for ACT in 2005,” the first year he was eligible to cast a ballot.

Then, he said, “having voted for ACT, when I got to university, there was a table at the orientation week for ACT on Campus, which is the youth wing of the ACT Party. I signed up to ACT on Campus and then over the next couple of years I got more and more involved in the ACT on Campus group and also in the party itself.”

McCaffrey explained that the “party is very open to young people, volunteers coming in, even coming into the parliamentary offices, helping out, volunteering, doing research -- all that sort of stuff -- so just sort of slowly I got more and more involved.”

Eventually, he “ended up being the ACT on Campus president, leading the youth wing of the party” and later he was selected to serve on “the board for the Wellington region” (equivalent to the unit committee of an American political party) “and stood as a candidate for the party for parliament in 2008 and 2011 in my local district,” Otaki.

He was not elected, however, noting modestly that “to be honest, my district isn’t a very good area for ACT, so I was kind of the only one who was willing to do it in my area.”

That turn of events, of course, is what brought McCaffrey to North America, where he continues to work on the sorts of issues that brought him into politics in his native New Zealand.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on May 22, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

From the Archives: Actress Tracey Ullman reflects on citizenship and equality at Monticello

Actress Tracey Ullman reflects on citizenship and equality at Monticello
July 4, 2010 4:28 PM MST

Tracey Ullman at Monticello, July 4, 2010
Tracey Ullman at Monticello, July 4, 2010
At the 48th annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello on July 4, the featured speaker was actress and comedienne Tracey Ullman, who has won seven Emmy Awards® for her work in television. Her self-named Fox-TV show of the 1980s introduced the world interstitially to The Simpsons.

Ullman is a dual British-American citizen. Born and raised in Slough, England, she has lived and worked in the United States for 25 years and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006.

In her remarks to the 71 immigrants from more than two dozen countries (from Afghanistan and Armenia to Uzbekistan and Vietnam), Ullman emphasized how her early impressions of America were those of “confidence,” that the American attitude was one of “if you want it, come and get it.”

After the ceremony, Ullman sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, answering questions about citizenship, the American dream, and what she finds valuable in the American founding.

Subjects and Citizens
Noting that it was recently revealed that, in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the word “subjects” and smudged it out so he could replace it with “citizens,” Ullman talked about the difference between “subject” and “citizen,” because she has been both.

She said she was pleased to learn about Jefferson’s editing, that “he changed it, that he moved on, that he made the change.”

“Yes,” she said, “I have been a subject and now a citizen and it’s interesting. I just think that we are equal. There’s no one better than us. We’re not paying people millions of pounds to be better than us,” as the British pay their royal family.

“I’ve never been a royalist,” Ullman explained, “and that [equality] is something that really appealed to me about America.”

Image of Confidence
Tracey Ullman Monticello citizenship
When she was growing up as a girl in England, Ullman absorbed many images of America that she saw on television. What most impressed her, she said, “was the Olympics,” not only because American athletes won so many gold medals, but “it was the confidence,” they exhibited.

In addition, she said, “it was that ‘you can be anyone you want to be’” attitude and “kindness,” as well as “inspirational people like Lily Tomlin. I impersonated her at my school when I was like 10. I said, ‘I want to be Lily Tomlin. I want to be Gilda Radner.’”

Ullman joked that “our images of America were like Dallas, when I was a kid, like soap operas and things” but even so, when she first arrived in the United States at the age of 20, she was “very inspired.”

Citizenship Test
Since Ullman so recently went through the naturalization process, she spoke about the most surprising things she learned as she prepared for the citizenship test.

One was, she laughed, a question about two forms used by the immigration authorities, the N-200 and the N-400. That’s “a real question,” she said, and applicants had to know the difference between those forms. “I think they’ve dropped that one now, it’s a little obscure.”

She was most impressed, however, by the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, which is why, she said, it is so inspiring “to be here, where Thomas Jefferson” lived. He was “so forward thinking,” for his time, Ullman remarked, and that is why she remembers “really being impressed with the words of the Founding Fathers, in particular Thomas Jefferson, who was just so enlightened and so brave and so incredible at that time and still holds up” today.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on July 4, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Remembering Bobby Kennedy's Death 50 Years Later

Barbara Perry RFK Robert Kennedy
Barbara Perry
Last Saturday's episode of The Score on Bearing Drift featured an interview with Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.  I spoke to Dr. Perry about the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York) as he was campaigning in California for his party's presidential nomination.

Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan on June 5 (although, as Dr. Perry acknowledges but dismisses in our interview, there is some dispute over whether Sirhan's gun killed RFK or if there was a second gunman) and died on June 6, 1968.  Coincidentally, California Governor Ronald Reagan, who also sought his party's presidential nomination that year, although briefly, died on June 5, 2004, and June 6 is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.

My interview with Barbara Perry can be heard at about the 26-minute mark of The Score for June 2, 2018, on Bearing Drift.  Here's an excerpt from the program notes for that episode.

This coming week, on June 6, Americans will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, who was gunned down during a tumultuous year that also saw the murder of Martin Luther King Junior, riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and a turning point in public opposition to the war in Vietnam. I spoke by telephone to presidential scholar Barbara Perry of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia about the significance of Kennedy’s death fifty years ago. (The Score also featured Dr. Perry a few weeks ago, when she talked about the late Barbara Bush and the role of First Ladies.) Those of you old enough to remember RFK's funeral will no doubt still recall the haunting version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" sung at St. Patrick's Cathedral by the pop star and Kennedy family friend, Andy Williams. It's not on the podcast but seemed appropriate to embed here.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Guest Post: Question Authority - How Mad Magazine's ethos still matters

Michael J. Socolow, University of Maine

Mad Magazine is still hanging on. In April, it launched a reboot, jokingly calling it its “first issue.”

But in terms of cultural resonance and mass popularity, it’s largely lost its clout.

At its apex in the early 1970s, Mad’s circulation surpassed 2 million. As of 2017, it was 140,000.

As strange as it sounds, I believe the “usual gang of idiots” that produced Mad was performing a vital public service, teaching American adolescents that they shouldn’t believe everything they read in their textbooks or saw on TV.

Mad Magazine comedy humor parody satire

The magazine taught its readers to never swallow what they’re served.
Nick Lehr/The Conversation via Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-ND

Mad preached subversion and unadulterated truth-telling when so-called objective journalism remained deferential to authority. While newscasters regularly parroted questionable government claims, Mad was calling politicians liars when they lied. Long before responsible organs of public opinion like The New York Times and the CBS Evening News discovered it, Mad told its readers all about the credibility gap. The periodical’s skeptical approach to advertisers and authority figures helped raise a less credulous and more critical generation in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today’s media environment differs considerably from the era in which Mad flourished. But it could be argued that consumers are dealing with many of the same issues, from devious advertising to mendacious propaganda.

While Mad’s satiric legacy endures, the question of whether its educational ethos - - its implicit media literacy efforts – remains part of our youth culture is less clear.

A merry-go-round of media panics

In my research on media, broadcasting and advertising history, I’ve noted the cyclical nature of media panics and media reform movements throughout American history.

The pattern goes something like this: A new medium gains popularity. Chagrined politicians and outraged citizens demand new restraints, claiming that opportunists are too easily able to exploit its persuasive power and dupe consumers, rendering their critical faculties useless. But the outrage is overblown. Eventually, audience members become more savvy and educated, rendering such criticism quaint and anachronistic.

During the penny press era of the 1830s, periodicals often fabricated sensational stories like the “Great Moon Hoax” to sell more copies. For a while, it worked, until accurate reporting became more valuable to readers.

Great Moon Hoax New York Sun

During the ‘Great Moon Hoax,’ the New York Sun claimed to have discovered a colony of creatures on the moon.
Wikimedia Commons

When radios became more prevalent in the 1930s, Orson Welles perpetrated a similar extraterrestrial hoax with his infamous “War of the Worlds” program. This broadcast didn’t actually cause widespread fear of an alien invasion among listeners, as some have claimed. But it did spark a national conversation about radio’s power and audience gullibility.

Aside from the penny newspapers and radio, we’ve witnessed moral panics about dime novels, muckraking magazines, telephones, comic books, television, the VCR, and now the internet. Just as Congress went after Orson Welles, we see Mark Zuckerberg testifying about Facebook’s facilitation of Russian bots.

Holding up a mirror to our gullibility

But there’s another theme in the country’s media history that’s often overlooked. In response to each new medium’s persuasive power, a healthy popular response ridiculing the rubes falling for the spectacle has arisen.

For example, in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain gave us the duke and the dauphin, two con artists traveling from town to town exploiting ignorance with ridiculous theatrical performances and fabricated tall tales.

They were proto-purveyors of fake news, and Twain, the former journalist, knew all about selling buncombe. His classic short story “Journalism in Tennessee” excoriates crackpot editors and the ridiculous fiction often published as fact in American newspapers.

Then there’s the great P.T. Barnum, who ripped people off in marvelously inventive ways.

“This way to the egress,” read a series of signs inside his famous museum. Ignorant customers, assuming the egress was some sort of exotic animal, soon found themselves passing through the exit door and locked out.

They might have felt ripped off, but, in fact, Barnum had done them a great – and intended – service. His museum made its customers more wary of hyperbole. It employed humor and irony to teach skepticism. Like Twain, Barnum held up a funhouse mirror to America’s emerging mass culture in order to make people reflect on the excesses of commercial communication.

‘Think for yourself. Question authority’

Mad Magazine embodies this same spirit. Begun originally as a horror comic, the periodical evolved into a satirical humor outlet that skewered Madison Avenue, hypocritical politicians and mindless consumption.

Teaching its adolescent readers that governments lie – and only suckers fall for hucksters – Mad implicitly and explicitly subverted the sunny optimism of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years. Its writers and artists poked fun at everyone and everything that claimed a monopoly on truth and virtue.

“The editorial mission statement has always been the same: ‘Everyone is lying to you, including magazines. Think for yourself. Question authority,’” according to longtime editor John Ficarra.

That was a subversive message, especially in an era when the profusion of advertising and Cold War propaganda infected everything in American culture. At a time when American television only relayed three networks and consolidation limited alternative media options, Mad’s message stood out.

Just as intellectuals Daniel Boorstin, Marshall McLuhan and Guy Debord were starting to level critiques against this media environment, Mad was doing the same – but in a way that was widely accessible, proudly idiotic and surprisingly sophisticated.

For example, the implicit existentialism hidden beneath the chaos in every “Spy v. Spy” panel spoke directly to the insanity of Cold War brinksmanship. Conceived and drawn by Cuban exile Antonio Prohías, “Spy v. Spy” featured two spies who, like the United States and the Soviet Union, both observed the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Each spy was pledged to no one ideology, but rather the complete obliteration of the other – and every plan ultimately backfired in their arms race to nowhere.

Mad Magazine question authority parody satire humor comedy

Mad skewered those who mindlessly supported the people who controlled the levers of power.
Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-SA

The cartoon highlighted the irrationality of mindless hatred and senseless violence. In an essay on the plight of the Vietnam War soldier, literary critic Paul Fussell once wrote that U.S. soldiers were “condemned to sadistic lunacy” by the monotony of violence without end. So too the “Spy v. Spy” guys.

As the credibility gap widened from the Johnson to Nixon administrations, the logic of Mad‘s Cold War critique became more relevant. Circulation soared. Sociologist Todd Gitlin – who had been a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s – credited Mad with serving an important educational function for his generation.

“In junior high and high school,” he wrote, “I devoured it.”

A step backward?

And yet that healthy skepticism seems to have evaporated in the ensuing decades. Both the run-up to the Iraq War and the acquiescence to the carnival-like coverage of our first reality TV star president seem to be evidence of a widespread failure of media literacy.

We’re still grappling with how to deal with the internet and the way it facilitates information overload, filter bubbles, propaganda and, yes, fake news.

But history has shown that while we can be stupid and credulous, we can also learn to identify irony, recognize hypocrisy and laugh at ourselves. And we’ll learn far more about employing our critical faculties when we’re disarmed by humor than when we’re lectured at by pedants. A direct thread skewering the gullibility of media consumers can be traced from Barnum to Twain to Mad to “South Park” to The Onion.

While Mad’s legacy lives on, today’s media environment is more polarized and diffuse. It also tends to be far more cynical and nihilistic. Mad humorously taught kids that adults hid truths from them, not that in a world of fake news, the very notion of truth was meaningless. Paradox informed the Mad ethos; at its best, Mad could be biting and gentle, humorous and tragic, and ruthless and endearing – all at the same time.

The ConversationThat’s the sensibility we’ve lost. And it’s why we need an outlet like Mad more than ever.

Michael J. Socolow, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

From the Archives - A Rare Treat for Theatergoers: 'Lady in the Dark' (1998)

This review appeared in The Metro Herald in May 1998, twenty years ago this month.

A Rare Treat for Theatergoers: Lady in the Dark
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Idiosyncrasy saves us from boredom and blandness. In a world of popular culture driven by focus groups, polls, and plagiarism, it's no wonder that television and the theatre seem infected by a sameness virus. Luckily, individual human choices are able to transcend this groupthink. And the American Century Theater (TACT) in Arlington shows us how the idiosyncratic choices of a few individuals can slash through the morass of predictability and yawns we have grown to expect from so many cultural institutions.

theatre two gunston middle school American Century Theater Arlington
Last season's Orson Welles' Moby Dick Rehearsed, for instance, was a triumph of physicality and illusion. The show had to be extended several times -- yet it was a play that hardly anyone had ever heard about before the TACT production.

Artistic director Jack Marshall has done it again with Lady in the Dark. Except, in this case, TACT is presenting a play that almost all literate theatergoers have heard about, but hardly anyone under the age of 80 has seen.

Lady in the Dark, with a libretto by Moss Hart, music by Kurt Weill, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, frequently appears on lists of the "greatest American musicals." Yet it is not part of the basic musical theatre repertoire. Some plays become classics because of repetition -- what community theatre company has not already performed Guys and Dolls or The Fantasticks three or four times? Some become classics because of a special cult status. Anyone Can Whistle achieved this when it closed after nine performances, but its producers were canny enough to record an original cast album.

Lady in the Dark cast albumLady in the Dark is of a different breed. It closed after less then a year when leading lady Gertrude Lawrence left the show. It had no original cast album (the concept had not yet emerged in 1941). According to research by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, fewer than 20 productions of Lady in the Dark have been mounted since 1942. This production by the American Century Theater is the first since 1965. Its reputation grew through the Hot Stove League of musical theater aficionados. It's discussed with the same distant admiration as baseball fans banter about a one-season pitching phenomenon of the 1930s. Textbooks explore it at length. Anthologies include it. But no one has seen it.

Except for three songs in the second act -- "Tchaichowsky," "The Saga of Jenny," and "My Ship" -- hardly a soul has heard any of the score. Yet Lady in the Dark is legendary. Why?

In January 1941, Lady in the Dark set records for expenditure. The production cost a then-unimaginable $150,000. (At the time, top ticket prices for Broadway plays were $4.40.) It had four interlocking turntables, extravagant sets and costumes, and a cast of 50 that included Danny Kaye, Victor Mature, MacDonald Carey, and Natalie Schafer (later Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan's Island). Weill scored the show for a full symphony orchestra.

Theater lore has it that later producers found the show entirely too daunting. Jack Marshall, however, is dauntless.

It is said that theatre requires nothing more than actors, a performing space, and lighting. Everything else is gravy -- bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors. TACT proves that it is possible to mount a complicated, literate musical play without the special effects that so frightened other producers. In the small black-box theatre at Gunston Arts Center, set designer Hal Crawford and lighting designer David Walden have created a workable space that does all that is necessary to convey what Hart and his colleagues intended.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Lady in the Dark is basically a non-musical play with extended musical sequences. The musical sequences -- little one-act operas -- exist only in the dreams of troubled magazine editor Liza Elliott (Maureen Kerrigan). The non-musical scenes are played out in the drab offices of Elliott and her psychoanalyst, Dr. Brooks (Bernard Engel). Significantly, these scenes are played at the most distant edges of the stage, as far from the audience as possible. This allows the musical scenes to take up the fullest extent of the performing space, literally blossoming before our eyes with the colorful costumes of designer Edu. Bernardino.

Liza, a driven career woman, has suddenly begun to have panic attacks and fits of depression. For these, she seeks the help of Dr. Brooks. In what may be the play's most unsatisfactory facet, she resolves her problems in barely a week. Within that week, however, we are able to observe the inner workings of Liza's mind -- the "lady" in the "dark."

Lady in the Dark cast album Gertrude LawrenceGiven the structure of the play, with dream sequences being as disjointed as dreams are, the commercial temptation for Weill and Gershwin would have been to write a collection of potential hit songs -- something in the revue tradition of the Ziegfeld Follies or Garrick Gaieties. Instead, they wrote integrated, operatic playlets in which discrete songs are difficult to discern at all. Ironically, the play itself does not nearly approach the full integration that Rodgers and Hammerstein achieved with Oklahoma! two years later, setting the standard for American musical theatre for the next quarter century.

The play does, however, give opportunities for both dramatic and musical virtuoso performances. Standout Jason Gilbert is manic as photographer Russell Paxton. Buzz Mauro is pleasingly sleazy as advertising director, Charley Johnson, a perfect foil for "boss lady" Liza. Timothy Hayes Lynch is appropriately, WASPishly staid as Liza's longtime live-in lover, Kendall Nesbitt. In a small but important role as high-school student Ben Butler, Kerry DeMatteis is sweetly but unintentionally inconsiderate (and well-cast for age -- DeMatteis seems not to have aged a day since his Washington area debut in a Georgetown University production of Gemini almost 14 years ago). Somewhat off the mark, however, is Tom Manger as Randy Curtis, who simply fails to come across convincingly as a Hollywood matinee idol.

Aside from Liza, the female roles in Lady in the Dark are underwritten, but Mary McGowan is a finely-tuned Maggie Grant, Liza's right hand, and Brenda Wesner gets a few comic turns as Allison DuBois.

There is a reason, unfortunately, to feel sorry for all these talented cast members. They will now put Lady in the Dark on their resumes -- but no one will believe them. No one, that is, except for those who hear about the American Century Theater's bold decision to mount a play that scares off richer and more powerful producers.

Lady in the Dark has been extended through May 30 at the Gunston Arts Center, Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with 2:30 matinees on May 16, 17, and 23. Tickets are $20 and $17 (students/seniors). For information and reservations, call 703-553-8782.