Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sanctions: South Africa, Libya, and the Cuban Embargo

Today's announcement from Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro about progress toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba and the possible end of the 55-year-old embargo on trade with that island nation reminded me of a time, long ago, when I was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on Africa.

The topic was sanctions against South Africa, with an aim of ending apartheid there.

I testified that sanctions were a futile gesture and never worked the way they were intended.

The subcommittee chairman, Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.) identifying me as a conservative -- I was testifying alongside Alan Keyes -- tried to trap me by asking whether I also opposed sanctions against Libya or Cuba. I said yes. He was surprised but commended me for my consistency.

Here's a clip from C-SPAN of that hearing on November 5, 1987:

Here's the entire three-and-a-half hour hearing, which includes testimony from Chester A. Crocker, Assistant Secretary, Department of State-African Affairs; Thomas Reilly Donahue, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO; Nicholas Haysom, Deputy Director, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg-Centre for Applied Legal Studies; Alan Keyes, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; James Mndaweni, President, National Council of Trade Unions; Thokoana "James" James Motlatsi, President, South Africa-National Union of Mineworkers; Patrick J. O'Farrell, Executive Director, African-American Labor Center; Richard Sincere, Research Associate, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Damu Smith, Executive Director, Washington Office on Africa; and Peggy Taylor, DirectorAFL-CIO-Legislation.

Has It Been Ten Years Already?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my blogging life.

Starting here on December 17, 2004, this writing platform has expanded to include Book Reviews by Rick Sincere, Where Are the Copy Editors?, Bearing Drift, and the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, with a few smaller projects along the way. The orbit of this blog includes three YouTube channels (see the sidebar to your left).

By coincidence, I produced several interesting blog posts on December 17, without making explicit reference to its being a blogoversary.

By far the most popular of these has been one from last year, headlined "Obligatory Dylan Sprouse Nude Selfie Blog Post." To date, that report on the former Disney Channel star's naked mishap and his deft handling of it has been viewed 4,723 times, which is a pretty good rate.  It's remarkable how interested people are in seeing a celebrity's genitals.

On this date in 2007, I noted that that was the ten-year anniversary of the blog itself.

Quoting Kai Ryssdal, the host of the public radio show, Marketplace, at the time:
The blog is celebrating an anniversary today. Ten years ago a guy named Jorn Barger coined the term "weblog" to describe his website Robot Wisdom. It was shortened to "blog" two years later by someobody else.

Back then only about 23 websites were properly considered blogs. These days, whether you write them or read them, blogs are a pretty common pursuit.

Estimates are that 120,000 new ones are created everyday. No word, though, on how many are actually read.

There are a lot more than 23 "weblogs" today, that's for sure.

The most-viewed post on this blog was "Snowpocalypse!," a collection of photos from the big snowstorm of December 2009 -- published, coincidentally, on December 18.

The second most popular post is an oddity: "Shirtless and Circumcised," which traces strange search terms that lead readers to this blog.

Other blogoversary posts have included "Christmas Carols: The Odd and the New," a review of the Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, also from 2009.

On December 17, 2006, I took the Washington Post ombudsman to task for sloppy writing in "Small Pool."

Two years later, I reported on the progress of the breathtaking recount in the razor-thin race between then-Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Rocky Mount) and future former Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) in "Fifth District Recount Continues."

Only once, nine years ago, in 2005, did I make an explicit commemoration of the start of my blogging in "Anniversary Waltz." In fact, for a long time, I thought my blog-start was on December 22. I had to look up the correct date as I prepared for this post!

Let's hope I have at least ten more good years of filling this space with compelling words arranged in sentences and paragraphs.


Saturday, December 13, 2014


It's December 13, 2014 or, expressed another way, it's 12/13/14.

Numerically successive dates only occur twelve times each century. The next time we'll encounter one is just over 88 years from now, on January 2, 2103 (or 1/2/3).

The other dates like this we've seen so far this century include February 3, 2004; June 7, 2008; and November 12, 2013.

People whose birthdays fall on these unusual dates include gangster Pretty Boy Floyd (February 3, 1904), American football player Weeb Ewbank (May 6, 1907), actress and singer Betty Noyes (October 11, 1912), Brazilian nurse Ana Néri (December 13, 1814), and English historian Alan Bullock (December 13, 1914).

Notable deaths that happened on these dates include those of French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze (March 4, 1805), Italian general Nicola Calipari (March 4, 2005), singer-songwriter Gene Pitney (April 5, 2006), actor-director-screenwriter Curtis Harrington (May 6, 2007), sportscaster Jim McKay (June 7, 2008), Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanjia (August 9, 1910), Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (August 9, 2010), Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson (September 10, 2011), French singer Frank Alamo (October 11, 2012), Polish astronomer Konrad Rudnicki and English composer John Tavener (both November 12, 2013), and Charles-Joseph, 7th Prince of Ligne (December 13, 1814).

On July 8, 1709, Tsar Peter I of Russia defeated King Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava. Ninety-nine years earlier, on August 9, 1610, the first Anglo-Powhatan War began in colonial Virginia, while on the same date in 1810, the Emperor Napoleon annexed Westphalia. On October 11, 1912, The Greek army liberated the city of Kozani during the first Balkan War.

Meanwhile, today is celebrated as Acadian Remembrance Day, Republic Day in Malta, and the Christian feast of St. Lucy (commemorated in Scandinavia and Italy), and the national independence day of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.

Friday, December 05, 2014

'Bootleggers and Baptists': An Interview with Adam Smith

Over on Book Reviews by Rick Sincere is a recent interview with economist Adam Smith of Johnson & Wales University.

Smith is the coauthor, with his grandfather Bruce Yandle, of Bootleggers & Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics, which was published by the Cato Institute in September.

The two authors gave a presentation about their book at Cato in October. Afterward, I spoke to Smith about the book and its title. Here is an excerpt:

Smith explained that the term “bootleggers and Baptists” originated during alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s, when “you had bootleggers and Baptists with aligned interests” even if they did not realize it.

Baptists, he explained, proclaimed “Down with legalized distribution of alcohol!” because they saw drinking as morally detrimental. Bootleggers, too, proclaimed “Down with legalized distribution of alcohol!” because Prohibition raised the price of illegal liquor and fed more profits to the bootleggers.

“It was a boon to the bootleggers,” Smith explained, “and the Baptists were kind of oblivious to that situation.”

Broadening the concept to include other kinds of regulations, Smith said, “what we see today in our modern political economy [are] many, many manifestations of the same kinds of strange bedfellows.”

More and more, he said, “we're seeing that those bedfellows are recognizing one another and coming together to form even more powerful would-be bootlegger/Baptist coalitions.”

There is also a relationship between “bootleggers and Baptists” and “crony capitalism,” when government grants preferential treatment to certain, well-connected businesses.

Smith said that, in the book “we call it 'bootlegger/Baptist' capitalism instead of crony capitalism.”
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Shaft: Richard Roundtree at the Virginia Film Festival

Richard Roundtree at UVA
After a screening of the 1971 Gordon Parks film, Shaft, at the 2014 Virginia Film Festival, actor Richard Roundtree (who created the role of detective John Shaft) was interviewed by University of Virginia historian John Mason, who also fielded questions for Roundtree from the audience.

Although Roundtree is rightly associated with Shaft -- he also starred in the sequels Shaft's Big Score and Shaft in Africa, as well as a TV series of the same name -- his TV credits include Roots, A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Desperate Housewives, while his film roles have included turns in Earthquake, Killpoint, Se7en (with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman), and Young Warriors, among others.

For those unfamiliar with the film -- which has been unfairly included as part of the 1970s' "Blaxploitation" genre -- one of the synopses on IMDB explains:
Private detective John Shaft is hired by Harlem mobster Bumpy Jonas to find his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy has no idea who might have taken her but isn't as forthcoming as he could be about his situation. When his first lead peters out - he thought it might be Black power advocates who took the girl - he acts on information from NYPD Lt. Vic Androzzi that outside mobsters are in town and might be trying to take over various illegal businesses in Harlem.
This conversation took place in UVA's Culbreth Theater on the opening night of this year's Virginia Film Festival, coincident with the November 6 world premiere of Big Stone Gap at the Paramount Theater downtown. 

The screening and ensuing discussion also coincided with an exhibition of Gordon Parks photographs at the University of Virginia's Fralin Museum of Art, which Mason and Roundtree viewed earlier in the day.

Roundtree talked about making the film in a wintry New York, the value of the film's music score (by Isaac Hayes, who won an Academy Award for the theme song), and advice for young actors getting their start in show business.

Sadly, my camera's battery died about five minutes before the discussion ended, but the bulk of it is preserved in this 35 minute video clip.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

From the Archives: A Review of the Revival of 'Chicago' (1997)

Monday's post about Big Stone Gap, which mentioned cast member Jasmine Guy, reminded me about how, in the last years of the last century, I reviewed a musical she starred in: a national tour of  Kander and Ebb's Chicago.

Guy played Velma Kelly in the revival of the Bob Fosse musical, on tour at the National Theatre in Washington in the spring of 1997. Notably, this revival is still playing on Broadway -- a continuous run dating to November 14, 1996, adding up to 7,494 performances as of November 30, 2014.

From the archives, here is my review. It appeared in The Metro Herald in May 1997 and contains some contemporaneous references that may be inscrutable to anyone born since 1994.

My Kind of Town . . . Chicago Is
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Stand aside, Comet Hale-Bopp -- there's a new star rising above the Washington horizon, and she's at the National Theatre! The new star is Belle Calaway, the understudy who took over the key role of Roxie Hart in the new touring company of Chicago, and blew away the crowd on opening night.

Jasmine Guy
Calaway and her co-star, Jasmine Guy, brought the audience to its feet with thundering applause. While Guy slithered sensually across the stage, Calaway exuded energy enthusiastically. A last minute replacement for Charlotte d'Amboise, who is nursing an injury and expected to return to the cast in about three weeks, Calaway evokes the spirit -- and star-power -- of Gwen Verdon, who created the musical role of Roxie Hart in 1975. In fact, Calaway's vocal and dance style nearly replicates Verdon's, a remarkable feat in itself. The question remains: If Calaway -- the understudy -- is this terrific, how good is d'Amboise herself? We'll see in a few weeks.

Chicago features one of the best scores by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who also wrote Cabaret (1966) and the dreadful (but Tony-winning) Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992). Conceived by the legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse, Chicago is a tuneful and sophisticated musical play. Like Cabaret, it contains hummable and memorable melodies and sharp, crackling lyrics.

Twenty-two years ago, Chicago was shut out of the Tony Awards by A Chorus Line, which at the time was groundbreaking but after its long Broadway run, numerous national tours, and a flop of a movie now seems hackneyed. Despite a respectable run of 868 performances that featured not only Gwen Verdon but the great Chita Rivera (and, succeeding that duo later, Liza Minnelli and Ann Reinking), Chicago had been largely forgotten until an "Encores" concert in New York last year. Its cynical look at the press and judicial system simply did not fit in to American culture at that time. Today -- in the era of two Menendez brothers trials, two O.J. Simpson verdicts, and Court-TV's rising popularity -- it seems more timely and relevant than ever.

This became crystal clear when Billy Flynn, the city of Chicago's hotshot lawyer, first appeared on stage. The National Theatre audience gasped when actor Obba Babatundé strode through the orchestra to sing his first number, "All I Care About [Is Love]" -- for Babatundé bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnnie Cochran, a hotshot lawyer in his own right.

It's difficult to find something not to praise in this production. Ann Reinking's choreography recreates the style of Bob Fosse in a way that deserves hearty appreciation, for the art of the dance has been suffering in recent musicals. (For example, Paper Moon, reviewed favorably in these pages a few weeks ago, had serviceable but unremarkable choreography. This, unfortunately, represents a sad trend in American musical theatre, which was once driven by such creative choreographers as Agnes de Mille, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett -- and Bob Fosse.) Fosse's style -- a unique blend of modern dance, ballet, athleticism, and sexual energy -- is often attempted but seldom accurately rendered. It lends itself to injury -- not only D'Amboise, but Reinking herself has been sidelined in recent weeks -- and is perhaps the greatest challenge to a dancer. When it is done right -- as it is done here -- the Fosse style is eye-popping and jaw-dropping. "How do they do that?" comes to mind quite often.

Walter Bobbie, the director, has reconceived the show that builds upon Fosse's original concept and takes it to its logical conclusion. A simple set, which includes the orchestra on stage (a conceit that originated with Cabaret), forces most of the action onto a narrow apron, which makes that action so much more intimate to the audience. Costumes are limited to black, white, and shades of grey. The stage itself is largely black, with a few frames in gold and the glinting gold of the brass instruments complementing the blackness. Props are limited to a few chairs and feathered fans (don't ask, just go see for yourself). Lighting is emphasized, with golden and white pools creating focus and definition.

In its original incarnation, Chicago was billed as "A Musical Vaudeville." Today it bills itself as "The Drop-Dead Broadway Musical." Both are true. Structurally, the play is a series of vaudeville-type numbers, introduced by various characters in the style of a vaudeville emcee. These numbers, however, advance the plot and define the characters as effectively as any written by Rodgers and Hammerstein or Stephen Sondheim.

In a nutshell, the plot is this: Chorus-girl Roxie Hart shoots and kills her boyfriend, expecting her Casper Milquetoast husband to take the rap. Instead, she goes to jail and hires Billy Flynn as her attorney, who promises to manipulate the media and the jury to obtain a "not guilty" verdict. Then, as a celebrity murderess, she can go on tour as a -- you guessed it -- vaudeville star. Interacting with Roxie is Velma Kelly (Jasmine Guy), another murderess who has hired Billy and expects the same result. The predatory press itself plays a major role, showing us that not much has changed between 1927 and 1997.

So many performers stand out it is hard to single them out. Carol Woods is at her throaty best as Matron "Mama" Morton, the jail keeper. M.E. Spencer is cloyingly pollyannish as reporter Mary Sunshine. And Ron Orbach is practically invisible -- believe me, that's good -- as Roxie's sad-sack husband, Amos, who does a star turn himself in the amusing number, "Mister Cellophane."

Chicago is not a family musical. It contains adult themes and rough language. It is also a historical landmark of American musical theatre. No one who loves musical theatre can afford to miss Chicago.
Trivia tidbit: the real-life Chicago murder case on which the musical is based (also the basis for the 1942 Ginger Rogers movie Roxie Hart) was covered by a "girl reporter" named Ione Quinby, who later in life was an agony-aunt columnist for The Milwaukee Journal, writing as Ione Quinby Griggs or, simply, "Mrs. Griggs." Whether her choice of a 50-year career as a staple of the back page of the Journal's "Green Sheet" was inspired by the character of "Mary Sunshine" is not known to me.