Thursday, September 28, 2006

Virginia Film Festival Announces 2006 Line-Up

The sanctuary of the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church -- now the non-profit Music Resource Center -- in downtown Charlottesville was the setting on Wednesday morning for a news conference announcing the line-up for this year's Virginia Film Festival. Appropriately so, since the theme of the 2006 festival is Revelations: Finding God at the Movies.

Festival director Richard Herskowitz revealed that the Virginia Film Award will be presented on Friday, October 27, to Oscar recipient (and Virginia resident) Robert Duvall, who will also be on hand to discuss his triple-threat 1997 movie (actor, director, screenwriter) The Apostle with film critic David Edelstein, after the film is screened at The Paramount.

The festival will also be the venue for the premiere of a new documentary by Charlottesville's own Oscar- and Emmy-winning director, Paul Wagner, called God of a Second Chance. Wagner and his crew "spent years getting to know the churches and ministries" in South East Washington, D.C., the poorest neighborhood in the Nation's Capital. (It has, Wagner told me, 65,000 residents, one sit-down restaurant, and 300 churches.) "It took a year to shoot," he said, but "while the film is a finished product, the project is still in process."

Herskowitz credited Wagner with stimulating the idea for the 2006 festival's theme, but Wagner modestly demurred. "If this doesn't work as a theme, I'm not responsible," he said with a smile, adding that "there are a lot of filmmakers noting the importance of religion and spirituality" in the contemporary world.

"What is stimulating to filmmakers," said Herskowitz, "is the growing tensions between religion and secular society." What the festival aims to do, he said, is to "use film as a springboard for discussion and debate," giving the audience an opportunity to "interact with filmmakers." To that end, he said later, "almost every film is accompanied by a speaker. I think we're the only film festival with more speakers than films."

Besides Duvall, whose film debut came in one of the hits of last year's festival, the 1962 version of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the festival will provide a platform for Tony-winning actor Liev Schreiber to screen his directoral debut, Everything Is Illuminated (2005), starring Elijah Wood and based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.

One of last year's biggest box-office successes, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, will also be featured at the festival, with producer Mark Johnson and actor William Moseley ("Peter Pevensie"). That epic will be screened at the same time as Ingmar Bergman's classic, The Seventh Seal, one of four Scandinavian films in the program.

Herskowitz said that, in programming the festival, there was an attempt to be "as ecumenical and multifaith as possible." There will be films exploring Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity, as well as some "irreverent" entries, including Monty Python's The Life of Brian and the 2005 parody of a 1922 Mormonsploitation film, the silent Trapped by the Mormons.

There will also be several films with gay themes, including Keep Not Silent (about Orthodox Jewish lesbians in Israel) and In My Father's Church (in which a lesbian wants to have a church wedding -- and her father is the pastor of the local United Methodist Church). Another gay-themed film is Camp Out, a documentary about ten teenagers attending the first overnight camp for gay Christian youth. That film's director, Larry Grimaldi, will present the film.

Besides the unconventional Trapped by the Mormons, there will be other silent films as well, including Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings and the 1925 His People (about Jews on the Lower East Side), both with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.

One of the most anticipated programs in the Virginia Film Festival, the Adrenaline Film Project, will be back this year for the third time, with young filmmakers mentored by Jeff Wadlow and Beau Bauman. The object is to make a movie from scratch within 72 hours. This year the Adrenaline Film Project is sponsored by Volvo. (No relation to the opening night screening at the Paramount of Swedish Auto, which was filmed in Charlottesville last year, with director Derek Sieg and actress January Jones.) The Adrenaline Film Project provides a unique opportunity for aspiring directors, producers, and screenwriters -- most of whom are either Charlottesville residents or University of Virginia students -- and represents the film festival's commitment to nurturing local talent.

In addition to Swedish Auto (directed and produced by UVa alumni) and Paul Wagner's new documentary, there will be several other features on the VFF schedule with Charlottesville ties, including Live from the Hook, a documentary about local musicians Bob Girard and Charlie Pastorfield.

While there are still some "TBAs" on the schedule, I was surprised by a few omissions. Where are the classic Catholic films of the 1940s, like Going My Way and The Song of Bernadette? How about The Exorcist or The Shoes of the Fisherman? A focus on the tension between traditional Jewish culture and modernity could include Hester Street, any of the versions of The Jazz Singer (Al Jolson, Danny Thomas, or Neil Diamond), or even Norman Jewison's ponderous Fiddler on the Roof. And speaking of Norman Jewison musicals, how about Jesus Christ Superstar -- or, for that matter, Godspell or The Sound of Music? (I now feel guilty for not making more suggestions on Richard Herskowitz's film festival blog.)

Later this week, the full schedule of the 2006 Virginia Film Festival should be posted on line. In the meantime, the Daily Progress, WINA-AM, The Hook, and WVIR-TV also have reports. For more information, visit the Virginia Film Festival at

And, for my blog coverage of the 2005 Virginia Film Festival, see these articles: Fever and You Ought to Be in Pictures.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Talking Sense

The Washington Post today has an atypically sensible editorial about the primary election fiasco last week in Maryland and how to address the problems as we approach the general election of November 7.

Echoing (modesty forces me to add "unconsciously") my comments of September 17, the Post says:

Most of the problems on Sept. 12 resulted from human error: officials forgetting to deliver cards to operate machines, judges not showing up, workers failing to remove memory cards. The one big equipment problem had to do with the electronic poll books (used by poll workers to check voters off as they come in) and not, as Mr. Ehrlich might have you believe, with the machines voters use to cast their ballots.
The Post also corrects the widely-held but mistaken belief that the human errors were attributable to the newness of the voting machines:
In fact, not only did the touch-screen voting machines work largely without incident across the state in the recent primary, but this was not the first time they have been employed. In the 2002 election, when Mr. Ehrlich became governor, four counties -- including the state's largest, Montgomery -- used these units. In the 2004 presidential election, every locality except Baltimore City used them. So why is this an issue now?
The fact that Montgomery County has been using these machines for at least four years makes the performance of its top election officials even more shameful.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pontius Pirate?

While listening to WMAL-AM radio in Washington on Monday morning, I learned that this is National Clean Hands Week, designed to encourage frequent washing of hands by Americans (and not just politicians). I like the highly specific parenthetical text of the sample "proclamation" provided by the Clean Hands Coalition (which, I must emphasize, is not a goo-goo PAC):

Whereas Organizations such as the (Insert the Name of Your Organization Here) and the Clean Hands Coalition, have initiated grassroots education efforts to improve food safety and public health by making hand washing an integral part of the day;

Whereas the role of handwashing in America has been overlooked and undervalued;

Whereas ( Insert Organization or Company Name) needs to take action to remind all its citizens of the importance of practicing this simple and often overlooked, but essential, component of disease prevention;

THEREFORE be it resolved that I, (Insert Organizational Leader, Company President), as President of (Organization or Company Name), hereby proclaim the week of September 17-23, 2006 as “Clean Hands Week” for the (Organization or Company) community. In addition, I urge support of the Clean Hands Coalition in their “Clean Hands Save Lives” campaign and events for “Clean Hands Week” and the promotion of these events and for the continued efforts of all who are involved in programs that enhance the awareness, and necessity of the reduction of illness through hand hygiene/handwashing throughout our community.
Also this week: Tuesday, September 19, is "Talk Like a Pirate Day." Coincidence? Arrrrgh!

One final random thought: Why do I have this intense craving for a fresh spinach salad?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chicken Little or Cassandra?

Last Tuesday's primary election mishaps in Maryland -- centered on Montgomery County but also including Prince Georges County and Baltimore -- have pricked up the ears of election watchers across the country, with increasing fears of disruptions in November because of faulty equipment and other factors.

The Washington Post reports today:

An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said.

In the Nov. 7 election, more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines, and a third of all precincts this year are using the technology for the first time. The changes are part of a national wave, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 and numerous revisions of state laws, that led to the replacement of outdated voting machines with computer-based electronic machines, along with centralized databases of registered voters and other steps to refine the administration of elections.
The Post goes on to cite the concerns of various people that these changes may result in problems and perhaps challenged or contested elections.

I take issue with what one former governor says, in the second paragraph below:
"It's hard to put a factor on how ill-prepared we are," said former Ohio governor Richard F. Celeste, a Democrat who recently co-chaired a study of new machines with Republican Richard L. Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, for the National Research Council. They advised local election officials to prepare backup plans for November.

"What we know is, these technologies require significant testing and debugging to make them work," added Celeste, now president of Colorado College. "Our concern -- particularly as we look to the November election, when there is a lot of pressure on -- is that election officials consider what kinds of fallbacks they can put in place."
Electronic voting machines, of various sorts, have been in use for more than 20 years. They are not only used in the United States, but in Latin America and other foreign lands.

These machines and their software and firmware have been tested and debugged and tested and debugged multiple times. New generations of voting machines are released every year, it seems, as improvements are implemented and defects are corrected. They are tested by independent testing labs, by state and local election officials, and by national standards boards.

In other words, by the time they are deployed, they are ready.

The only question is, are the people who use them ready?

There is a serious concern about the amount of training received by pollworkers across the country. An article in the August 2006 issue of Campaigns & Elections magazine (which is accessible online only by subscribers -- and I am not, though I should be) has an article entitled "The Neglected Threat," by Jeanne Zaino, which notes:
As we look toward midterms, the situation involving pollworkers remains problematic. Those working the more than 180,000 polling sites across the nation are aging; two years ago, the average poll worker in the United States was 72 years old. Most are temporary employees or volunteers who [are] asked to work long hours for little pay. In the 2004 election, poll workers in Indiana were paid $75 per day, while precinct leaders received $150. That same year poll workers in San Luis Obispo County received $97, plus $10 for attending a three-hour training course. Poll workers in New York City are paid more than most. In 2004, they got a $200 stipend that, after working the required shift of at least 16 hours, amounts to about $13 per hour after taxes.

In Washington state shifts run 15 hours or more with a one-hour break. As poll worker Genie Dickinson noted, "Most poll workers are seniors, and few are accustomed to even an eight-hour workday. When polls close, a portion of workers can't compute the arithmetic necessary to complete paperwork. Others feel too pooped to care."
I am pleased to report that in Charlottesville, we are and have been addressing these issues.

First, in concert with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, the Office of Voter Registration and Elections is recruiting and training college students to perform the duties of election officials in Charlottesville, thereby lowering the average age of the pollworkers here. Last year's crop of college election officials was enthusiastic, hardworking, and almost uniformly said they would do the job again in coming years. In addition, Charlottesville has for several years -- from the time it became legal to do so -- recruited and deployed high school students, not yet eligible to vote and therefore not yet eligible to serve as an election officials, to be "pages" on election day, helping the precinct chiefs in whatever capacity they can, from running errands and making phone calls to handing out "I Voted!" stickers -- tasks that are not required to be done by properly appointed election officials.

In regard to long hours, Charlottesville was the first jurisdiction in Virginia to adopt "split shifts," in an effort to lessen the burden on senior citizens, parents, and others who want to contribute something to the community on election day but cannot devote a full 14, 15, or 16 hours to do so.

The way the split shift works is this: Some of our election officials work all day, including the chiefs and assistant chiefs in each precinct. Others work from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (the morning shift) and the rest work from 12:00 noon to the close of polls at 7:00 p.m. (the afternoon shift). Some workers have to remain behind after the polls close to perform closing operations after the last voter has cast her ballot and the doors are locked shut.

There is no legal reason, in Virginia at least, for other cities and counties not to adopt the split shift format. In other states, their election law codes may prohibit pollworkers from entering or leaving the polling place during the course of the voting day, so those laws would have to be modified to allow it.

In her article, Zaino quotes Thad Hall, a professor at the University of Utah, who notes:
A voter's experience with their poll worker plays a key role in determining how satisfied they are in the election process and whether they have confidence that their vote was counted accurately.
Charlottesville's Electoral Board receives very few complaints from voters about surly, unhelpful, incompetent, or otherwise unacceptable election officials. (I won't exaggerate and say we receive no such complaints, but at each election they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.) We attribute this both to the high quality of the persons who volunteer to work as election officials twice (or more) each year, but also to our insistence on training each worker in the weeks leading up to election day. (Virginia state law requires a certain amount of training before each election, but Charlottesville generally goes beyond the minimum requirement.)

Training is vital. As Jeanne Zaino says in her C&E article:
Poorly trained workers can rob citizens of their vote and change an election's outcome. Since 2006 and 2008 promise to include a number of close and hotly contested races, it is more critical than ever to have enough well-trained workers manning the nations' polling sites.
A first-person account of Tuesday's Maryland elections in this morning's Washington Post adds some flavor and insight to Zaino's broader point. Karen Yudelson Sandler writes:
None of us election officials had assembled as a team before Monday night, when we set up the polls and went through a flurry of checklists. There were eight of us: four Republicans and four Democrats. That night, we spent most of our time hunting for things. Finding the little printers that go with the electronic poll books required a call to the Montgomery County Board of Elections. And then there was the big bag that was not to be opened until the next morning -- where the voting access cards were supposed to be found....

The complaint I heard most often from would-be voters was that they didn't believe the provisional ballot was confidential. However, my main concern was a result of what I learned during our brief training: that a provisional ballot is the lowest of the low when it comes to the caste system of ballots. Our trainer more than implied that such ballots might end up on a shelf somewhere and never be looked at by anyone. And long before we were informed by the Board of Elections late in the afternoon, we heard an announcement on the radio that the closing time would be extended until 9 p.m.
That trainer was just plain wrong -- now because of HAVA (the Help America Vote Act of 2002), every state, and for many years before that, in Virginia, provisional ballots are treated both with utmost confidentiality and with respect. A provisional vote is a real vote. If the voter who casts the ballot is a qualified voter, it is counted just as every other ballot is counted. It is not discarded or ignored.

No wonder Montgomery County turned into such a royal mess.

When I meet election officials from across the country (registrars, election administrators, and others who are in charge of their local operations), I am always impressed at their attention to detail, insistence on discipline, and dedication to serving their "customers" (that is, voters and candidates) with professionalism and political neutrality.

Of course, most of those I meet from outside Virginia are those who use the Hart Intercivic eSlate and BallotNow systems, so perhaps that group of users constitutes a special breed. Yet I don't think that narrow interpretation is warranted. I think it applies across the board, with a few bad apples (think Montgomery County, Maryland) strewn here and there.

Still, if I want to leave any message here, it is that whatever problems are encountered on November 7, those problems will be human problems, not technological problems. Don't blame the machine.

My Travels

Thanks to a link at SkepticalObservor, I found a neat tool for mapping a person's visits to individual U.S. states and to foreign countries.

Here are my domestic U.S. travels:

create your own visited states map

Still a few states to go. I need to win that sweepstakes with a prize for an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, in a hotel along Waikiki Beach.

Here are my foreign travels:

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

With all that white space, I feel so much more like a typical, sedentary American. (And no, I can't explain why the map includes a link to a Dutch translation site.)

Constitution Day

There are those who say that America's greatest gift to the world is jazz. (If one limits oneself to that category, I am inclined to say it was musical theatre.)

I disagree. America's greatest gift to the world was the U.S. Constitution, which was approved 219 years ago today by the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and the other delegates who met that summer in what is now known as Independence Hall crafted perhaps the finest governing document that any political society has ever known. The U.S. Constitution has inspired countless others across the globe, some which have succeeded, some which have failed.

One of the most fascinating books I have ever read about the Constitution and the political process that led to its ratification and implementation is Professor Jack Rakove's Pulitzer Prize-winning Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. I bought and read the book because I saw the author interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN's Booknotes. I am glad I was channel surfing that night, nearly a decade ago, because I ended up learning a lot because of it. (The transcript of that July 6, 1997, interview can be found here.)

In the book (as I recall -- it's 9 years since I read it), Rakove delves into the ratification debates in several key states and looks into the arguments used by proponents and opponents of the new Constitution. They used political approaches appropriate to each individual setting. (An argument that might prevail in Pennsylvania, for instance, might be a non-starter in Virginia.) He shows how the Founders -- even some of the lesser-known ones, like James Wilson of Pennsylvania -- played instrumental roles in persuading their fellow citizens that the Constitution should be adopted and replace the Articles of Confederation. We are fortunate today that their arguments then were so convincing.

Happy Birthday to the U.S. Constitution!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

HBO's AuH2O Documentary

According to a review in Friday's Washington Times, HBO will be debuting a new documentary about the late Barry Goldwater, who served as U.S. Senator from Arizona and as the Republican presidential candidate in 1964. Goldwater's candidacy, perhaps more than any other single event, catalyzed disparate strains of conservatism into what became the modern conservative movement that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

To this day, people like myself proudly call themselves Goldwater conservatives or Goldwater/Reagan conservatives, distinguished from the faux conservatism of George W. Bush and the current Republican Congress.

In his review, Scott Galupo shows he understands the fundamental, philosophical core of Barry Goldwater. (He suggests that the documentary, even though it is produced and narrated by Senator Goldwater's granddaughter, fails to do that.) Galupo writes:

... "Goldwater" gives the game away when it conveniently rejects whichever planks of the limited-government platform it disagrees with. Take the senator's opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. There, according to the documentary, Mr. Goldwater was plainly wrong, both morally and on the facts. Yet, on abortion and homosexuals, it rhapsodizes about Mr. Goldwater's broad-mindedness.

Sorry. This does not a maverick make. If you had one of those think tanky graphs that expand on the simplistic left-right spectrum, Mr. Goldwater's libertarian politics were remarkably consistent.

Not unlike his more successful legatee, President Ronald Reagan, he held fast to a few principles -- essentially, that the federal government should stay out of people's personal lives, but still be strong enough to kick the commies in the groin.

Later in his career, he took the same laissez-faire view on abortion and homosexual rights (issues, Mr. Will notes, that didn't figure on the national agenda in the 1960s) that he took on economic entrepreneurship.

Let's be clear: When Barry Goldwater stood on the rostrum of the Republican National Convention in San Francisco and said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," he was being brave. He was bucking centrist complacency -- including eight years under the Republican accommodationist Dwight Eisenhower -- that took ever-bigger government and international communism for granted.

In the spirit of National Review magazine's founding credo of "Standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop,'" Barry Goldwater confronted the morality of statism when to do so was highly unfashionable -- not to mention politically suicidal: Sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson beat him by 16 million votes.

Conversely, to say, in 1993, that the military's ban on homosexuals was "dumb" earned you a round of applause from those mavericks who run the New York Times.

Miss Goldwater may gain personal comfort from the knowledge of her grandfather's social libertarianism -- and any truthful account of Mr. Goldwater's public life should acknowledge it.
When Senator Goldwater passed away, I wrote a tribute that appeared in several publications ("Barry Goldwater: Conservative Icon, Libertarian Visionary"), which looks at the historical record and explains why he remains such a hero to libertarians and conservatives alike.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the documentary, which promises to be both informative and entertaining, even if (as Galupo suggests) flawed. According to HBO,
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater includes interviews with Senators Edward Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton (a onetime "Goldwater Girl") and John McCain (who succeeded Goldwater in Arizona); former TV anchorman Walter Cronkite; humorist Al Franken; TV correspondent Robert MacNeil; former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; author George Will; 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney; CBS News' Bob Schieffer; White House reporter Helen Thomas; political consultant James Carville; former White House Counsel John Dean; Goldwater's brother, Bob; sons Barry, Jr. (a onetime House Representative from California) and Michael; daughters Joanne and Peggy; and others.
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater will be broadcast on HBO for the first time on Monday, September 18, at 9:00 p.m. (EDT). There will surely be multiple replays. A one-minute video preview can be watched on HBO's web site.

Even though Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater's premiere conflicts with the new weekly episode of Weeds on Showtime (one of the best written comedies on TV, cable or otherwise, with a sly social and political commentary that catches viewers by surprise), I'll just delay watching Weeds until later in the evening. Barry Goldwater's legacy deserves at least that much.

I have to add that the timing of the premiere of this documentary, coincident with the publication of Ryan Sager's The Elephant in the Room, about the tension between libertarian and social conservative elements in the conservative movement (and the Republican party), is precious. The two launches are complementary.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Burning Question

The Commonwealth Coalition has unveiled its first television commercial in its campaign against the Marshall/Newman Amendment (Question #1 on the November 7 ballot in Virginia.) Here's the ad as it appears on YouTube:

Comments about this TV commercial are welcome, of course. Readers, what do you think?

One comment I would make is that George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights was not so much an inspiration for Mr. Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence as it was in regard to Mr. Madison's drafting of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. But this is a political commercial, not a history lesson, so I'll let it pass.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Opposition to Marshall/Newman

I almost missed this Monday post by attorney Steve Minor at the SW Virginia Law Blog, who notes the names of many Virginia lawyers who argue that the Marshall/Newman Amendment will have adverse effects beyond the simple prohibition of same-sex marriage that its proponents claim.

Steve goes on to write:

One of these days, I'll post my views on the amendment. I think that probably I am against it, just because it is mean-spirited and mostly a waste of time. The key legal issue, in my view, is wholly omitted from the Arnold & Porter brief, and that is whether a constitutional amendment, as opposed to mere legislation, would improve Virginia's position if and when the question is raised as to whether Virginia's institutions are obligated by the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution to honor same-sex marriages or other domestic arrangements that are recognized by the laws of other states, principally Vermont and Massachusetts. I would not expect that the Virginia Supreme Court, notwithstanding its lame decision in the Martin case, will ever come out with an opinion like Goodridge. Indeed, the more liberal appeals courts in New York and Washington state have refused to join Massachusetts in finding state marriage laws unconstitutional.

Besides the legal arguments, I think the stigmatization of homosexuals for mostly political purposes is offensive, and an unfitting subject of legislative priority.
That last sentence encapsulates the situation perfectly. I only wish it fit on a bumper sticker.


In a statement sure to rank alongside "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!" in the book of misunderestimated quotations, Nancy Dacek, president of the elections board in Montgomery County, Maryland, told the Washington Post: "It wasn't a screw-up. It was a mistake."

It was a screw-up. Such a big screw-up, in fact, that a synonym for "screw" beginning with the letter "F" should be used to describe it. It was a screw-up of major proportions.

I have been in Roanoke for annual training of local electoral board members by the State Board of Elections, so it is rather ironic that I learned late about the horrible performance by election officials in Maryland. (I simply wasn't watching the TV news as I normally do, not paying attention while preoccupied elsewhere.)

For others coming late to the story, here it is in a nutshell:

Polling places in Montgomery County opened up for the primary election on Tuesday with all the equipment in place except for one vital item -- the access cards (sort of like ATM cards) that voters use to activate the voting machines. The access cards also include information about which ballot the voter sees on the machine. (If there are two party primaries on the same day, for instance, a Republican voter gets a card to activate a Republican ballot, while a Democratic voter gets a card that activates the Democratic ballot.)

The person in charge of packing the bags with equipment that precinct officials need to run their polls simply forgot to pack the cards. As David Montgomery reported in the Post Style section:

Here's what happened: Elections workers assembling packages for the polls somehow forgot to include the plastic ATM-like cards needed for each voter to use the electronic voting system. Workers had a checklist that was supposed to include the vital cards, so no one would forget: A low-tech redundancy against a botched election.

Instead, the cards remained at election headquarters, locked securely in a big blue cage on wheels, hiding in plain sight.

Nobody noticed until the morning of the election when election judges opened their poll packages.

Drivers rushed the cards to the precincts, but meanwhile 10,000 to 12,000 voters had to use paper provisional ballots over the course of the day. Many others reportedly left in frustration without voting, and the whole mess now is attached to that election hangover phrase, "under investigation."

This was a screw-up, plain and simple. It wasn't a mistake, it was malfeasance.

So it's no wonder that politicians and voters are asking for the county's top election officials' heads on a platter:

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan called yesterday for the county's top two elections officials to be fired, saying they were responsible for the widespread voting problems that marred Tuesday's primary election.

Duncan's demand, joined by County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), came on a day of intense activity with the same basic intent: to find out what went wrong and who was to blame.

"I cannot recall a failure of local government like this," Leventhal said, adding that the county's Elections Board needs to be overhauled. "It is absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable."

Even though Dacek is an appointee of Maryland's Republican Governor, Bob Ehrlich, this should not be seen as a partisan issue. While election officials in Maryland and Virginia (and elsewhere in the country) are technically political appointees, in practice they take off their political hats for the running of elections and are essentially non-partisan. Their job is to serve the voters and candidates in as neutral and even-handed a fashion as possible. That is their mission and it should be their principle, too.

It is important to note that the electronic voting machines in Montgomery County did not fail. People failed. People failed to do the jobs they were charged with doing. As one expert told the Washington Post:
"The thing that gets lost in many current discussions of election reform is the degree to which elections are an intensely human affair," says Doug Chapin, director of in Washington, a nonpartisan clearing house for election reform information. "In an election you've got millions of voters encountering thousands of poll workers at hundreds of polling locations, which creates an almost exponential opportunity for error."
The problems extended beyond just one county, too, and the problems were essentially human ones. In some jurisdictions, for instance, some polling places opened late because the precinct officials ("election judges," in Maryland's parlance) showed up late. In Baltimore there were reports that some of the election judges appeared to be "intoxicated."

Because of the delays and inability to use the voting equipment, paper ballots were issued, to be used provisionally after a judge ordered polls to be open for an extra hour. But some of the paper ballots were marked for the wrong precinct, and in other precincts, there were too few ballots, so voters were using scraps of paper to mark their choices. Some were using pencils to mark their ballots! (Pencil marks can be erased and rewritten; unless one is using an optical scan system that specifically calls for using a No. 2 Ticonderoga, a ballot should be marked in blue or black ink.)

Widespread use of paper ballots, especially in chaotic circumstances like this, is an invitation to fraud. Paper is easily lost, torn, marred, or re-marked. It lacks the surety and control that electronic balloting does (or, for that matter, that lever machines and, under most circumstances, punchcard machines, did). That is why paper ballots have to be kept even more secure than electronic machines are -- and, as I have written before (on more than one occasion), electronic voting equipment is, or should be, kept highly secure.

So the prize for gross incompetency again goes to Nancy Dacek. From David Montgomery's article in the Washington Post:

Andrea LaRue, a lawyer volunteering on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Ben Cardin, steps up to the counter with a question for Dacek.

"Do you have a chain-of-custody plan for the provisional ballots?" LaRue asks.

"A who?" Dacek replies.

Who, indeed! And "who" should resign, rather than whine, is Nancy Dacek. Any election official with integrity who presides over an election as badly executed as the one in Maryland was on September 12 would do so, even before receiving a request from voters or elected officials. Taking responsibility is the right thing to do; passing the buck is not.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Terence Has Two Fathers

Things are different in the Netherlands. (We knew that.)

Here's a clip from what looks to be the Dutch version of "America's Most Talented Kid" (De Begaafdste Tiener in Holland?) in which young Terence and a chorus of teens and pre-teens sing about his banally normal family life -- Terence and his "two real fathers."

I dare anyone to watch this without smiling and simultaneously holding back tears.

As the person who posted this video to YouTube says about Terence: "He likes them alot and he sings a song about them."

Note, too, that with same-sex marriage legal in the Netherlands, Terence does not live in some legal limbo with no certainty about who has responsibility for his well-being. There's no question about who can make educational or medical decisions for him, or who will take care of him if one of his parents passes away in an untimely manner. Terence recognizes tacitly this even if he sings mostly about homely things, like how his fathers are "sometimes cool and sometimes strict" and how the three of them "watch soaps on TV."

"Twee Vaders" -- sounds like any typical family, no?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

GLIL President to Speak at Virginia Tech

The following news release (in a slightly different form) was sent out today by Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty:

News Release from
Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty
P.O. Box 3913
Charlottesville, VA 22903

GLIL President to Speak at Virginia Tech on Marriage Amendment, September 14

(Blacksburg, Va., September 12, 2006) --- Richard Sincere, president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), will speak at Virginia Tech on Thursday, September 14, about the proposed Marshall/Newman Amendment to the Virginia state constitution (the so-called “marriage amendment”).

The event, sponsored by the Libertarians at Virginia Tech and other student organizations, will take place in the Squires Haymarket Theater from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Molly McClintock of the Commonwealth Coalition will also speak. Delegate James M. Shuler (D-12th District) will introduce the program.

Richard Sincere was the first openly gay candidate for public office in Virginia, running twice for the House of Delegates in District 49 (1991 special election and 1993 general election) and for Arlington County Treasurer (1991 general election). He has served as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia. In addition to serving as president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (, a non-partisan organization, Sincere is also vice-chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia and is the Republican member of the Electoral Board for the City of Charlottesville.

A widely published writer on public policy topics, Richard Sincere is the author of two books on U.S. policy toward Africa. He has contributed articles to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Roanoke Times, and other newspapers. He is the entertainment editor for The Metro Herald, an African-American weekly based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Commonwealth Coalition ( is spearheading opposition to the Marshall/Newman Amendment, urging Virginians to “vote no” on Ballot Measure #1 on November 7.

In addition to the Libertarians at Virginia Tech, Thursday’s forum is cosponsored by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance; Amnesty International; and the Young Democrats at Virginia Tech.

Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty was founded in February 1991 to advance the ideas of economic and personal freedom and individual responsibility. It has members across the United States and in several foreign countries. For more information, visit


Carnival of Liberty LXII

Welcome to the 62nd edition of the Carnival of Liberty! Thanks to everyone who submitted an article for inclusion. We received emails from far and wide.

As we continue to watch and participate in commemorations of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is noteworthy that Wired News suggests that 9/11 might be called "the birth of the blog."

Reporter Robert Andrews writes:

While phone networks and big news sites struggled to cope with heavy traffic, many survivors and spectators turned to online journals to share feelings, get information or detail their whereabouts. It was raw, emotional and new -- and many commentators now remember it as a key moment in the birth of the blog....

The chaos was "a galvanizing point for the blogging world," said Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media.

"We had this explosion of personal, public testimony and some of it was quite powerful," Gillmor said. "I remembered that old cliche that journalists write the first rough draft of history. Well now bloggers were writing the first draft."

Quoting social media consultant Matthew Yeomans, Andrews continues:
"Back in 2001, blogs were still very much the geek toy of the Slashdot set," he said. "(But) this collective tragedy demanded a forum to be shared by people all around the world who wanted to talk about what happened with anyone because it was the only way of making any sense of it. Were it to happen again, blogs and social networks would play an enormously cathartic role."
How far we have come in five years! Now, on with the Carnival...

It's hard to categorize this week's entries. They come from across the spectrum of points of view and topics. First, some comments on the election season:

From New York, Mondo QT's Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff reports in "Dogs, Guns, & Cheese" about odd items landing in voters' mailboxes in the days leading up to the Democratic primary election, including a pair of shoes purported to belong to Eliot Spitzer. Who sent them?
The answer is attorney general wannabe Andrew Cuomo, on a campaign flyer for himself. Over a pic of a pair of shoes, a banner declares "Eliot Spitzer is leaving some very big shoes to fill." Inside the flyer lie reasons why Andy Boy's feet will fit. But before buying his Cinderella reasons to believe, take a long look at those shovels. How do we know they actually belong to Eliot Spitzer? Nowhere on the flyer is there a sworn statement to that effect. Until Spitzer steps forward and says yes, those shoes are mine, Andrew Cuomo's claims should be viewed as suspect.
Meanwhile, from Chicago, where politics is always interesting, Mark Draughn of Windypundit (is that a redundant title?) takes issue with former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Mark writes in "Have Faith in Democracy":
In order to have a democracy like ours, you have to have elections. In order to have meaningful elections, you have to allow all sides to make an argument to the people, and that argument can include criticism of the other side, even if the other side currently holds the office under contention, even if the criticism is vicious, and even in time of war.

I don't see how it can be any other way. Being an elected official, even the President, means we get to kick your ass around the schoolyard whenever we feel like it. If that means people are going to "demean and weaken the president in wartime", so be it. It's part of the price we pay for having a democracy.

Over at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds, Stephen Littau wrestles with the dilemmas of voting when no political party matches one's values. In "Choose and lose," he writes:
For the first time in my life, with roughly two months until an election, I am unsure as to how or even if I will vote. No matter how I vote I will be forced to compromise some of my values. This is nothing new of course given the choice between the socialist party (the Democrat Party) and the socialist-light party (the Republican Party).
The eponymous Phil of Phil for Humanity argues for abolishing the Electoral College in an article he calls "Obsoleting the Electoral College." One reason he finds relevant:
[Electoral] officials only "pledge" that they will vote for the candidate that the state's majority has voted for. A "faithless elector" is a person who casts the state's electoral vote for no one or someone who the majority of the state's voters did not vote for. As of 2006, there have been 158 faithless electors. In all fairness, 71 of those votes were because the candidate they were suppose to cast their vote for passed away before the election of the Electoral College. In only 24 states, there are laws against electoral officials not voting for the candidate that they pledged to vote for, but they have never been enforced. Whatever the reasons that faithless electors have for not voting for who they pledged to vote for, this reason alone is sufficient to obsolete the Electoral College.
Next, we have a few posts about civil rights and civil liberties.

David at Equality Loudoun (that would be Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, according to the Census Bureau) questions the sincerity of the proponents of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the Old Dominion, which voters may accept or reject in a referendum this November. In "An Interesting 'Social Contract,'" David suggests that his interlocutors' logic follows this pattern:
In other words, if you are a member of a socially marginalized group, that in and of itself proves that you don’t deserve to be protected by the constitution from mob rule. If you are a member of a socially marginalized group, and you have the audacity to use your fundamental right to petition the government, that justifies the majority foreclosing on your abilty to use that right.

And you shouldn’t have gone out alone at night, and what were you thinking, wearing that?

Newbie blogger Steve Foerster of Chrysology (who, until a few days ago, had never heard of a "blog carnival") explains why "I will not be silent":
I can't help but wonder, if Western society accepts condemnation of those who are different, isn't its difference from a society based on Sharia no longer one of kind but only of degree? It is precisely to the extent that we do not act that way that gives us the moral high ground. Don't get me wrong, I realize that people with minority opinions in the West have a great deal more freedom of expression than people in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and many other places. But when it comes to liberty, it's not about outrunning the other guy -- it's about outrunning the bear.
Perry Eidelbus, the proprietor of Eidelblog, has a righteous rant about public accommodations laws in "'Accommodation': a euphemism for using government to coerce." He argues:
"Because it's the law" is the most idiotic way to excuse government coercion. Some liberals and conservatives genuinely don't understand, as Don Boudreaux explained, that just because something is "the law," that still does not make it right. Others do understand that but will invoke "the law" when it suits their political agenda. "Eminent domain" is the law by which many governments at various levels have stolen people's land and homes. It was "the law" in Denmark for Jews to wear armbands. It has almost universally been "the law" in dictator-ruled societies that if you dissent, you can be jailed or executed. It was the law in many states, for the first several decades of United States history, that you could literally own another human being.
Ogre, over at Ogre's Politics and Views (naturally), has good news for drug dealers in a piece he calls "Hiding Drugs Okay":

If you're a drug dealer, today is a good day for you. The North Carolina court of appeals has ruled that it's okay to hide drugs under your balls because police aren't allowed to search for drugs there, even if you're a convicted drug dealer in a known drug area acting nervous because you're dealing and carrying drugs.

Yes, the court actually ruled it was unreasonable to look down a man's pants for drugs, even when that man has given consent to a search and has numerous prior convictions for dealing drugs (and yet is still on the street).

(Don't worry, lovers of liberty: Ogre thinks the War on Drugs is a dismal failure and deserves to end.)

It wouldn't be a Carnival of Liberty without a look at the looney left, this time from Canada. (I promised more Canadian content on this blog many months ago, and here it is.) Writing at The London Fog -- that's London, Ontario -- Lisa finds a frightening letter to the editor in her local newspaper and responds with Swiftian wit in "Thanks for the taxes all those years, now get on the ice floe":
The slack left by our vanishing gerontologists will be taken up by increasing employment opportunities in Euthanasia Science. We must fully fund research into the relative contributory value of different communities, so as to be able to move forward, allocating our scarce health care resources only to those communities that can demonstrate added value on an ongoing basis. A commitment to the values of life and health for all Canadians requires that we share the means for their preservation only with the robust and strong, those who are still able to demonstrate their ability to simultaneously pull their own weight, hold up the social safety net, and properly sort garbage and recyclables under their own power. As a society we must demand no less of each and every human resource.
Finally, a couple of 9/11 pieces:

Dan Melson at Searchlight Crusade has a piece called "9/11: Five Years On," in which he writes:
I would love to resolve this whole Islamic extremism thing by negotiation. I make my living as a negotiator, after all. An ideal negotiation is one where both parties believe they are better off as the result of the negotiation, and would willingly sign the same deal again. And therein lies the problem. The extremists will sign any number of deals we propose to them, but they will not honor them. Unlike a business negotiator, they feel no need to honor them beyond whatever transient benefits may accrue to them through doing so. If the extremists would honor the results of such negotiation, it would be far cheaper than any military action. With what we've spend fighting Islamic extremism thus far, every single man, woman and child in the Muslim world could have at least a couple thousand dollars. We could have built them such beautiful cities, turned their lands into a paradise, and increased their economy at least tenfold. What rational person would refuse such a deal?

The problem is that they are not responding rationally to events, nor will they honor agreements they make one instant longer than they feel it is in their best interests to do so.
Carnival newcomer Tim Hulsey, who blogs at My Stupid Dog, discusses "Bad Taste and 9/11" (which I discussed earlier today). Tim finds value in sick jokes told in the aftermath of tragedy, saying:
I won't forget all the beer I drank in the days following 9/11, or the things my friends and I imagined doing with those little white candles. I won't forget the nasty cracks we made about how "we love to fly and it shows," or the retellings of old Space Shuttle Challenger jokes, with the names changed in honor of United 93 ("How do we know [insert victim's name] had dandruff?"). Most of all, I remember a local poet-cum-journalist who commemorated the Twin Towers with a rousing barroom rendition of "I Fall to Pieces."

Oddly enough, I feel deep gratitude for these moments: They constitute some of my warmest, most convivial memories involving fellow human beings. I'm not sure why. In those nerve-wracking days after the attacks, when we didn't know what had happened or if we would be next, dirty jokes and gallows humor were not merely a relief, they were a lifeline, attached as they were to the real business of day-to-day living. Perhaps we needed mirth and comfort, and would do anything to find it. That it was frequently callous, even cruel, was doubtless true but somewhat beside the point.
That's it for the 62nd Carnival of Liberty. Next week's Carnival will be hosted at The Unrepentant Individual.

One final note: This week's Virginia Blog Carnival is also up at Craig's Musings. Even if you're not from Virginia, take a look.

Update: History Carnival XXXIX is up at Cliopatria, a group blog on George Mason University's History News Network. It mentions my photoblog of the Speaker's House in Trappe, Pennsylvania. The same piece is featured in "Travel Carnival 4: Nature's Bounty" at TripHub, which describes itself as "a blog devoted to group travel."

Late Entry: Mike Wallach at Divided We Stand United We Fall has a touching 9/11-related "meditation on the death and remarkable life of Rick Rescorla" entitled "A good death."


In a blogpost about what he calls "anomalous responses" in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Tim Hulsey describes the way in which humor served as a leavening among the many other emotions that people felt. Specifically, he remembers jokes told in bad taste, and he remembers them fondly.

Tim writes in "Bad Taste and 9/11":

In the 1930s, Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin wrote extensively about the "carnivalesque" -- which in its broadest sense is a way to live in opposition to the tyranny of "official" society, and in its more narrow sense is a safety valve for impulses that do not lend themselves to strict control. According to Bakhtin, the medieval carnival provided a safe space for ordinary citizens to mock the rigid dogma of the medieval Church through scatological and sexual humor. Free for a brief time from strict social roles, peasants could lampoon priests, women could dance in the streets, and cats could look at kings. The carnivalesque, in short, reminds us that everyone in the power structure is human, and therefore subject to the same infirmities, foibles and peccadilloes as everyone else. (Of course, Bakhtin's real target was not the medieval Church, but Soviet totalitarianism under Stalin, an ideological tyranny which left no room even for social safety valves -- and which therefore had little use for Bakhtin's scholarship.)

In the days after 9/11, my friends and I shared a carnivalesque perspective without knowing it. Of course, we did not seek refuge from governmental or religious tyranny as such. Instead, we fled from something more nebulous, a tyranny of popular sentiment that permitted ordinary citizens to do no more than weep and pray. We were told that Americans had to sympathize with the victims and trust our president unconditionally; anything more or less from that standard line and we were practically playing into the terrorists' hands. Still, my friends and I had to "cock a snook" at this atrocity for the same reason little boys have to tell jokes about Helen Keller (or in extreme cases, Anne Frank). We had had enough of plaster saints and cardboard leaders, of souls soaring in the ether. The sick humor about the victims reminded us of the fact and perhaps the finality of the body: It was anti-spiritual, at a time when a certain mysticism on matters of life and death was considered almost mandatory within the American body politic.
His post reminded me of a news report I read about a recent scholarly book about jokes told in Germany during the Nazi era. David Crossland sums up the books findings in Der Spiegel:
A new book about humor under the Nazis gives some interesting insights into life in the Third Reich and breaks yet another taboo in Germany's treatment of its history. Jokes told during the era, says the author, provided the populace with a pressure release.
The Times of London gave a few examples of jokes collected in the book:

  • Hitler visits a lunatic asylum. The patients give the Hitler salute. As he passes down the line, he comes across a man with his hands by his side. “Why aren’t you saluting like the others?” he barks. “Mein Führer, I’m the nurse, I’m not crazy!”
  • The vanity of leading Nazis was fertile territory. In one cartoon Göring has attached an arrow to the row of medals on his tunic. It reads “continued overleaf”
  • In another, a commentator notes: “The new race will be slim like Göring, blond like Hitler and tall like Goebbels.”
  • Two Berliners meet in early 1945. “What will you do after the war?” asks one. “I'll finally go on a holiday and will take a trip round Greater Germany,” his friend replies. “And what will you do in the afternoon?”
  • As the persecution of the Jews worsened, they relied upon humour: Levi and Hirsch meet in the African jungle, each with a rifle. “What are you doing here?” asks Hirsch. “I’ve got an ivory carving business in Alexandria and I shoot my own elephants,” says Levi. “And you?” “I manufacture crocodile leather goods in Port Said and shoot my own crocodiles — and what happened to our friend Simon?” “He’s turned into a real adventurer. He stayed in Berlin.”

  • With the retrospect of 60 years, these jokes-- collected in the book, "Heil Hitler, The Pig is Dead," by film director and screenwriter Rudolph Herzog -- seem mildly funny but somewhat perplexing, since we don't know the personalities involved. (Imagine someone making a joke about James Webb's charisma 60 -- or 6 -- years from now.) But for people in Nazi Germany, telling them entailed great risks: some people were executed for repeating these jokes, others were jailed. Employers would likely sack anyone who created a hostile business environment by making fun of Hitler.

    In times of crisis -- as I noted in my earlier piece on "homo ludens" (playful man) -- human beings survive through their higher faculties, including joking about their plight. Call it whistling past the graveyard, but this is something that goes far deeper. And we should acknowledge and appreciate it rather than feign shock and offense about it.

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    9/11 Remembered

    On Saturday night, while driving near the Pentagon, I suddenly came upon several shafts of light shooting into the sky. From the off-ramp of I-395 to Columbia Pike in Arlington, I saw that one of the Pentagon's five walls had been bathed in blue light, with a huge American flag draped over the middle. Until then, I had been unaware that the commemoration of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had begun. This was certainly a dramatic reminder.

    The airwaves are full of news reports, documentaries, and dramatizations regarding the events of five years ago. They bring to mind nothing less than the similar surfeit of remembrances on significant anniversaries of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (The two events are quite similar in the way in which Americans were glued to their televisions and radios for several days, eager to obtain any tidbit of news.)

    In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I wrote an essay for The Metro Herald in Alexandria that must have seemed dissonant at the time. Perhaps it still seems so. But I thought I would repost it here as my own contribution to the recollections that begin with the question, "Where were you when you heard...?"

    From The Metro Herald, September 21, 2001:

    Playtime as the Guardian of the Soul
    Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
    Metro Herald Charlottesville Bureau Chief

    (Charlottesville, VA, September 16, 2001) --- In his brief but brilliantly insightful 1970 book, A Rumor of Angels, Peter L. Berger describes how we can find evidence for the existence of God in the everyday actions and interactions of people. This is not a book about tabloid “miracles”; no statues that bleed nor satanic faces in rising smoke here. No, it is about average people, sometimes in extraordinary situations.

    Berger discusses the people of Vienna at the end of World War II. Their country had been devastated, first by Nazi occupation, then by war. Like other cities in Central Europe, Vienna lay in ruins. Buildings were destroyed, streets were upended, the city was home to wandering refugees and returning soldiers.

    Amid all this, however, one of the city’s first actions was to reopen the Stadtöper, the city opera house, and begin musical performances. Concerts and recitals were presented even before the holes in the roof were repaired. Audiences could see the stars from their seats.

    Berger uses this example, among others – such as reports of concentration camp inmates who played and sang music despite their imprisonment – as evidence of the human impulse to retain hold of our humanity even during great crises. It is no accident that “the humanities” – literature, music, drama, painting, sculpture, and the rest – are called just that: humanities. Human, humane, humanities. These are intrinsic to defining ourselves as human. We rise above beasts because we have humanity. We seek to better ourselves, to escape the bounds of earthly reality. Instead, we create our own reality. We are greater than our circumstances.

    More recently, we have seen this impulse at work in Israel during the Gulf War. Who can forget televised images of Isaac Stern playing his violin in a concert hall, under the threat of a Scud missile attack, with the entire audience wearing gas masks?

    Berger talks about “homo ludens”: man at play. He notes how through sport (and, by extension, theatre, movies, music, etc.), people slip beyond the constraints of time and space and bring themselves closer to God. We don’t think about it this way. We think of playtime as mundane. Far from it; it is transcendent.

    What prompts me to discuss at length a book I haven’t read in more than 20 years? It stems from my disappointment in one response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. Specifically, I feel the cancellation of sporting events, concerts, and theatrical performances more than four days after the attacks was ill-advised.

    It is understandable that, in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, regularly scheduled events should be canceled or postponed. The situation was fluid; no one knew what might happen; Americans wanted to remain near their TVs to keep informed; and, not least, there was a sense that amusement would show disrespect to the dead and the survivors.

    Yet it is also important, for reasons of our own humanity, that life should return to normal as soon as possible. To postpone everyday life, in all but the localities most immediately affected by the attacks, risks feeding survivor guilt, self-pity, and a sense of victimhood. None of this is healthy, nor is it humane. We need upliftment – sports, arts, and entertainment provide it.

    Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, a weekly event called “Fridays After Five” – free music downtown, with food and beverages and crowds – was first announced to go on as scheduled, then modified with a public demonstration of support for the victims, then canceled unexpectedly and replaced with a candlelight vigil. The confused result was that virtually nothing happened: Charlottesvillians were unable to reassert their humanity and celebrate their lives, nor were they able to effectively reflect on, and make tribute to, the fallen.

    That same night in Charlottesville, however, Live Arts, a local theatre company, went ahead with the opening performance of W;t, a play about cancer and the life of the mind, by Margaret Edson. (It earned the Pulitzer Prize for drama.) Artistic director John Gibson spoke to the audience before the curtain rose, explaining – almost apologetically – why Live Arts had gone on as scheduled. His comments were gratuitous. That the show went on spoke for itself; it demonstrated again the vitality of the human spirit recovering from, and overcoming, crisis.

    Writing in The New Republic in November 1914, shortly after the start of the Great War – what we now call World War I – Rebecca West said, in a warning to those who would use the war as an excuse to set aside what makes us humane in favor of that which makes us brutish: “Decidedly we shall not be safe if we forget the things of the mind. Indeed, if we want to save our souls, the mind must lead a more athletic life than it has ever done before, and must more passionately than ever practise and rejoice in art. For only through art can we cultivate annoyance with inessentials, powerful and exasperated reactions against ugliness, a ravenous appetite for beauty; and these are the true guardians of the soul.”

    She was right then; we should heed her words now. Life, in all its fullness, must continue unrelentingly. If not, the terrorists have won the day.

    For those who might be interested, you can find other posts that relate to 9/11 and its aftermath elsewhere on this blog, including:

    "Swedish TV, the PATRIOT Act, and Charlottesville" (January 1, 2005)

    "PATRIOT Act Violates Civil Liberties, DOJ Says" (April 5, 2005).

    "PATRIOT Act Reform Caucus Announced" (April 27, 2005).

    "GMU Students Plan Terrorist Strike in Northern Virginia" (April 14, 2005)

    "Diverse Coalition Brings PATRIOT Act Concerns to Congress" (April 19, 2005)

    "Abolishing Cash: Fantasy or Nightmare?" (June 16, 2005)

    "Everything Old Is New Again" (September 23, 2005)

    "Reading" (September 20, 2005), about books that gained relevance after the attacks, originally published on September 28, 2001.

    "There Is Nothing Like a Dane" (February 5, 2006)

    "My Lunch with Dick Cheney" (June 19, 2006)

    Watch This Space!

    Don't forget, I'll be hosting the 62nd weekly Carnival of Liberty on Tuesday.

    It's not too late to submit a post for inclusion in the Carnival. (Please get it to me by 2:00 p.m. today, September 11.) Use the Carnival Submit Form to facilitate your entry.

    We already have several interesting and provocative entries, including at least one from a Carnival newbie.

    I'm not sure what time on Tuesday you'll be able to find the Carnival of Liberty here. I'd say it will be posted sometime between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.

    Update: The Carnival of Liberty is now up and ready for you to read. You can find it here.

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    Visiting the Speaker's House

    About 25 miles due west of Center City Philadelphia is the small town of Trappe, Pennsylvania. There, along a busy commercial strip, stands the home the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Currently in dilapidated condition, the 18th-century residence of Frederick Muhlenberg has recently been purchased by a group of local residents interested in preserving this bit of history and restoring it for educational, archeological, and tourism purposes.

    Most Americans know who our first president and vice-president were (George Washington and John Adams, in case non-Americans are reading this), but if asked, probably few could name Frederick Muhlenberg as the first Speaker of the House.

    A first-generation American, Frederick Muhlenberg was born in Trappe on January 1, 1750. His father, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, founded Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, which is thought to be the oldest Lutheran church continuously in use, without major architectural or decorative changes, in the United States.

    Following in his father's footsteps, as a young man, Muhlenberg went to Germany for his education and became a Lutheran minister. During the Revolutionary War, he was in New York when the British marched on the city, forcing him and his family to flee to his parents’ home in Trappe. There Frederick purchased a fifty-acre property in 1781.

    Architectural evidence indicates that Muhlenberg modified an existing dwelling into a side-passage, double parlor residence in the manner of a stylish urban townhouse. In a letter to his brother Henry, Muhlenberg described how he greatly enjoyed working in his gardens, fields, and the dry goods store he operated on the property. While living in this house, Frederick was elected speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. Muhlenberg was a powerful leader in local and state politics, serving as the president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention and first President Judge, Recorder of Deeds, and Register of Wills in Montgomery County.

    In 1789, Trappe-area voters sent Muhlenberg to the first U.S. Congress, where he was elected to the precedent-setting role of the first Speaker of the House and became the first to sign the Bill of Rights. Muhlenberg sold his Trappe estate to his sister and brother-in-law in 1791 and moved to Philadelphia, where he served in the next three congresses and was elected again as speaker of the third congress. In 1800 he moved to Lancaster, where he died the following year at the age of fifty-one. (He accomplished a lot in a short lifetime.)

    I have been in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, for the past couple of days on business, and I had an opportunity to visit the Muhlenberg House in Trappe. To be perfectly frank, it is not ready for prime time, but a local group called Save the Speaker's House, Inc., has acquired the property and is now laying the groundwork for restoring it. Plans include building a facility with a lecture hall, classrooms, and administrative offices in the large backyard, and digging trenches for exploration by archeologists and archeology students. (The history department at Ursinus College is partnered with Save the Speaker's House for educational programs.)

    The Montgomery County Commissioners have called the Frederick Muhlenberg house “a vital piece of our history” and Trappe Borough Council declared the Speaker’s House an official “historic treasure.". The house, across from the Trappe Shopping Center, has seen much change and neglect over the last century. Save the Speaker's House says that the restoration will revitalize its Main Street neighborhood and attract visitors to the historic and cultural resources of the local community. (Other nearby landmarks are Ursinus College, in next-door Collegeville, and Valley Forge National Historic Park, which is about 8 miles away.) The goal of Save the Speaker's House is to raise the $1.5 million necessary to restore the house to the period of 1781-1803, when Muhlenberg and his family lived there.

    While in Trappe, I snapped a few photos of the Speaker's House (which is not yet open to the public) and his father's church down the street, using my handy camera phone. The Frederick Muhlenberg house, modest as it is, is not exactly Mount Vernon or Monticello -- or even Ash Lawn-Highland -- but it still represents an important, if relatively unnoted, part of our early post-revolutionary, early-republican history.

    This sign in front of the Speaker's House is the only visible indication of the historic site behind it

    The back of the house dates to the original construction in the 1740s...

    ...the front of the house, which faces the street, is only about 110 years old

    In the backyard is the Speaker's Outhouse.

    Far better preserved, largely because it has been in use, serving its original purpose, for more than two centuries, is Augustus Lutheran Church, just a few blocks west of the Speaker's House along Main Street in Trappe:

    The church is a simple structure, shaped much like a barn.

    Lutheran congregations from across the United States have contributed financially toward the upkeep and preservation of Augustus Lutheran Church; this plaque offers them some thanks.

    Contrary to what some wags suggest, this well is not also a baptismal font.

    The church cemetery is large and still in use.

    While the old Augustus Lutheran Church is still used for special occasions, a larger sanctuary serves the congregation for regular services.