Tuesday, October 31, 2006

DOMA Author Supports "Vote No" Effort in Virginia

Former U.S. Representative Bob Barr of Georgia, the principal sponsor of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, has contributed $1,000 to the Commonwealth Coalition, the grassroots organization that has been leading the charge to defeat the proposed Marshall/Newman amendment, which will appears on the November election ballot in Virginia as "Ballot Question No. 1."

Barr's contribution was reported in this morning's Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and I confirmed the accuracy of the news report in an email exchange with the Commonwealth Coalition's executive director, Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga.

Barr's support for the "vote no" effort is significant because he is on the record as an opponent of both same-sex marriage and the proposed (and twice-failed) Federal Marriage Amendment.

In a widely quoted opinion piece he contributed to the Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2003, Congressman Barr wrote:

The political right and left in America share one unfortunate habit. When they don't get their way in courts of law or state legislatures they immediately seek to undercut all opposition by proposing an amendment to the Constitution....

Make no mistake, I do not support same-sex marriages. But I also am a firm believer that the Constitution is no place for forcing social policies on states, especially in this case, where states must have the latitude to do as their citizens see fit.

No less a leftist radical than Vice President Dick Cheney recognized this when he publicly said, "The fact of the matter is we live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. . . . And I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard. . . . I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."

The vice president is right. There shouldn't be a constitutional definition of marriage. As an institution, and as a word, marriage has very specific meanings, which must be left up to states and churches to decide. The federal government can set down a baseline -- already in place with the Defense of Marriage Act -- but states' rights demand that the specific boundaries of marriage, in terms of who can participate in it, be left up to the states.
I hate to attribute views to Congressman Barr that he has not stated explicitly, but it is easy to infer a conclusion from his publicly expressed opinions combined with his support for the Commonwealth Coalition's efforts.

The inference I make is that, since Bob Barr believes that states have the authority to define marriage, his objection to the Marshall/Newman amendment is the same as that of distinguished conservatives like federal Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, former Congressman M. Caldwell Butler, former Governor Linwood Holton, and others, who believe that the second and third sentences of the amendment are too expansive. Those sentences carry the amendment much further than simply "defining marriage" and in fact create a recipe for litigious mischief.

In October 2001, I was at a national convention of the Republican Liberty Caucus in Las Vegas. At the business meeting, a motion was made that we endorse a candidate in an upcoming Republican primary that pitted two incumbents against each other: Bob Barr and John Linder (sponsor of the Fair Tax in Congress).

It was a hard decision to make. Both candidates were solid, liberty-loving conservatives. Both were effective representatives for their constituents. The discussion went on for several minutes when a prominent conservative activist who was attending the meeting spoke up. (I won't give his name but just mention that he runs a weekly Wednesday morning meeting in Washington.) He said that "John Linder is a good friend, but Bob Barr is a hero."

And he was right. Bob Barr, in retirement from Congress, has been an outspoken proponent of personal liberties and privacy. Like his former colleague, Dick Armey of Texas, Barr has argued, using conservative principles, against the government's encroachment of civil liberties through ill-advised legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act. Working with groups like the American Conservative Union, Bob Barr has been an authentic hero, relentlessly striving to preserve the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Virginians owe Bob Barr strong thanks for his principled, conservative opposition to the Marshall/Newman Amendment. Not only does he talk about what he believes, he literally puts his money where his mouth is. The best way to thank him for his consistent philosophy of liberty and human autonomy is to vote "no" on Ballot Question No. 1 on November 7.

Still More Say: 'Vote No on No. 1'

Every day more and more newspapers and community leaders are joining the opposition to Ballot Question #1, the Marshall/Newman Amendment.

Even the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which arguably has one of the most conservative editorial pages of any big-city newspaper in the country, is urging its readers across Virginia to cast a "no" vote on November 7. In its edition for Sunday, October 29, the RTD concluded a well-reasoned editorial by saying:

Constitutions are in essence rhetorical covenants. In democracies, practically all else is politics.

Jefferson noted that societal change "may require occasional and corresponding modifications" in constitutions. But he and Madison (see The Federalist) and Marshall (see McCullough v. Maryland) stressed the "occasional" -- believing constitutions should be relatively spare documents, and amendments to them few. Legislatures were designed to be the most powerful branch. Because they are closest to the people, they also are the most reflective of citizen opinion, and the most responsive to it.

Virginia's judges live largely apart -- insulated and removed. If they begin knocking down the Commonwealth's statutory bulwarks protecting marriage, then let the Assembly send to the citizenry a proposed amendment consisting of a simple statement confining marriage in Virginia to a man and a woman.

And let it be a measure lacking this amendment's aggressive add-ons that could empower judges to engage -- practically unchecked -- in blue-sky interpretation of what its language means, while simultaneously denying the legislature the flexibility it ought to have to reconstruct the bulwarks.

On this amendment, as written, we incline against.

In The Examiner on Monday, the Cato Institute's David Boaz explains why the hoary argument about "activist judges" imposing same-sex marriage against an unwilling citizenry holds no water:
There’s never been a same-sex marriage in Virginia, and they’ve been outlawed by statute for more than 30 years. So why are Virginia voters being asked to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

Mostly because it’s a bait-and-switch game. The proposed Ballot Question No. 1 is far broader than a simple ban on gay marriage.

Supporters say the amendment is needed in order to prevent activist judges from unilaterally changing the definition of marriage. But no liberal activists have yet been sighted in the Virginia judiciary. And that’s no surprise because judges in Virginia are selected by the same legislature that has repeatedly passed bans on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, including this proposed amendment.

In fact, Virginia is one of only two states where the legislature directly appoints judges to the state courts, including the state Supreme Court. It is inconceivable that Virginia judges, including four members of the Supreme Court, are going to impose gay marriage on the state. Virginia is not Massachusetts nor Vermont or New Jersey, and our judges are certainly more conservative than those in New York, where the high court recently upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage.

The irony in Virginia is that conservatives fearful of an out-of-control judiciary are in fact inviting the judiciary to get involved in micro-managing family law.
Boaz's article reminded me of a recent blogpost by conservative lawyer Steve Minor, who writes the South West Virginia Law Blog. Referring to the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that explicitly rejected the idea of same-sex marriage in that state, Minor writes:
The opinion is written in such a way that it could never be followed in Virginia. The Court cites all the protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation written into the law of New Jersey. None of this background exists in Virginia law. I doubt that the analysis in this case would make it any more likely that some day the Virginia Supreme Court will find that the statutory ban on same-sex marriage violates the Virginia Constitution.
The Roanoke Times also examined the New Jersey ruling and found it has little relevance to the situation in Virginia. An editorial in Monday's paper notes:
Despite the tolerance of New Jersey voters, however, the court specifically passed the question of marriage back to state lawmakers and the democratic process: Legislators can provide for nondiscriminatory civil unions or sanction "marriage."

The distinction is important to those religious Americans who regard homosexuality as sinful and argue that, while they do not condone discrimination against anyone, they regard marriage as a sacred institution that would be sullied by gay unions."The great engine for social change in this country has always been the democratic process," the New Jersey ruling acknowledges. "Although courts can ensure equal treatment, they cannot guarantee social acceptance, which must come through the evolving ethos of a maturing society. Plaintiffs' quest does not end here. They must now appeal to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives."

The ruling flies in the face of fear-mongering conservatives who insist that constitutions -- state or federal -- must be amended to "protect" marriage from judicial overreach.

Virginia voters have many valid reasons to go to the polls Nov. 7: to affect the war in Iraq, the erosion of constitutional guarantees such as habeas corpus, the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else that will change the future of people's children and grandchildren, a national debt that will burden them their entire lives.

The sanctity of marriage in Virginia, however, is not in any danger.
From Southwest Virginia itself, a guest writer in the Bristol Herald-Courier also finds good reasons to reject the Marshall/Newman amendment. An opinion piece in its Sunday editions by Dr. Teresa Keller of Emory and Henry College stated:

Voters have an opportunity to move Virginia backward by passing an amendment to the state Constitution on Nov. 7.

Changing the Constitution is a powerfully broad action that will prevent future generations from establishing policy for themselves. The proposal claims to "protect marriage," but fails. Homosexual relationships will not be affected, but others could be affected by unintended consequences. Most serious of all, the amendment blurs the line between the government and religion.

* * *

THE TRUTH IS that under our existing system, changing our laws or our state Constitution in regard to marriage should not affect religious belief or practice. Churches will marry or not marry whomever they choose. Furthermore, those who want homosexual relationships will continue to have them, state sanctioned or not.

The American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the Virginia Legal Review Committee and many high-profile officials have announced their opposition to the proposal. Even Gov. Tim Kaine, who opposes gay marriage, has announced that he will vote against the amendment.

Virginia voters have a powerful decision to make on Nov. 7. Those who want to maintain the state Constitution as a document that protects rights rather than restricts them will vote "no."
Across the mountain, the editorial board of the Staunton News-Leader has also decided that Virginians should vote "no" on the amendment. Monday's lead editorial says:
Before we dissect the proposed amendment to our state constitution, we would be remiss if we did not state for the record that we do not believe that marriage between homosexual men or lesbian women ought to be the object of a constitutional amendment. We believe any decision about religious blessing (or censure) of unions between same-sex couples ought to be made by religious authorities. We also believe that businesses and corporations who deem it appropriate to recognize same-sex partners as bona fide beneficiaries of health or other benefits ought to be free to make those decisions without interference from state or federal government.

That stated, we are pragmatic enough to realize that marriage — whether it is viewed as a holy sacrament or merely a cold legal contract — is as regulated as voter registration or records held by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Under current state law, it is illegal for same-sex individuals to become married and any such unions undertaken elsewhere are not recognized by the state of Virginia. We are comfortable with those legal bans and we believe they are adequate, despite the bogeyman of "activist judges" the amendment's supporters love to cite. We do not fear that state judges will suddenly give their blessing to either same-sex civil union or marriage. If a sea-change sweeps the land such as that which occurred concerning what used to be called miscegenation — marriage between white and non-white citizens — we may either live with the change or our lawmakers may engage in another round of "massive resistance" similar to what followed the Supreme Court order to integrate public schools. We hope it never comes to that, but we have faith in our legislative, judicial and executive branches that it will not. Should that faith fail, we have our personal faiths to fall back upon — and they will rule as they shall.

* * *

Please — vote "no" on Tuesday, Nov. 7 when you are faced with the specter of this overzealous and potentially dangerous amendment to our state constitution.
Across the state, in Hampton Roads, the Virginian-Pilot urges its readers, too, to cast a "no" vote on Election Day. Its Sunday editorial argued:
You don't have to delve deeply into Virginia's constitution to find these words, penned by George Mason and adopted on June 12, 1776:

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Neither will you have to look beyond the ballot on Nov. 7 to find these words:

"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

"This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."

Parse them anyway you like, but those 87 words seek no less than to undo what Mason wrought in Virginia's first days, sentiments that have stood the test of 230 years.

The contrast in language is itself stark, between Mason's soaring elegance and the clumsiness of what is commonly referred to as the marriage amendment, penned by Del. Bob Marshall and Sen. Steve Newman.

The mere possibility that such gracelessness might find its way into Virginia's high-minded Bill of Rights - among protections for religious liberties, assembly and free elections - is insult enough to the commonwealth's founding sentiments.

But the marriage amendment's intent - to deprive unmarried people of basic legal rights otherwise guaranteed by Virginia's constitution and by common law - makes a mockery of Mason's hope of protecting the inherent rights of all men to be equally free and independent.
The fact is, the conservative position -- that is, the position skeptical of change and of legislative solutions to social problems -- is to vote "no" on the Marshall/Newman amendment. Those who support this proposal and claim to be conservatives are liberal social engineers masquerading as conservatives. They are wolves in sheep's clothing.

The Answer Is in the Appendix

Today -- Halloween -- is the eightieth anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, who was perhaps the world's most famous entertainer during the early 20th century. Houdini was a magician and escapologist, a significant enough figure that he plays a major role in Ragtime (the novel, the 1981 movie, and the 1998 musical play) along with Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, and Evelyn Nesbit. (Isn't historical fiction a wonderful thing?)

Houdini and I share one thing in common: We both lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, during our early childhoods. Small world, isn't it? (And, contrary to rumor, we were not living there at the same time.)

There is a widely believed report that Houdini died from blows to his stomach that caused peritonitis. The way the story goes, some college students visiting him backstage in Montreal asked if it was true that he could tighten his stomach muscles in such a fashion that he could not be hurt by even the strongest blows. When he responded that it was true, one of the McGill University students hit him four times just to the right of his navel. Houdini asked that he stop and said he was not really prepared. When Houdini died a few days later complaining about stomach pains, word quickly spread that the indirect cause was the incident in his dressing room.

Snopes.com debunks this story in an article updated as recently as yesterday:

In the aftermath of Houdini's death, the assumption was made that the blows to his stomach and his ruptured appendix were related. It seemed a logical conclusion at the time, even to some of his doctors, and so the legend began. With the advantage of several decades of hindsight, however, we now know this explanation to be dubious. Most modern medical experts assert that appendicitis caused by blunt trauma is impossible and/or unknown in medical history, and while the blows to Houdini's stomach may indeed have hastened the magician's death, that result came about in a way different than commonly believed. Houdini was likely already suffering from appendicitis at the time Whitehead punched him, and he may have written off his subsequent discomfort merely as residual pain caused by those blows, thereby delaying his seeking medical treatment until it was too late. Had the dressing room incident not occurred, Houdini might have realized the pain was actually a symptom of a serious medical condition and not delayed so long in consulting doctors.
The article goes into greater detail than this, and makes for an interesting read. The coincidence of Houdini dying on Halloween has always been a bit spooky. This helps make it a bit more grounded in reality and divorced from the supernatural.

Monday, October 30, 2006

'I Want to Believe It'

Virginia Film Festival, 2006 -- Day Four:

The fourth (and final) day of the Virginia Film Festival was, for me, heavy on filmgoing and light on picture-taking.

The morning started out with Jesus Camp, a new documentary that is already getting some commercial distribution around the country. (It was playing at the Landmark E Street Cinema in D.C. a couple of weeks ago, when Tim Hulsey saw it.)

The film looks at a Pentecostal church that sponsors a summer camp for children. It focuses largely at the camp's director, youth minister Becky Fischer, and juxtaposes some political and theological points of view.

Before the film began, one of the discussants, English professor Mark Edmondson, asked how many people were "skipping church" to see this movie. I was one of three people who raised their hands, which might give you some sense of who was in the audience. (Sociologist Brad Wilcox also served on the panel, offering some perspicacious comments.)

I'll be writing more about Jesus Camp later, as I prepare my full report on the festival for The Metro Herald, but I want to note a couple of choice quotations from the film. Pastor Becky says that

Warlocks are the enemy of God. If [he had been around during] the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death.
Here's a message for Pastor Becky: Warlocks are imaginary. Harry Potter is fiction. In fact, Harry Potter is part of a sub-category of fiction called fantasy.

In another part of the film, 12-year-old Levi has a conversation with his mother in their home-school classroom, after viewing a video asserting the earth is just 6,000 years old:
Levi's Mom: "Science doesn't prove anything."
Levi: "I believe personally that Galileo made the right choice by giving up science for Christ."
E pur si muove!

The next two films on the schedule were on a double-bill at the Paramount: West Bank Story, which is a student film from the University of Southern California, and His People, a 1925 silent film about Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

West Bank Story
is a 20-minute parody of West Side Story, a 1957 musical retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet created by four gay Jews. In this version, the rival gangs work for two competing fast food restaurants, Kosher King and Hummus Hut. The music is mediocre and the lyrics are cheap, but the end result is a very funny send-up not just of West Side Story itself, but of musicals in general. Let me put it this way: As a parody of musicals, it's not at the level of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, but for a student film, it has real merit.

His People is a more conventional story. Its focus is on the Cominsky family -- father David, who had been a scholar in Russia but now sells clothing from a pushcart; mother Rose, who sews the clothes he sells; elder son Morris, who is studious and becomes a lawyer; and younger son Sammy, who becomes a boxer.

The whole tale comes alive through vivid imagery -- I was surprised at the sophistication of the production design, given the era -- and the intertitles, which convey a sense of Yiddish (and Irish) dialect without becoming cloying or patronizing. It occurred to me that filmgoers of the 1920s would have been familiar with the syntax and rhythms of Yiddish dialect from vaudeville comics, so they could -- as I did -- hear that while reading the title cards.

His People featured live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.

Moving over to Newcomb Hall, a packed house came to see the Volvo Adrenaline Film Project. Once again, I sat next to Waldo Jaquith (sans Amber, this time). It was his first time at the Adrenaline Film Project, in which ten teams of three people compete to win an Audience Award, Jury Prize, and Mentors' Award. Beau Bauman and Jeff Wadlow supervised the competition, as they have in the previous two years.

Each team had to make a film in a specific genre, such as film noir or Japanese horror, and each had to make sure to use a line of dialogue ("I want to believe it") and a prop (a squeeze bottle of Miracle Whip), both of which were related to the Virginia film festival theme of Revelations: Finding God at the Movies.

Jeff Wadlow said of the prop:
I got some weird looks when I bought 12 bottles of Miracle Whip at Giant. When I said it was for making a movie, I got even weirder looks.
The Mentors' Award, bestowed by Wadlow and Bauman to the team that has to overcome the most obstacles to deliver its film to the competition, went to "The Enchanted," a fantasy by Bernard Hankins, Jon Sharp, and Kevin Finnegan.

The Audience Award and Jury Prize both went to "Taste of Evil," a film noir by Ben Haslup, Brian Wimer, and Ruth Monton. (The jury was made up of Rita McClenny of the Virginia Film Office, film producer Ron Yerxa [Little Miss Sunshine], and NYU film historian Harry Chotiner.)

The final screening of the 2006 Virginia Film Festival was a film from Bhutan called Travellers and Magicians, which was remarkable in many ways -- not least of which is the Himalayan landscape that dominates the screen.

I'm still exhausted, and I didn't even have to hitchhike down a Himalayan road to get to where I am.

Sunday photos to be posted later. (Blogger is being temperamental.)

'What Were You All Doing in the Wardrobe?'

Virginia Film Festival, 2006 -- Day Three:

The morning began sunnily but inside the Regal Cinema it was winter, with a screening of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Disney's 2005 blockbuster. The movie was followed by a panel discussion moderated by the ubiquitous David Edelstein and featuring the film's producer, Mark Johnson, and its star, Peter Pevensie himself, young British actor William Moseley:

After an informative give-and-take with the audience, Mr. Moseley yielded to the desires of his (mostly female) teenage fans by signing some autographs in the lobby:

I left Narnia to see Cecil B. DeMille's silent version of King of Kings at the Paramount, but the toll of too many films on too little sleep began to affect me, so I ducked out after 20 minutes -- I stayed for the conversion of Mary Magdalene -- and took a break at home. Missing the live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton was a disappointment, but I needed some time to breathe.

Returning to downtown Charlottesville, I caught Michael Tolkin's The Rapture. The discussion with the director/screenwriter that followed this silly and pretentious movie was far better than the film itself.

Rushing to Newcomb Hall on the grounds of the University of Virginia, I saw last year's Everything Is Illuminated, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, which was followed by a Q&A with the film's director and screenwriter, Tony-winning actor Liev Schreiber. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but let me just suggest this as a something to send to U.S. Senator George Allen as a Chanukah present this year.

I raised one question, which seemed to embarrass Mr. Schreiber, though he shrugged it off with aplomb.

I noticed that, in the movie, the Ukrainian tour company (and the family that runs it) is based in Odessa. But the character of Jonathan (played by Elijah Wood, in an understated yet neurotic performance) arrives at and departs from a railroad station in Lviv, some 388 miles northwest of Odessa. (Odessa is on the Black Sea; Lviv was once the Polish town of Lvov.) This wasn't something obscure that I caught: the name of Lviv is splashed in letters at least 12 feet high on the front of the railway station building.

In reply, Liev Schreiber tried to weasel out of this gaffe by saying that Odessa is an expensive city to live in, so even though the family owns a business there, they live "on the outskirts, in Lviv."

All I can say is, that's quite a commute.

After the discussion, Liev Schreiber -- whose mother lives in metropolitan Charlottesville, he said -- enjoyed some informal banter with fans:

After Everything Is Illuminated, we were treated to the world premiere of the first trailer for Evan Almighty, the sequel to Bruce Almighty scheduled to be released next June. Evan Almighty was filmed in and around Charlottesville (most particularly in a new housing development near Crozet). Consequently, about three-quarters of the audience Saturday night to watch Bruce Almighty had been in the picture as extras. Director Tom Shadyac paid tribute to them and promised that Evan Almighty will have a big premiere in Charlottesville next year, in the form of a fundraiser for local charities.

Here are some photos from another busy day at the Virginia Film Festival:

Peter (William Moseley) defends his sisters in a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
(Photo courtesy the Virginia Film Festival)

William Moseley signs autographs for fans

Actor-director-screenwriter Liev Schreiber mingles with Virginia Film Festival participants

There's still one more day to chronicle, but I'm absolutely knackered right now. I discovered that, after four days of the Virginia Film Festival, I have 66 pages of notes to review before writing something more substantial than what you've seen here so far.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

'Reading Too Much Kierkegaard'

Virginia Film Festival, 2006 -- Day Two:

See Oscar winner Robert Duvall!

See Oscar winner Morgan Freeman!

See a Danish farmwife rise from the dead!

(Ordet photo courtesy Virginia Film Festival)

It was a busy day at the Virginia Film Festival. I began the morning with Carl Theodore Dreyer's 1955 film, Ordet ("The Word"), based on a play by Danish martyr Kai Munk. The film kept breaking during the screening, which was troublesome, but the Dreyer's meticulous composition makes it well worth seeing. (I also discovered that I can understand more spoken Danish than I ever expected.)

I then saw three gay-oriented (or, to use the preferred term in the third one, "GLBT-oriented") documentaries: Keep Not Silent, about Orthodox Jewish lesbians in present-day Jerusalem; In My Father's Church, a video diary of the months leading to a woman's wedding, with the question of whether her Methodist-minister father will be able to perform the ceremony; and Camp Out, featuring the first Bible camp for openly gay Christian teenagers.

Rushing out of Camp Out -- which has its own web site -- I missed the discussion with co-director Larry Grimaldi (but trust my Metro Herald colleague, Tim Hulsey, will report on that), so that I could cover the celebrity-studded evening at the Paramount.

Robert Duvall received the Virginia Film Award and discussed his career with New York magazine film critic David Edelstein. The interview followed a screening of Duvall's triple-threat 1998 film, The Apostle, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. I didn't measure precisely, but I estimate that in this 134-minute movie, no more than 5 minutes go by without Duvall on the screen. It is an impressive performance.

After a break, Morgan Freeman arrived to present his new film, 10 Items or Less, which is scheduled to be released in theatres on December 1 and available for (legal) download on December 15. The movie was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by film critic Josh Young and featuring Freeman, director Brad Silberling, and two of the film's producers. Freeman began by announcing that the Cardinals had just won the World Series, and it went on from there ...

Two more days to go. Here are some photos from today's fest:

Robert Duvall answers questions from the Charlottesville press corps

Robert Duvall answers questions from film critic David Edelstein

New York magazine and NPR's David Edelstein outside the Paramount

Morgan Freeman speaks to NBC29's David Douglas

Morgan Freeman eyes a reporter suspiciously

Post-screening panel discussion of 10 Items or Less

Morgan Freeman and Lemony Snicket director Brad Silberling

Friday, October 27, 2006

'Blessed Are the Cheesemakers'

Virginia Film Festival, 2006 -- Day One:

The 19th Virginia Film Festival opened Thursday night. The first film to be screened was Swedish Auto, which was made last year in Charlottesville. It was directed by one of our native sons, Derek Sieg, and produced by University of Virginia graduate Tyler Davidson.

Swedish Auto was not only made in Charlottesville, it was set here, as well. The story does not take place in some unnamed town. Charlottesville is mentioned and is present throughout, as are many of our city's landmarks, including the Rotunda and Lawn at the University of Virginia, Chap's Ice Cream, the Downtown Mall, and, most prominently, Mel's Cafe on West Main Street.

The screening of Swedish Auto -- which has not yet been released in theatres, but has had a good deal of success on the festival circuit -- featured a discussion with its director, Derek Sieg, and actress January Jones, on the stage of the Paramount Theatre. It was moderated by Virginia Film Festival Director Richard Herskowitz.

Derek Sieg, January Jones, and Richard Herskowitz

Derek Sieg and January Jones

January Jones

January Jones and Richard Herskowitz

* * *

Earlier in the evening, at the Charlottesville Pavilion on the east end of the Downtown Mall, a small group gathered to celebrate various religious traditions and pray for peace. The multifaith ceremony was tied to the theme of the Virginia Film Festival, Revelations: Finding God at the Movies.

Charlottesville religious leaders light candles for peace

* * *

I closed the evening by attending a screening of Monty Python's Life of Brian. The venue was the Newcomb Hall Theatre on the grounds of the University of Virginia, so a large portion of the audience was made up of college students. (To my delight, I was joined for the show by Waldo Jaquith and his wife, Amber.)

Suffice it to say that this movie, which is almost 30 years old, is as relevant today as it was when it first came out. Its portrayal of Middle Eastern politics is more in tune with 2006 A.D. than it is with 33 A.D. Whose side are we on? The Peoples' Front of Judea or the Judean Peoples' Front? Or the Popular Front for Judea? And what should we call a man who wants to be a woman? (Answer: Loretta.) The more things change ...

But remember: "Always look on the bright side of life."

(Life of Brian photo courtesy Virginia Film Festival)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Jersey Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Rights

The New Jersey Supreme Court today issued a long-awaited opinion in the case of seven gay and lesbian couples who had sued for the right to marry under the state constitution.

The court rejected the notion that the New Jersey Constitution demands equal marriage rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As summarized in the court's syllabus of the opinion:

4. Times and attitudes have changed. There has been a developing understanding that discrimination against gays and lesbians is no longer acceptable in this State. On the federal level, the United States Supreme Court has struck down laws that have unconstitutionally targeted gays and lesbians for disparate treatment. Although plaintiffs rely on the federal cases to support the argument that they have a fundamental right to marry under our State Constitution, those cases fall far short of establishing a fundamental right to same-sex marriage "deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this State." Despite the rich diversity of this State, the tolerance and goodness of its people, and the many recent advances made by gays and lesbians toward achieving social acceptance and equality under the law, the Court cannot find that the right to same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under our constitution. (pp. 28-33)
The court did defer to the state legislature, saying it is up to elected lawmakers to create an institution other than marriage that treats same-sex couples equally. (It was probably looking to the Vermont and Connecticut examples, where same-sex couples are able to obtain civil unions as defined by legislation, not judicial opinion.)

More details will no doubt emerge as legal scholars and pundits have had a chance to read the whole opinion.

More "No" Votes Urged

Hot on the heels of the announcement by two Virginia governors -- one former, one current, one Republican, one Democrat -- that they are voting "no" on Ballot Question #1, two more Virginia newspapers are urging their readers to oppose the Marshall/Newman amendment.

The Roanoke Times says in today's editions:

The proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is not about protecting heterosexual marriage. Unions between a man and a woman are now legal and will remain so no matter what voters decide.

It also would not forbid any unions currently legal in the commonwealth. Virginia outlaws same-sex marriage and does not recognize unions from other states. . . .

Even if Virginia someday acknowledged same-sex unions and granted to them all the rights and responsibilities of heterosexual unions -- an extremely unlikely eventuality -- religious groups could still reject them.

Ballot Question No. 1 is an exercise in crass political maneuvering. The amendment appears on the ballot to give social conservatives a feeling that they are running the show, which some hope will turn out the base on Election Day.

Denying people the right to enter into civil arrangements should be unthinkable.

Under the headline, "A 'no' vote is the conservative stand," the Bristol Herald-Courier urges voters in both Virginia and Tennessee to reject similar ballot measures on Election Day:

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in both Virginia and Tennessee. So are civil unions. That’s been the law in Virginia for 30 years and in Tennessee for 10 years. No change is on the horizon.

Tampering with either state’s constitution in this manner is redundant. It reinforces an attitude of intolerance or hostility toward those who are different. It is a dangerous government foray into the realm of religion and a blow to individual rights.

In this nation’s history, most constitutional amendments have granted freedoms rather than taking them away – prohibition being the obvious exception. Virginia and Tennessee voters should think twice before altering these hallowed precepts to ban that which is already illegal.

A “no” vote is not a vote for same-sex unions. It is a vote to protect our constitutions and to respect freedom. We cannot think of a more traditionally conservative stand to take.
From Hampton Roads to Southwest Virginia, from Roanoke to the D.C. suburbs, from Richmond to Charlottesville, clear-thinking Virginians are voting "no" on Ballot Question #1.

Former GOP Governor Will Vote "No"

A. Linwood Holton, a former Republican governor of Virginia, announced on Tuesday that he plans to vote "no" on Ballot Question #1, the Marshall/Newman Amendment.

WRC-TV in Washington reported that Holton said:

The constitution shouldn’t include language taking away rights in vague or unnecessary ways.
The Washington Times quoted Governor Holton as saying:
We're talking in this amendment about fooling around with [the Virginia Constitution] in a way that will create confusion and unfortunately litigation for two or three generations. It just runs a serious risk of messing up our constitution.
The former Republican governor, who served from 1970 to 1974, was joined at a Richmond news conference by his wife, Jinks Holton, by his daughter, Anne Holton, and by the current governor, Tim Kaine, who became the 200th Virginia lawyer to add his signature to the statement of the Virginia Legal Review Committee, which expresses concern about the significant and largely unpredictable legal consequences of the proposed amendment. Anne Holton, a former family court judge, is the wife of Governor Tim Kaine and the current First Lady of Virginia.

Judge Holton, referring to the second and third sentences of the amendment, was quoted on WTVR-TV6 in Richmond as saying:
I can see all kinds of hay that lawyers can make with that ridiculous, vague language...what the heck does that mean?
WWBT-TV in Richmond added a bit to her soundbite:

... design, quality, significance, affects, that approximate the benefits of marriage. What the heck does that mean?

For her part, former First Lady Jinks Holton expressed concerns about senior citizens like herself. WWBT-TV reported that she said:

I worry for instance about older women, including friends of mine, who own a house together or an apartment…

Governor Kaine said, according to the Washington Times:
In states that have passed similar language, the ability of partners who are not married to obtain the social service and other protections of family courts have been thrown into jeopardy by this language, and I think that would be a very negative consequence.
Loretta Boniti reported on WVIR-TV in Charlottesville that Kaine said:
Read the whole thing. Ask yourselves if you understand what it means and if you don't, then that should be a pretty good indication you wouldn't want to put it in the bill of rights.
Another prominent Virginia political leader, State Senator R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County), who last year came within a hair's breadth of becoming the state's attorney general, has announced his opposition to the amendment, despite having voted for it as a member of the General Assembly. Upon reflection, Deeds says, the amendment does more than its original drafters claimed it does, and what it does is damaging.

In a statement released earlier this week, Deeds wrote:
I will be voting NO and here is why.

In the 2005 and 2006 General Assembly Sessions, I voted for the proposed constitutional amendment that is now Ballot Question #1, because I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and because I accepted at face value the arguments of proponents of the amendment that the language of the amendment was declarative of existing law. I also believed that issues of such magnitude ought to be determined by the voters.

Nothing has happened to change my belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and nothing could. Nor has anything happened that would cause me to question the appropriateness of giving voters the opportunity to vote on this question.

It is clear to me now, however, that the language goes far beyond existing law and threatens real harm to many Virginians and their families, among them the unmarried victims of domestic violence.
Last week, several Richmond-area lawmakers who had earlier supported the amendment also announced their change of heart and their plans to vote "no" on November 7.

Deeds, Kaine, and the Holtons join a growing list of opinion leaders around the state who have announced their opposition to Ballot Question #1. Newspaper editorial boards are among the opponents.

For instance, the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg argued on Sunday:
The gauzy wording of the amendment is far from reassuring: It prohibits state or local recognition of "a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage." What that would mean in the real lives of real Virginians--gay and straight--God knows. But He evidently hasn't told the amendment's authors, who dipped their pens in wells of fog, and judges will have to guess. In Ohio, which enacted a similar amendment, judges have ruled that cohabitating batterers cannot be prosecuted under Ohio's domestic-violence law because that law forbids harm to a "person living as a spouse." Such a person is now stripped of protection from a partner's flying fists because the state's "marriage amendment" denies the legal privileges of marriage to unwed couples.

But ambiguity is not the proposal's only sin. The General Assembly cannot come up with a plan to unclog the state's highways, but legislators think they know how to get the public's juices rapidly flowing--by throwing before it a bogus defense of a sacred institution allegedly threatened by skulking deviants. So lawmakers now invite us to junk up the Virginia Constitution's Bill of Rights--called by one scholar "the most influential constitutional document in American history"--with inflammatory redundancies designed wholly to curry favor for the passing parade of today's politicians who have little else to offer. "It is sad," writes conservative Virginia jurist J. Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, "that the state of James Madison and John Marshall will in all likelihood forsake their example of limited constitutionalism this fall."

The judge may be selling his fellow Virginians short. While voters in all 20 states that have placed "marriage amendments" on the ballot have approved them, a mid-October Washington Post poll found that only 53 percent of likely Virginia voters favored Question No. 1. When pollsters fairly stated arguments pro and con, respondents deadlocked. The more Virginians know about this amendment, the less they like it.
That paper is joined by the Newport News Daily Press, which said in its Sunday edition:
If we go to the polls on Nov. 7 and reject an effort to sully our state constitution with the words of a misguided effort to "protect" marriage, then we will have reminded Americans what constitutions are for. They are not for limiting human relationships. They are not for restricting freedom. They are not for muddling and meddling in the intimate questions of who may love whom and how that love is to be protected and nurtured.

The Marshall-Newman amendment - more typically referred to as the amendment to ban same-sex marriage - is a legislative train wreck waiting to happen. If allowed to leave the station on Election Day, it would amend the Bill of Rights of the Virginia Constitution with language that is, at best, ambiguous in terms of its legal effects and, at worst, mean-spirited and bigoted.
Even the student press is getting into the act. The editorial writers at the University of Virginia's Cavalier Daily offered this opinion on Monday:
It's not just same-sex marriage and civil unions that the amendment bans, but any agreement between two people that a court could deem to approximate the marriage. Unmarried straight couples could be affected, given that the amendment bans any agreement between unmarried people that looks like marriage. For unmarried people to share a bank account, a will or any sort of assets cold get a lot more complicated.

It is uncertain what effect the amendment will have on businesses, which could be constitutionally barred from offering benefits to employees on their own terms. Businesses who want to offer a benefits package to their employees may be barred from doing so as long as the amendment is in effect. If the amendment is interpreted that way, businesses that want to be competitive by offering domestic partner benefits may choose not to locate in Virginia, making the state less competitive.
Lest some readers dismiss the Cavalier Daily as a typical, soft-headed, left-leaning, student newspaper, let me point out that the very next day, the same editorial board endorsed Republican Congressman Virgil Goode for re-election.

One final point: Bob Gibson is reporting in today's Daily Progress that, according to the most recent Mason-Dixon poll, support for the Marshall/Newman amendment is steadily, if slowly, shrinking, with the percentage of those who say they plan to vote yes down to 52 percent, with six percent of voters still undecided.

As people become better informed about the amendment and its probable negative, unintended consequences, the more likely they are to vote "no" on Election Day. That's a credit to the level-headedness of Virginia voters.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Charlottesville Election Official Training

Before each election, as in every other voting jurisdiction in Virginia, the Electoral Board and the staff of the Office of Voter Registration and Elections in Charlottesville take several hours to train the election officials (known generically as "pollworkers").

This generally includes going over procedures for Election Day, reviewing changes in election law since the last session of the General Assembly, and hands-on practice with voting equipment.

Because at the upcoming election Charlottesville will be a test site for an electronic poll book, this evening's training in the basement conference room at City Hall included a presentation from Datacard and BEC, the two companies that are providing the equipment for the test. Datacard has more than 35 years' experience in the ID business, and Richmond-based BEC numbers among its clients the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, the University of Richmond, and various hospitals, businesses, and government agencies around the Commonwealth.

The electronic poll books (or "EPBs") will streamline the check-in process for voters on Election Day. The entire voter registration list for the City of Charlottesville will be on the database.

When a voter checks in, he will either give his name to the worker behind the pollbook or -- and this is a new option -- he will be able to hand the pollworker his Virginia driver's license, which has a scannable bar code. Scanning the bar code will bring up that voter's registration information. If the voter is in the proper precinct and has not voted previously in this election (either by absentee ballot or earlier in the day), he will be given a slip of paper that will be automatically generated by a printer connected to the EPB. Two copies are generated: One is given to the voter, who takes it to the JBC, which will issue an access code. The other will be used by pollworkers to keep a paper record of who has voted in this election.

If it turns out a particular voter is in the wrong precinct, she will be told the address of the proper precinct. If a person's name is not on the registered voters' list but she insists that it should be there, pollworkers know the procedures for issuing a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are reviewed by and counted by the Electoral Board during the canvass on the day after the election. Votes from valid provisional ballots are included in the official election results that are issued following the canvass.

In case there is an unlikely event such as a power failure or the EPBs otherwise go out of service, each precinct will have an alphabetical voter registration list that can be used as a back-up, so voting can continue uninterrupted.

New pollworkers will be trained on Saturday morning at City Hall. All pollworkers will gather on Monday evening for a final training session, which will include a break-out for each precinct so that Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs can work with their own staffs and answer relevant questions in anticipation of the November 7 election.

Here are some pictures from tonight's training of Chief Election Officers.

Charlottesville General Registrar Sheri Iachetta (rear center) instructs Chief Election Officials about recent changes in the Virginia Election Code.

Datacard representative Chris Wilson points out some of the features of the electronic poll book.

Chief Election Officers practice using the new electronic poll books.

Election workers check out a voter's identification page on the new electronic poll book.

A portable printer like this generates a slip of paper authorizing a voter to receive an access code to use the eSlate machine.

Paul Merrill has a report on the electronic poll books on Channel 29's 11:00 o'clock news.

The Post's Report on Hart's eSlate

Voters in Alexandria, Charlottesville, and Falls Church woke up this morning to a report in the Washington Post that suggested there may be a problem with the voting machines used in those jurisdictions, the Hart Intercivic eSlate system.

The headline, which is the only part of the article most readers will see, no doubt caused a few heart palpitations:

Some Voting Machines Chop Off Candidates' Names
Computer Glitch Affects Voters in 3 Jurisdictions; Error Cannot Be Fixed by Nov. 7

The article, by Leef Smith, explains:

U.S. Senate candidate James Webb's last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.

Although the problem creates some voter confusion, it will not cause votes to be cast incorrectly, election officials emphasized. The error shows up only on the summary page, where voters are asked to review their selections before hitting the button to cast their votes. Webb's full name appears on the page where voters choose for whom to vote.

Election officials attribute the mistake to an increase in the type size on the ballot. Although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot.
As one might expect, I have been fielding questions about this issue today.

One point to make at the outset: It is the candidate, not the State Board of Elections or the local Electoral Board, who chooses how his name appears on the ballot. If Jim Webb had chosen to have his name appear on the ballot as "James Webb" or "Jim Webb," this would not be an issue.

Reading the Washington Post story carefully will reveal that Hart Intercivic has already addressed this software "glitch" (which they have been aware of for quite some time). The software upgrade for version 6.0 of the Hart eSlate has been submitted to the Commonwealth of Virginia for certification. (Every time the software, hardware, or firmware for voting machines is changed, regardless of the reason, it must go through a rigorous certification process by the state.) Certification has been delayed but will be in place in time for elections in 2007.

In the meantime, following Charlottesville's example, Alexandria and Falls Church election officials will be posting signs in each voting booth that explains precisely to voters what to expect when the summary screen appears. The same sign will also be displayed at the entrance to each precinct, where the demonstrator machines are located, and election officials are instructed to explain the summary screen to voters who ask about it.

This only became an issue after voters requested that the font size on the Hart eSlate should be increased, so that names and other information would be more readable. When the new problem arose, Hart Intercivic immediately began to address it -- although, as noted above, the certification process has slowed implementation of the solution.

Some bloggers have referred to this minor problem as an "e-voting failure." This is hardly the case. In fact, it demonstrates quite clearly how the process works to meet the needs and desires of voters.

Other bloggers have suggested that this situation is the result of a pro-Allen or crypto-Republican conspiracy to hobble Jim Webb's chances in this election. As an election official, I take personal offense at this insinuation. Across the state, Electoral Board members and general registrars maintain high standards of integrity and neutrality. Although Electoral Board members are partisan political appointees, when it comes to running elections, we leave our party hats at home.

Some background information may be in order:

All Electoral Boards in Virginia have three members: two from the incumbent governor's party and one from the party that placed second in the previous gubernatorial election. Currently, that means that every Electoral Board has one Republican and two Democratic members. The chairman and the secretary must be from different parties. (I am currently Secretary of the Electoral Board in Charlottesville.)

Ballots are designed by each local elections office in conjunction with the vendors that provide the various voting machines. But ballot design must be approved by the State Board of Elections. Approval of ballot design is usually done in August, as absentee voting begins in September. The State Board can be rather meticulous -- our initial design was rejected because of the indentation of the paragraphs on the first page of the on-screen ballot. We fixed that and it was approved.

The three jurisdictions in Virginia that use the Hart eSlate system -- Charlottesville (which has been using the machines since 2002), Alexandria (since 2003), and Falls Church (since 2004) -- often consult with each other on technology issues. We all also attend the annual Hart Users Group meeting. (Last year it was in Orange County, California, which has more voters -- and therefore more machines -- than any single voting jurisdiction in Virginia. The year previous, the Hart Users Group met in Charlottesville. This year's meeting has been delayed until March 2007, when it will be held in Austin, Texas, where Hart has its corporate headquarters.) The users group meetings allow election officials and voting equipment technicians from different voting jurisdictions around the country to talk about problems they encounter and how they solve them, and they are excellent forums for discussing with Hart Intercivic engineers ways in which the system can be improved.

The reason I mention this is to emphasize that our elections offices are not passively using this equipment: We participate in a continual process to improve and upgrade the software, hardware, and firmware. We have been active participants, for instance, as Hart has worked towards designing a "paper trail" add-on, which is likely to become mandatory in a few years.

This particular problem of truncated names has been known to us for several years. The first time we became acutely aware of it was during a City Council election in 2004, and we immediately reacted by deploying posters in every voting booth in the city explaining that "if you vote for XXXX, the name will appear on the summary screen as XX; this does not affect your vote." Voters (in Charlottesville, at least) have learned to expect the posters and we have had few complaints since 2004, because we are now prepared before each election for summary screen discrepancies.

In the meantime, I recommend that people considering a run for public office should think about changing their names to, say, "Emmanuel Ax" or "Cher."

I would write more, but I have to head downtown for the pre-election training session with the Chief Election Officers, Assistant Chiefs, and Closing Specialists from each of Charlottesville's nine polling places. I am sure the Washington Post article will be a topic of discussion there.

* * *

Updates: Law professor Rick Hasen has this to say on his popular Election Law Blog:
Assuming this problem cannot be remedied, I wonder if Democrats would like signs to be put up at polling places explaining that a vote for "James H. 'Jim'" counts as a vote for James Webb. Seems like only the fair thing to do.
We're way ahead of you, professor. Here are some pictures of the notice that will appear in each voting booth in Charlottesville. As noted above, there will also be much larger notices posted at the demonstration table.

Channel 29's David Douglas has a report on the issue, which he delivers in his inimitable style: "What if you took my last name away and it just said 'David'? Would you still know who I was?" You can see the video at NBC29.com.

WCAV-TV also has a report, narrated by Philip Stewart.

Bob Gibson will have an article on the truncated names in tomorrow's Daily Progress; I'll link to it when it's available. (Here it is.)

Another Update: There's a vigorous discussion of this topic going on over at CvilleNews.com.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Oddo for Congress?

I tuned in very late to the televised debate among Virgil Goode, Al Weed, and Joseph Oddo.

Oddo? "Who is Joseph Oddo?," you may ask. He's the "Independent Green" candidate for Congress in the 5th district, though from what little I saw in this debate, he talks a lot like a libertarian. (I mean that both in terms of content and delivery.)

I came in just as Congressman Goode was denouncing free trade, saying he opposed NAFTA, CAFTA, and most-favored-nation status for China.

Oddo then came in and said he supported free trade, saying "if it weren't for free trade, IKEA would not be building a plant" in Southside Virginia.

Then he said he supports the Fair Tax, saying it would make the United States, and Virginia, a target for investment from around the globe. Given the limited amount of time he had -- about 30 seconds -- he even explained the Fair Tax concept adequately (at least enough to demonstrate to me that he knew what he was talking about).

In response to the next question, Goode bragged about the pork he's brought back to the district, boasting about how he's taken other people's money to subsidize businesses that the market identifies as failures.

Oddo attacked the "wanton waste in Washington." He said if the minimum wage had kept pace with congressional pay raises over the past several decades, the minimum wage would now be $20 per hour.

Intriguingly, despite the fact that Oddo's apparently conservative stances would be likely to embarrass the incumbent, Virgil Goode, it was through Goode's intervention that Oddo was allowed to participate in the debate. According to the Lynchburg News & Advance:

While many debates exclude independent candidates, Oddo said he has been invited to at least three debates, including Monday’s televised event.

Some invitations were extended to Oddo at Goode’s request. For example, Goode resisted participation in The News & Advance’s weekly forum, which is published online and in the paper, if Oddo was excluded. Oddo is included in the paper’s 10-question series.
Unfortunately, Oddo also endorsed his "party" platform of government-subsidized rail transportation, a mysterious policy centerpiece that has never been fully explained in any forum that I have seen. The emphasis on choo-choos simply makes Oddo and his political partners seem, well, odd.

During the last few minutes of the debate (the portion that I saw), Oddo threw out his ticketmate's name -- Gail "for Rail" Parker, who is running against George Allen and Jim Webb -- far more than his own. Unfortunately for Mr. Oddo, the chyron misspelled his name each time it was displayed (as "Joeseph" instead of "Joseph").

In his closing statement, he endorsed election-day voter registration. He described himself as a "fiscal conservative more conservative than these two." He said "you're wasting your vote if you don't step out of that mold" of only voting for the two major parties. He said he is self-employed and tried to suggest that plutocrats run Congress. "Votejoinrun.us" is his party's web site, as he reminded us more than once in the last 10 minutes of the program.

Oddo even has that scared-puppy look that usually accompanies the lack of basic social skills we associate with so many libertarians. (For his part, Al Weed looked like a deer caught in the headlights, as well he might: He was smoked by Goode two years ago -- except in Charlottesville -- and he'll be shellacked again this year.)

I don’t know how much of the small-government, fiscally-conservative, socially-responsible rhetoric of Oddo, Parker, and the rest of the Independent Green ticket in Virginia is genuine and deep-seated. Several of the IGVA candidates call for congressional term limits -- a good idea. The web site features a quotation from Russell Kirk: "Not by force of arms are civilizations held together, but by subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle."

The name “Independent Green," however, raises suspicions for me. These unrelentingly amateurish politicians might be watermelons hidden in a Trojan horse of faux free-market principles. (How's that for mixing metaphors?)

Still, despite these reservations, for die-hard libertarians who dislike big-government "conservatives" as much as big-government liberals, Oddo might be worth a look – especially since no Libertarian Party candidate is on the ballot in the Fifth Congressional District.

By the way, the debate was held at Liberty University and was moderated by WSET-TV's Len Stevens. The News & Advance reported that
The panelists for Monday’s debate include Julie Newman, WSET’s anchor and reporter for Virginia News Tonight; Crystal Cameron, WVIR’s morning anchor; and two members of Liberty University’s Debate Team, Amanda Costa and Glen Koch.

Election Day is Nov. 7.
As if we need a reminder of that day -- so close and yet so far.

Student Pollworkers Sworn In

As previously announced, the UVa Center for Politics today sponsored a ceremony to swear in student pollworkers who were recruited by the Center and the Offices of Voter Registration and Elections in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

The ceremony attracted VIPs from the local, state, and federal level, including Charlottesville Mayor David Brown, Secretary of the State Board of Elections Jean Jensen, and federal Election Assistance Commissioner Graciela Hillman. WCAV-TV has a report (including video) here.

Here are some snapshots from the event, which took place in the Dome Room of the Rotunda on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

Larry Sabato of the UVa Center for Politics welcomes guests and student pollworkers to the Rotunda.

Graciela Hillman of the federal Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) traveled from Washington to attend the ceremony and commend the student pollworkers -- and to suggest Congress should allocate more money for programs to recruit younger pollworkers around the country.

Jean Jensen, secretary of the State Board of Elections, noted the comfort level of college-age people with electronic devices and asked that the new pollworkers convey any ideas they might have for improving the election process, based on their observations on the upcoming Election Day.

Larry Sabato looks on as Charlottesville Mayor David Brown expresses his appreciation for smoothly-run elections and speaks of his own experience in persuading young people to register to vote.

Albemarle County General Registrar Jake Washburn and Charlottesville General Registrar Sheri Iachetta swear in the new student pollworkers.

Student pollworkers take the oath.

More student pollworkers swear to uphold the Constitution and the Virginia Election Code.

Larry Sabato unveils the student pollworker "uniform" for Election Day. (Sorry for the blurred image, but I thought Chad might like this for a future caption contest!)

Albemarle County Electoral Board Member Will Harvey with SBE Secretary Jean Jensen.