Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Carol Channing!


Today is Carol Channing's 86th birthday, and by all accounts she is still -- you should pardon the expression -- "going strong."

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Channing in performance at the Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville. Well, to tell the truth, it wasn't Carol Channing herself, but rather a most remarkable facsimile in the form of a tribute by illusionist Richard Skipper.

I had an opportunity to interview Skipper after the show, and I will no doubt write about both the show and the interview before the week is out.

Seeing his loving tribute to Carol Channing, however, gives me my own opportunity to reminisce.

My romance with musical theatre dates to a night in January 1967, when I was just 7 years old, and my parents took me to see Carol Channing starring in the first national tour of Hello, Dolly! at the old Palace Theatre in Milwaukee. It was my initial experience with live theatre, and I was hooked for life.

Eleven years later, another national tour of Dolly! came through town, with Miss Channing co-starring with Eddie Bracken. Thinking it might be my last opportunity to see her in the show, I bought tickets in the nosebleed section of the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center and took my parents and a friend to the show.

My next chance to see Carol Channing live came in 1986, when she and Mary Martin brought Legends! on tour to Washington's National Theatre. "Legends" was an appropriate term to use to describe the play's stars, but the book was no better then than it is now, in the current production featuring Joan Collins and Linda Evans.

To my surprise and delight, a revival of Hello, Dolly! began in 1994, wending its way to Washington (this time at the Kennedy Center) by September 1995. It was this production that propelled me to become a theatre critic. In fact, the very first review I wrote for the Metro Herald was about that production of Hello, Dolly! (I had been writing political commentary for the newspaper for about three years at that point; I explained to the editor, P.J. Robinson, that I wanted to "spread my wings" as a writer. I also wanted an outlet for my theatre jones.)

My most recent chance to see Carol Channing in person was about two years ago, when she appeared in a panel discussion at the Kennedy Center (as part of its 1940s festival) along with Debbie Reynolds and Kitty Carlisle Hart. Moderated by Dick Cavett, the three ladies shared their memories of that tumultuous decade and also had a few choice words to say about the present. (Commenting on Judy Garland's famous abuse of drugs in her days at MGM, Miss Channing added that this explains Liza Minnelli's latter-day problems because, she said, in her inimitable way, "Liza is a crack baby!") It was a unique and unforgettable occasion: How often does one get to hear dish about Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, after all?

For the record, here is what I wrote immediately after seeing Hello, Dolly! that day more than 11 years ago, the review that launched, if not a career, then simply a wonderful avocation:

Looking Swell!
Rick Sincere

[Hello, Dolly! Kennedy Center Opera House, through October 8, 1995; Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.; running time, 2:45; ticket prices, $40 and up.]

How does Carol Channing react to the sustained applause and cheers that greet her when she makes her entrance in Hello, Dolly!? She beams. She positively beams. And why not? After nearly 32 years of trodding the boards as Dolly Levi, Channing still raises the level of energy in an auditorium to nuclear-reactor levels. The warmth she generates gets reflected back from each and every person in the audience.

The character of Dolly Gallagher Levi has a distinguished history, as does the play itself. Based upon two plays by Pulitzer-prize winner Thornton Wilder, The Merchant of Yonkers (1938) and The Matchmaker (1955), Hello, Dolly! brings to life downtown and suburban New York in the 1880s. To do this, many of the great ladies of the American theatre have trod the boards as Dolly Levi, an independent woman who uses her wiles to marry Horace Vandergelder, "the well-known half-a-millionaire."

Ruth Gordon created the role on Broadway, spelled by Shirley Booth in the 1957 film version (which also included Arlington native Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Perkins, and Robert Morse). Within a year of Hello, Dolly!'s Broadway debut, a second Broadway company opened, headed by Washington's own Pearl Bailey and the great Cab Calloway; the cast also featured a young Morgan Freeman. The musical role of Dolly was designed for Ethel Merman, who was the last in a long line of Broadway Dollies when the show closed in 1972 -- a line that included Dorothy Lamour, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, and Mary Martin. Then, of course, there was the 1969 film version, with the horribly miscast Barbra Streisand.

Despite the claims of all these great actresses, the part of Dolly Levi belongs to only one -- the true original, Carol Channing, who by the end of this run at the Kennedy Center will have performed the role almost 4,500 times in 32 years, without missing a single performance. Who has the worse job -- Carol Channing's understudy or the second-string shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles?

At 74, Miss Channing is still going strong. Her comic skills are undiminished with age. And those skills are not limited to this one character. Ten years ago at the National Theatre, she held her own with Mary Martin in Legends, as a bitchy, aging theatre diva reuniting with an old rival. Yet Dolly Levi is an American legend all her own.

This revival features vibrantly colorful costumes, a reconstruction of the original sets designed by Oliver Smith, and the most tuneful score ever created by composer/lyricist Jerry Herman. Herman writes better music for a male chorus than anyone on Broadway or Tin Pan Alley in this century, and the harmonies he creates for the men and also for the mixed chorus are simple, direct, and pure. (Compare the title songs in Hello, Dolly! and in Mame -- the same qualities shine through in both numbers.)

Director Lee Roy Reams (who had played Cornelius in the 1977 revival) has recreated much of Gower Champion's original, farcical staging. The cast is strong, although Jay Garner's Vandergelder often seems more buffoonish than pompous -- something David Burns, Paul Ford, and Walter Matthau avoided in earlier turns at the role. Florence Lacey, repeating her 1977 role as Irene Molloy, has a sweet voice with just a touch of an Irish brogue. Michael DeVries as Cornelius has a strong tenor voice that stands out in his second-act ballad, "It Only Takes a Moment," and Cory English's Barnaby Tucker is athletically elfin.

For those inclined to say, "I was there when ...," watch for Julian Brightman, a gentleman in the chorus who answers to the name "Stanley" in the big title number. He obviously has been paying attention to Miss Channing, showing amazing comedic abilities, terrific timing, and a wide smile that lasts for days. Brightman is someone to watch. He'll definitely be going places.

Speaking of that big title number, the anticipation of Dolly's entrance down the staircase at the Harmonia Gardens quite literally sends shivers down one's spine. There is no better song in theatre written for male chorus and female star than "Hello, Dolly!" (There are reports that the song was recorded more than 100 times in the year after it was released. The single by Louis Armstrong bumped the Beatles off the charts in 1964, and Lyndon Johnson adapted it as his campaign song that year!) Seldom in musical theatre does one see an audience jump to its feet in the middle of a show -- yet that is what the Opera House audience did on opening night. The wide eyes of the chorus boys showed how much they appreciated the genuine warmth -- and the fact that such warmth is so rare among audiences these days.

Let's admit that Hello, Dolly! is a light-hearted romp, a second-rate French farce. But isn't that a good reason to go to the theatre? It may not be a deeply philosophical, but the play does contain some good epigrams. For instance: "Money, you should pardon the expression, is like manure. It doesn't do any good unless you spread it around and encourage little things to grow." Hello, Dolly! celebrates life. Rush to the Kennedy Center to join the celebration -- before the parade passes by.
Forget ethanol. If the government can figure out how to clone Carol Channing, we'll never have to worry about relying on foreign sources of energy again.

(To assure that nobody is confused, the photo above is of Richard Skipper channeling Miss Channing, not the one-and-only herself. I took it last night at Gravity Lounge.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Harry Potter, Shirtless

For the (quite literally) hundreds of visitors to this blog pver the past couple of days who have arrived looking for "Daniel Radcliffe shirtless" and similar terms, I offer this link to an article from This Is London, previewing Mr. Radcliffe's West End theatrical debut in a new production of Equus, in which he plays troubled Alan Strang. There you will find two excellent shirtless photos to admire. (I do not reproduce them here because I respect the owners' copyright.)

The numerous seekers and searchers for moviedom's Harry Potter in a state of déshabillage remind me of the other odd terms that Google brings my way (not to mention Yahoo!, Dogpile, and Ask.com).

In the always popular "shirtless" category, we have, to start, "gerald ford shirtless photo." Others (in no particular order) include Aaron Carter, Alex Trebek, Andrew Sullivan, Hunter Parrish, Robert Redford, Jeremy Sumpter, Prince William, Euan Blair, Thomas Gibson, John Stossel, Jonathan Silverman, Glen Campbell, Jason Alexander, Jesse Eisenberg, Dan Quayle, Drake Bell, Bob Moffatt, William Moseley, and the Everly Brothers.

A lot of web surfers -- no surprise -- seem to have sex on their minds. Here are some of the odder things they have been looking for:

catholic view on erectile dysfunction
captain ahab porn
fred flintstone and betty rubble having erotic sex
how to attract a lesbian
pornography in lynchburg
pornographic photoblog
porn make you older
recreational uses of levitra
Then there are those search terms that are simply puzzling:
cannabis prince william george bush tinkey winkey
Is it a sin for a man to watch a woman urinate?
Sweeney Todd Sondheim review United States Catholic Bishops
Things I like about Catholicism
what leisure activities does guinea ecuatorial have for teens
was idi amin authoritarian
Finally, let me point out that there is no truth to the persistent rumor that Daniel Radcliffe is attending the University of Virginia. (There are hundreds of you, out there, who are trying to confirm that one.) As best as I can tell, it got its start with this article about social networking sites from U.S. News & World Report, which begins:

Harry Potter currently attends the University of Virginia. Actually, a search for the name Harry Potter on Thefacebook.com, a popular online social network for college students, retrieves 32 profiles for "Harry Potter" at universities across the nation.

A work of magic? Hardly. The number who use the boy wizard's name as their screen name when they log in underscores the books' popularity with college students. As the Harry Potter generation grows up, they're bringing a dash of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the quads and classrooms of real universities.

Eighteen-year-old Emerson Spartz founded mugglenet.com, a popular Potter website that receives more than 15 million hits a month, when he was just 12. This fall, Spartz heads off to the University of Notre Dame, and he says he has already been flooded with E-mails from students there begging him to start a Potter club. If he decides he has time to get one going, it won't be the first. At the University of California-Berkeley, 907 students are members of a Potter group on Thefacebook.com, while 943 Harvard University students list the book series as one of their interests.

I hope that satisfies your interest in this topic. Please don't be discouraged from making repeat visits here, though, and feel free to bookmark this site for future reference.





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Chillier Near the Lake

In an action that has a touch of irony, the administration at Marquette University has refused to grant recognition to an organization called "Students for Academic Freedom." As reported by Lindsay Fiori in today's Marquette Tribune:

Students for Academic Freedom has been denied recognition as a student organization on campus because of objections from the Office of Student Development about the group's constitution and proposed activities....

The university "objected to types of programming and activities the group proposed as some of their functions," [dean of student development Mark] McCarthy said. "Such activities include reading lists, academic conferences and classroom speakers, all of which are curricular decisions within the purview of faculty.

"There were concerns in terms of having this organization be the monitoring group for these types of things," McCarthy said. "This issue has a lot to do with the rights of faculty members."
Needless to say, the proposed group was one that represented a conservative viewpoint and wanted to criticize liberal faculty members, although the group's leader pointed out that it had a non-partisan purpose:
"This decision clearly shows that the administration appears to be taking the position that academic freedom at Marquette is inconsistent with allowing the criticism of Marquette's liberal bias by conservatives," said John McAdams, associate professor of political science and the faculty adviser for SAF. "Academia protects women and minorities from offensive comments but does not want to do the same for conservative students."

However, according to [head of SAF Chuck] Rickert, "SAF is a nonpartisan group that both political views could have and would have supported. Its goal is to empower students to have more control of their lives in the academic sphere...to advocate a student bill of rights, or contract from the administration to the students and vice versa."
Marquette recently was in the news when the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) called it out for censoring a graduate student's office door/bulletin board and generally constricting free speech on campus. According to a FIRE news release from last October:
Writer and humorist Dave Barry probably never expected that one of his jokes would spark a university free speech dispute. But in early September, a Marquette University administrator removed a Barry quote about the federal government from Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler’s office door because the quote was “patently offensive.” Facing this arbitrary exercise of political censorship, Ditsler contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“There have been several high-profile free speech controversies on campuses recently, such as at Columbia this month. But incidents like this one at Marquette and on other campuses illustrate how even innocuous expression is under ongoing assault at our colleges and universities,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said.

In late August, Ditsler posted a quote by Dave Barry on his office door in the philosophy department. The quote read, “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.” On September 5, Philosophy Department Chair James South sent Ditsler an e-mail stating that he had received several complaints and therefore removed the quote. He wrote, “While I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I’m afraid that hallways and office doors are not ‘free-speech zones.’ If material is patently offensive and has no obvious academic import or university sanction, I have little choice but to take note.”

“This incident at Marquette is part of a truly disturbing trend,” Lukianoff said. “Administrators seem willing to ban speech across the board and to designate increasingly tiny ‘free speech zones’ rather than risk any student or faculty member being offended.”

Ditsler reports that other members of the philosophy department have posted materials on their doors in the past without receiving reprimand or sanctions. FIRE wrote to Marquette University President Robert A. Wild on September 27 stating that Marquette’s policy against “offensive” materials is completely discretionary and therefore subject to abuse. FIRE also reminded Wild that Marquette’s Student Handbook protects the “right of the members of the university community freely to communicate, by lawful demonstration and protest, the positions that they conscientiously espouse on vital issues of the day.” Wild has not responded to FIRE’s letter.
I don't know enough about SAF's constitution or by-laws to comment on whether those would have served as an impediment to academic freedom (though I doubt it). I find it hard to agree with the Marquette Tribune's editorial stance that the decision to deny recognition was warranted. The rather tepid and poorly-reasoned editorial concludes:
We believe existing academic freedom is adequate, but the university needs to continue and improve efforts towards educating students on the proper channels for issuing complaints.
Is there a college or university on the planet that needs fewer, rather than more, checks and balances to assure that all viewpoints are respected and given space? If some people are discomfited by certain statements or viewpoints, the response should not be to restrict speech, but to expand it so that dialogue and true argument can take place.

SAF's faculty advisor John McAdams had the better point when he wrote on his blog yesterday. Referring to the official explanation from the university administration for Students for Academic Freedom's rejection, McAdams noted:
This statement, which appears to echo arguments fed to Miller by the Office of Student Development, is close to bizarre.

Just reading it, one might gather that Students For Academic Freedom was asking for the right to censor class reading lists at Marquette. One might gather that the organization was asking for the right to veto particular speakers or cancel conferences they don’t like.

In reality, all they asked for is the right to criticize the University, faculty and administrators on any of these issues.

Thus, “academic freedom” to these people means not merely that they get to make the relevant educational decisions. It means they cannot be criticized for decisions they make.
To paraphrase last year's Academy Award-winning song, in a university setting, "it's hard out here for a conservative." Living in a college town, I frequently hear stories that confirm that lament. Groups like FIRE exist to protect viewpoint diversity at both public and private institutions. (The First Amendment cannot be invoked when disputes like this arise on private campuses, but moral suasion can -- and must -- be used instead.)

I have a soft spot in my heart for Marquette University. It is just down the street from Marquette University High School, with which it shares a history. (Both schools celebrate their sesquicentenery this year.) For many years, the university and the high school also shared faculty members and had a unified Jesuit community.

Marquette was also my "safety school" when I was applying to college. Many of my high school classmates went on to MU for college and grad school. And of course I landed at another Jesuit institution, Georgetown University, so a certain fraternalism is expected. (I even interviewed for a job at MU, with the Office of Campus Ministry, just before I graduated from Georgetown, but nothing came of it.) So it is sad for me to see a campus rumpus about academic freedom and free speech there. I hope it is resolved to the benefit of all concerned.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friday Night at the Movies

Now that the 2007 Academy Award nominations have been announced, many of the critically acclaimed films that were released late last year are now reaching Charlottesville.

This weekend's movie menu is rich and deep. There is Volver, with Penelope Cruz, at Vinegar Hill. The Regal Downtown has five Oscar-nominated films on its six screens: Babel, The Last King of Scotland, Pan's Labyrinth, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Notes on a Scandal. The Regal Seminole Square features Dreamgirls and The Pursuit of Happyness. And The Queen is at the Carmike.

So what did I choose to spend my $8.75 ticket price on?

I went to see Epic Movie. Or, as Bill the Cat would say, "Thbbbt!"

To tell the truth, with all those heavy dramas in town, I was looking for an easy laugh or two. And that's what I got.

Perhaps I should not be so unkind. Epic Movie has more than a couple of laughs in it. I chuckled several more times than that. Most of the humor is rather subtle, which is odd, because Epic Movie is produced in an ostentatiously over-the-top fashion.

Most of the plot -- such as it is -- hangs on the scaffolding of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There are four "orphans" named Peter, Susan, Edward, and Lucy who find the magical land of Gnarnia when trying to hide in a mysterious wardrobe. Mayhem ensues.

Epic Movie, like Scary Movie before it (along with its sequels), is a descendant of Airplane! Sadly, each generation of this genre -- using references and allusions to other movies and pop-culture phenomena -- finds itself lacking more and more of Airplane!'s DNA. Nowadays, Family Guy does it better than any of the movies do.

While our four principals are fighting their way to the Gnarnian throne, we get long sequences based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Pirates of the Caribbean. (Does Johnny Depp get extra residuals for being sent up twice in one parody?) There are references to MTV's Cribs, American Pie, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Kal Penn, who played Kumar, is "Edward" in Epic Movie), even Borat. Snakes on a Plane, Nacho Libre, and the X-Men series also get screen treatment. James Bond and Chewbacca make brief appearances, as does a drunken Mel Gibson.

Most of the people who saw the movie with me are going to go "Wha-?" when they read that last reference. As soon as the credits began, more than 95 percent of the audience left the theatre. (Perhaps they were commenting on the quality of the film, but I don't think so. They were just in a hurry.) Consequently, they missed some of the funniest bits the movie had to offer -- interspersed with the end credits. One of them had a Mel Gibson lookalike in a prison cell with Edward. Another was a complete musical number featuring the Oompa Loompas and Willy Wonka.

To be fair, there are two quite remarkable performances in Epic Movie that deserve noting: Crispin Glover is absolutely creepy as Willy Wonka and Darrell Hammond is absolutely unrecognizable as Captain Jack Swallows. (Johnny Depp must be terrifically inspiring.)

Were I to give the producers the benefit of the doubt, I might suggest that they are serious about their art. This would be demonstrated by some of the more subtle jabs at film conventions in Epic Movie. For instance, there is no attempt to hide the use of stunt doubles (or even dummies) in fight sequences. Displaying the artifice like this is winking at the more alert members of the audience. It is, in itself, an acknowledgement of what the Germans might call "die Hörerschaftkeit," or audience-ness. ("Ha, ha -- we know you're out there! And you paid $8.75 to see this, too!")

Allow me to vent, briefly, about rudeness in the theatre. Would you believe that a woman a few rows behind me actually answered her cell phone about ten minutes before the movie ended!? She carried on a conversation that was audible to the entire theatre. (From what I could gather, she was making plans to meet in the lobby someone who was seeing a movie in a different auditorium.)

So, if you attended the 9:30 p.m. showing of Epic Movie at the Carmike Cinema in Charlottesville on Friday, January 26, and you recognize yourself as the person who talked aloud on her mobile phone -- you deserve to be slapped around and should never show your face in public again. Ever.

Etiquette aside, Epic Movie just does not measure up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Breakfasting with Democrats

Last Saturday morning, I participated in a panel discussion hosted at the monthly breakfast sponsored by the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Democratic parties. As the only Republican in the room, I can gladly report that I was treated civilly, respectfully, and amicably.

The topic of the panel discussion was electronic voting machines. The other panelists were Will Harvey, former Albemarle Democratic Committee chairman and current secretary of the county's Electoral Board, and David Evans, a computer scientist from the University of Virginia. The panel was moderated by Jim Heilman, former Albemarle County General Registrar and current consultant on elections around the world in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan. (In the audience, serving in their non-partisan capacities, were the General Registrars from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle and Fairfax counties.)

The discussion was wideranging -- we covered the history of voting technology, the practicalities of running an election, and the specific vulnerabilities (or lack thereof) of the voting machines used in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network caught the whole thing on audio. (I haven't listened to it, but I was there, so I know what transpired.) You can find it here or, if you're too busy to visit cvillepodcast.com, click below:




I suggested to my fellow panelists that we could take this show on the road, and I plan to recommend to the Charlottesville and Albemarle Republicans that we could do a similar event at one of our own monthly breakfasts. (I began my remarks by noting that this issue -- the controversy surrounding electronic voting machines -- is not a partisan one. Opinions do not divide easily along Republican/Democrat or liberal/conservative lines. The differences of opinion are based on pragmatic or practical considerations rather than ideology.)

By the way, you may hear frequent references during the podcast to SB 840, a bill patroned by state Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax). Since the discussion last Saturday, this bill has passed out of the Senate Privileges and Elections (P&E) Committee and now faces a vote by the full Senate. My own preference for legislation along these lines is one introduced by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-Martinsville), HB 2077. This bill is still waiting for action by the House P&E Committee.

The difference between the two proposals may seem arcane, but it is important: SB 840 would require localities to discard their current voting equipment and buy new equipment (optical scan devices) by 2009; HB 2077 allows localities to retain their current equipment but requires that replacement equipment either have a VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) or be of the optical scan type. The fiscal ramifications dividing the two bills are significant.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Masticating Thespian

It was one of those obituaries that make you say to yourself, "He died? I didn't know he was still alive."

In this case, it was this morning's report that former Florida Senator George A. Smathers had passed away at the age of 93.

I first heard the name of George Smathers when I was a high-school sophomore. My debate coach, James M. Copeland, used as an illustration a famous speech that Smathers gave on the stump when he was campaigning against incumbent Senator Claude "Red" Pepper, his onetime mentor, in the 1950 Democratic primary. (In those days in Florida, as in Virginia and other Southern states, the only election that mattered was the Democratic primary.)

Mr. Copeland taught us how Smathers had bamboozled some of his less-literate constituents by using fancy-sounding words that implied worse meanings than they actually held.

Smathers, I should add, denied having made the speech throughout his life, even offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who could prove it had been delivered.

In its issue of April 17, 1950, Time magazine reported Smathers' words as follows:

Smathers was capable of going to any length in campaigning, but he indignantly denied that he had gone as far as a story printed in northern newspapers. The story wouldn't die, nonetheless, and it deserved not to. According to the yarn, Smathers had a little speech for cracker voters, who were presumed not to know what the words meant except that they must be something bad. The speech went like this: "Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy."
Had Smathers actually given this speech, he would have been practicing a form of the literary technique known as paranomasia, defined as
a play on words or ideas. This term is from the Greek and is a combination of a preposition and a noun, the former primarily meaning beside; the latter indicating to name or to give a name to. Laying aside the rigidity of the etymology of the term, we would say that paronomasia consists of our laying down beside one word or idea that has been used-- a similar one with a little variation or change. The point or force of the word or idea thus employed is contingent upon our understanding of the word or idea upon which it is a pun.
In this case, of course, the point is contingent on the audience's misunderstanding of "the word or idea upon which it is a pun."

Regardless of whether Smathers actually delivered his famous speech, it became a well-known component of political and rhetorical lore. It is even featured on the web site of the Claude Pepper Foundation. In 1970, Mad magazine published a revised and extended version of Smathers speech, which itself has sometimes come to be attributed to Smathers. (According to my research, the parody speech was written by Bill Garvin.)

Garvin's version includes some hilarious passages and demonstrate much more completely the principles of paranomasia. For example:
Let us take a very quick look at that childhood: It is a known fact that, on a number of occasions, he emulated older boys at a certain playground. It is also known that his parents not only permitted him to masticate in their presence, but even urged him to do so.
But wait, there's more:
The men in the family are likewise completely amenable to moral suasion.

My opponent's uncle was a flagrant heterosexual.

His sister, who has always been obsessed by sects, once worked as a proselyte outside a church.

His father was secretly chagrined at least a dozen times by matters of a pecuniary nature.

His youngest brother wrote an essay extolling the virtues of being a homo sapien.

His great-aunt expired from a degenerative disease.

His nephew subscribes to a phonographic magazine.

His wife was a thespian before their marriage and even performed the act in front of paying customers.

And his own mother had to resign from a women's organization in her later years because she was an admitted sexagenarian.
Garvin's take on Smathers' anti-Pepper speech has been republished in numerous places.

Pepper, it should be noted, did not let Smathers end his own political career. He tried for a Senate comeback in 1958 and, failing that, ran for the House of Representatives in 1962, winning election and serving until 1989. "Red" Pepper, whom Smathers had accused of holding pro-Stalinist sympathies, was succeeded in Congress by Cuban-born Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is now the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Hat-tip to Tim Hulsey for the reference to paranomasia.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Rob Schilling and the Glory Express Choir

Local radio personality (and former Charlottesville City Councilor) Rob Schilling has a passion for music, and he lives it out by directing one of the choirs at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, located in the middle of the University of Virginia.

On two recent occasions, the choir that sings regularly at the 11:30 Mass on Sunday mornings has transformed itself into the "Glory Express Choir," going the evangelical route and providing music for fundraising events to benefit the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry.

Last November, the Glory Express sang several numbers at a concert that took place at Charlottesville's First Baptist Church, on traffic-calmed Park Street. A video camera high up in the balcony caught the choir's last song, "Refiner's Fire," composed by Brian Doerksen. Here's the result:



Oddly, the other examples of "Refiner's Fire" on YouTube are nearly all performed by Asian-American musicians. I don't know what conclusion to draw from that.

For those who are interested, Rob has recorded some of his own church music on a CD called Sing a Psalm. The recording includes several psalms that we sing at St. Thomas.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Protectionism in Disguise

The U.S. Congress -- now controlled by Democrats -- looks poised to approve legislation that would require virtually universal inspection of shipping containers bound for the United States. The stated purpose of the proposal is to protect American port cities from terrorist attack in the form of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons hidden in one of the hundreds of thousands of containers that arrive in this country each year.

As indicated by the title of a 2006 book by Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, the shipping container -- which came on the scene in its modern version only 50 years ago -- revolutionized international trade. As The Economist noted in a review of the book last March:

Consider the economics. Loading loose cargo, a back-breaking, laborious business, onto a medium-sized ship cost $5.83 a ton in 1956. McLean calculated that loading the Ideal-X cost less than $0.16 a ton. All of a sudden, the cost of shipping products to another destination was no longer prohibitively expensive.

This opened up all sorts of possibilities. Instead of manufacturing goods locally, a company could afford to replace its overcrowded multi-storey factory in Brooklyn with one in Pennsylvania, where taxes, electricity and other costs were lower, and then ship its goods to New York in a container. Later the factory might move to Mexico; it is now probably in China.

The ubiquitous box changed the heart of many of the world's great maritime cities. Mr Levinson details the battle for New York's ports and the longshoremen's struggles to preserve their jobs. The new container terminals in Newark eventually won, leaving older berths and warehouses empty in New York City.

Similar transformations took place in other countries, where unions refused to handle containers, or in ports that could not modernise because they lacked the space to store thousands of containers and handle the fleets of trucks and trains that were needed to move them. The demolition of Rotterdam by German bombers in 1940 gave the Dutch a chance to rebuild the port with containerisation in mind. Similarly, Felixstowe's growth came about with the demise of Liverpool and the collapse of the London docks.

The proposal for universal screening will substantially increase the cost of shipping. The U.S. House of Representatives, which passed the bill (designated H.R. 1 to indicate its priority in the Democrats' 100 hours program) today by a vote of 299 to 128, ignored the analysis of economists and business leaders that indicated how trade could suffer if the plan is implemented. Spencer Hsu writes in The Washington Post:
...critics questioned the cost and feasibility of new cargo requirements -- raising issues that helped stall action by the previous, Republican-controlled Congress -- and industry and the Department of Homeland Security added their opposition. The greatest skepticism focused on requirements in the House bill that airlines be able to physically inspect 100 percent of cargo put aboard passenger planes within three years and that shippers scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo for radiation at overseas ports in five years.
The potential costs are significant. Hsu continues:
... the Homeland Security and Energy departments last month announced a congressionally required pilot program to spend $60 million to scan 7 percent of U.S.-bound cargo originating from six ports by year's end. The program would start with ports in Pakistan, South Korea and Britain, with a goal of eventually expanding to 30 percent of U.S.-bound cargo. Scanning 100 percent of cargo would involve about 700 ports worldwide.

Other provisions of the House bill also carry a big price tag, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she expects airlines and shippers to help fund. For example, inspecting all cargo placed aboard passenger aircraft by 2009 could cost $3.6 billion to $6 billion for equipment, installation and screening personnel, the Congressional Research Service and the Transportation Security Administration estimate, House Republican officials said.

Heritage Foundation analyst James Carafano calls H.R. 1 "feel-good security," noting that these particular aspects of the bill will do little to protect Americans but will cost much:
To deter terrorists from exploiting international trade, the U.S. currently relies on counterterrorism and intelligence programs combined with risk assessments, random checks, and the inspection of suspicious high-risk cargo. The House bill would replace that system with one that mandates "strip searching" every package and container coming from overseas. The bill expects the private sector and foreign countries, as well as the U.S. government, to spend billions of dollars on these inspections even though they would likely be no more effective than current programs and, in fact, could be much more easily circumvented by terrorists. Diverting energy and resources into mass screening is a poor strategy that is likely to make Americans less, not more, safe.
In addition to "feel-good security," I would call it something else: Protectionism disguised as protection.

These rules create a substantial (though not insurmountable) non-tariff barrier to trade with the United States. Producers, shippers, and port operators will have to figure the new costs into their prices, which will all be passed along to purchasers in the United States.

By artificially inflating the costs of goods imported into the United States, this bill will ill-serve American consumers, who will end up paying higher prices at Wal-Mart and most other retail stores. This conveniently fits the Democrats' general antipathy toward free trade (the exchange of goods and services by consenting adults without the interference of government) and will undoubtedly meet with the approval of labor unions in the domestic manufacturing sector (however few workers in that sector are now unionized).

I agree with Carafano's suggestion about H.R. 1:

To avoid damaging U.S. homeland security operations and wasting taxpayers' money, Congress should strip the most troubling provisions from this legislation.

Let's start by being more sensible about the economic consequences of a bill like this.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Everybody Loves Ramen

News item:

Momofuku Ando, the Japanese inventor of instant noodles -- a dish that has sustained American college students for decades -- has died. He was 96.
Mr. Ando was also the genesis of what must be a huge tourist attraction:
"The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum" opened in 1999 in Ikeda City in western Japan commemorating his inventions.
College students everywhere must be mourning.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Signature’s New Digs in Shirlington


Seventeen years after its founding, the renowned Signature Theatre in Arlington is moving into its own building, designed and constructed “from the ground up,” to house and showcase its artistic endeavors.

Located in the Village at Shirlington, the new building also provides a home for the Shirlington Branch Library (which will also archive Signature’s records, including scripts used in its shows over the years, programs, posters, and other material).

Four stories tall, with 48,000 square feet of space, the new facility is four times as large as “the Garage,” which served as Signature’s home for the past 13 years. It has two large lobbies – including an expanded concession area and a retail kiosk – two performance spaces (the ARK and the MAX), three rehearsal rooms, scenic and costume shops, and large dressing rooms.

In an impromptu press conference today, following a tour for local theatre writers and editors (who had to wear hard hats in the still-under-construction facility), artistic director Eric Schaeffer, who has supervised this project from its inception (including two major construction delays), said that members of Signature’s repertory company were awestruck by the new facilities. Signature co-founder Donna Migliaccio, he said, “was so overwhelmed that [she] didn’t know what to say.” Actor Steven Cupo, he said, wept when he first saw the large rehearsal space underwritten by the Shen Foundation.

Besides extra floor space, the new theatre complex has state-of-the-art acoustics ($1 million was spent on acoustics alone), with each performance space built like a movie sound stage. The MAX, with its 30-foot ceilings, has fly space and catwalks. As Signature publicist Olivia Haas put it, in the upcoming production of Into the Woods, “Jack can actually climb down a beanstalk.” The performance space in the Garage had only 11-foot ceilings. Because of obstacles, it took up to seven days to set up the lights for a show; the new facilities reduce that time to two days (the show business industry average).

Moreover, with the two-story MAX, Signature for the first time has what amounts to balcony seating, in the form of a single row of seats called the “Dress Circle.” These seats will no doubt quickly become known as the best seats in the house – especially when patrons learn that they are accompanied by separate rest rooms and a satellite concession stand during intermissions. The Dress Circle will also be available for use as performance space in the highly-flexible MAX (one reporter in the theatre tour suggested Romeo and Juliet’s balcony).

Both the MAX and the ARK are true black-box theatres, with optimum flexibility. They can be reconfigured for proscenium, theatre-in-the-round, or modified thrust stages. The MAX can hold 299 audience members, while the ARK can accommodate 99.

In Schaeffer’s words, the new building “has the same spirit as the Garage – it’s raw, but there’s energy and vibrancy.” It also opens up Signature more to the community. It overlooks the bustling Village at Shirlington. The lobby will be open for an hour before performances, when patrons can order drinks or snacks and enjoy live piano performances. Even non-ticket-holders can come in during those times to imbibe the ambience and enjoy the atmosphere. There are also plans for summer performances on the plaza outside, closing off the streets of Shirlington so that people can bring their lawn chairs and listen to a Signature concert.

Schaeffer acknowledged fears that the new edifice might transform Signature into “an institution.” He said “there is a big trap of coming into a building like this and becoming an institution” in the pejorative sense. He said that Signature does not want to be “predictable or stagnant.”

Following up on those comments, Sam Sweet, Signature’s managing director, said that over the years, Signature has benefited from taking risks. “We have the courage to continue to take risks” in the new building, he said, because “you don’t move forward by playing it safe.”

Judging from the new facilities, Signature will be able to take risks for many years to come – it has signed a 30-year lease with Arlington County, which paid $5.5 million to construct the shell of the building, and which Signature will pay back with a portion of ticket sales over the next three decades – in a shining new landmark of Washington’s performing arts scene.

Audiences, of course, will be the judge, beginning with the premiere production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, which runs from January 12 through February 25 in the MAX.

Signature Theatre is now located at 2800 S. Stafford Street in Arlington. For ticket information, telephone 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

Mourning and Remembrance

The nation has ended a week of ceremonies commemorating the life and career of former President Gerald R. Ford.

It has been more than four decades since a president died after a comparable period of time in retirement: Herbert Hoover passed away in 1964, or 31 years after he left office. In Ford's case, he was barely a month short of the 30-year mark.

By comparison, Lyndon Johnson died four years after leaving office; Dwight Eisenhower eight years; Ronald Reagan, 15; and Harry S Truman and Richard Nixon, each about 20.

Jimmy Carter is still vibrant in his ninth decade; he is likely to surpass Ford in the length of his retirement. (He has now been out of office for nearly 26 years.) Like Carter, Bill Clinton was still quite young when he left the White House, as will be George W. Bush, whose father (Bush 41) is still going strong 15 years into retirement.

Permit me one more reflection on President Ford, one day after his interment in Grand Rapids.

In contrast to the current occupant of the White House, Gerald Ford -- being the sort of Goldwater Republican that he was -- showed a remarkable sensitivity and supportiveness to gay individuals and the issues that concerned them.

Detroit News columnist Deb Price wrote earlier this week of an interview she did with President Ford a few years ago:

I had many reasons to admire Ford, yet long felt tremendously disappointed by him in one way: I'd read that after a San Francisco man thwarted a would-be assassin on Sept. 22, 1975, Ford sent a thank-you note but did nothing more because the hero, Bill Sipple, was gay.

That account gnawed at me. Although I'd never known Ford to take a public stand on anything gay, I just couldn't square the story with what I knew about him.

So, in October 2001, I faxed an interview request about this stain on his record. I soon received a call asking me to please hold -- the president wished to speak to me.

Ford, then 88, was eager to correct the record and sounded hurt that anyone had ever thought of him as anti-gay.

"I wrote (Sipple) a note thanking him. As far as I was concerned, I had done the right thing and the matter was ended. I didn't learn until sometime later -- I can't remember when -- he was gay. I don't know where anyone got the crazy idea I was prejudiced and wanted to exclude gays," Ford told me.

Pleasantly surprised by how comfortable Ford was talking about gay issues -- not a trait I've found in many politicians -- I asked whether the federal government ought to treat gay couples the same as married heterosexuals. "I think they ought to be treated equally. Period," Ford replied.

Trying to get a better sense of what he meant, I pressed on, asking whether he believed gay couples should receive the same Social Security, tax and other federal benefits? "I don't see why they shouldn't. I think that's a proper goal," Ford replied.
Price notes that, after her original column based on that interview first appeared, Ford was invited to join the Republican Unity Coalition, and he accepted, lending his name in support of that organization's mission of equality and tolerance within the GOP.

Price added:
Ford also said that he wanted gay Americans to be part of his party. "I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party. I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections," he said.
What Price learned is backed up by a recent Wall Street Journal article about the gay couple, Tim England and Robert Kent, who restored, preserved, and renovated Gerald Ford's boyhood home in Grand Rapids.

According to the article, when Ford learned about the gay men's efforts, he visited them and had a nostalgic tour of the house he grew up in. Afterwards, Ford and his family kept in touch with the couple, who have been together for almost 20 years:
Later in 1994, the house was declared a national and state historic site. At a dedication ceremony the following year, the former president stood on the front porch and, before a crowd of local dignitaries, thanked Messrs. England and Kent. "I have such wonderful memories," he said, recalling how the police used to close the sloped street in the winter so children could sled.

After that, the Fords began sending Christmas cards to the two men, sometimes including photographs of family weddings. Messrs. England and Kent filled their foyer with campaign memorabilia and a framed letter from the Fords. Each July 14, Mr. Ford's birthday, the men hang an enormous American flag across the front porch.

In 2005, the men called Mr. Ford's office on his birthday to ask his assistant to pass on their good wishes. To their surprise, Mr. Ford jumped on the line and struck up a conversation. He thanked them for recently repainting the outside of the house, Mr. England recalls.

Just past midnight on Wednesday morning, after Messrs. England and Kent went to bed, a friend called and told them to turn on their television. Watching the report of Mr. Ford's death, Mr. England says he felt sick to his stomach. A few minutes later, a local news crew pulled up in front of the home in the darkness. Mr. England went
outside and pleaded with them to wait before they started shooting. He brought out the big American flag and draped it over the front porch. Then he told them they could start their cameras.
(The Wall Street Journal article, which appeared on January 2, is unfortunately available on line only to subscribers. Written by Janet Adamy, it can be found under the headline "In Grand Rapids, Fixer-Upper Leads To Unusual Bond; Mr. Ford Took Pleasure In Couple's Renovation Of His Childhood Home.")

Gerald Ford goes to his rest as a personification of the politics of inclusion, rejecting the exclusivity and divisiveness that, unfortunately, characterizes sectors of the Republican Party today. He lived and worked during a time that compromise and cooperation for the common good was not viewed with partisan disdain. Yet through it all he held to firm conservative principles of small, limited government that keeps its hands out of our pocketbooks and its nose out of our bedrooms.

One of my favorite sayings, which Gerald Ford used during his 1976 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and which was also often repeated by Barry Goldwater, in a similar form, is this: "The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have."

This is as true today as it was 30 years ago; it is a maxim that should be memorized by the current leaders of the Republican Party -- and by the ascendant Democrats, for that matter.

Blogs Attract Gay Readers

A survey by Harris Interactive shows that gay and lesbian Internet users visit blogs more often than their straight counterparts by a ratio of about 3 to 1. The same demographic niche seems to be more inclined to use social networking sites like MySpace.

According to a report from The Advocate,

More than one in three LGBT Web users, 36 percent, report visiting their favorite personal blogs daily, compared with 19 percent of straight people, according to a national survey by Harris Interactive.

LGBT online users also visit networking Web sites like Myspace and Friendster more than their straight counterparts, according to the Harris survey.

Twenty-seven percent of LGBT adults in the country who are online said they visit the video-sharing site YouTube.com, compared with 22 percent of heterosexuals. Twenty percent were more likely to visit Craigslist.org, compared with 13 percent of heterosexuals.

The national survey of 2,451 adults over 18 in the United States, conducted Nov. 13-20, 2006, showed that gays spend more overall time online than straight people.
There certainly are a lot of popular blogs that have appeal for gay and lesbian readers. One thinks of Perez Hilton's celebrity gossip blog, Andrew Sullivan's pioneering blog on social and political issues (which, under its title "The Daily Dish," was early on excerpted weekly in The Washington Times), the sometimes controversial Gay Patriot, the alternative views found at the Independent Gay Forum, the arts criticism of Tim Hulsey, and even, for amusement, Black Velvet Bruce Li. There are many more, of course, and I don't wish to discourage visits to other blogs of interest. (Law professor Dale Carpenter listed a number of gay conservative and libertarian blogs in his syndicated column about a year ago.)

In commenting on the Harris Interactive findings, Bob Witeck -- whose consulting firm does research on consumer trends in the gay and lesbian market -- noted:

"Gays and lesbians have shown their need to build and maintain an early and major presence on the Web that translates directly into significant market opportunities. Social networks also appear to be second nature for the gay and lesbian consumer."

It may be worth speculating whether, because of the "outsider" status of most gay men and lesbians -- a part of, but always apart from, the larger society -- they are "early adopters" of new communications technology. I know that I was using AOL as early as 1993 and quickly adapted to the rapidly growing opportunities of the web, at least as a research tool and as a way of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues through email. The Internet has also been a vital element in the capacity of gay youth to overcome the sense of isolation that earlier generations felt. It has been, in many instances, a genuine lifeline for gay and lesbian adolescents, especially those who live far from urban centers and the vibrant gay communities found there.

As with other fashions and fads -- not to say either the Internet or blogging are fads -- and social trends that are initiated in gay enclaves, it will not be long before straight people catch up. By that time, the LGBT folks will be on to something new.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Paying Tribute

Isn't it odd that the term "to pay tribute" has changed in meaning from "to deliver goods, money, or services to an overlord or adversary in return for protection or promises not to harm" to "to praise a person of social, political, or artistic significance."

So it was not gold or animal skins or barrels of rum that people brought to the waiting area at the foot of the U.S. Capitol this weekend, but good wishes and fond memories of former President Gerald R. Ford, who died the day after Christmas.

On Saturday evening, I spent a bit over an hour waiting in line -- which was calm and well-organized -- to pass by President Ford's casket, which has been lying in state in the Rotunda.

GMU blogger Richard Morrison and I traveled from Charlottesville and arrived at the queue's beginning at 9:35 p.m. We were admitted to the Rotunda at 10:45, and we were back at my car (which had been parked in Ballston) by midnight.

It was a solemn occasion, as one might expect (and as it should be). We did get a few photos despite the darkness. (All photos by Richard Morrison, whose telephone takes better pics than mine does.)


A view of the line of people approaching the Capitol to pay their respects to President Ford.


Normal people generally cannot see the Capitol Dome from this angle.


Visitors received one of these remembrance cards upon arriving at the entrance to the Rotunda.


The Capitol Christmas Tree is in the middle ground; the Washington Monument is in the far distance.