Monday, December 31, 2007

Ron Paul Blimp Greets 2008 in Charlottesville


Last Friday on his new blog, veteran political reporter Bob Gibson of the Charlottesville Daily Progress wrote about the Ron Paul "mini-blimp" that has found its portable home in Central Virginia:

The size of a small whale, Ron Paul’s Charlottesville blimp has been lighting the night skies along Rio Road and, as of today, Fontaine Avenue.

The white blimp—asking who the heck Ron Paul is—was trucked from its home base on East Rio Road late today to its new home in the sky near the Interstate 64 intersection with U.S. 29 just south of Fontaine Avenue.

The lighted blimp adds a new dimension to the surging Paul effort and appears not to be floated on hot air, but that other Washington staple—a shot of noble gas.

The GOP’s Paul, a Texas congressman and libertarian, is the first of 12 presidential candidates on the Feb. 12 Virginia primary ballots, six in each party, to get his blimp floating over the outskirts of the liberal enclave of Charlottesville.

That blimp is no longer on the outskirts. In a brilliant marketing move, the blimp's mover and shaker, Jack Faw, placed it right in the heart of Charlottesville for New Year's Eve. The blimp is parked near the corner of Main Street and McIntyre-Ridge Road. Lit up, it can be seen for quite a distance from all directions.

Faw, a retired goat farmer, and his blimp have already been the subject of feature stories on two local TV stations. In fact, the Christmas Eve story by Matt Holmes on WCAV-TV's web site is the number-one most accessed story among the station's recent archives. Holmes wrote:
Faw says Central Virginia's going to see a lot of that blimp.

"Staunton has already asked. Harrisonburg has asked. Lynchburg's interested. Richmond is interested. I-64 in Fluvanna County, some of our members down that way would like to have it."

The 72-year-old Paul has raised $19 million so far this quarter and he won the Virginia Straw Poll earlier this month. Still, the Texas congressman lags significantly in the national polls.
Annie Scholz of Channel 29 filed a story on the Ron Paul blimp on Christmas Day. She reported:
Faw special ordered the big balloon online and says it was worth it to take the campaign to new heights.

"I found a dealer and a manufacturer in California and with a lot of phone calls over a couple days is all. By the second day I had ordered it and paid for it," shared Faw.

Faw plans to take the balloon to different locations across Albemarle County. He says he'll put anywhere anyone will let him.

Faw won't tell us how much he spent on the balloon or the rest of his Ron Paul paraphernalia. He'll only say it's the price he's willing to pay for freedom.


With thousands of people streaming into Charlottesville tonight for First Night Virginia, to see the fireworks, or to dance the night away at Club 216, the Ron Paul blimp will be seen by many people heretofore unfamiliar with the presidential candidate from Texas. No doubt the question, "Who is Ron Paul?," will be on many lips this evening.

Talk about being lit up for New Year's Eve!

Update: I just received an email with a link to this story from Central Florida, where the official Ron Paul blimp -- not official in the sense of being connected to the campaign, but official in the sense that it's the original, full-size blimp that has spawned (through inspiration) the mini-blimps around the country, including Jack Faw's -- is slated to fly over the Capital One Bowl (a football game):

The Capitol One Bowl Tuesday was set to pit Florida against Michigan.

Besides their teams in the big game, the two states have one other thing in common: both are holding presidential primaries in January.

At least one candidate has taken advantage of having all those voters in one place.

The Ron Paul campaign planned to put a blimp up over the Citrus Bowl Tuesday before the game, so more than 70,000 fans attending the Capital One Bowl would be able to see it pass by the arena.

Presumably, a blimp flying over the stadium will also end up on TV screens across the country, and seen by far more than the 70,000 people in the stands. And CFNews13 was first with the story.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Martyr for Democracy


Benazir Bhutto was one of the most authentic political leaders I have ever met.

Our single meeting lasted only about two hours, but in that brief time I came to know Mrs. Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated by a terrorist earlier today, as warm, intelligent, and fervently dedicated to the restoration of democracy in her homeland. What's more, she was both modest and unassuming despite her clear intellectual and emotional strengths.

Her modesty was apparent, if through nothing else, then through the setting of our meeting. A colleague and I were invited to meet with her in the living room of a Fairfax County townhouse. She graciously offered us tea, which she served herself; there was no entourage present, no servants, no hangers-on. In the adjacent kitchen, a supporter made dinner while a couple of toddlers watched cartoons on television. Our conversation was periodically punctuated by giggles from a few feet away, and the atmosphere was enhanced by the aroma of a homemade Pakistani meal in the oven.

Through the course of our conversation, Bhutto displayed a firm grasp of international affairs and of U.S. government policy toward the Middle East and South Asia. Her commitment to democracy and her refusal to concede that the Muslim world lacks the capacity to participate in modernity were apparent. She was quiet and reflective yet firm in her well-informed opinions.

Although Pakistan is not my regular "beat" as a writer or consultant, I had been following Bhutto's election campaign with particular interest. Just yesterday, I was part of a team that launched a web site for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party to raise campaign funds world wide. Less than 18 hours ago, I was distributing a news release that contained an optimistic statement from her with regard to her party's January 8 election prospects.

Needless to say, waking up to the news this morning of Benazir's murder was emotionally numbing. My colleagues and I are still trying to process the information, much of which arrived in chaotic bits and pieces through CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Benazir Bhutto -- the first female leader of a government in a Muslim country, Harvard-educated, Western-oriented, wise, and warm -- was truly a martyr for democracy. Her loss is a loss for her family, for the people of Pakistan, and for the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ron Paul Rising


It doesn't come from one of the key states of Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, and it's not strictly an endorsement. Still, an editorial in Sunday's Colorado Springs Gazette comes as a very strong recommendation for Ron Paul as a choice for Republican presidential primary voters.

The newspaper, located not just in one of the most conservative communities in the mountain states but in James Dobson's back yard, has this to say about the congressman from Texas:

Ron Paul, the libertarian-oriented and commendably antiwar 10-term Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, has in some ways been the most interesting phenomenon of the early going in the campaign, although a case can be made for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Paul’s Internet-oriented supporters are not only fervent, they have supported him with record-breaking amounts of money, most notably in two single-day fundraising “bombs” of more than $4 million and $6 million respectively.

Few observers would have predicted last summer that Paul, little known outside Texas, would be a financially viable candidate long after former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo had dropped out.

Now, Paul’s enthusiastic support is starting to show up in poll numbers. We’ll soon see if it translates into actual votes....

In Congress, Paul has consistently voted against tax increases and against spending that he doesn’t believe is authorized by the Constitution. As a small-government proponent who also advocates a more modest non-interventionist foreign policy, he speaks to what many voters used to think the Republican Party stood for. His positions also appeal to a substantial number of younger people.

The Paul campaign is already the most significant pro-freedom mass movement of recent times. It’s time to find out if it brings him enough votes to at least give him a seat at the table when future policies are determined — and perhaps more.
The enthusiasm of Ron Paul's supporters has become legendary in Republican circles. Recall three weeks ago, when Dr. Paul trounced all of his opponents in the Virginia GOP straw poll. That unexpected victory led to this above-the-fold, front-page headline in the Charlottesville Daily Progress on the day after the event:


This morning on Meet the Press, despite hectoring questions from Tim Russert -- to be fair, it is Russert's job to be hectoring, and one would be disappointed in him if all he did were to lob softballs -- Dr. Paul more than held his own. He kept on message, coming back again and again to the need to cut spending and to shrink the government to Constitutional size. It is no wonder he is gaining praise and garnering more support around the country.

How Many Words Does a Picture Speak?

There has been a minor brouhaha in the blogosphere. This tempest in a teakettle involves several bloggers who are trying to smear Ron Paul with the "racist" label, based upon a photo of him and a white supremacist leader. The photo was taken at an event attended by hundreds of people. Both the Daily Kos and Little Green Footballs, among prominent bloggers, state that this photograph provides dispositive proof that, since Ron Paul appears in the same frame as a white supremacist, Dr. Paul must himself be a white supremacist.

By that logic, any two people appearing in a photograph together must hold the same views, have the same aspirations, and perhaps even share the same occupation.

Let's test this assumption, which I believe constitutes nothing less than jumping to conclusions.

Here are some photos that I have taken over the years, along with some photos that feature me. (If I appear in one of these photographs, it was taken with my camera.)

Here's my first example. This snapshot was taken at Cape Canaveral, Florida:



According to the logic described above, I must be an astronaut.

Here's another one. In this one I am alone, but I am studying something on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond:


Apparently, I must have been elected to the House of Delegates in 1993, because there I am at the State Capitol. My election was due in no small part to this campaign advertisement, which appeared in Michael's, the predecessor publication to Metro Weekly in Washington. (I did not take the photo in this ad.)



(Believe it or not, we got calls at campaign headquarters asking if I was the hot guy in the ad. Sadly, no.)

OK, maybe I wasn't elected to the Virginia General Assembly. I was, however (following LGF's logic), elected to the British House of Commons. Look:



I'm standing in front of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Surely that must mean I won a seat. (No doubt I'm still a backbencher.)

Now here's something that will get the right-wing blogosphere roiling. I took this picture about 15 years ago:


Your eyes do not deceive you. That's Ambassador Joseph Wilson (husband of Valerie Plame) with Congressman William "Cold Hard Cash" Jefferson of Louisiana. Why do they look so happy? What shenanigans are on their mind?

Of course, I could ask the same question about this picture:



Yep, that's me with the same Congressman William Jefferson. Both of us have a satisfied look on our faces. I wonder where our hands -- and pockets -- are?

Let's jump to some more conclusions. Here's me with former Governor (now Mayor) L. Douglas Wilder:


I guess that makes me a Richmond Democrat.

Speaking of Democrats, what am I doing in this photograph with then-Congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota?



I guess that makes me a Vikings fan.

Turning away from politics, check this out:


That's me eating sushi at Yo! Sushi, a Covent Garden restaurant, with actor Daniel Brocklebank (Shakespeare in Love, Merlin). That must mean I'm a Japanese-speaking, classically-trained, British actor. The photo proves it!

Here are two former mayors:


That's then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams with former French President Jacques Chirac. Since Chirac was once mayor of Paris, then -- logically, remember -- Williams must have been mayor of Paris, too. After all, they're in the same photograph.

And here, from the same event, the proof that Virginia conservatives knew was there but didn't know where to find it:


That's Virginia Senator John Warner on the left, with President Chirac in the center and former Senator Chuck Robb on the right. Notice that both Chirac and Robb are talking with their hands. Obviously, Chuck Robb is French. Q.E.D.

When speaking conspiratorially, one cannot ignore these images:





Ron Paul is from Texas. So is the Texas Book Depository. If Ron Paul wasn't in the building, he must have been on the grassy knoll. Logic demands it.

I've been saving this shot for last:



That's me with Congressman Paul. Since I'm gay and Ron Paul is in the same photograph as me, following the logic of Daily Kos and Little Green Footballs, there is only one conclusion: Ron Paul is gay.

I wonder if Tim Russert will ask about that on Meet the Press today, when Ron Paul is his featured guest.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Norris to Be Charlottesville Mayor

The news broke today on Coy Barefoot's radio program on WINA-AM: Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris will be our new mayor.

Norris himself announced on the air this afternoon that Mayor David Brown will pass the gavel, after two terms, at the next scheduled City Council meeting on January 7.

Brown and two new councilors, Holly Edwards and Satyendra Huja, were sworn in yesterday. They were elected in November. Norris was elected in May 2006 along with Julian Taliaferro.

If you didn't hear Coy's show, you read it here first: Norris has not even posted this news to his own blog yet, although he indicated interest in the job last month.

Ron Paul Wins Top Spot on Virginia Primary Ballot


The State Board of Elections met in Richmond this morning and drew lots for the ballot positions of the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties for their respective primaries on Tuesday, February 12, 2008.

The candidates who will be listed first on the ballot are Ron Paul for the Republicans and Barack Obama for the Democrats.

Reports the AP
:

Regardless of where they stand in the polls on Feb. 12, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Ron Paul will be atop their parties' presidential primary ballots in Virginia.

The State Board of Elections on Thursday selected the order in which the names will appear on the ballots for the February primary. The names were drawn at random from sealed envelopes in a bowl.

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, is followed on the Democratic ballot by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Paul, a Texas congressman, is followed by Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.


Update: Here is the official certificate issued by the State Board of Elections, listing the candidates and their position on the ballot.

Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Ideas

The busy folks at Amazon.com took the time to send me an email reminder about last-minute Christmas shopping, saying

Order now and have your packages shipped fast.
For Two-Day Shipping, order as late as
3 p.m. PST (time varies by item) on Thursday, December 20.

For One-Day Shipping, order as late as
1 p.m. PST (time varies by item) on Saturday, December 22.

Taking a cue from that, I thought I might revisit some of the books that I have discussed here over the past year or so, since blog readers tend to be readers first and surfers second.

For example, in June, under the heading "Scenes from a Debate Season," I quoted a long passage from Gary Alan Fine's book, Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture -- which might make a nice gift for anyone who enjoys the new Golden Globe-nominated film, The Great Debaters, starring (and directed by) Oscar-winner Denzel Washington.


Also in June, in a post called "Judy Garland and Homosexual Identity," I highlighted what I called "a darling coffee table book," When I Knew, edited by Robert Trachtenberg and illustrated by Tom Bachtell, saying:
When I Knew is a compilation of memories from gay men and lesbians from all walks of life (though a disproportionate number of them, it seems, are somehow connected to the entertainment industry), with a specific reference to the identifiable moment of their discoveries of being gay. It's a quick read, with only a handful of entries longer than a page. Many of the authors are well-known as adults and their childhood memories are sweet, bittersweet, sometime campy, sometimes wry, and always illustrative of what it is like to grow up gay in a straight world.




In March, I reported on two events featuring authors. The first, at the Cato Institute,
Brian Doherty summarized, in about ten minutes, his 800-page retrospective, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.
At the other, in Charlottesville,
syndicated radio talk-show host Neal Boortz spoke to about 200 fans and signed copies of his new book, Somebody's Gotta Say It.
(Boortz is also co-author of the best-selling The Fair Tax Book.)








In April, under the headline, "The Pope's Medieval Economics," I wrote:
Pope Benedict XVI, in a new book scheduled to be published next month, condemns the West for exploiting the Third World. News reports about the book -- called Jesus of Nazareth and excerpted earlier this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera (which happens to be owned by Rizzoli, the publishers of the book) -- do not indicate whether the pontiff similarly condemns the rulers of Third World countries for their kleptocratic practices that serve to keep their subjects in poverty while the government elites party like the wealthy title character in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Somehow I doubt he does, since -- whatever the Pope's merits as a theologian and rhetorician, which are considerable -- he lacks an understanding of basic economics.



I followed that up the next month with a post entitled "Jesus, the Pope, and a Rabbi," noting:
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College, explains how a 14-year-old book of his ended up playing a central role in a new book by Pope Benedict XVI called Jesus of Nazareth.

Rabbi Neusner writes:

In my 1993 book “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus,” I imagined being present at the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught Torah like Moses on Sinai. I explained why, for good and substantial reasons based in the Torah, I would not have followed Jesus but would have remained true to God’s teaching to Moses. Much to my surprise, Pope Benedict XVI, in his new book “Jesus of Nazareth,” devotes much of his chapter on the Sermon on the Mount to discussing my book.

“More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus’ words and to the choice that the gospel places before us,” the pope writes.

He ties this exchange of ideas to a lamentably lost tradition of disputation between religions, a tradition that was lively in the Middle Ages but began to decline during the Renaissance and nearly disappeared during and after the Enlightenment, when theories of religious tolerance gained ground (a good thing in comparison to the persecutions and pogroms that preceded it).

When discussing books, it simply is not possible to avoid the topic of Harry Potter. In a post called "Harry Potter: Economic Dynamo," I quoted extensively from a report about the business generated by the Harry Potter empire. The quotation said in part:
Here is a unique look at the Harry Potter effect.

— Book sales (Nielsen BookScan) - Since 1998, when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the United Kingdom, the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in the UK alone. In the United States, the Harry Potter titles published after 2001 have sold more than 27.7 million copies.

— Box Office sales (Nielsen EDI) - Combined, the first four Harry Potter films have grossed more than $3.5 billion worldwide. The first film, “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the fourth all-time highest grossing film worldwide.

— Advertising (Nielsen Monitor-Plus) - In the U.S., ad spend for all Harry Potter branded merchandise (including books, movies, DVDs and other promotional products) totals $269.1 million from 1998 to date. Outside of the U.S. from 2000 to date, $119.3 million was spent on total advertising for all Harry Potter branded merchandise in Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and the U.K.

The Harry Potter phenomenon now consists of seven books, five movies, and countless spin-off products, among them:








Changing directions completely, one cannot forget "Mormon Beefcake," sparked by a Washington Post story about a new 2008 calendar featuring hunky (male) Mormon missionaries. The 2008 Men on a Mission Calendar generated a lot of buzz and has turned into a best-seller. Whether it is an effective proselytizing tool remains to be seen.


Last month, in "Geography and Literature for $400, Alex," I noted how the books of Kurt Vonnegut are still selling well, months after the author's death and often decades after they were first published, and selling much better than books by his contemporaries, Norman Mailer and William Styron. I cited an AP story that reported:
While Mr. Vonnegut's death in April led to a significant jump in sales for his books, the change was far smaller for the works of Mr. Mailer and Mr. Styron, both of whom, unlike Mr. Vonnegut, won Pulitzer Prizes. Books by all three writers are still used in classrooms, but Mr. Vonnegut's are read more both on and off campus.

"I think it has something to do with the fact that Vonnegut has more of a word-of-mouth following. He's a little more pulpy and countercultural," says Keith McEvoy, general manager of Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers in downtown Manhattan. "We had a huge spike after Vonnegut died, but I didn't see anything like that for Mailer or Styron."

Other books by Mr. Vonnegut are also strongly outselling his contemporaries. "Cat's Cradle" has sold nearly 130,000 copies since 2006, according to Nielsen BookScan, and "Breakfast of Champions" totals 74,000. Meanwhile, Mr. Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," winner of the Pulitzer in 1968, has sold less than 2,000 since 2006, while Mr. Mailer's "The Armies of the Night," a Pulitzer winner in 1969, sold just 3,000.






In one of my several vblog-posts (vblog = video blog) about the Virginia Film Festival, I reported about screenwriter Stewart Stern's lifelong love for Peter Pan in all its incarnations -- book, play, movie, musical, and more. Stern's uncle was Adolph Zukor, who produced the first film (silent) version of the classic children's story, and his remembrances were charming. (One might say as enchanting as fairy dust.)


There are plenty more books (including plays) that I discussed this past year that are not mentioned here. To my surprise, this has turned into a retrospective of this year's blogging, although it may seem a bit mercenary. Really, I will not complain in the least if, while reading this, you choose to buy something from one of my advertisers -- if not Amazon.com, then TLA Video's online store (see "Christmas Shopping List"). Or, if you're really pleased, there's always the tip jar.

Green Chri$tma$, indeed -- but a merry one, too, followed by a happy new year!


Update:
Check out the Christmas items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."


Monday, December 17, 2007

Blogoversary

Tonight on the public-radio show, Marketplace, host Kai Ryssdal noted:

The blog is celebrating an anniversary today. Ten years ago a guy named Jorn Barger coined the term "weblog" to describe his website Robot Wisdom. It was shortened to "blog" two years later by someobody else.

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

Estimates are that 120,000 new ones are created everyday. No word, though, on how many are actually read.
By sheer coincidence, today is also the third anniversary of my first blog post. It was a Friday evening and I had nothing better to do. Now look where it's led.

I swear, however, that I was not influenced by the date that Jorn Barger came up with the word "weblog." In fact, until a few minutes ago, I never visited Robot Wisdom (and then only to get the correct link). But you have to appreciate these accidents of history.

Deck the Halls with Ron Paul and Kin

The Ron Paul for President campaign has prepared a holiday greeting to be used on television in lieu of a typical political commercial:



Who knew that the Paul family lived in the Brady Bunch house? (Check out that staircase!)

The familiar melody sung by Ron Paul's revelers is, of course, "Deck the Hall." How many people know the origin of this Christmas carol? How many know it is not a "Christmas" carol at all, but rather a Welsh new year's carol? Or that the familiar, "ancient Yuletide" lyrics are not so old as one might imagine?

I found this out while perusing The Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, a fascinating collection researched and written by Ian Bradley, which was published last year and sat on my bookshelf for months before it called out to me late last night. Bradley gives us the background:

'Deck the hall' is a very free translation of a Welsh dance-carol traditionally sung at New Year's Eve. It belongs to the distinctive Welsh tradition of canu penillion in which merrymakers would dance in a ring around a harpist. Verses, either extemporized or remembered, would be thrown in by the dancers in turn with the harp playing the answering bars now made up with the 'fal, la la's'. Those who failed to come up with a new verse would fall out of the dance. 'Nos Galan' is first found in Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards published in 1784 by the harpist Edward Jones but the melody almost certainly goes back before that. Despite the fact that Jones heads the song 'Nos Galan' (New Year's Eve) the text in his version is a love song. In fact, the tune seems to have carried many different words before becoming specifically associated with New Year festivities....

The original Welsh New Year carol seems to have been turned into an English Christmas song in the latter part of the nineteenth century as part of the Victorian re-invention of Christmas. The first known appearance in print of 'Deck the hall' is in The Franklin Square Song Collection edited by J. P. McCaskey in 1881. The authorship of the English words, which, apart from the reference in the third verse to the passing of the old year and the coming of the new, bear no relation to the Welsh original, has never been established.

Numerous variations are found in all three verses. The third line of the first verse is sometimes rendered 'Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel' or 'Fill the beer up, drain the barrel'. In the second verse the first line is often 'See the flowing bowl before us' and the last 'While I sing of beauty's treasure'. Several versions of the song extol singers at the end of the first verse to 'Troll the ancient Christmas carol'. In the third verse, the third line is often rendered 'Laughing, quaffing, all together'.

Essentially this is a carol where the words don't really matter too much. The great thing is the tune and all those fa, la, las which according to the erudite editors of the New Oxford Book of Carols seem to have begun as substitutes in the original dance tune when no harp was present. It is not known what steps were danced to the original Welsh carol.
I would really like to hear someone sing the line, "Laughing, quaffing, all together." What's that old saying? "If it laughs like a deck, and it quaffs like a deck... then deck the halls."


Update:
Check out the Christmas items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bill of Rights Day 2007


Yesterday was the 216th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution had been proposed during the First Congress and by December 15, 1991, the requisite three-quarters of the states had approved them. (Two other amendments, proposed at the same time, failed to make the cut; one of those two was finally ratified in 1992.)

The downtown mall in Charlottesville was the site of a Bill of Rights Day commemoration. This annual event is sponsored by the Jefferson Area Libertarians.

This year, the speakers were John Munchmeyer, who introduced James Curtis (who led a recitation of the text of the Bill of Rights with the assembled citizens) and Jim Lark, and then later delivered some remarks of his own.

Here, in two parts, is a video of the 2007 Charlottesville Bill of Rights Day celebration.

Part I:



Part II:



Speaking of patriotic commemorations, today also marks the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

For those who want to celebrate that historic event, visit the campaign web site of presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose supporters have organized a "moneybomb" to coincide with the anniversary. (The last such moneybomb, on November 5, raised a record $4.2 million in 24 hours.) Thousands of small-dollar contributions can add up quickly. Do your part to break another record!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life on Film

Forty years ago tonight, my father brought home our family's first Super-8 millimeter movie camera.

December 15, 1967, was a Friday, and it was the night of my Cub Scout pack's Christmas meeting, which included a mini-pageant of sorts. (Imagine a bunch of 8- and 9-year-old boys in blue and gold uniforms, wearing reindeer antlers, and you've got a picture of the night's festivities.)

I would like to say that I have the ability to post the film-to-video transfer of that first night's product, but -- unfortunately -- the film remains in the can and has never been put on VHS or any other form of video.

Over the next 15 years, however, my family and I put hundreds of events on thousands of feet of film. (A roll of Super-8 film was about four minutes long.) The bulk of these reels of silent film is typical family fare: birthdays, holidays, visits to the zoo, vacation trips, drunken barbecues.

Once I reached junior high, I appropriated the camera (and its successors -- we upgraded more than once) for school projects.

My favorite of those projects was posted to YouTube earlier this year, but I never bothered to bring it here to share it with this blog's audience.

In my junior year of high school, I took an English class called "Humorous Literature," which was taught by Mr. Gregory Meuler, who later became principal of Marquette University High School and, at the 150th anniversary celebration this year, was given a distinguished alumnus award.

Several of us Webster Club members took the class at the same time (Mr. Meuler was an assistant debate and oratory coach) and undertook a film project which, for reasons that will become obvious to viewers who watch through the end, is entitled "A Brief Encounter" -- alluding to the great David Lean film, although the real inspiration came from Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was then the most popular public television program among adolescent boys. (Not the only public TV program favored by that demographic, however: Benny Hill was carried by PBS affiliates in those days, too, although his work never really appealed to me -- too many scantily clad women, I suppose.) The allusion also anticipated Alan Bennett's The History Boys by 30 years.

The "screenplay" (such as it was) was co-written by myself and Dan Barboriak; we also shared directorial responsibilities. The cast included our classmates Steve Illa, John Jansky, Scott Murphy, and Tim Schally. We shot the film, guerrilla-style, on the MUHS campus, on the grounds of the Veterans' Administration hospital in Wood, and on the parking lot of Milwaukee County Stadium (the predecessor of Miller Park and once the home of the Braves and the Brewers).

So, in honor of four decades of holding a moving picture camera in my hand, I give you "A Brief Encounter."

Part I:



Part II:



By the way, although this video recording has a soundtrack derived from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," I discovered early on, while showing the original Super-8mm film to various audiences, that the soundtrack from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon has a near-perfect overlay to the action in "A Brief Encounter." Sort of like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Try it for yourself. You may be surprised by the coincidence of image and sound.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Those Aluminum Christmas Trees

One of the first posts on this blog, nearly three years ago, was called "Return of Aluminum Christmas Trees?" and cited a then-recent article from the Washington Times reporting that "current marketers of the once-all-the-rage, later-repudiated-and-mocked decorations" ought to

heed the advice from "Conny of Alcoa," the official home-design hostess of the Aluminum Company of America, circa 1961.

"Decorated with plain ornaments and inexpensive spotlights, aluminum trees develop a spectacular ethereal beauty," Conny counseled in a booklet boasting photos of bouffant-haired women in shirtwaist dresses and stiletto heels, earnestly intent on their aluminum trees.
I added:
I remember aluminum Christmas trees. Conny was right: they did possess "ethereal beauty." More than that, they were a respectable replacement for "live" trees, which had a tendency to shed needles and become fire hazards (especially in the days of big, bulky bulbs on frayed electrical wires). At the time, artificial trees that could "pass" as real trees were rare and expensive, if available at all. Developments in plastics manufacturing didn't make realistic fake trees possible and economical until the 1970s.
Aluminum Christmas trees are again the object of attention -- this time as sought-after items on online auction sites like eBay. Writes "Boomer Angst" columnist Marli Murphy in the Kansas City Star:
Blame Mom: If only she hadn’t trashed the family’s aluminum Christmas tree, circa 1965, you’d be making quick bucks on eBay.

Oh sure, its dilapidated box was coated with decades of attic dust, and she’d been trying for 40 years to get one of you kids to take it (and the rest of that stuff up there!). Start boo-hooing if your fake tree was pink or gold, because then you really could’ve cashed in this holiday season.

Kitschy as it seems today, the aluminum tree in all its artificial glory was the proud centerpiece of many a baby boomer Christmas celebration. The standard version stood 6 feet tall, perfect for a 1960s ranch-style home. The coolest feature was the electric color wheel that magically changed the tree’s silver hue to blue, red, green and orange-gold.
Emma Martin explains in the American Chronicle:

The vintage aluminum Christmas trees sought by collectors today were introduced in 1959 by Christmas tree manufacturers, Aluminum Specialty Company. Soon after their debut, aluminum Christmas trees were rapidly introduced by a variety of other firms and they became one of the staples of the modern American home during Yuletide throughout the 1960s and well into the Seventies.

Aluminum Christmas trees have been characterized as having a design, look and feel of sophistication. In fact, when the trees were launched, many observers and the manufacturer itself called them the 'Space Age Christmas trees'. The silvery color and the unique structure and appearance made the aluminum trees different and more appealing to many people.

Murphy relates that
the industry leader was the “Evergleam” made by the Aluminum Specialty Co. in Manitowoc, Wis. From 1959 to 1969, the company sold more than 1 million Evergleam trees throughout the U.S., and this amazing number doesn’t reflect the tens of thousands sold by dozens of smaller manufacturers.

Complete with color wheel, the artificial trees required no potentially dangerous lights and therefore could be marketed as “safer.” In reality, the aluminum trees were extremely flammable, made of foil-covered paper with heavy cardboard skeletons.

The standard Evergleam was brilliant silver, but they were also fashioned in brassy gold, stylish pink and groovy candy-cane colors, in dimensions varying from tabletop size to 8-foot giants. Deluxe models featured branches finished with end-pieces resembling half a maraschino cherry and were designed with motorized stands that allowed the tree to revolve slowly, circling every one to two minutes.

While going through some boxes of old photographs and archival material earlier this evening, I came across two Polaroid pictures of a 5-year-old me and the aluminum tree my mother erected soon after we moved into a new home just days before Christmas. Note the blue balls.




To be perfectly truthful, there is some "ethereal beauty" in those Jetsons-era Christmas decorations. I'm not sure I'd lay out big bucks on eBay to buy one, but if one fell into my lap (metaphorically speaking), I would be happy to put it in my living room for the holiday season.


Update:
Check out the Christmas items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."


That J.C. Penney Viral Email

The originator of a viral email about a 1977 J.C. Penney catalog was surprised at how traffic was driven to his site by what he thought was a rather quotidian item.

I was one of the recipients of one of those emails (mine came from a college classmate who, of course, graduated from high school in 1977, as I did), which apparently have been making the rounds since Johnny Virgil first posted his snarky comments about 1970s fashions on his blog, "15 Minute Lunch."

I'm disinclined toward reprinting someone else's material, but I encourage a visit to the original post. It really is funny -- especially if you were around in 1977. (The music was great but the clothes were, let's face it, atrocious.)

To give you a taste of what you'll find there, here is one photo scanned from that old catalog:


For those under 30 years of age, it may be hard to believe that people once wore colors and patterns like those. Yet that's among the mildest of the images. I hate to admit I once dressed in similar "fashion":



(And that's for a formal sitting. You don't want to see the candid snapshots. It's for good reason they did not end up in the National Gallery's current exhibition on "The Art of the American Snapshot" -- which I also highly recommend.)

In pre-Internet America -- even in the 1970s -- the J.C. Penney catalog was your Christmas shopping wish book. (Or was that the Sears catalog? My memory fades.) People dressed themselves and decorated their homes according to the examples they found in the J.C. Penney catalog.

Question for readers: Did anyone else receive the email about the 1977 J.C. Penney catalog? If so, when did you receive it? Did you pass it along to others? Did you trace its source, as I did?


Update:
Check out the Christmas items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Porn Producers Fight Back

Has it really come to this? Has the Internet spawned so much piracy and so many copyright violations that even the core business of on-line profitability must turn to the courts for relief?

From today's Los Angeles Times:

A major porn producer filed a lawsuit Monday against an X-rated knockoff of YouTube, alleging that it profited from piracy by allowing its users to post videos that include copyrighted material.

Vivid Entertainment Group filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against PornoTube and its parent, Data Conversions Inc., which does business in Charlotte, N.C., as AEBN Inc.

The suit is apparently the first of its kind in the adult film industry, which has done a better job than the major Hollywood studios in finding ways to profit from putting entertainment products on the Internet.

But in the last year or so, the rapid increase in consumption of all manner of videos on the Web has in some ways hurt the porn producers more than the mainstream companies because consumers of adult fare often get what they are looking for in clips of five minutes or less. Free short clips are easy to find on the Web, undercutting the established porn producers, which earn most of their money from long-form videos.

"We've decided to take a stand and say 'no more,' " Vivid co-Chairman Steven Hirsch said. "We will go after all the free sites."
But wait! There's more:
The suit accuses PornoTube of hosting excerpts of tapes that include such Vivid titles as "Night Nurses," "Where the Boys Aren't 7" and the private work of TV personality Kim Kardashian. The suit seeks damages of $150,000 per infringed work.

Other porn companies also are upset by the explosion in Web video sites, many of which rely on user submissions that borrow heavily from copyrighted material.

"What's happening in the industry is an unacceptable amount of theft," said Jon B., a vice president at Red Light District who asked that his full name not be used because family members don't know what he does.

He said Internet piracy might be reducing his company's profit 35%.
I think the LA Times has come up with a way to make the business pages more -- well, "vivid" is an adjective that comes to mind. Here's the story's conclusion:
Piracy has always existed, but it's more detrimental for the company as it tries to sell more of its content over the Web, Hirsch said. Competing with free Internet videos is bad enough, but competing with free versions of Vivid's material is maddening, he said.

Industry revenue as a whole is up, but it is getting split into more pieces, said Farley Cahen, publisher of Adult Video News Online magazine.

"In the past, it was peer-to-peer networks" that took a modest amount of technical ability to use, Cahen said. "Now, there's PornoTube, XTube, RedTube -- any kind of -Tube you can think of."

"There are longer and longer clips that are free, and the companies are at a loss over what to do."
I just can't wait for this lawsuit to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. That is one case where I'll want to be present for oral arguments.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Avenue Q’s Washington Connections

I almost neglected to post this article I wrote for The Metro Herald. It is based on interviews with two members of the cast of Avenue Q, which is playing at the National Theatre in Washington, one of its stops on a cross-country tour.

Avenue Q’s Washington Connections
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Two actresses with ties to Washington are in the touring company of Avenue Q, the Tony Award-winning musical playing the National Theatre through December 9. Both studied at Howard University before embarking on their professional careers in film and theatre, and both spoke to the Metro Herald from on the road with Avenue Q.

Danielle K. Thomas, a member of the Avenue Q ensemble, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She started to take dance lessons outside of school while attending John Dewey High School near Coney Island and soon won a scholarship to study with the Alvin Ailey dance company.

Her dance instructor, Michael Goring, had studied at Howard University, and he encouraged Thomas to explore Howard as an option for college. “I went and visited for a day,” she says, “and I liked it.”

“From the moment I stepped into the walls” of Howard University, Thomas says, “I never stopped being involved in theatre,” both back stage and on stage. “I built sets, did lighting, did wardrobe – did noting but theatre,” and her experience at Howard, she says, “gave me the drive and discipline.”

Thomas performed throughout the Washington area. Her first “professional gig” was with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, but she also performed in Romeo & Juliet in a joint project with Catholic University. “The Capulets came from Howard,” she remembers, while “the Montagues came from Catholic.”

She also taught dance for children’s theatre for two semesters and taught musical theatre to kids in South East D.C. through Washington Very Special Arts. “We put together a little show” for students who had never been exposed to theatre before and “it was great.”

The late Mike Malone -- an instructor at Howard whose name often comes up in interviews with actors who studied there -- introduced Thomas “to a lot of people in musical theatre, like Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.” A casting director came to Washington to audition girls for German tours of Little Shop of Horrors and Jesus Christ Superstar. “I was reluctant to audtion,” Thomas says, “but Mike Malone made me do it. I got the job and I loved it.”

After those tours ended, Thomas “took some time to relax,” knowing that she would be going back to Germany and also that she would be in a national tour of Cinderella. “I did a couple of things in New York, some staged readings with writers I knew from Howard.” Eventually, she was cast in The Me Nobody Knows with Maurice Hines, then did Hair for two-and-a-half years, won a “Daytony Award” for Seussical in Ohio, and then landed in the cast of Avenue Q.

Thomas says that Avenue Q “is quite the experience. I remember seeing the show for the first time before I auditioned for it, or even thought I would be part of it, and I laughed through it and loved it.”

As far as the audience goes, she says, “I know no one will walk away and not be pleased. Nobody is spared” from the show’s mockery, she notes, but “instead of being offended, you laugh.” The show has an overall, general good feeling. The theme is “life gets better, life changes, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but it’s only a moment.”

During the two-week run in Washington, Thomas’ family will come from New York to see the show, and she plans to visit students at Howard University and the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. She also looks forward to visiting some of her old hangouts, such as La Bamba on Georgia Avenue and Tropicana in LeDroit Park.

Asked to sum up Avenue Q, Thomas laughs and says, “Avenue Q is an amazing show. Put all your inhibitions away and have a good time.”

Carla Renata, who plays the part of “Gary Coleman,” shares Thomas’ enthusiasm for Avenue Q.

Born in Cherry Point, North Carolina, Renata’s father was in the U.S. Marine Corps. Her parents had been born in St. Louis, and that is what she considers to be her home town.

Renata was a late-comer to the performing arts, not participating in them until after high school. She had won a scholarship through the America’s Junior Miss pageant and first went to Columbia College in Missouri, later transferring to Howard University, in large part because of Howard’s well-known program in the performing arts. At Howard, Renata majored in Broadcast Production and minored in Drama.

“We didn't have a lot of money,” Renata recalls, so “I tried to rely on the talent I had to pay for my college education.” She went on USO tours, did industrial shows, worked at theme parks like Six Flags. That’s how, she explains, “I got the bug to perform. I couldn't believe I was getting a pay check for doing something I loved.”

After college, Renata went to New York, where she worked as a publicist for eight or nine years for such clients as Coca-Cola and Maybelline. While working for a company called Orchid Communications, she felt the draw of the stage. “I quit and decided that I would go for it and see what happened.”



What happened was that she got a part in the 20th anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. That initial success was followed by frustration, however. “I was getting further and further in debt,” but she auditioned successfully for Des McAnuff’s production of The Who’s Tommy and went on to work under the same director in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (starring Matthew Broderick).

That was followed by the critically-acclaimed production of Cy Coleman’s The Life on Broadway. When that show closed, Renata says, “I decided to go to Los Angeles to work on [television] pilots.”

Although she went to Los Angeles to work in TV, she got an audition for the LA company of Disney’s The Lion King. “And it ran for three years. That got me back on track.”

Unfortunately, “right before The Lion King closed, my agent kicked me to the curb. For 2003 and 2004, I didn't have an agent, but I was able to book a commercial or voiceover here and there to keep myself afloat.”

After that, “I went to a workshop for ethnic actors, I was one of 20 who participated, and we picked a scene from play or movie, which we would do in front of casting directors from CBS.” Renata reports that the day after the workshop, “I got a phone call that CSI wanted to see me. It all worked out really well. I literally went from being on nobody's radar to being on everybody's radar. I was seen by most influential casting directors and started a television career.”

Renata says that she has an added advantage “because I can sing and I can do musicals.” For six months, she was in We Will Rock You in Las Vegas, which was produced by Robert DeNiro.

How did Renata end up in Avenue Q? She had auditioned for the show in 2005, but the producers decided against a national tour and instead had an extended run in Las Vegas. “When they finally decided to do a national tour, they called me back.”

The role she plays in Avenue Q is named for a real person and is meant to have some of that real person’s characteristics. “I'm not really playing Gary Coleman,” Renata says. “I’m not doing an impersonation of him. I can't be him because I'm a girl and he's shorter than me.”

Within the context of Avenue Q – if one looks at it as a sort of “after-school special” – Gary Coleman is the ‘special guest star,’ the one with all the wisdom. He’s been there, done that. He tries to impart his wisdom upon Princeton” – the character who provides Avenue Q‘s point of view – “who doesn’t have a clue about how to live life after college.”

To prepare for the role, Renata says she “watched a lot of episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, to get his facial expressions and vocal nuances, so I can sort-of, kind-of bring ‘Gary Coleman’ to the forefront.”

For Renata, playing a male character is a challenge because, she explains, “I’m very girly. I like manicures and pedicures. To play a boy in a rugby shirt and overalls and Timberland boots and a baseball cap, I had to find a way to sit on my hands. I keep [my hands] in the pockets of my tool belt, because otherwise I look like a girl and the audience gets very confused. I try to walk like a guy” and do enough “physical stuff” to put the character’s gender across.

On returning to Washington, Renata says she plans to see some of her instructors at Howard who are still teaching. “I’m looking forward to rolling through and saying ‘hi,” and I want to see the campus.” Renata’s mother also lives in Washington, so she will be visiting her, as well.

Doing a national tour and moving frequently from city to city is “physically taxing,” she says. “Sometimes I am so incredibly tired that i don't feel like doing it; the energy we expend in two hours is the same as other people expend in eight.” Fortunately, she adds, “the people I work with are amazingly talented and beautiful, genuine people.”

Moreover, Renata says, she is “happy to have a job, with all the strikes. If I were in Los Angeles, there would be no jobs, except for commercials. Everybody who can’t work on episodic television now is trying to work on commercials,” because those who write commercials are not members of the Writers Guild of America – they are copywriters for advertising agencies – and therefore not on strike. “I am very grateful to have a job,” Renata notes wistfully.

But more than just that, with Avenue Q “I'm getting to live out my childhood fantasy. How many children watch Sesame Street and want to jump into the television and be part of that?”

Asked what she thinks of the show itself, Renata answers: Avenue Q is funny. We're living in a time when there are natural disasters all over, at war with Iraq, presidential election, Avenue Q will help people laugh. The show pokes fun at everybody but it has a lesson that everything in life is only for now, when you wake up tomorrow, tomorrow's a brand new day.”

Still, she warns, Avenue Q “is an adult-themed puppet show. Children who see it should be 12 or over, because of some of the things we say and some of the things we do.”

That said, she concludes: “If you buy a ticket, you will laugh your buns off.”

Before coming to Washington, the Avenue Q tour stopped in Des Moines and Pittsburgh after six weeks in San Diego. After Washington, the show moves to San Francisco, Tucson, and Houston. It will be in Minneapolis just after the start of the New Year.