Friday, February 29, 2008

Today We Are All Bissextile

I bet you didn't know that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Demand a Recount

It would be an exaggeration to say that William F. Buckley singlehandedly built the conservative movement in the United States, but only a slight one.

Buckley died earlier today at the age of 82, leaving behind an incomprehensibly large legacy.

Shortly after his graduation from Yale -- and the publication of his first book, God and Man at Yale -- Buckley and a few friends established National Review, which quickly became for the right side of politics the premiere journal of debate and discourse, the equivalent to Partisan Review and Commentary on the left. (Commentary, of course, eventually gravitated to the right itself, but that is another story.)

It is hard to believe today, when we can read The Weekly Standard, Reason, The American Conservative, Liberty, WorldNetDaily, FrontPageMag, and so many print and online publications with a conservative or libertarian bent, that only 50 years ago, National Review was it. There was nowhere else for conservatives interested in politics and culture to go to be nourished intellectually. National Review spawned them all.

Under Buckley's erudite leadership, disparate elements of conservatism -- libertarians, old-school Tories, anti-Communists, traditionalists (basically everybody except anti-Semites, Birchers, and Objectivists) -- came together in what Buckley's colleague, James Burnham, characterized as "fusionism." Until the end of the Cold War, this ragtag coalition held together, not least because of Buckley.

It was not only through publication that Buckley led the movement. He was also an organizer. It was at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, that Young Americans for Freedom was established. The names of those at Sharon that day in 1960 read like a Who's Who of conservative politics: Bob Bauman, Dick Cowan, Stan Evans, Jim Kolbe, to name just a few (and only the ones I've met personally). YAF blazed the trail that led to Barry Goldwater's nomination for president by the Republican Party in 1964, and eventually to Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. It is said that without Buckley, there would have been no Goldwater, and without Goldwater, no Reagan.

An intellectual's intellectual, Buckley had a wide range of interests. He wrote more than three dozen books on topics as different as sailing and espionage. Some of his books were fiction, some memoir, some policy analysis, some simply witty. His twice-weekly newspaper column appeared in hundreds of publications (more than 5,600 columns in all), then compiled into the biweekly National Review.

Equally at ease as after-dinner speaker or master of ceremonies, Buckley reveled in oral as well as written discourse. He was host of Firing Line, a PBS television show, that was the civilized precursor to Hardball and The McLaughlin Group.

Buckley called himself a "libertarian journalist," but he was more of a traditional conservative, with a twist. He took his yacht into international waters so he could smoke pot legally, and then became a crusader to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. He gave Dick Cowan, one of the founders of Young Americans for Freedom, a cover story in National Review to make the case for marijuana legalization. Cowan later became executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A traditional Catholic, he was not averse to putting dissenting thought in his own magazine. When his old friend, Marvin Liebman, the founder of modern direct-mail fundraising (and first executive director of YAF, who gave Richard Viguerie his first job in the movement), chose to come out as gay, Buckley put him, too, on the cover of National Review. As Liebman describes it in his book, Coming Out Conservative:

For almost four decades, I was one of the leading anticommunist and conservative activists in the United States. During most of those years, I worked in close coordination with my friend William F. Buckley, Jr., whom I consider to be the founder of modern American conservatism and the prime articulator of its philosophy.

A little more than a month before my sixty-seventh birthday -- on June 7, 1990 -- I wrote to him, and asked that he publish a letter in his magazine, National Review. The letter announced that I was gay.

After asking me if I had fully considered the personal ramifications of such a disclosure, Bill agreed to run my letter. He said that he felt he must also publish his reply.

We'd known each other for almost thirty-five years. I assumed he knew I was gay, but I never brought up the subject. And it never seemed to matter so long as the word was never spoken -- certainly not to Bill or his wife, Pat, or to my other straight friends. Just don't talk about it, for heaven's sake.

In the spring of 1990, however, it did matter very much to the American Right, an amalgamation of several constituencies: dedicated anticommunist groups; the "religious Right," always seeking more money-raising ideas; the relatively new "traditional American family values" organizations' and the politicians whose jobs and appeal depend on their ability to promote fear and bigotry and then convince their constituents that they are the only ones who can hold the fort against whatever enemy they have created....

My letter to Buckley said:
Anti-Semitism is something that, happily for the history of the last three decades, National Review helped to banish at least from the public behavior of conservatives. National Review lifted conservatism to a more enlightened plane, away from a tendency to engage in the manipulation of base motives, prejudices, and desires; activity in my view which tended to be a major base of conservatism's natural constituency back then. Political gay bashing, racism, and anti-Semitism . . . are waiting to be let out once again. I worry that the right wing . . . will retun to the fever swamps.
.... Bill Buckley took on a personally difficult task when he committed himself to reply publicly to my coming out letter. I'm certain I caused him great pain. He is a devout and doctrinaire Roman Catholic bound by the theological strictures with which he grew up and to which he still holds fast. Eleven years before, he had been my sponsor when I entered the Catholic church.

In his reply he said,
I honor your decision to raise publicly the points you raise . . . but you too must realize what are the implications of what you ask. Namely, that the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which is aligned with, no less, one way of life, become indifferent to another way of life. . . .

National Review will not be scarred by thoughtless gay bashing, let alone be animated by such practices . . . You are absolutely correct in saying that gays should be welcome as partners in efforts to mint sound public policies; not correct, in my judgment, in concluding that such a partnership presupposes the repeal of convictions that are more, much more, than mere accretions of bigotry. You remain, always, my dear friend, and my brother in combat.
Liebman's book has many anecdotes about Buckley that offer a glimpse of his private side, something different than what the public might have seen. I recommend it highly to those interested in both Buckley and the birth of the modern conservative movement.

When William Buckley ran for mayor of New York in 1965, a reporter asked him what the first thing he would do upon being elected. Buckley replied: "Demand a recount."

With the loss of Bill Buckley, the census of great men is diminished. We, too, should demand a recount.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Definition of Irony, Part 342

Isn't it ironic that, just as Cuba is on the verge of freedom after a half century of brutal Communist dictatorship, it has become illegal virtually everywhere in the United States to smoke cigars in public?

I'm just asking.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The "Getting High" Series

Last July I made a cross-country trip anchored on two events, my high school reunion and my nephew's first birthday. The trip included stops in Illinois (where our plane landed), Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and California. (I don't include the layover at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport as a "stop.")

George Mason University student Richard Morrison accompanied me on the trip, and we played tourist for most of the two-week journey. I have already posted video from our visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. YouTube has a video of "Gavin's First Birthday Cake," which may end up here someday, too -- perhaps in time for Gavin's second birthday.

Along the way, Richard and I had several opportunities to get high. Don't fret, drug warriors: By "get high," I mean nothing more than that we climbed to a height that provided breathtaking vistas of the landscape around us.

Our first climb was to the top of the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison, courtesy of State Senator Glenn Grothman, who obtained permission to see parts of the capitol usually off-limits to tourists. (There is still more video, so far unedited, of the capitol's chambers, committee rooms, and reception areas -- that will be posted here eventually, too.)

"Getting High in Wisconsin, Part I":



To tell the truth, my acrophobia kept me from going all the way to the top, but Richard braved it along with recent Marquette High graduate Joseph Kay. They provided the most dramatic video.

At Rib Mountain State Park near Wausau, however, Richard and I both reached the summit. Rib Mountain is the third-highest peak in Wisconsin, at 1,940 feet. A 60-foot tower brings the full height to 2,000 feet, with a view on a clear day that encompasses several counties.

I remember visiting Rib Mountain as a child with my parents, but this was my first time there in nearly 40 years. The tower was the same but didn't seem to be quite so high as it was when I was 8 years old.

"Getting High in Wisconsin, Part II":


After Wausau, Richard and I headed farther north, passing through Manitowish Waters, where my family and I used to vacation, and ending up in Hurley, said to be the Wisconsin town with the most taverns per capita. My friend, Gene Cisewski, is the innkeeper of a bed-and-breakfast in downtown Hurley called the Anton-Walsh House. Gene is also president of the local historical society and a former member of the Iron County Board of Supervisors.

Gene took us on a tour of the area, which included a trip to Bayfield and Madeline Island in Lake Superior and to several of the picturesque waterfalls along the Montreal River and other streams that traverse the Wisconsin border with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (There's plenty of unedited video from those days, too.)

When we crossed the border into Michigan, Gene took us to the Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill, one of the tallest structures used for snow skiing anywhere in the world. Once again, I clung to the floor about halfway up the man-made hill, but Gene and Richard made it all the way to the top, where the view on a clear day encompasses three states and Lake Superior.

Coincidentally, I recently had a chat in Washington with the man who was instrumental in raising the funds to build Copper Peak, and I may write about him and his efforts once I have received permission to do so.

"Getting High in Michigan":



The Midwest is not the most likely place to find great heights with dramatic vistas. That's not so in California. Even the Reagan Library looks down on Simi Valley from a peak of its own.

The day before we went to the Reagan Library, Richard and I visited the Getty Center in Los Angeles, which also sits atop a mount. You can see downtown Los Angeles -- even on a Sunday, enshrouded in smog -- and surrounding canyons from the Getty's plaza.

This video also includes some shots from inside the Getty museum.

"Getting High in Los Angeles":



As I have already suggested, there will be more travel videos posted here as time permits. Last year (2007) was a big travel year for me, with trips to Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Austin, as well as Milwaukee, Hurley, and Los Angeles. That resulted in a lot of raw video that has to be reduced to 10-minute segments suitable for posting to YouTube and cross-posting here.

Campus Tragedies

The news media today are focused on the mass murder on the campus of Northern Illinois University, where a former student shot dead five students (including a graduate assistant who was teaching the class) and wounded several others before killing himself.

The NIU shootings brought to mind last year's massacre at Virginia Tech.

Lost in the reports on what happened in Illinois is a follow-up to a story that first surfaced on Tuesday, when most of the media in Virginia were concentrating on the primary election. On Tuesday in Oxnard, California, a gay eighth-grader was shot and wounded by a fellow student. Today the victim, a 15-year-old boy was declared brain-dead and the 14-year-old shooter will face murder charges as an adult, with the possibility of 50 years in prison.

Jim Burroway has a more extensive report at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Update: Daniel Gonzales posts this additional and timely information, also at Box Turtle Bulletin:

A vigil organized by the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance is being held tonight (Friday). Supporters will gather at the Art Barn (856 E. Thompson) at 7pm and proceed to the pier.
The event is called "Lawrence King Memorial Fund and Vigil."

Terrorist Bunny

If you think the only killer bunny is the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (or in its stage version, Monty Python's Spamalot), you're wrong.

The Forward reports on a bunny character featured on a children's TV program produced by Hamas. This bunny promises to kill Jews.

Here's Eli Rosenblatt's report from the Forward, originally published on February 13:

The creators of children’s television often focus their attention on improving their audience’s reading skills. Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV station, however, seems concerned with teaching its younger viewers how to spell destruction. A new video shows a human being-sized rabbit named Assud who learns that his brother, a bee, has died after being denied passage to Egypt for medical treatment. In a venomous lilt, the rabbit tells a little girl, “I, Assud, will finish off the Jews and eat them!”

Assud the Rabbit is a new character on the kids show “Tomorrow’s Pioneers,” which broadcasts from Gaza and is spread by satellite throughout the Middle East. The show, according to translations by the Middle East Media Research Institute, meshes a saga of stuffed animals with lectures about key elements in Hamas ideology — the right of return, the re-conquest of Jerusalem and martyrdom in the name of Allah.

Recently, an Al-Aqsa video of Farfur, a Hamas mouse reminiscent of Mickey Mouse, was spread around the Internet. After the station met worldwide condemnation, Farfur was killed off the show and the mouse’s little fans were told that he was beaten to death by an Israeli interrogator.
And some people complain that Sesame Street is propaganda!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote!

Tomorrow is primary day in Virginia, for both Democrats and Republicans. There are six candidates on the ballot for each party. Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Avoid lines by going to your regular polling place in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon periods. (Busy times are 6:00 to 9:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.)

So don't forget to vote, no matter who you might support.

Also, don't forget to vote in my poll (see sidebar to your left): "Who should John McCain choose as his vice presidential running mate?" So far there have been 42 participants in the poll, which closes just before midnight on Thursday, February 14. Indicate your choice now and I'll report the final results on Friday morning.

Innovation to Circumvent Injustice

As we tread steadily toward a nationwide ban on smoking in public, a resort owner in Minnesota has come up with an innovative way to circumvent that state's law that prohibits indoor smoking.

Noting that the smoking ban had reduced its business, Barnacle's resort in Lake Mille Lacs found a loophole in the law: it permits smoking by actors in a theatrical performance.

The AP reports:

Barnacle's Resort in Lake Mille Lacs turned its normal Saturday night business into a play, testing a loophole in Minnesota's smoking ban. The production included programs and buttons that said "Act Now!"

"You are looking at a stage. You are looking at a playhouse," said Mark Benjamin, a nonsmoking lawyer who worked the bar dressed in Shakespearian garb. "Those are not cigarettes -- those are props."

The law allows actors and actresses to light up in theatrical performances -- but it doesn't define what that means. The idea of stretching the definition came to Benjamin at the Renaissance Festival, an annual event where people dress up in costumes.

Barnacle's usual winter boom went missing this winter, after smoking was outlawed in bars, restaurants and other indoor workplaces in October. Resort co-owner Sheila Kromer said she tried to stop the ban by testifying against it at the Capitol, but that didn't work.

So she was interested in Benjamin's idea, and said local police told her they won't step in unless someone complains.

"Several of the legislators said, 'You know, you've got to be innovative. Come up with something to get the people in your bar.' Right? OK. What's wrong with a theater night? Is that not being creative?" Kromer said.
The proprietors at Barnacle's plan to continue the Saturday night performances weekly for as long as they bring in customers -- or until somebody complains to the authorities and shuts them down.

To paraphrase an old saying, When the legislature closes a door, good ol' American ingenuity opens a window.

GLIL Submits Brief in Second Amendment Case


Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), an organization with which I have been affiliated since its founding on February 12, 1991 -- yes, GLIL's anniversary is just one day away -- has submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. This is the most important Second Amendment case to reach the nation's highest court in almost 70 years.

The following news release is being distributed today by GLIL:

News Release from
Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty

Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty Submit Brief in Second Amendment Case

(WASHINGTON, February 11, 2008) – Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) has joined with Pink Pistols in support of the Second Amendment rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans by filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court.

GLIL chairman Richard Sincere explained: “The brief was filed in support of Dick Anthony Heller, who sued the District of Columbia to have its draconian prohibition on private gun ownership overturned. Heller’s rights to own a gun for self-protection were upheld by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appealed the case to the Supreme Court.”

The brief states that "Laws that prevent the use of firearms for self-defense in one's own home disproportionately impact those individuals who are targets of hate violence due to their minority status, whether defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.… [Not] only do members of the LGBT community have a heightened need to possess firearms for self-protection in their homes, the Second Amendment clearly guarantees this most basic right. This Court should not permit the democratic majority to deprive LGBT individuals of their essential and constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in their own homes"

The brief also makes a unique argument, tying the denial of rights of gay men and lesbians to possess firearms to the statutory mandate to exclude those same citizens from military service through the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" rules:

"… Interpreting the Second Amendment as recognizing a right conditioned upon military service, where eligibility for military service is defined by the Government, prevents the Amendment from acting as any constraint on Government action at all. Such a result is contrary not only to the literal text of the Amendment, but to the intentions of the Framers. Further, in light of the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, such an interpretation would completely eradicate any Second Amendment right for members of the LGBT community."

A number of other organizations have also submitted amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court in this case, arguing in favor of an individual right to possess firearms, including the Cato Institute, Disabled Veterans for Self Defense, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, the Rutherford Institute, and a group of women legislators and academics.

The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, Docket No. 07-290. A copy of the Pink Pistols/GLIL brief can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/29uqgo.

Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty was founded in February 1991 to advance the ideas of economic and personal freedom and individual responsibility. It has members across the United States and in several foreign countries. GLIL previously filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. For more information, visit http://www.glil.org or telephone [redacted].

-30-
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in D.C. v. Heller on March 18, 2008. A decision will be released later in the year, probably at the end of the Court's term in late June.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Central Virginia Republican Straw Poll

At the monthly breakfast sponsored by the Albemarle County Republican Committee, Central Virginia Republicans had a chance to express their presidential preferences in a straw poll modeled on the one that took place at the Republican Advance in Arlington last December 1.

The results were decidedly different: Although Ron Paul won the statewide straw poll handily in December, today the winner was former Massachusetts Mitt Romney -- who has suspended his campaign for president.

The vote totals were Romney 56; John McCain 28; Ron Paul 21; Mike Huckabee 3; and Fred Thompson 2.

I was able to make video recordings of most of the proceedings.

In Part I, Keith Drake, chairman of the Albemarle GOP Committee, recites the Virginia Republican Party Creed:



In Part II, Northern Virginia attorney Chris Kachouroff speaks on behalf of Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, urging the party to return to its Goldwater-Reagan roots:



In Part III (here divided into two segments, "A" and "B"), Chairman Drake introduces former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who speaks in favor of Senator John McCain of Arizona. Oddly, Eagleburger appears to disagree with McCain on as many issues as he agrees with the Senator on; the thrust of his argument is that we should vote for McCain because he is neither Hillary Rodham Clinton nor Barack Obama:



At one point in Part III-B, Eagleburger refers to the Senator from Illinois as "Obama bin Laden." This is a cheap shot; someone who is as respected an elder statesman as Secretary Eagleburger should be respectful, as well. That the audience laughs at the line reflects poorly on those in attendance. Watch this carefully:



In Part IV, the ballots are counted and Keith Drake announces the results:



We will see on Tuesday if the unexpected result -- Romney winning so overwhelmingly -- carries over into the primary election. Could Romney receive a signal from Virginia that he should "unsuspend" his campaign?

Update: The Charlottesville Newsplex has a report by Matt Holmes. Christina Mora reports the story on Channel 29. WINA also has a report, but it won't be on the station's web site for long.

Ron Paul Supporters on the Radio

This morning in Charlottesville, two Ron Paul supporters took the case for their candidate to the airwaves, explaining their enthusiasm and urging other Central Virginia voters to cast their ballot on primary day for the Congressman from Texas.

The guests on WINA-AM's "The Schilling Show" were the Ron Paul precinct captain in Walker Precinct, David Brown, and his counterpart from Jefferson Park Precinct, Bill Ways. The host of the program, former Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling, posed a few questions to get the conversation going.

I was there from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m. to get the show on video. So for those of you who were not awake at the time, or who might have been tuned to NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, here is your chance to listen and watch.

Part I:



Part II:



Ron Paul is one of six Republican candidates on the primary ballot in Virginia on Tuesday, February 12. Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Who Is Behind Voter-Suppression Phone Calls?

This could just be an elaborate practical joke, but voters scattered across Virginia have reported receiving automated telephone calls designed to cast doubt on their status as registered voters.

Here is a news release distributed earlier today by the Virginia State Police:

News Release No. 4
For Immediate Release: February 7, 2008

STATE POLICE INVESTIGATING VOTER REGISTRATION SCAM

RICHMOND – Virginia State Police in cooperation with the State Board of Elections is investigating more than a dozen inquiries from residents across Virginia about a voter registration scam.

According to the citizen complaints, each one received a telephone call with a recorded message yesterday, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008 and today. The recorded message informed the individual that he or she would be receiving a voter registration application packet in the mail. Upon arrival of the packet the individual was being instructed to complete the enclosed form, sign it and mail it back. So far, neither state police nor the State Board of Elections has heard from anyone who has received the application packet.

Registrars from the counties of Amherst, Bedford, Charles City, Dickenson, Halifax, Henrico, Lancaster, Montgomery and New Kent, as well as those in the cities of Charlottesville, Danville, Galax and Martinsville, began receiving calls yesterday from concerned citizens regarding this matter. Upon receiving the inquiries, the State Board of Elections contacted the Virginia State Police and an investigation was initiated.

Anyone who has received such a call and/or a packet is advised to contact the Virginia State Police Administrative Headquarters at (804) 674-2026 or at vfc@vsp.virginia.gov.

“It is not the practice of the State Board of Elections to leave automated recorded messages or ask voters to return their completed voter registration forms to anyone other than to their local registrar,” said Ms. Nancy Rodrigues, Secretary of the State Board of Elections. “Anyone who has a question about their status as a registered voter should contact their local registrar’s office or the State Board of Elections at 1-800-552-9745.” Additional voter registration information is also available at the State Board of Elections Website at http://sbe.virginia.gov.

With any scam, one is advised to never provide personal information, particularly one’s social security number or credit card information, to unknown individuals over the telephone or Internet. If solicited over the phone or Internet for information, attempt to obtain a physical address, rather than a P.O. box or mail drop. Also be watchful of spelling errors, grammar problems or inconsistent information when receiving documents, applications, etc. online or in the U.S. mail.

###
The phone calls imply that the call's recipient is not properly registered to vote, and must therefore fill out and return the forms that will be sent in order to qualify to vote in next Tuesday's presidential primary. Some of those who have received these calls have been registered to vote for 20 years or more.

The State Police press release seems to suggest that the investigation is focusing on the possibility that these calls are a means to commit identity theft. My suspicion is that they are designed to discourage voters from turning out on Tuesday. Who would benefit by that is anybody's guess, but I don't think it's any of the remaining Republican candidates. That leaves two possibilities.

This is a developing story.

Update, February 8, 4:48 p.m: The Virginian-Pilot is reporting that the group behind these telephone calls is "legitimate." Noting the latest findings from the State Police, the newspaper says:
A day after State Police issued warnings about what appeared to be a case of someone trying to pull a scam on Virginia voters, authorities said today that all is well.

The voter registration drive is legitimate....

Women’s Voices Women Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, made the calls and sent the mailings, Geller said. The group said it is part of an "unprecedented" effort to get women registered. Trouble was, it also was largely unheard of. The calls to potential voters started coming even before the effort was announced in a press release issued Thursday.

The organization said it is targeting more than 228,000 unmarried women in Virginia and 22 other states in an effort to increase voter registration and participation.
The question remains, why was Women's Voices Women Vote calling voters who were already registered in order to encourage them to register? If they had enough demographic information to determine that the call recipients were single women, shouldn't they also have known they were registered voters?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Celebrating Ronald Reagan's Birthday

Today is former President Ronald Reagan's birthday. He would have been 97 years old today. The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would make today an annual holiday in that state, commemorating the birth of our 40th president.

To celebrate the occasion, I have put together a three-part video from my visit last summer to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Enjoy!

Part I:



Part II:



Part III:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Strong Interest in Virginia Primary


Although today is Super Tuesday -- or Tsunami Tuesday, as some wags have called it, not to mention its alternate name, "Mardi Gras" for those more inclined toward beads and beer than ballots and bullhorns -- there seem to be plenty of voters who are looking past today's nationwide voting toward next week, when the so-called "Potomac Primary" takes place. February 12 will mark the first time that Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia all hold their presidential primaries on the same day.

I know this because of the deluge of visitors to this blog who are looking for information about Virginia's presidential primary. Of the last 4,000 recorded visitors, 1,218 (or 30.45 percent) entered through my post called "Virginia Presidential Primary FAQ," which is nothing more than a republication of a list of frequently asked questions compiled by Virginia's State Board of Elections. Yesterday's traffic ballooned with seekers of Virginia primary information.

That post is apparently easier to find than anything on the SBE's official web site. It shows up first in a Google search for "virginia presidential primary," "when is va presidential primary," and "virginia presidential primaries," second for "when is virginia presidential primary" and the similar "when is the virginia presidential primary," and only comes in behind the SBE's official site for the search term "virginia primary," when it places fifth after (in addition to the State Board of Elections) an article on Barack Obama in the D.C. Examiner, a chart about the delegate selection process on The Green Papers, and one of Dan Catalano's "Odd Dominion" columns in C-VILLE Weekly. (I can't quite fathom why this blog comes in third in an AOL search for "mike huckabee shirtless." This isn't an Abercrombie & Fitch store, after all.)

It is harder to determine if any of these information-hungry, potential primary voters are looking beyond the simple FAQ to learn about my opinions about the various candidates who will appear on the ballot -- Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rudy Giuliani (yes, he dropped out, but he's still on the Virginia GOP primary ballot), John McCain, Mitt Romney, or the aforementioned Obama, who is already running campaign commercials on local TV here in Charlottesville. (I have heard reports that McCain is also running broadcast ads, but I have not seen any of them myself. Nor have I seen the local Ron Paul Blimp above the skies of Charlottesville lately.)

I certainly invite any new visitors to linger for a while, and feel free to come back. I am sure that next Tuesday and Wednesday I will be posting news about the results of the Virginia presidential primary -- both the Democratic and Republican results -- along with highlights of the very long election day.

Remember, polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12, in the same place that you vote in a regular election. The last day to vote in person by absentee ballot is Saturday, February 9, but check with your local office of voter registration and elections for hours that voting will take place.

As for my own Super Tuesday plans, I'll be seeing the stage version of High School Musical at the National Theatre in Washington. It doesn't have Zac Efron, Corbin Bleu, or Vanessa Hudgins, but it promises to be entertaining and energetic nonetheless ... if I can survive a throbbing sea of 12- and 13-year-old girls. (Talk about Tsunami Tuesday!) But then I must survive: there's an election next week.

Update: While I was drafting this post, someone left an anonymous comment on my previous Virginia Presidential Primary FAQ article, which may explain (in part) the drive in traffic in that direction:

Thank you for your posting of a straight forward primary election FAQ! This will be the first primary election I have ever voted in in Virginia. The straight up info was quite helpful. There is much info on the internet, but little of simple facts! To find the black and white you must surf through millions of blogs, and partisan opinions and forcasts!
And thank you, Anonymous, for your kind words. It's encouragement like that that makes bloggers blog.

Update, February 11: The number of visitors to "Virginia Presidential Primary FAQ" has increased to 1,802 of the last 4,000 visitors to this blog, or 45 percent, dwarfing the next most popular post, "Shirtless and Circumcised," which only has 129 recent visitors, or 3.2 percent.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super-Happy Birthday-Bowl


Joanne Michalak Sincere would have relished the idea of her birthday and the Super Bowl coinciding.

This was not just because she was a great football fan but also because she was the consummate hostess -- a suburban Milwaukee version of Perle Mesta who adored entertaining. To combine two reasons to throw a party would have been an unmatched delight for her.

Today would have been my mother's 70th birthday, and my most vivid memories of her come from those many occasions in which she hosted a party for a host of reasons: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, baby showers, baptisms, First Communions, confirmations, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, Halloween, the Fourth of July, New Year's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Super Bowl Sunday.

My mother's twin loves of football and entertaining would have been combined in countless ways if it had been possible, during her lifetime, for the Super Bowl to be scheduled on February 3 instead of in January.

To put this in context, one must understand what the culture of Wisconsin is like with regard to the Green Bay Packers. Wisconsinites' obsession with the Packers makes metropolitan Washington's love affair with the Redskins look tepid in comparison.

I had not noticed this in my growing-up years. To be surrounded by Packermania in Wisconsin is much like being a fish, not noticing that one is surrounded by water. The phenomenon hit me about 10 years ago when I made a trip to Milwaukee for an October high school reunion and I realized that I was the virtually the only person in a crowded shopping mall not wearing green and gold.

My blinders may have been strong even as a youth, however. The last time I watched a Super Bowl game on TV -- or, to be more accurate, the last time I was in a room with the Super Bowl playing on television -- was the second time the Packers played in the Big Game. (Do the math.)

This indifference to football was not shared by my mother (or my father, either). Even in the years after my parents left Wisconsin for the desert climate of Las Vegas, they continued to wear Packer gear and even sought out a sports bar that specifically showed Packer games on its big screen. (Video poker was only a secondary draw.)

As for entertaining, my mother was not stingy with the spread. While preparing a big meal -- a standing rib roast on New Year's Day, a turkey on Thanksgiving, grilled steaks during the summer -- she would lay out hors d'oeuvres of numerous varieties:

There would be Vienna sausages or meatballs (or both) in a sauce made of equal parts ketchup and brown sugar; raw ground round of beef (not ground chuck or ground sirloin) slathered on cocktail rye with a big slice of Bermuda onion; baked pizza rolls or cheese puffs made with shredded cheddar and Bisquick mix; and deviled eggs. Ordinary snacks included mixed nuts, pretzels, and cheese and crackers (always Ritz or Saltines). In winter, we'd have pickled herring in wine or cream sauce, served with Triscuits or Wheat Thins. During the summer, she would bring out a crudite tray of sliced carrots, celery, cucumbers -- some from her own backyard garden -- and in the early '70s introduced the heretofore-unheard-of uncooked cauliflower or broccoli with a ranch dressing for dipping. (Unfortunately, when my mother cooked cauliflower or broccoli, it was boiled to death -- something attributable to the times, I guess, and a minor and forgivable flaw.)

For days ahead of a party, my mother would work hard to get the house in order, buying food and drinks -- always a full bar, with a double supply of brandy (it being Wisconsin) -- in advance, cooking what needed to be cooked, freezing what needed to be frozen, thawing what needed to be thawed, decorating according to the season. (Don't get me started on what was required to dress the house for Christmas. Other holidays were a bit more lax.)

She would assign me various tasks. (How else would I have learned the proper way to set a table, with all the silverware configured correctly, and napkins folded nicely on each plate?) I never saw a check list, but she surely must have kept one in her mind, because no matter how chaotic things seemed on the morning of an event, by the time guests arrived, everything was in order and my mom, the hostess, could enjoy the party as much as anyone else.

So it is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that, were she able to celebrate her birthday and Super Bowl Sunday simultaneously, my mother would be enjoying heaven on earth.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Heroic and Intelligent

Thanks to Chuck Muth for posting a list of the 25 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted against John Maynard Bush's "stimulus" package last week. Besides the expected names -- Ron Paul, Jeff Flake, and Tom Tancredo, for instance -- there are three Virginians on the list. So special congratulations go to our home state heroes, Tom Davis, Randy Forbes, and Virgil Goode.

Here's the complete list, as reported on Muth's Truths:

Paul Broun (GA)
Michael Burgess (TX)
John Campbell (CA)
Howard Coble (NC)
Barbara Cubin (WY)
Tom Davis (VA)
Nathan Deal (GA)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
Randy Forbes (VA)
Phil Gingrey (GA)
Louie Gohmert (TX)
Virgil Goode (VA)
Duncan Hunter (CA)
Tim Johnson (IL)
Jack Kingston (GA)
John Linder (GA)
Ron Paul (TX)
Ted Poe (TX)
Tom Price (GA)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA)
Ed Royce (CA)
James Sensenbrenner (WI)
John Shadegg (AZ)
Tom Tancredo (CO)
Lynn Westmoreland (GA)
Chuck quotes Arizona Representative John Shadegg's explanation of voting "no" on the bipartisan boondoggle:
“On Tuesday, the U.S. House voted on H.R. 5140, the Economic Stimulus Bill. As you may know, I was one of only 25 Republicans to vote against the bill. Every American knows that the Federal government does not have the money to pay for these rebates. We will have to borrow it. It makes absolutely no sense to me to go give away money we don’t have.”
Well said. As for my own district's representative, the Martinsville Bulletin reported with regard to Virgil Goode:
He said he also believes federal spending should be cut “rather than just borrowing all the money to pay for it.”

As the bill stands now, the money for the rebates would be borrowed, Goode said. “It’s just adding to the deficit,” he said.
Tom Davis, the Northern Virginia congressman who announced his retirement earlier this week, told a questioner in a WashingtonPost.com chat about his own doubts about the stimulus package:
I don't see it adequately stimulating the economy. But you have to remember, Congress is running for re-election in November. So, instead of letting the economy work out its kinks, members want to try to show they are doing something to help. I'm concerned the $150 billion we are throwing at this problem will be a longer-term problem than the short-term benefit.
The most spot-on (and complete) comments may be those of Randy Forbes, who told the Daily Press:
Forbes, a conservative Republican from Chesapeake, decried the measure as a hastily assembled expensive gamble whose impact on the economy was far from certain.

"At some point, I have to be a steward of taxpayers' money," Forbes said. ``We can't afford to throw out $150 billion and hope this is going to work."

Alluding to the political pressures of an election year, Forbes added, "Is it going to be an election stimulus or an economic stimulus?"

Forbes said he also objected to a provision that would provide a $300 rebate to low-income individuals who did not earn enough to pay income taxes.

"I couldn't justify using the taxpayers' credit card to give money to people who didn't pay any taxes," he said.

Expressing doubt about the measure's impact on the economy, Forbes compared the effect of the package to that of a power bar or energy drink. "We just get a short-term boost, and then the crash is worse than before," he said.
I love that analogy. Should HB 5140 be known as the "Red Bull Bill"?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Surfing Along the Axis of Evil

The Canadian newsmagazine Maclean's has uncovered the web sites of the remaining members of the Axis of Evil and other sordid types. What Maclean's has found -- in an article entitled "Websites of Evil" -- turns out to be (from the perspective of the web site owners) unintentionally humorous.

Take North Korea, for instance:

If there was one country you'd expect not to have a website, it might be Kim Jong Il's so-called "Hermit Kingdom," North Korea. Then again, Kim could claim to have invented the Internet himself and it wouldn't look out of place at korea-dpr.com. The "brief history" of dear leader's life runs 160 pages; his father's clocks in at 2,161. And the website has a shockingly liberal relationship with facts. For instance, the regional map provided acknowledges the significance of the 38th parallel, as does the "geography" page—but, in boasting 222,209,231 square kilometres of surface area, it seems to be claiming the entire peninsula for the revolution.

In the "business opportunities" section, visitors learn that North Korea "will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia." How will this be accomplished, considering the country's 85th-ranked GDP—149th, per capita? Thanks to the "lowest labour cost in Asia," a "very stable political system, without corruption," and the unbeatable convenience of dealing directly with the government and state-owned corporations. No middlemen!

You can see all this for yourself on one of the periodic tourist junkets organized by the Korean Friendship Association. Undoubtedly the slickest section of the website, it teases the adventuresome traveller with an idyllic panorama of Pyongyang, including a strangely blurred but nevertheless impressive view of the mammoth Ryugyong Hotel. You won't be staying there, however. Conceived as a little slice of Las Vegas on the Taedong River, complete with capitalist decadences like nightclubs, casinos and no fewer than seven rotating restaurants, it is best described nowadays as an empty 105-storey poured concrete shell with a giant crane marooned on top of it. It has been described as "the single most unsettling structure ever erected by the hand of man."

Then there is Iran -- you know, the place that has no homosexuals:
Thousands of miles west, but still along the Axis of Evil, you'll find Iran's surprisingly large English web infrastructure. Parts are almost charming. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's personal site, for example, includes a sample gallery of gifts he's received from visiting dignitaries both domestic and international. An unnamed lawmaker from the city of Neyshabor brought an ornamental pomegranate, while the Indian foreign minister favoured the President with a covered bowl. Both gifts are described as "inorganic."

Those with questions about their faith can send them directly to the Ayatollah [Khameni]...

"If somebody masturbates during the month of Ramadan but without any discharge, is his fasting invalidated?" another asks. Depends, says the Ayatollah. "If he do not intend masturbation and discharging semen and nothing is discharged, his fasting is correct. But, if he intends masturbation or he knows that he usually discharges semen by this process and semen really comes out, it is a ḥarām intentional breaking fasting."
I guess the Ayatollah Khameni is Iran's answer to "Ask Amy."

Maclean's correspondent Chris Selley looks elsewhere in the Middle East, and then to Latin America, but the results of its explorations are mixed:

The content at Hamas' palestine-info.info, likewise, is of the tenor one would expect from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The "comment" section includes a recent piece by Khalid Amayreh, who compares the Ukrainian Holodomor to what he believes is a looming genocide in Gaza. "Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, as well as the rest of the ruling class in Israel are more or less trying to emulate Lazar Kaganovitch and Genrich Grigorivic Yagoda, another Soviet Jewish mass murderer who probably killed or caused the death of more people than Hitler ever did," he writes. "We must mobilize … in order to prevent Israel from turning Gaza into another Auschwitz, another Treblinka, another Bergen Belsen, or another Theresienstadt. We must cross all the red lines if necessary."

Despite the freedom of information the Internet offers, however, some sites don't last. The various incarnations of Al Qaeda's web presence have disappeared. And the official website of the Colombian guerrilla organization FARC is also currently inoperative. By some accounts, the site was uncommonly slick for a terrorist organization; its content was certainly spirited. According to the Google cache, the final post, on December 20, called Colombian president Alvaro Uribe a Mafioso, a paramilitary, a buffoon, a vulgarian and a slanderous liar. But while Uribe might well have objected to this characterization, it's unlikely he was behind the website's demise. It was hosted, of all places, in Switzerland—proof, perhaps, that free speech is where you find it.

So the next time you're surfing the web late at night, be sure to leave a comment for Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I'm sure they'll appreciate the thought. You might even get a reply -- if black-hooded thugs knocking down your door at 3:00 a.m. is your idea of a reply.

Ambiguity of Truth: 'The Tricky Part'


To my surprise, until Wednesday night, I had not seen a show in the smaller space of Signature Theatre's new building, which opened over a year ago. It turns out that the ARK (named for philanthropists Arlene and Robert Kogod) is a little gem. Its acoustics are near perfect; although I was seated as far from the performance area as one could be, I heard every word and even the sound of pages being turned in a journal.

The occasion was the opening night of The Tricky Part, a transfer from off-Broadway starring its playwright, Martin Moran. This is my review for The Metro Herald.

Ambiguity of Truth:
‘The Tricky Part’ Debuts at Signature Theatre

Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Martin Moran’s The Tricky Part is a tightly-wound bundle of ambivalence waiting to burst.

By choosing to address, in an entertainment venue, an already touchy subject – adult-child sex – Moran shows a certain brand of courage. That he deftly tells his own story – as victim, survivor, explorer, prevailer – exhibits bravery of a signally remarkable form.

Moran’s Obie-award-winning one-man show opened on January 30 for a limited run at Arlington’s Signature Theatre, with the playwright in the lead.

The Tricky Part is not for everyone. Yet, despite its core subject matter, it offers laughs and tears to members of a variety of groups: people who went to Catholic schools, those who grew up in the suburbs, gay men, former campers and former paper boys, parents, people who spent their childhoods in the ‘60s or ‘70s, and those who have survived emotional trauma, to name a non-exclusive few.

As the play begins, houselights bathe the audience, and it seems from the outset that this will continue, with the effect of sitting in a college lecture hall rather than a black-box theatre. Eventually, gradually, nearly imperceptibly, the lighting changes to focus on the playing area, until – when the play reaches its dramatic apogee – a single spotlight enhalos Moran with a soft beam.

At that beginning, Moran, alone on stage, puts the audience at ease – though we do not know this is his purpose – by engaging them in banter, reminding them to turn off their cell phones, asking a few questions, and riffing on the audience members’ replies.

The result is, from that point forward, this highly structured, dramatically intense play seems to be improvised on the spot. Moran makes us believe that he is just telling us a story off the cuff, and that he is taking us through his memories with no more deliberateness than if he was chatting with a stranger at an airport bar during a flight delay.

The early part of the play relates life in Catholic schools in suburban Denver in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Moran’s vivid word portraits of priests and nuns will evoke a smile and a chuckle from anyone, like him, who attended Catholic elementary schools of that era. (Moran alludes to, but does not dwell on, some of the social and cultural upheavals within the Church during those post-Vatican II years.)

The light humor of these early vignettes serves further to let down the audience’s guard for the emotional punch that is to come – his telling about the night when, at the age of 12, Moran unconsentingly began a three-year sexual relationship with a 30-year-old man.

Moran has an uncanny eye (and ear) for detail. His descriptions are so complete that one could easily close one’s eyes and, just by listening, be transported to the world built bit by bit by Moran’s words. With a little tweaking, The Tricky Part would be as equally effective as a radio play as it is as a one-man stage show.

Moran jumps forward three decades – to a time when the Church’s sexual abuse scandals were front-page news – and allows us to see his confrontation with his own abuser, an ex-seminarian.

Suffice it to say that Moran is himself unsure of how to think or how to feel about the events he reports. This ambivalence, rather than weakening his tale, actually strengthens and reinforces it, because it is the way that real people react to such situations in real life.

The Tricky Part explores a sort of “butterfly effect” that influences each of our lives. Moran points to innocuous moments and decisions that, in retrospect, lead to pivotal and sometimes explosive events that affected the entire course of his own life. He leads us, by extension, to think about our own paths that brought us to how we live, who we love, how we love, and why we choose this way or that.

And again, that butterfly effect embraces ambivalence. Moran’s story is one that should horrify and anger not just the audience who hears it but the person who tells it. Still, Moran, after years of struggle with his own ambiguous feelings, rejects anger for a nameless yet peaceable alternative.

Moran recognizes that those events that made him so miserable over time also had a profound – and paradoxically positive – hand in shaping who he is as a professional actor and playwright, as a son, as an uncle, as the steady partner of his longtime (same-sex) spouse. He looks at us pleadingly and asks if his life would have turned out differently if none of this had happened – if he hadn’t taken guitar lessons from Sister Christine, if he hadn’t worked a paper route, if he hadn’t gone to camp with the man who would violate his innocence.

The answer, he knows, is yes – and, not just different, his life could have been better or it could have been worse. The ambivalence is haunting yet palpable.

Interestingly, Moran avoids using words like “molest” or “abuse” in his 85-minute monologue. He reports the events in the life of his 12-year-old self as matter-of-factly as if he were telling us what he had for breakfast yesterday. He remembers, for himself as much as for us, those events in colorful detail and gives the audience the freedom to make up our own minds about the meaning of the picture he paints.

While some will see The Tricky Part as a story of overcoming trauma, a story of psychic healing, it is just as much a story about coming to terms with the contradictions we face – everyday choices, internal dilemmas, emotional bifurcations. The answer doesn’t always have to be yes or no, black or white. Sometimes the answer is yes and no. Sometimes the answer is grey.

Irish-born novelist Edna O’Brien recently told the Paris newspaper, Liberation, that “Happy people don’t write.”

Later elaborating on this remark during a BBC World Service discussion of her novel, The Country Girls, which was banned nearly half a century ago by Irish government censors and remains popular worldwide today, O’Brien explained that people with “normal” – by this she means quotidian -- lives don’t have (or take) the time or inclination to write. Contentment, which marks sanity in a person, does not breed creativity.

Saying that she is not unhappy but simply does not place happiness at the top of the totem pole of the things she values, O’Brien said further that, when a person writes, she throws everything into the mix: the good things, the bad things, the things that make you sad or angry. For this, she said, “you must be naked. Naked, naked, naked.”

Although he stands fully clothed on stage in The Tricky Part, Martin Moran is not just alone, but naked. His nakedness is the consequence of his own life’s journey, and that journey is splayed out in splendid nakedness for us, the audience, to observe and ponder.

The Tricky Part, written and performed by Martin Moran and directed by Seth Barrish, continues through February 17 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington. Show times are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets are $40 and are available through Ticketmaster at 703-573-7328 and through www.signature-theatre.org.

For those so inclined, the longer version of The Tricky Part -- not the play, but the book that became the play -- is available for sale through Amazon.com.