Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Signature Theatre Announces 2006-2007 Season

In today's Washington Post, Jane Horwitz covers some of the highlights of next season at Signature Theatre, its first in the new facility in the Village at Shirlington. But more details still are available in the news release that arrived in my email box this morning. Here it is:

Arlington, VA — Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer is pleased to announce Signature Theatre’s 2006/2007 Season — an ambitious and moving, passionate and playful year of reinvented classic musicals, world premieres, and innovative plays. As audiences have been anxiously anticipating, the season opens with Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s delightfully twisted version of Grimm’s fairy tales. The standard by which all other musicals are measured, Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, follows Sondheim’s contemporary classic. The third musical of the season is the world premiere of Saving Aimee based on the astonishing epic life of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Signature continues to break new ground with The Female British Invasion play festival — two innovative new works from Britain’s brightest young playwrights: the emotionally-charged Crave by Sarah Kane and the world premiere of a Signature Theatre commission by Bathsheba Doran based on the life of Susanna Cox, the first woman sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

Also being presented during the 2006/2007 Season is a four-part Cabaret series and two Special Events: Martin Moran’s heart-wrenching one-man show, The Tricky Part based on his critically-acclaimed biography of the same title, and as part of the city-wide Shakespeare Festival in 2007 a presentation of the internationally- acclaimed Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of Hamlet, a strikingly contemporary version performed in Hebrew with simultaneous English translation. Signature also introduces Symphonic Signature, a series of limited engagement concerts around the DC-area.

This summer Signature’s staff moves into the new $12.5 million two-theater complex in the Village at Shirlington, and in September the doors open to audiences. “I can hardly believe it’s almost here — our first season in the new building,” said Eric Schaeffer. “The 2006/2007 Season opens our new home in true Signature fashion, with the first show of course being Sondheim. I’m excited to finally get my hands on Into the Woods. Perhaps what I’m most excited about is what the new space allows us to do with the production that we couldn’t do in the old garage. My Fair Lady is an undeniable classic that will be done in distinct Signature-style like audiences have never experienced. I’m thrilled that Signature’s doing the world premiere of Saving Aimee — a musical I’ve been helping Kathie Lee Gifford develop. We did a workshop production in New York last fall, and the story and music are enthralling. I’m also proud to introduce the Female British Invasion play festival to DC audiences. Crave by Sarah Kane, currently one of Europe’s most widely produced contemporary playwrights, coupled with the world premiere of Bathsheba’s Susanna Cox is a powerful literary combo. With all the excitement surrounding the opening of the new building, it’s sure to be an unforgettable season!”

The new building, with two flexible black box theater spaces, gives Signature the ability to add unique presentations by artists that would normally not be seen in the D.C. area, such as Martin Moran's The Tricky Part and Cameri Theatre’s production of Hamlet. Signature is also able to move the Cabaret series, currently held in the lobby, into the new, even more intimate, 99-seat theater so the shows can be experienced in true cabaret-style. Cabaret table-seating, drinks, and food from Signature's expanded full-service bar creates a night-club atmosphere.

In addition to the season announcement, Signature also unveils the names of the two new theater spaces: the 299-seat mainstage has been named THE MAX in honor of donors Maxine Isaacs and James A. Johnson, and the more intimate secondstage space is THE ARK in honor of donors Arlene R. and Robert P. Kogod. “We’re especially grateful to the lead donors to our $7.5 million capital campaign,” said Managing Director Sam Sweet, “and we’re honored that the two theaters in the new complex will bear their names in recognition of their generous support.”

THE 2006/2007 SEASON

Sondheim: Signature’s Signature
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
September 5 – October 8, 2006 in THE MAX

The show audiences have been anxiously awaiting! The well-known tales of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Ridinghood are combined with an original story of a Baker and his Wife who desperately want a child, but must remove the curse standing in their way. As the characters work to live “Happily Ever After,” they face consequences traditionally ignored in fairy tales. “Into the Woods simply sings. . .you float into an enchanted world” (The New York Times). Presented in distinct Signature-style with a cast of Signature favorites, Into the Woods will entrance audiences with its delightfully tangled telling of Grimm’s fairy tales. Eric Schaeffer directs his twelfth Sondheim musical to bring the grandest opening to Signature’s new home.

Classic Musical
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion
November 7 – December 10, 2006 in THE MAX

“Probably the greatest musical of all time” (Daily Telegraph), My Fair Lady is the standard by which all others are measured. Henry Higgins, an opinionated linguistics professor and confirmed bachelor, makes a wager with a colleague that within six months he can transform a cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, into a high society lady. He wins the bet, but doesn’t bargain on the profound effect she has on his life. With such musical favorites as “Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” it’s no wonder everyone, not just Higgins, falls in love with Eliza. Signature Theatre brings new life and a unique vision to this Lerner and Loewe classic.

World Premiere Musical
Book and Lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford
Music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
January 23 – February 25, 2007 in THE MAX

Long before Gloria Steinem there was a feminist who stood up against a male-dominated religious society. Long before O.J. Simpson there was a famous defendant in the trial of the century. Long before Madonna there was a free spirit who ignored the sexual mores of her day and married three times. And long before Marilyn Monroe there was a beloved American treasure who mysteriously died from an overdose of barbiturates. Based on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson, Saving Aimee is the story of one woman’s life from her humble upbringing in a “Salvation Army” family to her ascension as charismatic founder of the Four Square Gospel Church. She changed the face of the pulpit. But was she a true woman of God or just one hell of a woman?

Contemporary Drama
By Sarah Kane
October 3 – December 3, 2006 in THE ARK

Set in an unidentifiable city from which voices and images spring, Crave is a dramatized deconstruction of the human mind under the pressures of love, loss, and longing. Four nameless characters tell their tales of disintegration and isolation. “Their dialogues meet, converge and move apart with balletic grace, with caustically humorous as well as distressing consequences” (Time Out). A stunningly poetic and visceral theater experience, Crave’s powerful — and often shocking — language forges an immediate, intense bond between audience and performer. British playwright Sarah Kane was hailed as a potential heir to such existential playwrights as Samuel Beckett and Edward Bond prior to her untimely death at the age of 28.

World Premiere Commission
By Bathsheba Doran
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
April 3 – 29, 2007 in THE MAX

Susanna Cox, a Mennonite accused of infanticide in 1809, was the first woman to be hanged in the state of Pennsylvania. In this new play based on the events surrounding her hanging, nineteenth century America comes to life, and looks surprisingly familiar. Bathsheba Doran, a fellow student of Sarah Kane’s in Britain, moved to New York on a Fulbright Scholarship and is currently a writer-in-residence at Juilliard.

An extension of Signature’s commitment to musical theater, the Cabaret series provides a truly distinct entertainment experience. Next season, this four- part series will be performed in true cabaret-style in THE ARK. Signature’s Cabaret acts allow the rare opportunity to enjoy your favorite performers — the brightest artists from Washington and beyond. Join them for special evenings of popular show tunes, jazz numbers, and powerful ballads intertwined with storytelling.
The upcoming season includes Holi-Divas (December 13 - 23, 2006), holiday favorites belted out by the area’s most popular divas and Singing Shakespeare (March 7- 10, 2007), an evening of great songs from American musical’s based on the writings of Shakespeare, such as West Side Story, Kiss Me, Kate, and The Boys from Syracuse presented as part of the Shakespeare in Washington Festival. Two more original acts (September 13 - 16, 2006 and January 17 - 20, 2007) are still to be announced.

American Premiere
By William Shakespeare
Hebrew adaptation by T. Carmi
Directed by Omri Nitzan
Produced by Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv
Performed in Hebrew with screened simultaneous English translation
Presented as part of the Shakespeare in Washington Festival
March 6 – 11, 2007 in THE MAX

Hamlet, perhaps the greatest classical play of all time, is seldom produced in Israel — only once a decade on average. A story of a young man facing the world of adults, Hamlet rapidly matures in the course of the play learning the “facts of life” along the way. The production is presented in a unique configuration that enables the action to take place on various stages around and among the audience who are seated on revolving swivel chairs. The actors transform the monologues into a live dialogue with the audience, while maintaining their human, lyrical, Shakespearean depth. Praised in Plays International, Cameri Theatre’s production was called, “undoubtedly the best thing the Israeli theatre has seen in many years. . .Never has there been such a tight, riveting and invigorating production on our stages, a production that takes a classic, turns it into a meaningful contemporary play without stripping it of its real power and meaning.”

Washington, D.C. Premiere
Written and Performed by Martin Moran
Directed by Seth Barrish
April 10 – May 6, 2007 in THE ARK

A true story of sexuality, spirituality, and the mystery of human experience, The Tricky Part is one of the most heralded one-man plays in recent memory. Between the ages of 12 and 15, the author had a sexual relationship with an older man, a counselor he met at a Catholic boys camp. Now 42 and an established New York actor, he has transformed his story into a riveting, often funny, and always surprising journey through the complexities of Catholicism, desire, and human trespass. Called “a translucent memoir of a play. . .shattering,” by The New York Times, the premiere received a 2004 Obie Award and two Drama Desk nominations, including Outstanding Play.

One-Night-Only Event
Concert with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
February 10, 2007 at RACHEL M. SCHLESINGER HALL

In a unique collaboration, Signature presents a one-night-only concert of musical theater love ballads performed by an ensemble of favorites from the Signature stage backed by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Entering its 60th season, the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra is Northern Virginia’s premiere fully-professional orchestra led by Music Director Kim Allen Kluge.

Washington, D.C. Premiere
By Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
May 16 and 17, 2007 at STRATHMORE CONCERT HALL

For the first time, Signature performs at the new Concert Hall at the Music Center at Strathmore located in Bethesda, MD. Signature presents a limited engagement run of Songs for a New World, the revue that launched the career of Tony® Award winner Jason Robert Brown and has since become the stuff of theater legend.

All shows, performers and dates are subject to change.

Signature Theatre is a non-profit professional theater dedicated to producing contemporary plays and musicals and to the development of new work. Now in its 16th season under Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, Signature has been nominated for 209 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the professional theater and has been honored with 42 Helen Hayes Awards, including Outstanding Musical in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2005 and Outstanding Play in 1999. Signature Theatre is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, The League of Washington Theatres, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, the Arlington Arts Alliance, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Contact Info
Tickets.com (800) 955-5566

Website www.signature-theatre.org

Paper Clips Now on DVD

Paper Clips, the 2004 award-winning documentary feature about the Holocaust memorial built by middle-school students in Whitwell, Tennessee, became available on DVD earlier this month.

I have raved about Paper Clips before. You can read about the movie here and the companion book here.

I look forward to seeing the extra features on the DVD, including deleted and bonus scenes (what is the difference?) and interviews with Holocaust survivors who visited Whitwell.

The new Paper Clips DVD is available on Amazon.com and should be in video stores now.

Monday, March 20, 2006

No Surprise Here

Well, perhaps I am a little surprised at my low score on social issues. But then Virginia Centrist turned out to be a libertarian, and erstwhile libertarian Shaun Kenney turned out to be a centrist! The Red Stater, by contrast, ended up right where he expected to be.

The test that results in these charts is flawed and not nearly as good as the World's Smallest Political Quiz, which Marshall Fritz developed as a way to bring the Nolan Chart to life. Through Advocates for Self Government, the Libertarian Party, and other groups, the WSPQ has been field-tested and polished over the years so that it more accurately reflects the way people really think. (I score 100-100 on the WSPQ, a firm "libertarian.") The problem with this test on OK Cupid (one problem among others) is that it gives no option for "no opinion" or "neither agree nor disagree."

Consequently, this is for entertainment purposes only.

You are a

Social Liberal
(71% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(88% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Turn Your Radio On?

Charlottesville radio listeners have been wondering, since the first of March, why WINA-AM dropped Sean Hannity, the nation's second-highest rated syndicated talk-show host, in favor of a local program hosted by the Sorenson Institute's Coy Barefoot.

According to Talkers Magazine, Hannity had more than 12.5 million cumulative weekly listeners during the last ratings period of 2005. He was exceeded only by Rush Limbaugh's 13.75 million listeners and was way ahead of Michael Savage (third at 8 million) and Dr. Laura (fourth at 7.75 million.) Neal Boortz, who tied for sixth on the list with 3.75 million listeners, remains a mainstay of WINA's morning programming, while Savage is on the nightly schedule.

Still, despite Hannity's nationwide popularity, it's likely he was not getting good ratings in Charlottesville. (I know I didn't listen to him, preferring the far more informative and entertaining "All Things Considered" on NPR affiliate WVTF-FM out of Roanoke.) The fact that, during the first few days of Coy Barefoot's "Charlottesville ... Right Now", there were close to zero calls from listeners, is a good indication that nobody was paying attention. (There surely would have been some carryover from Hannity's audience, who would take a while to turn their frequency knob after realizing the program had changed.)

That should not be discouraging -- yet. It takes some time to build up an audience and get them to interact with a new, relatively unknown host. But it still makes some sense to turn to local programming. And WINA is not alone.

Brian Wilson, a libertarian talk-show host who has worked in such markets as Atlanta, Baltimore, and San Francisco, writes about WBAL's decision to drop Rush Limbaugh on the Citizen Outreach blog:

... BAL’s move – the product of “extensive station research” (and an apparently hefty increase in the affiliate fee from Premier, Limbaugh’s syndicator) – pulled back the curtain on what many talk programmers across the country have been whispering: El Rushbo is losing it. According to Arbitron, which rates radio stations, Limbaugh’s audience share on WBAL “dropped 27 percent in the Fall 2005 ratings compared to Fall 2004”. In radio ratings, 27% is a BIG number. This doesn’t necessarily represent a trend. At some stations – including mine – Rush’s numbers remain fine. But a 27% erosion over a year is a sign of serious trouble. When it’s a nationally syndicated show, it’s gets programmers’ attention pronto.

In addition, WBAL’s own research told them their audience wanted a focus on local issues with local hosts.
What Wilson says about Limbaugh applies equally to Sean Hannity, whose format focuses on one topic each day and beats it into the ground, despite other interesting things that might be happening in the world. (Neal Boortz avoids this trap by switching from topic to topic during the course of his 3-hour show, although he does spend -- understandably so -- a lot of time talking about the Fair Tax (HR 25) and his book about it.)

Says Wilson:
Rush made his mark as an entertainer in what had been a ratings loser format. His show is rarely “entertaining” anymore. As a GOP/Bush ideologue and apologist, he no longer entertains with “Updates” and satirical songs. His show has devolved into a 3 hour rant against anything that isn’t “conservative”, “Republican” or “pro-Bush”. Some still think it’s the best it’s ever been. Others listen for lack of any suitable alternative. But when the Ratings “domino” falls, disaster follows. In today’s market, radio management will not stay with a ratings loser one nanosecond longer than contractually necessary.

“All politics is local” and so is Talk radio. Rush and his acolytes were fine for awhile. But after 20 years, the audience is way more savvy. It is human nature to be more concerned about what’s going on in your state than Washington, your town than your state, your neighborhood than your town. When a station can address your state, town and neighborhood’s issues just reasonably well – and still keep you posted on national and international issues – you will very likely listen there instead of listening (again and again and again) to how “right” Rush is on everything and how “you people” are so woefully uninformed.
WINA's decision to drop Hannity in favor of Barefoot is a logical step to take. As Wilson puts it:
Today’s Talk radio audience is demanding a lot more than it can get from the Rush or most any syndicated show. Listeners want to know what their City Council and Mayor are up to now. What’s that smoke in the sky over the Wal-Mart? Why did they cancel the Christmas parade? What about that teacher with that student that was on TV last night?
We are seeing a renovation of media. Limbaugh pioneered a change in how talk radio works in the late 1980s and early '90s. He (and his format) served a purpose, which was to upend the near-monopoly on broadcast information then held by the three major networks. As cable television became more ubiquitous, more sources of information became available. Then along came the internet -- and, with it most recently, blogging and podcasting. Localization to the point of idiosyncrasy is the wave of the future.

Until something else comes along.

UPDATE, 4:20 p.m.: Elected blogger Chad Dotson of Commonwealth Conservative will be a guest on Coy Barefoot's show today in the 5:00 o'clock hour.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yep, I'm a Mugwump

I've been called a lot of things in my life -- some of which are not fit to be printed in a family newspaper -- but Tuesday evening, for the first time ever, I was called a "mugwump."

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Tuesday, I attended a reception at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond co-hosted by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and the Heritage Foundation. The event was designed to promote a new book by Heritage's long-time president, Edwin Feulner, and Townhall.com's Doug Wilson entitled Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.

Dr. Feulner (once, like me, a Weaver Fellow) made some introductory comments about the book -- which was, of course, for sale and available for autographing by the author -- describing its purpose, its point of view, and its political and policy prescriptions.

This was part of a series of events Feulner has attended to promote the book. He said he has done at least 44 radio interviews and "six or seven" television interviews over the past month, and he has been traveling from state to state addressing small gatherings of conservatives (mostly Heritage Foundation supporters) who, like him, are asking the question: "Why aren't conservatives happy?"

"For conservatives who have been in charge of everything -- the White House and both houses of Congress -- for the past five years," he asked, "why are we disenchanted?" As a conservative, he said, he is worried about a number of issues, such as the "unfunded liability of the welfare state," "runaway federal spending" (including the prescription drug bill, which he described as the "largest new entitlement since LBJ, but one that was signed into law by a self-proclaimed conservative president"), and last year's highway bill with all its earmarks (including the infamous "bridge to nowhere").

Feulner expressed his concern that "too many of my fellow conservatives are becoming disillusioned" and his worry that they may "plan to sit out in November," when the midterm congressional elections take place.

The book he wrote with Wilson, Feulner said, is intended as an antidote. "Our message in the book," he said, "is that citizens must demand conservative policies from our legislators." He asserted that "people power still works" and "we can make a difference."

Feulner then went through the chapter headings of the book and explained how they provide the superstructure for a conservative governing philosophy. Chapter Two is called "Is it the government's business?," which nestles nicely into a question I try to ask every candidate for public office whom I meet: "What is it illegitimate for government to do?" (You'd be surprised -- or perhaps you wouldn't be -- by the number of candidates who are stumped by this question, saying "I've never thought about that.")

Chapter Three asks, "Does it promote self-reliance?" Feulner pointed out that since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated 25 years ago, the "dependency [on government] for the average American has gone up 112 percent" in key areas of food, shelter, and education.

Chapter Four asks, "Is it responsible?" and Feulner pulled out an obscure statistic from the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury to Congress" regarding "unreconciled transactions affecting change of net positions" in the amount of $24.5 billion. Feulner explained that this line item tells us that the government spent $24.5 billion but we don't know who received it, that it's money that is simply lost and unaccounted for.

The next question, asked in Chapter Five, is "Does it make us more prosperous?" Do we need a 9 million word tax code?, Feulner asked, and should we be giving farm subsidies to people like Ted Turner in order to make them not grow crops?

Chapter Six asks, "Does it make us safer?" To illustrate this, Feulner mentioned the millions of dollars wasted by the Pentagon each year in the form of unused, refundable airline tickets for which no refund was requested or demanded.

Finally, in Chapter Seven, Feulner and Wilson ask, "Does it unify us?" Noting that "bilingual education doesn't work," Feulner reported that "80% of Hispanic parents say it is more important for their children to learn American traditions and values and to learn English" than it is for them to learn about the traditions, values, and language of their ancestral homes.

Feulner was polite but unsparing in his criticism of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. Noting that President Bush had just endorsed the umpteenth introduction of a line-item veto amendment, Feulner pointed out that the President has threatened to veto bills 133 times during his administration, but has never made good on his threat. He said: "We hope President Bush will start using his veto pen, because sometimes Congress needs adult supervision from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue."

Calling himself a "congenital optimist" despite 42 years of working in Washington, Feulner urged his audience to "stay involved" and to "get your friends and neighbors involved." "The freedom we've inherited," he said, "is the most important thing we have."

Now, I'm sure you're wondering, "what's this 'mugwump' business?"

During the question-and-answer period, which followed an infomercial for the Heritage Foundation's President's Club fundraising scheme, I posed this question:

"What does 'conservative' mean today? There seems to be a lot of confusion," I said. "You've got people like Rod Dreher, who in his book Crunchy Cons takes left-liberal policies and recasts them as conservative values. You've got Senator Rick Santorum explicitly rejecting the Goldwater-Reagan legacy. And then there's the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, which, to quote P. J. O'Rourke, spends money like a drunken sailor, but I don't want to give drunken sailors a bad name."

It was interesting to watch Feulner's ballet of facial expressions as I asked the question. When I mentioned Rod Dreher, he smiled slightly and nodded his head; when I mentioned Rick Santorum, he scrunched up his nose and looked puzzled, like I was saying something he could not comprehend; and when I mentioned the Administration and Congress, he was perfectly expressionless.

His answer was fairly straightforward but didn't fully address my concerns. He said that conservatives share certain "precepts" such as "traditional American values" (an elastic concept if I've ever heard one), free enterprise, limited government, a strong defense ... we've heard that all before. Thoroughly non-controversial.

After the Q&A ended, however, as people rose from the chairs and rushed to the bar, a man turned to me and in a booming voice said: "You! Rick Santorum is the greatest senator Pennsylvania has ever had." He told me I had no right to insult him as I had. (Did I? I just reported Santorum's philosophy.) He suggested that I was one of those Republicans who "voted for the other guy" (Tim Kaine) rather than the party's candidate (Jerry Kilgore) because he was "less than perfect." "I hope you're not from Pennsylvania," he said, "because we don't need your kind there." Informed that I was originally from Wisconsin, he fumed: "That explains it! Wisconsin is such a liberal place. " (You'll soon see why this is relevant.) He was loud and trying to be insulting, obviously angered at what -- for me -- was an off-hand remark. I tried to defuse the situation by thanking him "for being so civil" with me, but he would not be deterred. "You, sir," he exclaimed, "are a mugwump!" That's when I repaired to the bar, because the poor man was embarrassing himself and discomfiting me.

This verbal assault came from James E. Hinish, Jr., a former Capitol Hill staffer who now teaches at Pat Robertson's Regent University. It turns out that Mr. Hinish is something of a mugwump himself, if he meant what I think he meant.

My suspicion is that he was using the term in the sense in which it originated. As explained by "World Wide Words":

[Mugwump] hit the big time in 1884, during the presidential election that set Grover Cleveland against the Republican James G Blaine. Some Republicans refused to support Blaine, changed sides, and the New York Sun labelled them little mugwumps. Almost overnight, the sense of the word changed to turncoat. Later, it came to mean a politician who either could not or would not make up his mind on some important issue, or who refused to take a stand when expected to do so. Hence the old joke that a mugwump is a person sitting on the fence, with his mug on one side and his wump on the other.
I think the reason I've never before been called a "mugwump" is because anyone who knows me, as a writer or as a political activist, knows that I am consistent in my principles and views on public policy. Only someone unfamiliar with my work could think I was a practitioner of mugwumpery.

As for Mr. Hinish, he's edged into the mugwump swamps himself. According to the minutes of the York County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors of November 18, 1998:
Mr. James E. Hinish, Jr., President of the Williamsburg Area Civic and Cultural Center, Inc., made a short presentation to the Board requesting that the County provide a matching grant to the Center in the amount of $5,000 for the purpose of hiring a professional consulting firm to determine the feasibility of a fine arts civic center in the Historic Triangle area. These funds would match each of the $5,000 sums already granted by the State, the City of Williamsburg, and James City County. He stated if the proposal is found to be viable, the Center will then put together a financial plan for construction and support of such a civic center. Mr. Hinish then reviewed the types of functions planned for the center.

Mr. Zaremba asked if there was a potential conflict between Christopher Newport University's proposal and that of the WA3C in terms of mission or draw of people.

Mr. Hinish indicated both organizations are trying to raise money for the arts, and the WA3C wishes CNU well on its major undertaking. The proposal by the WA3C is major, but it is for a more limited purpose in that it is only trying to meet the demands of the current residents. He stated the WA3C facility will primarily be used for the arts and not for educational purposes.
Imagine that -- a self-proclaimed conservative going to the government, hat in hand, to ask that taxpayers' hard-earned money should be taken from them to subsidize a private endeavor he favors! Is that the hallmark of a mugwump?

But wait, there's more.

In a speech at a Philadelphia Society meeting shortly after the 1996 election, Mr. Hinish -- who in his comments to me suggested that Republicans should support Republican candidates, regardless of those candidates' shortcomings in terms of philosophy or policy achievements -- criticized that year's Republican presidential candidate, former Senator Bob Dole:
... in our hearts, we Conservatives knew Dole was not Right. Yet he managed to sow up the nomination early without active conservative support­­­or should I say, he won with lukewarm conservative approval. The truth is: Conservatives did nothing to stop Dole when they could and should have. So why didn't they?

I must add that I spent over 20 years on Capitol Hill as counsel to ten different conservative Members of Congress. During that time I worked alongside Senator Dole and his staff. And I can say without reservation that if Dole ever was a solid conservative, I saw him only as a master wheeler­dealer, a compromiser, and a cynic with a sharp sense of humor. To me, Dole was the epitome of the Washington Insider. With all due respect for his talents as leader and legislator, I firmly believe Bob Dole had stayed in Washington too long­­­he had become part of the problem.

Age was not Dole's defect. He was simply the wrong candidate for the party of Reagan -- ­­­especially when pitted against the slickest politician of our time. Dole had no vision for America, and he could not articulate clearly or forcefully a consistent conservative message. According to the Pew Research Center, Dole was "one of the least appealing major party candidates in almost four decades." How could Bob Dole, known as "the tax collector for the welfare state", convince voters, who were already disillusioned after two presidents had raised taxes after promising not to, that he intended to cut their taxes by 15 percent while balancing the budget? He couldn't. So he wandered from one campaign theme to another, never convincing, always confusing the voters, until at last, when it was too late, he settled upon the glaring character defects of the incumbent. That, at least, caused voters to think twice and the election to tighten somewhat at the end.
I, the mugwump, agree with every word. (Really, who could disagree?) My mild, implied criticism of Senator Santorum was nothing compared to Mr. Hinish's dressing-down of Senator Dole.

But wait, there's more.

Remember Mr. Hinish's unkind comment about Wisconsin as being the liberal hotbed, which explained my mugwump DNA? Here's what he told the Philadelphia Society in that same speech on November 24, 1996:
In case you wonder, my own candidate for the presidency was Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin. (Michigan's Governor Engler had become a father of triplets and had his hands too full to run.) Thompson has been a pioneer on welfare reform; his efforts to voucherize Wisconsin's education system are commendable; he has downsized state government and reduced government regulation. He has a proven record of success as a popular conservative governor in a liberal state. Tommy Thompson deserved serious consideration for the Republican nomination, in my opinion­­­and still does, for that matter. So, in the spring of 1995 I invited the governor to speak in Williamsburg to test his skills before a partisan audience of curious local activists­­­and he wowed them! No, Tommy Thompson is no Ronald Reagan, but he delivers the same upbeat, positive, pro­family message that made Reagan so popular and so successful a candidate. Moreover, Thompson is a blue­collar conservative, someone who relates to average voters­­­something the Republican Party desperately needs!

Needless to say, I was disappointed when Governor Thompson called to tell me that he had decided to get out of the race before he ever got in. Knowing he was interested in the nomination, I asked him why. First, he explained he could not raise overnight the tremendous sums of money it would take to get through all those primaries; he would have had to start running four years earlier, which would have prevented him from being an effective governor. Second, he said he received no encouragement whatever from conservative leaders. That disturbing news confirmed my suspicions.
If "liberal" Wisconsin (birthplace of the Republican Party) spawns mugwumps, shouldn't Tommy Thompson have mugwump blood running in his veins? After all, his brother, Ed Thompson, was elected Mayor of Tomah and ran for governor of Wisconsin as -- gasp! -- a Libertarian. Surely mugwump germs are found, like cryptosporidium, in the glacial water we Wisconsinites drink from birth.

After the dust settled, I bought a copy of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today and took it to Dr. Feulner to ask him to sign it. We made some small talk -- I mentioned that I had recently had lunch with Ernest Lefever, he replied that he had seen Dr. Lefever's commentary piece in Sunday's Washington Times -- and he wrote on the title page of my book:
For Rick,

Friend and colleague in the battle to Get America Right!

Ed Feulner

March 2006
To paraphrase Ellen DeGeneres: Yep, I'm a mugwump.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Gay Sex in the '70s"

I bet that headline caught your eye, didn't it?

Last week, I went to see the documentary Gay Sex in the '70s with three friends too young to remember the era (aged 20, 26, and 35). Aside from my friends, I think I may have been the youngest person in the audience (at 46) -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

The movie is misnamed. It should be "Gay Sex in New York in the '70s." There is no acknowledgement of gay life in the 1970s outside of New York City and Fire Island. Not Los Angeles, not San Francisco, not Washington, not Chicago -- not even Milwaukee, which during that decade (according to a Time magazine article I remember reading in 1979 or 1980) was the home of more gay bars per capita than any other American city. (Of course, Milwaukee, being Milwaukee, has more bars per capita than any other American city!) My point is, Gay Sex in the '70s has a very insular point of view.

As a documentary, the film leaves a lot to be desired. There's little context of what was going on in the outside world in terms of politics and culture -- but that's of a piece with its navel-gazing attitude.

To be sure, some of the people interviewed (I only recognized the names Tom Bianchi, Larry Kramer, and Lawrence D. Mass, M.D. -- the rest were unknown to me) had amusing, poignant, and interesting stories to tell. A number of them showed their memorabilia on camera, such as the first "lambda" button produced by the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in 1970. Another had a robe from the St. Mark's Baths, which did not fit him quite as well now as it did 30 years ago.

Contrary to my normal preference for big screens and dark auditoriums, I suspect that Gay Sex in the '70s will look better on TV than on the big cinema screen. A lot of the archival footage is irritatingly grainy (I think some of it was blown up from 8-mm and may even be copies of copies of copies) and blurry, not intentionally.

And so much was missed. We learned, for instance -- not that it was news to anyone -- that Bette Midler performed, early in her career, at the St. Marks Baths. A still photo of the Divine Miss M is projected on screen. Would it have been impossible to interview her about that stage of her life? Is she so inaccessible -- and I don't believe she is -- that director Joseph Lovett couldn't pose a few questions to her on camera? This would have made the film so much more interesting to a broad audience. (And wasn't Barry Manilow her accompanist in those days? Wouldn't that make a great interview!)

At the end of the movie, my friends and I all posed the same question, for which we had no answer: Why did virtually every gay man in the '70s have a mustache?

Near the end of the credits, which rolled over 21st-century gay youths giving their impressions of the 1970s, one of the young men made a similar point -- crinkling his nose and sticking out his tongue in disgust, he exclaimed "Ewww! Everyone had facial hair!" drawing boos and cackles from the audience, which puzzled us even more. That is, until the lights went up, and it became apparent that some 90 percent of the rest of the audience had facial hair.

Gay Sex in the 70s may be a terrifically enjoyable nostalgia trip for those who were there. (Of course, what is said of the 1960s may be even more true of the 1970s: If you remember them, you weren't there.)

As for the rest of us, this film is not nearly as informative and educational as it might have been. There is a good documentary about gay sex in the 1970s to be made -- but Gay Sex in the 70s is not it.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

I'm glad I didn't make any wagers on the Academy Awards this year. I predicted correctly in only 14 out of 24 categories presented on the live broadcast Sunday night.

I missed three out of the four acting categories and both short-subject (live action and animated) categories, as well as some of the "technical" categories.

I did, however, go against conventional wisdom in predicting Crash would win as Best Picture. I have to confess I have not seen Crash -- it played in theatres so long ago, and did not last there for very long -- but I had heard good things about it as early as October 2004, when Richard Herskowitz praised it at a Virginia Film Festival news conference featuring Sandra Bullock, one of the film's ensemble stars.

As I predicted, Memoirs of a Geisha got the visual design awards (except for Narnia's make-up statuette -- which I also predicted), while King Kong got the sound and visual effects awards. I was surprised by Geisha's win for cinematography. (I loved the black-and-white sculpturing of Good Night, and Good Luck, but thought Brokeback Mountain's lush Rocky vistas would win the day.)

My reasoning in predicting Crash, rather than the buzzworthy Brokeback Mountain, boiled down to a simple fact: Crash is about Los Angeles, and most Academy voters live in Los Angeles. Crash is about the voters' lives, and the lives of their neighbors. Brokeback is about an exotic location, Wyoming, that is too far removed from the the lives of Academy voters to render it relevant to them.

It is, of course, unusual for the directing award to go to a picture other than the one that wins Best Picture, but I also correctly predicted that Ang Lee would win for Brokeback Mountain. Call me psychic.

Now I just have to hope that winning three Academy Awards is enough to push Crash back into the theatres. As more than one speaker during the ceremony reminded us, movies are meant to be seen in a darkened room, with a big screen and a crowd of strangers. As AMPAS President Sid Ganis put it, no actor ever finished filming a scene by saying, "That's going to look great on the DVD."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Schilling Nominated for City Council

In a brief but enthusiastic meeting of Charlottesville Republicans in the District Court building on Sunday, incumbent City Councilor Rob Schilling was nominated to run for a second term. Schilling was first elected in May 2002 in an upset victory that came 16 years after the last GOP member of City Council left office. He announced his intention to seek re-election on February 21.

Schilling's name was put into nomination by John Pfaltz, who himself was a candidate for City Council in 2000. Seconding the nomination was attorney Charles "Buddy" Weber, who heads up the Charlottesville Taxpayers' Association.

Both Pfaltz and Weber emphasized Schilling's achievements in office, notably his leading a multi-partisan effort to replace Charlottesville's appointed School Board -- a legacy of Jim Crow -- with one elected by the people. Charlottesville voters responded with a irrefutable "yes" vote in a referendum last year, despite uniform opposition by the city's political elites, including all four Democratic members of City Council.

Pfaltz and Weber also emphasized Schilling's leadership in bringing common-sense analysis and scrutiny to the city's budget process, noting that until he took office in 2002, City Council had voted to raise taxes for 20 straight years, but since Schilling added a voice of sanity to the process, the property tax rate has been cut by a cumulative 8 cents per $100 of assessed property value. (Because of rising assessments, taxes have continued to rise.) Weber pointed out that in the past ten years, taxes have gone up while the city accumulated surpluses totalling $40 million over that same decade.

In accepting the nomination, Schilling offered thanks for those who had helped him over the past four years, and also laid out a vision for the future. A podcast of the full meeting -- with nomination speeches, parliamentary procedure, and Schilling's acceptance speech -- can be found at the Charlottesville Tomorrow Weblog. Here is the text version of Councilor Schilling's remarks:

Good afternoon, friends and supporters.

I’d like to thank you all for being here this afternoon to support my nomination for re-election to the Charlottesville City Council.

I’d like to thank John Pfaltz and Buddy Weber for their kind and astute remarks. And I look forward to working with Buddy Weber as the new Charlottesville Republican Chair, as Bob Hodous transitions from his current position into a new role.

I’d like to thank Bob Hodous for his guidance and for his steady hand at the helm over the past four years. Bob has righted the boat and put us back on course, and I am grateful for all he’s done and for the dignity with which he’s served.

Most importantly, I thank my wife, Joan, without whose support and sacrifice I could not be standing before you today. Many of you don’t know this, but in my first year of service, and throughout her pregnancy with Gabriel, Joan attended nearly every City Council meeting, and stayed until the bitter end, often after midnight, just to support me.

Four years ago, I received the honor of your nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for Charlottesville City Council. As your nominee, I promised you:

That if elected, I would serve as a voice for the people of this community, and not as an agent of the elites.

That if elected, I would bring common sense leadership to Charlottesville’s City Council, shunning the frivolous and focusing on the issues that are most important to citizens.

That if elected, I would work for an inclusive government and an inclusive government process: one that serves the public, not the powerful few.

The promises I made then, were promises I have kept.

Over the past four years:

The people of Charlottesville have known they have a friend on City Council—someone who will respectfully listen to all concerns and all points of view. As your city councilor for the next four years, I will continue to treat all constituents with the respect they deserve and, to be your citizen advocate—your voice and your ears inside city hall.

The people of Charlottesville know that I trust them with the power of self-determination. I did not stick my head in the sand, but rather, I stuck my neck out, when the citizens of this community demanded a direct voice in educational policy. While other elected officials abstained from the debate, and refused to take a definitive stand on what was one of the most important decisions in the city’s history, I led a bipartisan coalition of Charlottesville citizens to victory when the Elected School Board referendum was passed last fall by nearly 75% of the voters.

As Charlottesville moves into its future with an elected school board, there is a need for experienced and committed leadership to manage the transition. My continued presence on City Council for the next four years provides genuine support and trusted guidance throughout this transition.

The people of Charlottesville know that I will act diligently and responsibly in my duties, and they trust me to put ethics above personal gain. I’m the only councilor who has attended all of the regularly scheduled City Council meetings held since I was elected in 2002. During this time, I have cast hundreds of votes. And when there has been a personal conflict of interest for me, unlike other elected officials, I have thoughtfully, ethically, and rightly abstained from that vote. As your Councilor for the next four years I will continue to hold myself to the highest standards and will carefully consider every vote you have entrusted to me.

The people of Charlottesville know that I am the only councilor who can be counted on to reliably advocate for fiscal discipline in city hall. Affordable housing is a problem in the city but it is part of the larger problem of affordable living in Charlottesville. I understand that the high cost of city living is directly related to the high cost of city government. Council can and must do better to alleviate the escalating financial burdens placed on the backs of renters and homeowners alike.

By speaking forcefully against “business as usual” budgeting, a city council, which had shown no inclination otherwise, has been pressed into reducing the property tax rate by a cumulative 8 cents during my first term on council. That amount of property tax rate reductions had not been seen in the previous twenty years, and is no coincidence to my 2002 election.

As your Councilor for the next four years, I will continue to advocate for ways to reduce the city’s dependence on real estate tax revenues, to pursue consolidation and cooperative service agreements to reduce costs, and to work for equitable and efficient budget process reform. The people of Charlottesville deserve better services for less money, rather than the fewer services for more money that have been offered to this community over the past many years.

The people of Charlottesville know:

That I have demanded accountability for the uneven performance of our educational system and I will work to erase the unconscionable achievement gap that has existed in our schools for too long. All of our students deserve the benefits of a “world class” education. We must work together to harness resources, such as those found in our own backyard at the Curry School of Education, so that this vision will become a reality.

The people know that I have supported our public safety employees, and especially our understaffed and overburdened police department, and I will continue to advocate for making public safety a top budget priority

The people know that I have pressed for policies to increase traffic flow, reduce gridlock in and around the city, and create more efficient public transit options, and I will continue to pursue regional solutions to our growing traffic problems

The people know that I have fought hard to broaden representation on City Council and on the School Board, to include those who have not traditionally been given a seat at the table, and I will continue to work for electoral reform that is inclusive and that truly empowers the public. Public service should not be the privilege of an exclusive few as it has been in Charlottesville for too many years.

The people know that I have asked hard questions—about budgets, about projects, about people—wherever and whenever appropriate, in order to get a straight answer, and I will continue to demand clear and direct answers to clear and direct questions asked on my own behalf, and especially on the behalf of citizens. The public deserves responsive and transparent government.

The people know that working together with all of the citizens of this community, we have shaped Charlottesville, for the better, by challenging the powers that be, by changing the way we’ve “always done things,” by speaking out for the unheard, and by shining a light into the often dark recesses of city hall.

I thank you again for the confidence you place in me as I seek re-election to the Charlottesville City Council. I am humbled by the many, many Democrats, Independents, and Republicans across this community who have urged me to seek a second term. I welcome the opportunity to again be your trusted public servant—your city Councilor—and I ask for your vote on May 2nd.
WCAV-TV has its report on the Schilling nomination here and WINA's Chris Callahan has a report here. Channel 29, the Charlottesville NBC affiliate, did not cover the nomination event, although it did report the nomination of Schilling's opponents, Democrats Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro, yesterday. Independent candidates have until close of business on Tuesday, May 7, to turn in the petition signatures of 125 registered voters to qualify to be on the ballot. (School Board candidates, who will be running in a non-partisan election, face the same deadline and same petition requirements.)

Update: Liesel Nowak has this report in the Daily Progress.

Friday, March 03, 2006

My Oscar Picks for 2006

I'm off to the Virginia Electoral Board Association (VEBA) annual meeting this weekend, and I may not have an opportunity to blog while I'm there. So I want to make sure I post my Academy Award picks before the ceremony on Sunday.

In the interest of saving time and bandwidth, I'll forego explaining my choices. (I'll admit, in some cases, I am being gratuitously provocative and mischievous -- I won't say in which cases.) I don't win anything if I'm correct; this is just for fun; no wagering, please.

One point about the Academy Awards that a lot of commentators seem to miss: You'll see a lot of criticism that Hollywood is out of touch with America, since the top nominated films haven't earned a lot of money, which translates into a lot of people filling the seats to watch them. (GayPatriot, for instance, as paraphrased by James Taranto on "Best of the Web," notes that Brokeback Mountain "had grossed a mere $67.8 million domestically, less than a quarter of the $285.3 million for The Chronicles of Narnia.”)

Isn't this beside the point? The Oscars are supposed to reward artistic merit and technical achievement in film. They are not a popularity contest. For a popularity contest, we have the People's Choice Awards. The People's Choice Awards are to the Oscars what the homecoming queen is to the valedictorian.

Kathy Bates, tonight's guest on"The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson" agrees: "The Academy Awards are about quality in the art of filmmaking," she says, not about the blockbusters that make the most money. (Craig Ferguson, by the way, is the smartest and wittiest of the late-night chat show hosts. He deserves a far wider audience, if only for his well-crafted, practically cerebral opening monologues.)

So, having got that off my chest, here are my Oscar picks for 2006. Comments, criticisms, and catcalls are all welcome.

Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Should win: David Straitharn, Good Night, and Good Luck

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Should win: Matt Dillon, Crash

Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Should win: Felicity Huffman, Transamerica

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Amy Adams, Junebug

Animated Feature
Will win: Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Should win: Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Art Direction
Will win: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should win: Good Night, and Good Luck

Will win: Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Good Night, and Good Luck

Costume Design
Will win: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should win: Mrs. Henderson Presents

Will win: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Should win: George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck

Documentary Feature
Will win: March of the Penguins
Should win: Murderball

Documentary Short Subject
Will win: God Sleeps in Rwanda
Should win: The Mushroom Club

Film Editing
Will win: Cinderella Man
Should win: Cinderella Man

Foreign Language Film
Will win: Tsotsi (South Africa)
Should win: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Germany)

Will win: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Should win: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Music (Score)
Will win: Brokeback Mountain
Should win: The Constant Gardener

Music (Song)
Will win: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle and Flow
Should win: "Travelin' Thru," from Transamerica

Best Picture
Will win: Crash
Should win: Good Night, and Good Luck

Short Film (Animated)
Will win: Badgered
Should win: 9

Short Film (Live Action)
Will win: Our Time Is Up
Should win: Six Shooter

Sound Editing
Will win: King Kong
Should win: War of the Worlds

Sound Mixing
Will win: Walk the Line
Should win: Walk the Line

Visual Effects
Will win: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Should win: King Kong

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Will win: Brokeback Mountain
Should win: Capote

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Will win: Crash
Should win: The Squid and the Whale

We'll see how accurate these predictions turn out to be next Sunday night. Jon Stewart, it's your cue!