Friday, November 30, 2007

Cooking with Larry Craig

I learned about this recipe from an article by Dan Catalano in C-VILLE Weekly, a local arts and entertainment (and news and politics) tabloid published in Charlottesville.

The article includes a link to the "Congress Cooks" web site, which features something called the "Super Tuber" from Idaho Senator Larry Craig. (I have added emphasis with bold italics.):

1 hot dog, cook's choice
1 Idaho baking potato, 7 to 10 ounces
Mustard for dipping, any style
Other condiments as desired such as cheese sauce, sour cream, chili, chives, bacon pieces or black olives.

Wash and dry potato. Rub with shortening or butter. With an apple corer or small knife, core out the potato center (end to end). Push hot dog through the center. Bake until potato is cooked through.

To Microwave: Place on microwave safe plate; cover loosely (to avoid splatters). Microwave on high about 4 minutes per potato until fork tender.

To Bake in Conventional Oven: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for approximately one hour or until potato is fork tender.

To Barbecue: Wrap in aluminum foil and place above medium hot coals, turning at least once during cooking. Cook until potato is fork tender.

Serving Suggestions: Allow potato to cool slightly. Eat as a finger food, dipping in your favorite hot dog condiments (mustard is my favorite).

When Senator Craig eventually leaves Congress, at least he has the potential for another career -- as the Ironic Chef.

Ron Paul and America's Youth

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University has a Washington program that serves as a sort of training bureau for young political correspondents.

One of those correspondents, Alex Sherman, filed a story yesterday about young people who support Congressman Ron Paul for the Republican presidential nomination. Sherman writes:

So why is Ron Paul, R-Texas, a hit with young voters?

"That's the question," says 29-year-old Moshe Starkman. He is running for Congress in Maryland as a Republican who espouses Paul’s libertarian values. “It’s striking particularly with kids who historically have no interest in politics. They seem to be invigorated.”

Starkman and 25-year-old Aaron Biterman, who created a Facebook group supporting Paul that now has more than 47,000 members, credit Paul’s ideological consistency and his contrarian political views for his popularity among college-age voters.

“I think that our generation, the younger generation, is sort of a rebellious group,” Biterman says. “For some, their entire adult lives have consisted of George W. Bush in office. They want something different.”

Sherman's report, which also includes a video component that complements his text, quotes one Washington-area college student who compares Dr. Paul to an icon of American cinema:
“All people need to do is hear the message,” says 20-year-old campaign volunteer Jay Bui. “I think there’s going to be a real movement, and this is just the beginning of it.

“Ron Paul is the Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith, of our generation.”

Ron Paul puts the "trans" in transgenerational.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Held in Low Esteem

For the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-California) has a remarkably low opinion of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military.

During the CNN/YouTube-sponsored Republican presidential candidates' debate in Florida Wednesday night, Hunter was asked by a retired Army general whether he believes "American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians." The point of Hunter's long-winded answer was essentially "yes, they are not professional enough."

Here is Hunter's full response:

General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.

The reason for that, even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives.

They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them. I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion.
Substitute "Negroes" for "homosexuals" in Hunter's statement and you have a near-duplicate of the argument used against desegregation of the military during the Truman administration.

At that time, Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall wrote to Clark Clifford (then an advisor to President Truman, later Secretary of Defense under Lyndon Johnson), attaching a copy of testimony about the Army's "Negro problem," about which he explained to Clifford:
I am trying to give it no large circulation as it would be unwise to have it get to the press...
(Apparently, even in the 1940s, politicians knew that it would reflect badly on them to announce they favored policies based on bigotry.)

A portion of Royall's testimony about Negroes in the military in the 1940s (culled by Average Gay Joe at GayPatriot, who deserves a hat tip) has an uncanny resemblance to what politicians like Duncan Hunter have to say about gays in the military today:
At the outset I want to make it clear that in my opinion the policies which should be applied to the use of all Army personnel, regardless of race, are those policies which best promote a sound national defense. Our basic mission is to win battles and to establish an organization capable of winning battles.

Specifically the Army is not an instrument for social evolution. It is not the Army’s job either to favor or to impede the social doctrines, no matter how progressive they may be – it is not for us to lead or to lag behind the civilian procession except to the extent that the national defense is affected…

Another – and an important – factor to be considered on the question of segregation is the morale of the troops as a whole – their satisfaction with Army life, and the spirit with which they perform Army tasks. In war, when the chips are down, this morale factor may well be the difference between victory and defeat.

We must remember that soldiers are not mere bodies that can be moved and handled as trucks and guns. They are individuals who came from civilian life and often return thereto. They are subject to all the emotions, prejudices, ideals, ambitions and inhibitions that encumber our civil population throughout the country.

Solders live and work closely together. They are not only on the same drill field also in the same living and eating quarters. From the standpoint both of morale and of efficiency it is important in peace and in war that the barracks and the unit areas be so attractive to them that they will devote not only their duty time but a reasonable part of their optional time at the post – that they will not be watching the clock for a chance to get away.

In war it is even more important that they have confidence both in their leaders and in the men that are to fight by their sides. Effective comradeship in battle calls for a warm and close personal relationship within a unit…

In this connection we must remember that a large part of the volunteers in the Army are Southerners – usually a larger proportion than from any other part of the country. Whether properly or not, it is a well known fact that close personal association with Negroes is distasteful to large percentage of Southern whites.

A total abandonment of – or a substantial and sudden change in – the Army’s partial segregation policy would in my opinion adversely affect enlistments and reenlistments not only in the South but in many other parts of the country, probably making peacetime selective service necessary. And a change in our policy would adversely affect the morale of many Southern soldiers and other soldiers now serving…

[I]n my opinion – and I believe in the opinion of a great majority of the experienced Army men and officers – it would be most difficult – and unwise from the standpoint of national defense – to require any substantial proportion of white soldiers – whether from the South or from other sections of the country – to serve under Negro officers or particularly under Negro non-commissioned officers.
It's almost like Duncan Hunter does the same sort of "research" for his speeches that Joe Biden did during his 1988 presidential campaign.

While Hunter did not directly respond to the question posed to him, it is clear from his overall remarks that he thinks most men and women in the military are inbred yahoos who lack the capacity to live and work with people who might be different from them -- people who have different backgrounds or different values, different experiences and different aspirations.

Yet Hunter severely underestimates the capability of the average soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine to be tolerant of differences and to look beyond the surface, creating cohesion even within diversity. (What's that slogan? "E pluribus unum"?) Our men and women in uniform are far better people than Hunter thinks they are.

Zogby International conducted a poll of U.S. troops who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, which was released in December 2006. Among its findings:
Three-quarters of those surveyed stated that they felt comfortable around gays and lesbians and four-in-five (78%) noted that they would join the military regardless of their open inclusion. Additionally, a majority (52%) reports having received some form of anti-gay harassment training, with Air Force personnel representing the highest level of training (62%) and the Marine Corps the lowest (34%)....

Of those who were certain that a member of their unit was gay or lesbian, two thirds did not believe that their presence created an impact on either their personal morale (66%) or the morale of their unit (64%). Approximately one-quarter of that group believed there to be a negative impact to both.

In contrast, of those who do not suspect the presence of gays or lesbians within their unit, only half (49%) perceive no impact on personal morale, and only less than one third (26%) feel there would be no impact on their unit’s morale. Regarding their unit’s morale, a majority of this group (58%) believes if there were gays or lesbians within their unit, there would be a negative impact.
Put another way, those soldiers who know someone gay also know there is no deleterious effect on morale or unit cohesion. Those who think they do not know someone gay think otherwise.

That is the price of ignorance.

In a separate answer to the same question, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said during the St. Petersburg debate that he thinks the current "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy "seems to have worked." (Of course, Romney earlier opposed DADT, but he is such a weasel that it is impossible to know if what he says has any relationship to what he thinks -- or if he thinks at all.)

Has DADT worked? Has it worked for the thousands of men and women who were expelled from the military, having their careers disrupted? Has it worked for the taxpayers, who paid to train these men and women, only to lose their services? Has it worked for the highly-valued, scarce translators of languages like Arabic, Farsi, and Korean, who were forced to leave the armed forces simply because they were gay?

Those questions answer themselves.

I understand that Duncan Hunter is the only active GOP presidential candidate who will appear in person at the Straw Poll being held at the Republican Party of Virginia Advance this weekend in Arlington. I hope that someone there has an opportunity to ask him why he thinks American soldiers are such boobs.

Members of our armed forces deserve much more respect than what Congressman Hunter seems willing to accord them. He should be ashamed of himself.

That Independent Question

To the chagrin of those small-l and big-L libertarians who hold out hope that Dr. Ron Paul might bolt the Republican Party and run for president as an independent (or third-party) candidate next year, here is the definitive answer, from "Dr. No" himself during Wednesday's CNN/YouTube debate:

COOPER: Let's go to the next question -- it's for Ron Paul.

MARK STRAUSS: Mark Strauss, Davenport, Iowa.

This question is for Ron Paul.

Mr. Paul, I think we both know that the Republican party is never going to give you the nomination. But I'm hoping that you're crazy like a fox like that and you're using this exposure to propel yourself into an independent run.

My question is for Ron Paul: Mr. Paul, are you going to let America down by not running as an independent?

Thank you.

PAUL: Now that's what I call a tough question, because I have no intention of doing this.

I am a Republican. I have won 10 times as a Republican and we're doing quite well. We had 5,000 people show up at a rally in front of the Independence Hall with blacks and Hispanics and a cross-section of this country.

You know that we raised $4.3 million in one day?


Without spending one cent. We didn't even pay an individual to go out and they weren't professional fund-raisers. It came in here -- it was automatic.

We're struggling to figure out how to spend the money. This is country is in a revolution. They're sick and tired of what they're getting. And I happen to be lucky enough to be part of it.

COOPER: I'll take that as a no.

Ron Paul looked terrific while answering that question: composed, happy, and confident. He showed presidential bearing as well as the light touch inherent in someone asked a softball question toward the end of a grueling debate under the klieg lights.

A Freudian Slip?

I know I am not the only person who heard this, but it does not show up in the official transcript of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, sponsored by CNN and YouTube.

During an exchange with Congressman Ron Paul, a rather agitated Senator John McCain said this, according to the transcript, in response to Dr. Paul's statement that "it's time for us to take care of America first":

McCain: Well, let me remind you, Congressman, we never lost a battle in Vietnam. It was American public opinion that forced us to lost that conflict.
What I heard -- and I rewound the recording on the DVR to confirm it, and played it for a friend who was watching the debate with me -- was this:
Well, let me remind you, Congressween, er Congressman, we never lost a battle in Vietnam. It was American public opinion that forced us to lost that conflict.
Surely after more than two decades on Capitol Hill, Senator McCain has heard the word "Congressweenies" (probably in letters from his constituents). Was this term of opprobrium what he had in mind (subconsciously, of course) when he began to address his rival?

Readers: Did you hear the same thing I did?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

About That 'Loyalty Oath'

There have been mumblings and murmurings about a Republican "loyalty oath" that will be part of the process of voting in the February 12, 2008, presidential primary in Virginia. According to news reports (AP via Washington Post):

Voters in Virginia's Feb. 12 Republican presidential primary will have to sign an oath swearing loyalty to the eventual GOP ticket. But there is no way to enforce it, because a voter's actions in a booth are secret.

The State Board of Elections has approved a state Republican Party request that all who apply for a GOP primary ballot vow in writing to vote for the Republican presidential nominee next fall.

Voters in Virginia do not register by party. Since the mid-1990s, the state's Republicans have fretted that Democrats might meddle in their primaries, which are open to all registered voters.

The term "loyalty oath" elicits all sorts of bad memories of the Truman administration and Joseph McCarthy, the Smith Act and sedition trials. What the Republican Party of Virginia is asking for is far different, however.

As one of my correspondents explains,
It's a statement of intent, that at the moment you participate in the Republican nomination method, it is your intent to support the Republican nominee.
The actual language of the "oath" is fairly simple, and it is similar to statements routinely required of participants in intraparty elections (such as, for instance, mass meetings to select a unit committee chairman):
I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for President.
That means that, if the Republican Party ends up nominating Hillary Clinton or John Edwards for President on a "national unity" ticket (dream on, Sam Waterston), the voter can choose to withhold his or her support for that candidate on Election Day in November, despite the pledge proffered on February 12.

What bothers me about the "oath" is its lack of necessity.

The ostensible reason for requiring this pledge is a fear that Democrats will cross over and vote in the Republican primary, interfering in the integrity of the candidate selection process and violating the Republican party's freedom to define itself and its right of association.

I am all for organizations choosing to define themselves and choosing whom can participate in their activities. (I was part of a gay organization that sided with the Boy Scouts in their litigation to preserve their right to exclude openly gay scoutmasters and other employees from their ranks, for instance. We argued that a Supreme Court decision to deny the Boy Scouts their freedom of association would ultimately harm gay and lesbian organizations that wish to retain their own membership standards and preserve the integrity of their vision through exclusionary policies.)

The practical problem here, however, is that, on February 12, there will also be a Democratic presidential primary in Virginia. That is, we will have a "dual primary" in Virginia.

Why would Democrats, however mischievous, decide to vote in the Republican primary and forgo the opportunity to vote in their own party's primary on the same day?

Is it really likely that a supporter of Dennis Kucinich, for instance, will give up his chance to vote for the diminutive Ohio congressman and instead vote for, say, Tom Tancredo?

On primary election day, voters arriving at their polling place will request either a Democratic or a Republican ballot. Election officials will be instructed to ask Republican voters to sign the pledge but not to perform the same procedure for Democratic voters. This may cause confusion among voters and, sadly, among some election officials, too. (I am confident that Charlottesville election officials will be able to bear this burden professionally and competently.)

All this might be moot by February 5, of course, since that "super Tuesday" is likely to deliver the presidential nominees of both parties, and few voters will care enough to go to the polls a week later.

For the record, here are documents from the Republican Party of Virginia that were delivered to the State Board of Elections, requesting that the SBE implement the RPV rule on primary election day:

Let me offer an alternative "oath" for voters on primary day.

Instead of pledging loyalty to a party or ticket, how about pledging something like this: "I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support only those candidates who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States"?

That way, the vast majority of primary voters will be able to stay home on Election Day in November.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nostalgia and the Writers' Strike

The film and television industry's writers' strike must really be taking its toll on producers and programmers.

This evening's Tonight Show with Jay Leno was not, as one would expect, a recent rerun. Rather, it turned out to be a repeat from an episode of June 29, 1992. The featured guests were Tom Hanks, promoting his "new" movie, A League of Their Own; Brian Ross of NBC News (long before he broke the Mark Foley story for ABC News -- any word on whether Ross is digging up anything on Trent Lott's sudden resignation?); and musician Delbert McClinton. The Tonight Show's band was still conducted by Branford Marsalis in those early days.

Because the show is more than 15 years old -- and looks it -- it is rather jarring to hear monologue jokes about "President Bush." And not a word about a randy (former) president who questions what the meaning of "is" is.

It is interesting to see how the show has developed over the years. Leno is clearly more comfortable in his role now than he was then. This is demonstrated best by the "Headlines" segment, which is much smoother today than it was in the summer of '92, even though Jay had been performing it for some time before that. The set looks clunky; it does not seem that different from the set Johnny Carson presided over in the 1970s. And, at this point, Jay had not yet developed the confidence to go out into the audience to shake hands and greet people at the top of the show.

Why this particular artifact was chosen to be aired tonight, out of the hundreds of shows produced over the past 15 years, I don't know. Has anyone heard a rationale?

An "Honors" Honor

I feel complimented.

My long-ago piece called "A Moral Case for Christmas Commercialism" has been chosen as required reading for an Interdisciplinary Honors seminar taught by Professor Randy Campbell at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

That article, along with a piece by Stan Guthrie taking a contrary point of view, will be discussed in class on Thursday, November 29 -- just in time for the holidays.

Politics and Entrepreneurship

Congressman Ron Paul's quest for the Republican presidential nomination has generated far more grassroots entrepreneurial activity than the average presidential campaign. Individuals have set up web sites that sell bumper stickers, lapel badges, hats, yard signs, gold coins, and endless forms of kitsch and memorabilia. For the most part, these budding enterprises are created by Americans otherwise unaffiliated with Ron Paul or his campaign staff.

The most notable grassroots effort, so far -- though not entrepreneurial per se -- was the November 5th "moneybomb" that raised more than $4 million for the Ron Paul campaign, setting a one-day on-line fundraising record.

Whatever success Ron Paul has in the upcoming caucuses and primaries will be due, in no small measure, to his eschewing of top-down control of the campaign in favor of a grassroots, "let a thousand flowers bloom," bottom-to-top motivation of voters, donors, and volunteers.

I just learned about the latest pro-Ron Paul effort that may also have the ancillary effect of bringing profits to its creator: A web site selling "Gays and Lesbians for Ron Paul" apparel.

Who knows? Tomorrow at your favorite gay gym, you may see someone on the treadmill next to you wearing a Ron Paul for President t-shirt -- in rainbow colors.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Friday Approaches

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the most active shopping days of the year. The tradition is not new -- even Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the importance of the day to the economy when he moved the date of Thanksgiving in order to expand the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression. An article on the web site of the FDR Library and Museum explains (under the title, "The Year We Had Two Thanksgivings"):

At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday; it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on. However, Thanksgiving was always the last Thursday in November because that was the day President Abraham Lincoln observed the holiday when he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Franklin Roosevelt continued that tradition, but he soon found that tradition was difficult to keep in extreme circumstances such as the Great Depression. His first Thanksgiving in office, 1933, fell on November 30th, the last day of the month, because November had five Thursdays that year. Since statistics showed that most people did not do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving, business leaders feared they would lose money, especially during the Depression, because there were only 24 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They asked Franklin Roosevelt to make Thanksgiving one week earlier. President Roosevelt ignored those concerns in 1933, but when Thanksgiving once again threatened to fall on the last day of November in 1939, FDR reconsidered the request and moved the date of Thanksgiving up one week. Thanksgiving 1939 would be held, President Roosevelt proclaimed, on November 23rd and not November 30th.

Changing the date of Thanksgiving seemed harmless enough, but in actuality proved quite controversial. It was so upsetting that thousands of letters poured into the White House once President Roosevelt announced the date change. Some retailers were pleased because they hoped the extra week of Christmas shopping would increase profits, but smaller businesses complained they would lose business to larger stores. Other companies that depended on Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of November lost money; calendar makers were the worst hit because they printed calendars years in advance and FDR made their calendars out of date for the next two years. Schools were also disrupted by Roosevelt's decision; most schools had already scheduled vacations and annual Thanksgiving Day football games by the time they learned of Thanksgiving's new date and had to decide whether or not to reschedule everything. Moreover, many Americans were angry that Roosevelt tried to alter such a long-standing tradition and American values just to help businesses make more money.*

As opposition grew, some states took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation. Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th.
While "Black Friday" -- a term that seems to date to the 1970s -- has the reputation of being the busiest shopping day of the year, various sources ( and Wikipedia, among others) note that in recent years, the Saturday before Christmas has taken the title, while the Friday after Thanksgiving is much farther down the list, ranking between the fourth and eighth busiest, depending on the year.

What is more important is that Black Friday tends to be the day on which most retail businesses switch from red ink to black ink on their account books. That is, up until the day after Thanksgiving, most of these businesses have not yet turned a profit, which they can then use to reward their investors or help grow the business for future years.

When the term "Black Friday" first entered the general lexicon, many retailers seemed embarrassed by it, since the term "black" is associated with things sinister, sad, and discomfiting. More recently, however, many businesses have embraced it.

For example, has set up a special web page for Black Friday purposes. Amazon has also created a widget that will update specials throughout the course of the day.

In response to what are perceived as the excesses of Black Friday, anti-consumer activists have created a movement called "Buy Nothing Day," which often involves street theatre, agitprop, and chanting as well as a decision not to purchase anything that day. The origins can be traced to about 15 years ago, according to the official "International Buy Nothing Day" organization:
what is now coming to be firmly known around the planet as the World Buy Nothing Day campaign traces to several initiatives, places and names. The first "No Shop Day" (as it was initially called) that we know of was started in 1992 as a personal initiative by Ted Dave, a Canadian who made his living by working in the advertising world. His idea was to organize a collective protest against the unrelenting calls to overconsume, with the advertising and marketing professions at the core. His original motto was: "Enough is enough!"
And now there is a response to the response. Two different Facebook "events" have appeared, created independently of each other, with tongue-in-cheek but also with a serious purpose in mind.

The first one I found is called "Buy Everything Day" and it explains itself thusly:
On November 23, scores of misguided people will send a message about consumerism by participating in Buy Nothing Day.

Buy Nothing Day likely attracts people of a certain philosophical and political persuasion (read: lefty, pro-worker, anti-corporate, etc, etc, etc); however, paradoxically, those disproportionately affected (theoretically, or course, if persuading the masses to stay out of the shops was possible) would be low-income hourly employees and not corporations.

The idea that consumption is a bad thing is, well, a bad thing. Consumption is inherently good, and buying stuff makes gives us jobs and makes our economy work.

And seriously, since you'll just make up for it the next day, what's the point? Therefore, I respectfully suggest you save up your pennies and on November 23, shop until you drop.
I thought the phrase "Buy Everything Day" was a bit hyperbolic, so I was pleased to find the more (to my mind, at least) modestly named "Buy Something Day," which originated in Sweden (yes, Virginia, there are free-market economic thinkers even in Sweden) and has clear and sustainable goals:
If people keep their money in their mattress, the economy will stagnate and stand still. When money's shifting owners, it creates synergical effects. Of course rich people will also benefit from money moving around - but ultimately, those who have less will gain more.

And fighting poverty must always come before opposing wealth.

Therefore - save what you must save for your family and yourself. But not for no reason. Spend the money you want to spend. When you keep your money in your wallet, you don't protest against Coca-Cola, McDonald's or Nestlé. They don't give a shit. You only protest against your local entrepreneurs and merchants. People who invest their lives in providing you with the stuff you want.

Every day should be the Buy Something Day.

(The date is, however, set to be in correspondence to the stupidest idea ever - at least since the death penalty and the European CAP - "Buy Nothing Day".)
Since the goals of each group are aligned with my own philosophy (see my article, "A Moral Case for Christmas Commercialism," which, I am told, has been "making the rounds of the Internet"), I signed up for both events. I hardly expect to be buying "everything" this Friday, but I do have my eye on at least one "something." As a matter of fact, I decided to put off a purchase until Friday just so I can do my bit. What I have in mind is a VCR/DVD recorder that I will use to archive the home movies my family made in the 1960s and 1970s (at least those that have already been converted to VHS).

Those of you who also want to play their part in "Buy Something Day" might just wander over to my wish list and pick out a Christmas gift for their favorite blogger.

Update: For news about Black Friday 2008 and new (but quirky) gift ideas, check out this Thanksgiving Day post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Geography and Literature for $400, Alex

An AP story by Hillel Italie appearing in today's Washington Times notes that three giants of American fiction-writing died in the past year -- most recently Norman Mailer, but also William Styron and Kurt Vonnegut.

The story reports that sales of Vonnegut's books far outpace those of the other two authors -- sometimes by a factor of 50 to 1 or more:

According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of industry sales, Mr. Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" has sold about 280,000 copies since 2006, more than four times the combined pace of six of the most talked about books of the past 60 years: Mr. Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead," "The Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song," and Mr. Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," "Sophie's Choice" and "Darkness Visible."

While Mr. Vonnegut's death in April led to a significant jump in sales for his books, the change was far smaller for the works of Mr. Mailer and Mr. Styron, both of whom, unlike Mr. Vonnegut, won Pulitzer Prizes. Books by all three writers are still used in classrooms, but Mr. Vonnegut's are read more both on and off campus.

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

Other books by Mr. Vonnegut are also strongly outselling his contemporaries. "Cat's Cradle" has sold nearly 130,000 copies since 2006, according to Nielsen BookScan, and "Breakfast of Champions" totals 74,000. Meanwhile, Mr. Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," winner of the Pulitzer in 1968, has sold less than 2,000 since 2006, while Mr. Mailer's "The Armies of the Night," a Pulitzer winner in 1969, sold just 3,000.
All that is interesting and noteworthy, but there is a curious remark early in this story and it goes unchallenged:
"Vonnegut was the American Mark Twain. He even looked liked him. Everybody loved Vonnegut, whereas Norman was a much more controversial figure," says J. Michael Lennon, the literary executor for Mr. Mailer, who died Nov. 10 at 84.
Now, I've enjoyed the works of Kurt Vonnegut as much as anyone -- Breakfast of Champions was passed from hand to hand in my high school like a sacred text, and I read Cat's Cradle, Welcome to the Monkey House, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater at about that same time -- but Lennon's attempt at praise struck me as strange, to say the least.

Call me parochial, but wouldn't "the American Mark Twain" be, ummm, Mark Twain?

Gilmore Makes It Official

Former Virginia Governor made it official today: He is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner, who was first elected in 1978.

Despite some coy words that suggested he might decline to run (see the video of his remarks in Charlottesville on November 10, for instance), Gilmore has thrown his hat into the ring with some enthusiasm. Jeff Schapiro has the story at the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore officially entered the 2008 U.S. Senate campaign today, announcing his long-expected candidacy in an on-line video in which he takes a shot at both political parties.

Gilmore, a Republican, makes the case for his candidacy at

Gilmore says Virginia and the nation face major challenges -- terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, transportation and illegal immigration.

"On all these issues, our leaders have let us down, and we badly need new hands at the wheel," says Gilmore.

Referring to the 2006 elections that brought two-party government to Washington, Gilmore says, "And in the last year, we have unfortunately seen that these failures are not unique to just one political party."
In an effort to avoid some of the tactical errors that deep-sixed the campaign of former Senator George F. Allen, who initially paid little attention to new media (in particular, the blogosphere), Gilmore's campaign web site is blogger-friendly. It even makes widgets available for supporters to put on their own blogs, such as this one:

Although no other Republicans have indicated an official interest in the seat -- the nominee will be chosen at a convention next June -- Representative Tom Davis withdrew from the race even before it began, after it was long assumed he would be a leading (or, at least, competitive) candidate. WINA-AM's Coy Barefoot mentioned at the top of the four o'clock hour on "Charlottesville ... Right Now" that Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton) may also test the waters. (That suggestion is confirmed by an article by Lauren Fulbright in today's Staunton News-Leader.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Barry Goldwater Endorses Ron Paul

In the spirit of my long-ago post called "Ron Paul: Last of the Goldwater Republicans?" comes news from Ron Paul's presidential campaign headquarters that Barry Goldwater himself has endorsed Ron Paul for president.

No, not the late Senator from Arizona, but his son, the former Member of Congress from California.

Here is the text of the news release:

November 16, 2007 10:16 am EST

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA—Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul today gained a public endorsement from Barry M. Goldwater, Jr.

“America is at a crossroads,” said Mr. Goldwater. “We have begun to stray from our traditions and must get back to what has made us the greatest nation on earth or we will lose much of the freedom we hold dear. Ron Paul stands above all of the other candidates in his commitment to liberty and to America.”

“Leading America is difficult, and I know Ron Paul is the man for the job,” he added.

Mr. Goldwater is the son of the late former Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater, Jr. served in the House of Representatives for six terms with Texas Congressman Paul, and is currently on the Board of Directors of the Goldwater Institute. After representing northern Los Angeles County in Washington, D.C. for 14 years, Mr. Goldwater retired from politics in 1983 to pursue a successful career in business and humanitarian ventures.

“The Ron Paul campaign is exceptionally honored by Mr. Goldwater’s endorsement,” said Paul campaign manager Lew Moore. “Dr. Paul and Congressman Goldwater fought together in the Congress for the ideals of limited constitutional government that Mr. Goldwater’s father so tirelessly advocated. The Goldwaters have left an indelible mark on the Republican Party, and theirs is a legacy which Congressman Paul will certainly inherit as President.”

The late Barry M. Goldwater, Sr. sparked the modern conservative movement and was the Republican Party presidential nominee in 1964.


Earlier this week, the Ron Paul campaign unveiled a series of radio ads that will be run in early primary and caucus states. Here is one of them, the one that I like the best:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jim Gilmore Speaks in Charlottesville

Former Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore came to Charlottesville this morning to speak at the monthly breakfast sponsored by the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Republican committees.

As might be expected from the presence of a former chief executive of the Commonwealth and a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008, the crowd was larger than normal. These monthly breakfasts are held at the Golden Corral restaurant on Route 29 north of Charlottesville, and the attendees generally fit into a small meeting room near the back of the building. This morning, the accordion wall of that room was opened up to accommodate an extra dozen or so activists who wanted to hear what Governor Gilmore had to say.

Gilmore, who recently ended a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, gave them what they expected. Appearing relaxed -- early in his speech, he doffed his jacket and spent the rest of the time in shirtsleeves -- and comfortable in his surroundings, Gilmore spoke mostly extemporaneously on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues, on Republican and Democratic election prospects during the 2008 cycle, on campaign finance regulations and the effect they have on fundraising, and other topics.

One message came through most clearly, however: That the future success of the Republican party relies primarily on the efforts of activists at the grassroots. To that extent, Gilmore gave a pep talk to Republican party members who might be feeling disheartened after last Tuesday's state legislative and local elections, but to define it that narrowly would be to sell the former governor short, because he addressed matters of substance, as well, and did so articulately and plainly.

I was there with video camera in hand and caught all but a few seconds of Governor Gilmore's presentation on tape. Pay close attention to a sequence in Part IV, where an audience member asks the governor who he likes in the Republican presidential contest.

At first, Governor Gilmore deflects the question by talking about the risk of seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton elected president. Then he tries, through humor, to avoid answering the question entirely. He does say he respects all the men running and then, graciously, adds "men and women," suggesting that all the candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties are respectable people. In the end, however, he mentions only one presidential candidate by name: Ron Paul.

Here's the money quote to watch for:

"It's a lot about money. It requires years and years of preparation... It takes years to get the system together to raise the money to run for any federal office, and the presidency is awesome, because you have to have numbers. Ron Paul is out here and he's raising money right now from small donors. That's exactly the right thing to do."
There is much more to see and hear. I apologize for the considerable buzz of background noise, which may make it difficult to understand some of Governor Gilmore's remarks. Unfortunately, as I noted earlier, this event did not take place in an enclosed room, and we had to contend with the hustle and bustle of a busy buffet restaurant offering a popular weekend special.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Note that early in his remarks, Governor Gilmore demurs on the question of whether he has decided to run for the U.S. Senate next year, but that by the end, he sounds like nothing less than a candidate. His confidence about being able to win the Northern Virginia vote -- and his boast (which is well-deserved) that he carried Northern Virginia during his two elections to statewide office -- says much about his willingness to carry his campaign right into Mark Warner's backyard.

This will be an interesting race to watch, and may turn out to be much more competitive than current public opinion polls indicate it to be.

The Gales of November Come Early

Today marks 32 years since the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, an event made more memorable than it otherwise might have been because of a hit single released a year later, Gordon Lightfoot's ballad "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

The Detroit News notes today:

The 29 sailors who died when the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 will be remembered at 6 p.m. Saturday at Henri Belanger Park near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse.

A mail boat will take a wreath out to the Detroit River, lanterns will be lit, plaques will be on display and bagpipes will play for the ceremony. A bell will toll for each sailor.

* * *

The ship broke into two pieces and sank in November 1975 during a violent storm on Lake Superior as the ship sailed to Detroit. River Rouge is hosting a memorial because the ship's maiden voyage was from the city in 1958.
On this anniversary, a community theater group in Manitowoc, Wisconsin (a city on Lake Michigan, for the geographically-challenged) will open a new production of a play about the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy.

According to the Manitowoc Herald:
Exactly 32 years after the Edmund Fitzgerald vanished, local audiences will be able to revisit the maritime tragedy on the Capitol Civic Centre stage.

"Gales of November," the theatrical production about the freighter's sinking, will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10, at the theater, which is located at 913 S. Eighth St., Manitowoc.

"This is a major historical event on the Great Lakes and we've got the show on its anniversary. That's a coup," said Christine Kornely, chair of the Capitol's program committee.

Three singers, four musicians and a narrator will bring the story to life. Audiences may recognize some of the performers from the popular radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," Kornely said.

"Gales of November" was brought here because of its appeal to local audiences who live on the Great Lakes and are interested in the history and lore surrounding them, she said.

One reason the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald has struck such a chord with so many people is that it "happened at a time when people didn't expect ships to sink anymore. It's a modern shipwreck story," said Prudence Johnson, the show's director and vocalist, in a phone interview from the Minneapolis area.
That article continues:
First produced in 2005, the show is an adaptation featuring music and excerpts from the 1987 hit play "Ten November."

Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Steven Dietz took inspiration from the song and wrote the book, graciously allowing her to borrow from it; Eric Peltoniemi wrote the music.

"I was in the original cast of 'Ten November' back in 1987," Johnson said. "Every once in a while I would take out the tape of the music and every time I would think, 'Wow, that's great music. I would love to sing that again.' "

So she consulted with Peltoniemi, who plays acoustic guitar in the show, and they gathered up fellow cast members, including singer Ruth Mackenzie and electric bass guitar player Jeffrey Willkomm. Rounding out the cast are vocalist Claudia Schmidt, violin and mandolin player Peter Ostroushko, piano and accordion player Dan Chouinard and narrator Kevin Kling.
It's a sunny, blue-sky day here in Charlottesville, with temperatures in the upper 40s -- far from the blustery, chilly weather of the Upper Great Lakes. One of the most profound characteristics of Gordon Lightfoot's songwriting in "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is how he lyrically brings the listener into the midst of the weather and other conditions that led to the tragedy. Echoing the tradition of Irish and Scottish ballads of previous centuries, it is no wonder that the song embedded that event of a generation ago into two nations' consciousness (the two nations being Canada and the United States).

Those who are unfamiliar with the song might check out this video from YouTube, which includes images of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Great Lakes:

Nobody, so far, has said it better.

Friday, November 09, 2007

National Blog Posting Month

It's too late for me, since this is only my seventh post of the month, but I just learned that November has been designated "National Blog Posting Month," with a goal for each blogger to post at least once each day. From BlogBurst:

It’s day eight of a posting fever for bloggers taking part in the NaBloPoMo challenge. For those of you wondering about what type of tongue-twisted soirée you have stumbled upon, the program’s slogan says it all. “Post until the Internet explodes.” It’s not too late to create a blog and contribute to the spirit of National Blog Posting Month.

Organized by avid blogger Eden Marriot Kennedy and inspired by the National Novel Writing Month contest, NaBloPoMo challenges the bloggers to author one post per day for the entire month of November. According to NaBloPoMo’s website, the roster of bloggers has doubled to an estimated 4,000 members since the program’s start in 2006.

Maybe next year I'll have the discipline (and the advance notice) to participate in NaBloPoMo (say that five times fast) myself.

Stewart Stern on 'Peter Pan'

During last weekend's Virginia Film Festival, I had the pleasure of attending three separate events featuring screenwriter Stewart Stern. One was a screening of Rebel Without a Cause, for which Stern contributed the screenplay; another was a shot-by-shot workshop on that same movie. The third was a screening of the 1924 Adolph Zukor production of Sir James M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the first rendering of that story on film.

Stern is the nephew of Zukor, and he had numerous familial connections to the early film industry. It was only natural that, after returning from military service in World War II, that he would join the industry.

At the first screening of "Rebel," Stern told us that he conceived of the three-way relationship of Jim Stark (played by James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo) as parallel to that of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the Lost Boys.

Lisa Provence of The Hook sat next to me at that Friday "Rebel" screening, and she took better notes than I did that afternoon. She notes in this week's issue:

Where Rebel without a Cause was born: In a "ludicrous" office painted an "awful" shade of green at Warner Brothers, where screenwriter Stewart Stern had to check in with a cop upon arrival, although he could then sneak out the back way, the 85-year-old tells the audience at the November 2 screening.

The inspiration for Jim Backus' costume in Rebel: Stern dredged up a memory of an apron his own father used to wear for the scene in which James Dean's father, wearing a frilly number, cleans up his mother's dropped breakfast tray.

He shot puppies? Clearly Sal Mineo's character, Plato, was destined for a bad end from the first scene in juvenile detention, where he displays a characteristic commonly attributed to serial killers.

We don't remember it being this campy: "That has to be the gayest movie I'll see at the film festival," says fest regular Richard Sincere.
Stern said much more at the shot-by-shot workshop, and I hope to write about that at length, and soon.

My purpose in this blogpost is to highlight Stern's entertaining and informative remarks that preceded a screening of the 1924 (silent) Peter Pan at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday, which had been designated "family day" by the Virginia Film Festival. The auditorium was filled with children and their parents (more children than parents), including a couple of dozen second graders from Broadus Wood Elementary School in Albemarle County, who formed a children's choir to sing new compositions to accompany the film. (Festival regulars Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton provided the bulk of the musical accompaniment, joined by Terri Allard and Paul Reisler.)

Stern has many amusing memories of playing Peter Pan as a child. In the video you are about to watch, he tells of receiving an autographed copy of the first edition of Peter and Wendy, directly from Sir J. M. Barrie himself. He offers anecdotes from his uncles about meeting Barrie in London, and about the nationwide search for the perfect actress to portray Peter, a role that went to 17-year-old Betty Bronson.

But enough text. Watch the video and you'll learn much and smile more.

Part I

Part II:

If it's not clear by now, let me emphasize that Stewart Stern is a delightful speaker whose knowledge and analysis would be valuable not just to film scholars, but to any film fans. I hope someone is writing his biography; it would be fascinating to read.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Election Day 2007 in Charlottesville

As few would not have predicted, the three Democratic candidates for Charlottesville City Council swept to victory on Tuesday, maintaining the monopoly on power that that political party has enjoyed for the bulk of the past generation. (Only two Republicans have been elected to public office in Charlottesville since 1982.)

Despite voter disquiet about a taxpayer-funded trip to Italy set to begin today, Mayor David Brown and his ticketmates trounced the two independents in the race, Barbara Haskins and Peter Kleeman.

The two top-of-the-ballot races, for state Senate and the House of Delegates, were uncontested, while many voters were surprised to find a three-way race for two seats on the Thomas Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District, an office that heretofore had not been presented to voters for their choices on election day.

This was also the first time that City Council and School Board elections took place in Charlottesville in November rather than May. Turnout in the city on Tuesday was comparable to that of the last time three City Council seats were up, in May 2004 (when Mayor Brown was first elected, along with retiring council members Kendra Hamilton and Kevin Lynch). As a matter of fact, the fraction of voters who came out to the polls was precisely the same at 27 percent, although (because we now have a greater number of registered voters) the raw number of voters was larger. In May 2004, 5,339 people voted, and on Tuesday there were 6,085. (These figures are based on unofficial totals, subject to change after the canvass of results on Wednesday.)

One highlight for me on Tuesday was meeting a person who is perhaps Charlottesville's oldest living voter: Mr. William Duren, Jr., who is 102 years old. He came out to Alumni Hall Precinct to vote in person, and kindly granted my wish to photograph him (see below) for posterity:

Imagine: Mr. Duren was already eligible to vote when Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, and Harry F. Byrd, Sr., was Governor of Virginia!

Tuesday was also a busy media day. I was interviewed twice by Lisa Ferrari of WCAV-TV (Channel 19), twice by WVIR-TV (Channel 29) -- in the morning by Jenn McDaniel and in the afternoon by David Douglas -- as well as by WMRA-FM in Harrisonburg and by Carlos Santos of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

During the 6:00 p.m. hour, two TV stations had simultaneous live shots at Recreation Precinct, with David Douglas interviewing General Registrar Sheri Iachetta and Lisa Ferrari interviewing me. Here's David and Sheri:

As usual, there were an array of interesting, amusing, provocative, and bawdy write-in votes for various offices. This was, as one might expect, an especially expansive phenomenon on November 6 because the first two races on the ballot were uncontested. Here are a few examples from the state Senate race:

Former Charlottesville Mayor Blake Caravati, former Charlottesville GOP chairman Bob Hodous, Bozo (2 votes for the clown), real estate magnate and entertainment mogul Coran Capshaw, radio personality Dick Mountjoy, the late Republican councilmember (and park namesake) Darden Towe, "Gay Rights," former Senator George Allen, Gumby, local Libertarian activist James Lark, Albemarle County Republican chairman Keith Drake, king of the pundits Larry Sabato, Mickey Mouse (5 votes), Osama Bin Laden, former City Council member Rob Schilling (5 votes), Delegate Rob Bell, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (3 votes), and Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.

Also cast in this contest for the 25th District Senate Race were votes for two candidates running in the neighboring 24th District: Democrat David Cox and Libertarian Arin Sime (who had two votes). Full disclosure: I also received two votes in this race, but I haven't a clue as to who cast them. (There were 97 write-in votes in this contest.)

In the race for the 57th District of the House of Delegates, there were write-in votes for Anybody Else (2 votes), 59th District House candidate Connie Brennan, two more for Bob Hodous, Darth Vader, City Councilman Dave Norris, Donald Duck (2 votes), retiring Albemarle Sheriff Ed Robb, "Fair Tax," another for George Allen, God, another for James Lark, Jesus Christ, Councilman Kevin Lynch, three more for Mickey Mouse, the sophomoric homophone Mike Hunt, "Not Toscano," another for the world's most-wanted terrorist (Osama Bin Laden), five more for Rob Schilling, Reason magazine science correspondent Ron Bailey, two more for Congressman Ron Paul, Spoiled Yappy Dog, two for David Toscano's 2005 opponent Tom McCrystal, and one for blogger Waldo Jaquith. There were 107 total write-in votes in this contest.

There were comparatively few -- only 69 -- write-in votes for the Soil & Water District Commissioner race. This is a surprise given that most voters knew little about either the office or the candidates seeking it.

Once again, Bob Hodous shows up, alongside Bob Newhart (presumably the Mark Twain-award winning comic actor), Bozo, and Britney Spears. Others with ticks next to their name were Dolly Parton, "Old Relish Packet," former state climatologist Patrick Michaels, Delegate Rob Bell, Scottish poet Robert Burns, Rob Schilling, South Park fourth-grader Stan Marsh, and (once again) Stephen Colbert.

One would expect that in the highly-contested race for City Council, fewer voters would cast a write-in, since they were able to choose from among five highly-qualified candidates already on the ballot. Yet 97 write-ins were cast for Charlottesville City Council. Among them:

"A Better Candidate Please," School Board chairman Alvin Edwards, former Mayor Francis Fife, "Italian Junket" (and the related "Poggio a Caiano") James Lark (again), local social activists Joy Johnson and Karen Waters (4 votes for her), outgoing City Councilors Kendra Hamilton and Kevin Lynch, former Delegate Paul Harris, former Councilor Meredith Richards, Republican activist Randolph Byrd, former President Richard Nixon, Rob Schilling (11 votes), and "Save Crow Pool."

Finally, in the 7-person race for four School Board seats, there were 98 write-in votes, including several for various versions of current School Board member Charlie Kollmansperger (who chose not to seek a full term on the board after being appointed earlier this year to fill a vacancy). Other votes went to Helen Keller, "Hey Babe Babe," the ubiquitous James Lark, Frodo (the hobbit, I suppose), Dr. Ron Paul, Melinda St. Ours, school-choice proponent and Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, Rob Schilling (2 votes for him and one for his wife, Joan), "Outskirts Guy," and that champion race horse, Sea Biscuit.

I should add that Robert Brandon Smith, who announced that he was a write in candidate for virtually all offices on the ballot, received various votes in different configurations of his name for each of the available contests, though it is difficult to determine precisely how many of these votes were meant to be his.

All in all, this was quite an election, and now it is time for me to go to bed after a day that began with a wake-up call at 4:15 a.m. on Tuesday and ends at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Virginia Film Festival 2007 - Second Video

The war in Iraq -- specifically the battle for Haditha -- was the subject of the last film I saw on day two of this year's Virginia Film Festival, appropriately entitled The Battle for Haditha, a cinema-verite style feature directed by British documentarian Nick Broomfield. Although in full color, the film brings to mind the pathbreaking 1960s film of the same genre, The Battle of Algiers. (Broomfield told me after the screening that that earlier film was on his mind when he produced his latest work.)

The film uses mostly non-professional actors, including Iraqi refugees in Jordan and veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq.

After the film was screened, the University of Virginia's Michael Smith moderated a discussion with Broomfield and the audience (which was surprisingly sparse given the subject matter but perhaps not so surprisingly, given the late hour).

Here, in two video clips, is that discussion.

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Virginia Film Festival 2007 - First Video

After the screening of Honeydripper at the Paramount on Thursday evening, local radio personality Dave Rogers moderated a panel made up of actor and UVa alumnus Sean Patrick Thomas, director John Sayles, and producer Maggie Renzi.

Here is a portion of that panel discussion, in which Sayles discusses some of the background of Honeydripper, focusing on the music, the period, and the casting of the film.

There's more video where this came from. It takes time to edit these things, even with something as easy to use as Windows Movie Maker.

Virginia Film Festival 2007 - Day One Photos

There's not a lot of time available at the moment to write about the first evening of the Virginia Film Festival. (It's coming on 4:00 a.m. and I am planning to see a screening of Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers at 10:00 a.m. -- just six hours from now.)

Fortunately, I did snap a few photographs on Thursday night, capturing images of the venue, the crowds, the celebrities, and the news media outside the Paramount Theatre in Charlottesville.

Here are a few pictures to whet your appetite for what a more extensive report to come later (probably after Election Day next week):

The marquee of the Paramount Theatre announces this year's Virginia Film Festival, which is competing for attention with Clint Black and a bus-and-truck company of Gypsy.

Festival patrons lined up for more than a block in the middle of the downtown mall to see Honeydripper, the new John Sayles film that was featured as the opening event.

Maggie Renzi (left), producer of Honeydripper, with her partner, John Sayles, who directed the film.

Richard Herskowitz (left), director of the Virginia Film Festival, with University of Virginia alumnus Sean Patrick Thomas, one of the many stars of Honeydripper.

WCAV-TV reporter Philip Stewart interviews Sean Patrick Thomas shortly before the screening of Honeydripper, outside the Paramount Theatre in Charlottesville.

Finally, here is a scene from Honeydripper, featuring Danny Glover as Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis and Lisa Gay Hamilton as Delilah. (Photo courtesy Virginia Film Festival)

According to producer Maggie Renzi, Honeydripper opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 28. It will open in select cities (such as Atlanta and Chicago) for Martin Luther King weekend and go wide in February (on about 300 screens nationwide) in conjunction with Black History Month.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Virginia Film Festival 2007 - Preview

Last night I traveled to Harrisonburg to see a play by Paula Vogel, The Mineola Twins, performed by a local community theatre group, The Playhouse, at Court Square Theatre. The Mineola Twins is a provocative but ultimately unsatisfactory (and unsettling) bit of political satire (my colleague, Tim Hulsey, prefers the term "agitprop"), which sets up two twin sisters as left-wing and right-wing terrorists (though not in as balanced a manner as that nutshell description implies). The play has many pop-culture references that evoke laughs from those in the know (which should be virtually anyone who lived in the '50s, '60s, '70s, or '80s), but many of the jokes fell flat among the audience that watched the show with me.

There were a few highlights worth noting, however, such as the performance of John Michael Schott in two roles, as cousins Kenny (son of right-wing Myrna) and Ben (son of left-wing Myra), both 14 years old and neither inheriting the values of their respective mothers. With a twinkle in his eye and a firm understanding of the emotional crippledness of each character, Schott was the clear stand-out in the gender-bending cast of five.

Live theatre aside, however, tonight is the beginning of what I have come to view as the best weekend of the Charlottesville calendar year: the annual Virginia Film Festival opens tonight with a screening of John Sayles' new film, Honeydripper, which explores the roots of rock and roll music in the American south.

The Virginia Film Festival is in its 20th year (already?) and this year it brings directors, screenwriters, producers, and a few actors to Charlottesville to celebrate the artistry of film and to discuss their craft with fans and aspiring filmmakers. Among those who will be appearing to discuss their films are director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills), screenwriter Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause), director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), UVa film professor Walter Korte (discussing the films of Luchino Visconti), actor and director John Turturro (Romance and Cigarettes), and many others. (A full film festival program can be found at

The theme of the 2007 Virginia Film Festival is "Kin Flicks" -- not to be confused with the 1976 novel of the same name, by Lisa Alther -- with a focus on films about families and their relationships.

The Volvo Adrenaline Film Project will be the climax of the festival again this year. This gives teams of young filmmakers an opportunity to produce a short film within a 72-hour period in which they must write, film, and edit it before being shown to an audience that acts as a jury to award the best of the dozen or so films created in those three days. Charlottesville native and film director Jeff Wadlow and his producing partner, Beau Bauman, act as mentors during the project.

Another highlight will be screened on Saturday afternoon: the 1924 silent version of Peter Pan, with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin, Joanna Seaton, and Paul Reisler, along with Terri Allard's Kid Pan Alley (local school kids singing original music in chorus). This film, with cinematography by the legendary James Wong Howe, was long thought to be lost, but it has been found and will be on screen at the Paramount.

Watch this space over the course of the weekend for nightly updates -- with photos, video, and text -- on the 2007 Virginia Film Festival.

(Photos and graphics courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival.)