Saturday, May 31, 2008

Still More Photos from the 2008 RPV Convention

In case you haven't heard, former Governor Jim Gilmore won the U.S. Senate nomination today at the Republican Party of Virginia's state convention. Later in the day, Delegate Jeff Frederick was elected the party's new state chairman. Their opponents were, respectively, Delegate Bob Marshall and former Lieutenant Governor John Hager.

I spent most of my hours in the convention hall taking videos of the proceedings (lots of speeches, mostly exhortations to the party faithful to work hard to elect John McCain and defeat Mark Warner in November).

Setting aside the video camera for a few minutes, I took some snapshots of the political activists gathered in the Richmond Convention Center. Here are a few that survived the odd lighting:

The stage is set ...

RPV Chairman John Hager smiles before the day's events begin

Fifth Congressional District Chairman Tucker Watkins, Rachel Schoenewald of Albemarle County, and blogger Shaun Kenney of Fluvanna County

Former Governor Jim Gilmore (right) poses for a photograph with a delegate

Convention delegates Si Snow and Carl Jackson of Alexandria, with Jeff Miller of Arlington County

Vern McKinley, a candidate for Congress in the 10th District, with his son, Ruben

Convention delegate Helen Blackwell and her husband, Morton, Virginia's national GOP committeeman

VCU student and convention delegate from the City of Richmond, Steven C. Latimer

Arlington School Board Member Dave Foster, a potential candidate for state Attorney General, with his wife, Martha, and Albemarle County's Bernie Greer (noted right-to-left)

Convention delegates from the City of Charlottesville: Buddy Weber, Will Mauldin, Bill Ways, and Blair Hawkins (noted left-to-right)

Young Hager supporters wait for their time to demonstrate

The exhibit area, from above

A bird's-eye view of the convention floor

State Senator Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate for Attorney General in 2009

Virginia Attorney General (and 2009 gubernatorial candidate) Bob McDonnell

RPV Communications Director Josh Noland

Bloggers Jason Kenney and Jim Hoeft analyze the convention results, while Josh Noland looks on

Delegate Chris Saxman, no doubt thinking about the Senate nomination that could have been his (and smiling through it all)

Protesters Object to Cheney Visit

Vice President Dick Cheney was the featured speaker at Friday's Republican Party gala in Richmond.

His presence in the state capital did not go unnoticed by the anti-war crowd. A small number of protesters gathered at the corner of Fifth and Broad Streets in Richmond to demonstrate their disdain for the vice president and call for his impeachment.

Here are a few moments of the protest, captured on video:

You might notice some condescending comments from the protesters (amplified for all to hear) about how passers-by should start reading more and different sources of information. That's not the way to endear yourself to people who might be inclined to support your cause: to accuse them of being ignorant, and willfully so.

More from the 2008 RPV Convention

It was mostly food, drink, and conviviality tonight at the Republican Party of Virginia's 2008 convention, which tomorrow gets down to serious business and the nomination of a U.S. Senate candidate as well as the election of a new party chairman.

Hospitality suites in both the convention center and the Marriott Hotel were crowded with delegates and guests.

I started out at the Jeffersoniad hospitality suite and ended at Tucker Watkins room in the Marriott. In between I visited suites hosted by Jim Gilmore, John Hager, Jeff Frederick, Ken Cuccinelli, Ron Paul (who wasn't present), the Albemarle County GOP, Americans for Prosperity ... and others (they tend to blur together in one's mind).

There was time to capture a few photos, but it's hard to juggle a camera with a drink in one hand and a plate of chicken fingers or petits fours in another.

Eighth Congressional District candidate Amit Singh was making the rounds.

Blogger Shaun Kenney was interviewed by a local Richmond TV crew

More news on Saturday.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Liveblogging the RPV Convention - Part I

To be honest, there's not much to report from the Republican Party of Virginia state convention in Richmond.

I arrived after the registration table had closed, so I am a man without identification. Many delegates are stuck in the main ballroom of the convention center, waiting for the arrival of Vice President Dick Cheney, who will be giving a post-banquet address at the RPV Gala.

A handful of people are hanging around the exhibition hall, but it is largely deserted. Hospitality suites -- and there are many -- begin at about 9:00 p.m. Some will be here in the convention center, others across the street at the Marriott Hotel.

The most exciting thing to be seen so far are some protesters who think Dick Cheney is a war criminal and should be arrested or impeached (or both). I grabbed some video, which I may be able to post later.

Here are some photos from the empty exhibit hall.

'The Visit' - The Serrated Edge of Morals

I saw Kander & Ebb's new musical, The Visit, at Signature Theatre in Arlington on Wednesday night. This is my review, prepared for The Metro Herald in Alexandria:

Serrated Edge of Morals:
Kander & Ebb Provoke with ‘The Visit’ at Signature

Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Arlington’s Signature Theatre has midwifed a major new musical play.

Based on the mid-20th century work by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Visit has a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by the late Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander. Directed by Frank Galati, this production of The Visit follows Galati’s 2001 Goodman Theatre premiere in Chicago. Signature now gives us only the second – and apparently improved – mounting of this musical, but it surely will not be the last.

Dürrenmatt conceived his play as a “tragicomedy” in the Greek theatrical tradition. (It even had a Greek chorus to comment on the action.) McNally, Kander, and Ebb have softened the edges of Dürrenmatt’s highly cynical and moralistic work, but even through the gauze this musical remains sharply thought-provoking. In plot and theme it balances on the serrated edge of morals, showing how society can fall this way or that when it loses site of its own ethical center.

The Visit is a multi-layered allegory about the corruption of person and society, with reference to the general events of the last century. Individual events might be inferred, but nothing specific can be identified. Is it about Swiss businesses that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II? Perhaps; but it could also be about the rise of Nazism itself. Or it could be an indictment of capitalism; or not.

With thematic parallels to Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” the arc of The Visit is very much like the Greek tragedy that Dürrenmatt had in mind. Once the basic exposition is completed about halfway through Act I and the central conflict is revealed, the action hurtles toward an inevitable, predictable, and unstoppable climax. (The first-act song, “A Happy Ending,” however, prepares us not at all for the actual ending.)

The Visit is the kind of musical in which a happy-go-lucky song about “Yellow Shoes” turns menacing. It’s that sort of darkness.

Not since Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne debuted The Visit on Broadway has a major production had such a distinguished pair of leads: septuagenarians Chita Rivera as Claire Zachanassian and George Hearn as Anton Schell. (Rivera made her own Broadway debut in 1953; Hearn, in 1966.) Rivera and Hearn dominate the action in Kander & Ebb’s The Visit, even though it is an integrated book musical in which the members of the ensemble each play distinguishable roles – this is emphatically not a theatre piece that depends on an undisaggregated mass of “happy villagers.” The relationship of Claire and Anton is at the core of The Visit, and it is that relationship (which appears, on first glance, to be the basis of a long-delayed and joyful reunion) that sets the tragedy in motion.

The Visit is unusual among Signature Theatre productions in that none of the regular repertory players from the theatre’s roster appear on stage. In fact, the only actor with a previous (but weak) connection is Hearn, who appeared in Putting It Together on Broadway under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, Signature’s founder and artistic director.

This is the biggest production in Signature’s history, with 23 performers, yet Schaeffer seems to have given Galati carte blanche in terms of casting and design. Galati has assembled a company composed almost entirely of New York-based actors, and there is little doubt that a transfer to Broadway is intended – and deserved. He has even brought three of the original (Goodman) cast of The Visit with him: Rivera, James Harms as Rudi, and Cristen Paige as Ottilie Schell, as well as choreographer Ann Reinking.

If The Visit is Broadway bound, it may meet some resistance from audiences of tourists and the legendary “tired businessmen” who are looking for light entertainment. The Visit is not The Little Mermaid. It is meant for thoughtful playgoers, who will have plenty of material to ruminate when the final chord sounds and the spotlight irises on the Mayor’s (Mark Jacoby) troubled visage.

Kander & Ebb and their collaborators have faced this before. Nobody, they were told, will sit through a musical about violent anti-Semitism, sexual promiscuity, and the rise of fascism in Germany – yet Cabaret played 1,165 performances in its first Broadway run, and 2,377 performances in its 1998 New York revival. Chicago was a “vaudeville” meditation on the link between celebrity and murder. Kiss of the Spider Woman (also part of Signature’s Kander & Ebb Celebration) is about the brutality of prison life in an authoritarian state.

The Visit is set in Brachen (“broke” in English), a Swiss town that is down on its luck in the early post-war era. (In Dürrenmatt’s play, the town was called Güllen, which means “liquid manures” in English – you get the picture.) As the lights come up on the stage – not literally, for The Visit is presented in a three-quarter round thrust stage in the MAX, Signature’s larger space – we see a platform littered with refuse. (This reminded me of the props that populated the set of King of Hearts, one of those Broadway flops that Ken Mandelbaum delights in describing in Not Since Carrie.)

Starting with Anton, however, the townspeople clear the stage, which remains essentially empty for the remainder of the performance. The junk is cleared for the arrival, by train, of Claire Zachanassian, the world’s richest woman and a native of Brachen. (Zachanassian explains that she “married often and widowed well.”)

Sharp-tongued, regal, attended by servants, Claire is an elegant stranger among the impoverished citizens of Brachen. They all hope, however, that she has come home after an absence of 50 years to bestow some of her riches on the town. (What they do not know, but learn later, is that Claire is, in large part, the cause of the town’s misery.)

Claire’s reunion with Anton sets the stage for some of The Visit’s finest songs: “I Know Claire,” “You, You, You,” and “I Must Have Been Something.” To single these out, however, is not to suggest the others are unworthy. This is one of the strongest scores for – let’s say it – a Broadway musical in years. Not one number is out of place, superfluous, or short of excellent. It all comes together as an integrated whole – even when, during intermission, the audience leaves humming or whistling the mean-spirited but infectiously melodious “Yellow Shoes.” If this is meant as a sly joke on the part of the composer, it succeeds.

The production team has built upon the 2001 Goodman Theatre production and completely reimagined it. (In a public conversation with Eric Schaeffer that touched on this topic on May 12, John Kander said: “The theatre is never finished. There is no definitive production of anything. Theatre is alive all the time,” he continued; “there is no end, no final statement about a piece of theatre.”) Kander and McNally were making changes to the script as recently as May 21, but – except, perhaps, for a few minor tweaks here and there that might still be done – this version is full and ready.

Scenic designer Derek McLane and lighting designer Howell Binkley have created a shadowy, gloomy environment for Brachen and its townspeople. Susan Hilferty has costumed them, as well as Claire and her retinue, with remarkable attention to detail. (The missing button on the Priest’s cassock, revealing his red union suit underneath, is one of those attentive touches she adds.) Sound designer Matt Rowe fits The Visit into the MAX so that every word of dialogue and every lyric line can be heard precisely as intended.

Kander & Ebb’s The Visit provides one of those rare moments in the theatre for a playgoer to be able to say, years later, “I was there when …” If The Visit finds no home on Broadway, it will be a shame. Even so, London’s West End is available – and it, too, beckons.

The Visit continues through June 22 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue,in Arlington, Virginia. The performance schedule is: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. There is no matinee performance on Saturday, May 17, and the performance that evening is a special event, “The Kander & Ebb Celebration Gala.” Tickets to The Visit are $40 - $69 and are now on sale at Ticketmaster by calling (703) 573-SEAT (7328), or by visiting The Visit is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

After the show, I chatted briefly with George Hearn, whom I had previously met at a Kennedy Center Spring Gala in 2006. I mentioned that, at that time, he had told me he was "retired."

"I am," he laughed, "but who could turn down the chance to do this play, to work with Chita Rivera?"

I noted that this show seemed headed to Broadway, and Hearn nodded his agreement. "That's what we hope," he said. I added that, if Broadway doesn't work, London is an option, too.

"That's what Chita thinks," he replied. "She believes this will be better received by European audiences."

Perhaps. In any case, it deserves a long theatrical life -- much like its two leading players have led.

(Photo credit: Scott Suchman, courtesy of Signature Theatre)

That's Incredible!

Last Saturday I saw a production at Live Arts in Charlottesville called The Beard of Avon (written by Amy Freed, it purports to tell the story about how William Shakespeare, a bit-part actor, was the front who, by request of the true playwrights, put his name on all the hits we have come to associate with his oeuvre).

Today I saw a news story that could have been headlined "The Beard of Aiken":

"American Idol" vet Clay Aiken is going to be a father, according to

Citing "multiple sources," the site reported that the mother is Jaymes Foster, who served as executive producer of his new album, On My Way Here, and is a close friend. The site said he stays at her home when he's in Los Angeles.

The site said Foster, 50, is due in August, and this will be her first child. She is the sister of hit producer David Foster. Aiken is 29.

As if to clear up -- or is it make more murky? -- the mystery, sources also report that the pregnancy was achieved by artificial insemination.

Brave, brave Sir Robin, indeed.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jeffersoniad Hospitality Suite at the RPV Convention

Virginia Republicans are converging on Richmond this weekend for a convention that will choose a candidate for the United States Senate (either Jim Gilmore or Bob Marshall) and a new state chairman (either Jeff Frederick or John Hager), as well as assorted other officers and about half the delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis scheduled for later this summer.

Of course, if there's a convention, there will be hospitality suites. Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling, who are running as a team for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, in 2009, will be hosting a joint suite to celebrate their joint birthdays. No doubt state Attorney General candidates Ken Cuccinelli and John Brownlee will be offering hospitality, as well -- and perhaps rumored AG candidate Dave Foster will, too.

One suite sponsored by non-candidates will be hosted by the Jeffersoniad bloggers collective (which includes yours truly). As Jason Kenney reports and invites:

The Jeffersoniad Blog Coalition will be hosting a hospitality suite at the Republican Convention May 30th - 9PM - 1 AM in room B19 at the Richmond Convention Center. All of this is made possible by a generous sponsorship by Rhumb Line and Speaker Bill Howell.

If you’re at the convention, please stop by for some dessert and coffee and some conversing with Virginia’s finest bloggers and me.

Scott's Morning Brew has the story. So does Leslie Carbone. And Bearing Drift. And Rappahannock Red. And Cathouse Chat. And Shaun Kenney. And Conservativa, too.

We'll see you there!

Update: I just got this information in a mass email from Ken Cuccinelli:
As you may already know, I am running for Attorney General next year, and I'd like the opportunity to meet you and speak with you in person about my candidacy. If you're going to be in Richmond this Friday, May 30th, please consider stopping by our hospitality suite after the RPV Gala. We will be located in Room B13 in the Ballroom Building of the Richmond Convention Center.
It looks like Ken's team will be just down the hall from the Jeffersoniad folks.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

BREAKING: Bob Barr Wins LP Presidential Nomination

After six ballots in which he was virtually (and sometimes precisely) tied with left-libertarian Mary Ruwart, former GOP Congressman Bob Barr has won the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination for 2008.

Eric Garris reports on

After 6 ballots, the Libertarian Party national convention has nominated former Congressman Bob Barr. Barr has turned around on many major issues since leaving congress. He now favors:

– Ending the Iraq War, withdrawal of all American troops from all foreign countries.

– Ending the federal War on Drugs.

– Repealing the Defense of Marriage Amendment, which he had authored.

– Repeal of the PATRIOT Act and Real ID.

Barr's nomination came after third-place finisher Wayne Allyn Root endorsed him over Ruwart, a longtime libertarian activist. (By contrast, Barr joined the party just about two years ago.)

Congratulations to Bob Barr and to the Libertarian Party.

A writer for National Review once described 1992 LP presidential candidate Andre Marrou, who served two terms in the Alaska state legislature, as having a résumé that, for Libertarians, was the equivalent of Elliot Richardson's. Not since Ron Paul in 1988 has the LP nominated a presidential candidate with as much credibility as a vote-getter, policymaker, and public speaker.

Bob Barr will represent the party and its issues well in the months to come. Let's hope he can get enough attention from the MSM that he can affect the terms of the debate and force the two bigger party candidates to discuss things like ending the War on Drugs and repealing the most repugnant components of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Update: The media is already getting the story wrong. The AP reports:
Barr beat research scientist Mary Ruwart, who was the party's presidential nominee in 1983 and vice presidential candidate in 1992. Barr left the GOP in 2006 over what he called bloated spending and civil liberties intrusions by the Bush administration.
Mary Ruwart has never been on the LP ticket. The 1984 (not 1983) presidential candidate was David Bergland. The 1992 vice presidential candidate was my friend, Dr. Nancy Lord. I know, because Nancy and I shared a hotel room during the nominating convention, and it was through her that I became the chief foreign policy advisor to the 1992 LP presidential campaign. (Mary Ruwart was a candidate for the veep slot that year and she lost to Nancy.)

Rude Radio Hosts?

In a touching Washington Post Outlook section piece on how World War I is, for Americans, a "forgotten war," University of Virginia history professor Edward G. Lengel writes:

I recently asked the hosts of a Charlottesville radio talk show on war and remembrance why Americans seemed so uninterested in World War I. It all boiled down to circumstances, they answered. The United States wasn't in the fight for long and suffered relatively few casualties. Then the Great Depression intervened, followed by World War II, and people naturally forgot old sorrows. There must be more to it than that, I protested. World War I was hardly a forgettable conflict; during six months in 1918, 53,513 Americans were killed in action -- almost as many as in Vietnam, and over a much shorter period of time. Perhaps, I suggested, Americans simply found trench warfare too depressing. Annoyed, the hosts cut me off with a flippant remark. As the receiver clicked, I could not help feeling that they had helped prove my point.
Trying to discern who these rude radio hosts were, I came up empty. They couldn't be either Coy Barefoot or Rob Schilling, who are so polite to their guests it borders on indulgence. It's possible that this happened on WINA's morning show with Jane Foy and Rick Daniels but, if it did, the perceived rudeness was more likely the effect of shortage of time rather than indifference to Professor Lengel's point. Of course, he could have been talking to radio personalities on another station (maybe WVAX, the left-wing counterpart of WINA, or WCHV, which carries Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity).

I can offer my own theory as to "why Americans seemed so uninterested in World War I": We are taught in school that the roots of that war are found in European rivalries of the 19th century, the breakdown of the regime established at the Congress of Vienna, and Germany's desire to compete with Britain in world markets and attain at least equality in seapower.

Most of us no doubt also learned about the disarray of European diplomacy before and during the war, and how the aims of the war changed rapidly and several times between August 1914 and the Armistice. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, and their various allies on both sides, simply couldn't decide what it was they were fighting for. (I summarize to the point of parody, but I don't want to belabor the issues.)

In other words, none of this had anything to do with the United States. There was no legitimate reason for the United States to intervene in "the Great War," and, it could be argued, the entry of the United States on the side of the Franco-British alliance upset the balance of power in Europe so that the Europeans could not settle the war for themselves.

Moreover, Woodrow Wilson's crusading and dissembling spirit (all that balderdash about the war being fought to defend democracy and that it was the "war to end all wars" -- Kellogg and Briand, call your office) led to an unjust post-war settlement that eventually led to the rise of fascism and Hitler's coming to power in 1933. (Keynes might have been wrong on most things, but he certainly knew about "the economic consequences of the peace.") As every schoolboy knows, the Second World War was nothing more than the second half of World War I, the completion of a process that began 31 years -- or more -- earlier.

With this historical background, it makes perfect sense that Americans would be detached and uninterested in World War I.

That doesn't make it any less sad in regard to the 53,000-plus soldiers, sailors, and Marines who died and the hundreds of thousands of other casualties. On Memorial Day, and especially on Armistice Day (Veterans' Day), they should be remembered.

Postscript: It is noteworthy that both Professor Lengel and George F. Will mention the sole surviving doughboy of World War I, 107-year-old Frank Buckles, in their columns today. Will adds near the end of his article:

The First World War is still taking American lives because it destroyed the Austro-Hungarian, Romanoff and Ottoman empires. A shard of the latter is called Iraq.

Those who fail to understand history may not be compelled to repeat it, but they certainly are compelled to live with its consequences.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Serendipity, said Dutch Nobel laureate Pek van Andel, "is the art of making an unsought finding." In a similar vein, American novelist Lawrence Block described serendipity as what happens when you "look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for."

Both thoughts apply to my experience last night, when I had planned on seeing the latest summer blockbuster, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, at a local cinema. When I went to Fandango to learn the showtimes, however, I saw the name of a film I had not previously encountered: The Rape of Europa.

To my surprise, the movie had nothing to do with cows or gods or crossing the Mediterranean. Instead, it is a documentary based on a 1995 book by Lynn H. Nicholas, and its subject is the systematic pillaging of European art by the Nazis, and attempts over the past six decades to retrieve it and return it to its rightful owners.

I was fortunate, too, in that The Rape of Europa is currently showing in only four cities in the United States and one in Canada: Albany, Calgary, Charlottesville, Richmond, and San Antonio.

Produced in 2006, the film is just now getting commercial distribution. It was screened at a number of film festivals in 2007, and its 2008 schedule indicates several dozen theatres have hosted it so far, with about two dozen more "coming soon." A DVD is scheduled to be released in August.

As for me, a Frostian twist of fate led me down the path less traveled, so that I and five and six other patrons at the Regal Cinema in downtown Charlottesville saw a moving, informative, and instructive film about 20th century history. It tells a story with a definite beginning and middle, with the end still sorting itself out more than 60 years after the end of the Second World War.

Although much of the narrative depends on "talking heads," the filmmakers -- Bonni Cohen, Richard Berge, and Nicole Newnham are all credited as producer/director/writer -- have combed the archives of Europe and the United States for rare film footage, still photographs, and newsreels (both Allied and Axis) that add dramatic heft to the project. In addition, they have isolated a couple of "subplots" that both humanize the topic and bring it up to the present.

One of these subplots features a German man who has made it his purpose in life to return Jewish religious artifacts to the families of Holocaust victims, using detective techniques to match items to names on cemetery headstones, for instance, and traveling across the Atlantic to make sure his finds reach their destination.

In another, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts discovers it has unwittingly acquired a painting by François Boucher, The Young Lovers, that belongs to the family of Paris art dealer Andrew Jean Seligmann. Doing the right thing, it returns the painting to Seligmann's surviving family members in a ceremony in Salt Lake City.

A third subplot, which serves as a framing device, discusses the complicated legal case of five paintings by Gustav Klimt that had been stolen from a prominent Jewish family in Vienna but which had been claimed by the Austrian government for six decades.

While the film makes reference to the larger atrocities of the Nazis, its focus remains firm on what Hitler wanted to do with art. I would have liked to have seen more attention to the "degenerate art" exhibitions that Hitler sent around Germany, as well as to his mediocre taste in what he considered "appropriate" art -- Hitler ripped a page from Plato in deciding that the government should determine the sort of art the masses could see, and anything that departed from that narrow category had to be destroyed or hidden.

What is most shocking about the Nazi plunder of European art is how systematic it was. The Rape of Europa implies that one of Hitler's motivations in invading various European countries was specifically to steal various works of art to add either to his personal collection, or to display in a vast museum he had planned to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria. He did, in fact, prepare lists of specific paintings, sculpture, and other works that were used by Nazi forces in "collecting" plunder from museums, private galleries, and homes. Specially targeted were Jewish families, whose belongings were carted off from their households after they themselves were sent to the death camps; their furniture, silverware, pottery, bed linens, and much more were put on trains and sent to Germany, where they were distributed to the families of Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe officers and Nazi party officials.

Also shocking, however, is the vindictiveness of the Nazis that led to the wholesale destruction of the treasures of European culture. From the outset of the war, Hitler intended that Polish culture be obliterated. (The story of the Nazis' targeting of the Warsaw Castle is especially touching.) The people of Poland would be eliminated so that their land could be repopulated by Germans; their untermenschen culture would be eliminated so that nobody would remember it. Libraries were burned, churches were looted, and museums were denuded.

As the war began to turn in favor of the Allies, moreover, Hitler ordered the demolition of buildings, bridges, and other immobile icons of local culture. Knowing they were about to lose Florence, for instance, the Nazis simply blew up whole city blocks.

In contrast, when the Allies destroyed something -- such as in the regrettable, tactically mistaken bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino, for example -- it was done only when military necessity dictated it. When it became apparent that the Florence railway yard had to be demolished, the Allied air forces narrowly targeted it, with the result that there was relatively little collateral damage. (The people of Florence, the film reports, were pleased that the railroad was bombed.)

Yet the Nazis demolished art and architecture for the sheer joy of it. "Totalitarianism" is given a new and deeper meaning by such dastardly acts.

The U.S. Army, on the other hand, assigned art experts -- people like Lincoln Kirstein -- to the front lines, whose job was to identify artistic and architectural valuables and rescue them, if possible, from further damage. These "Monument Men" discovered caches of art works in caverns, salt mines, castles, churches, chateaux, and government buildings. There were literally millions of objects that had been stolen by the Nazis from France, Belgium, Poland, Russia, and other countries. When they were catalogued and returned, they filled hundreds of railroad cars.

Several of these Monument Men, still living, describe their experiences in The Rape of Europa. Others were honored by the people whose art they rescued after their deaths.

More detailed information about The Rape of Europa can be found at the documentary film's official web site. It is a story that deserved to be told, and in this film it is told in a colorful, provocative, and detailed manner -- or at least as detailed as one can be in 117 minutes.

As for me, I am grateful for Fandango's serendipitous listings.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Just Barely a Yankee

Doug Mataconis posted a link to a dialect test that purports to determine whether the test-taker is a "Yankee" or a "Dixie."

I scored "49% (Yankee). Barely into the Yankee category."

For his part, Doug scored 35 percent, a "definitive Yankee."

New Jersey native D.J. McGuire is surprised to find out he's "barely into the Dixie category" at 55 percent.

What surprises me about my score is that so many of the explanatory notes attached to the questions point, correctly, to my roots in Wisconsin. (I still think of a water fountain as a "bubbler," for instance.) But I guess my use of "y'all" trumps that -- and I have, after all, spent the greater part of my life in the Mid-Atlantic region, rather than in the upper Midwest of my birth.

As Doug suggests, try out the quiz for yourself. Feel free to report your score in the comments area, below.

(This quiz started circulating through Vivian Paige, who is shocked to learn she "only scored 57% - barely Dixie. How the heck is that possible?")

Revisiting DOMA: Gay Marriage Then and Now

You would have to be living under a rock not to know that the California Supreme Court last week declared unconstitutional Proposition 22, an initiative passed by voters to ensure marriage in that state was available only to opposite-sex couples.

The court argued that, even though California has one of the most thoroughgoing domestic partnership laws (called "civil unions" in other states, such as Connecticut and Vermont), the unavailability of marriage itself to same-sex couples violated the state constitution's equal-protection provisions.

As the LA Weekly points out in a cover story, the majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, a Republican jurist appointed to the court in 1991 by GOP Governor Pete Wilson.

Correspondents Patrick Range MacDonald and Matthew Fleischer write:

Last Thursday, it was George’s carefully written majority opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in California. By nightfall, at the same West Hollywood intersection where a dummy of Pete Wilson went up in flames, gay activists stood on a stage and publicly lauded the judge as “courageous.” Speaker after speaker also praised another Republican, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for promising to “fight” against a November ballot measure that could still outlaw gay marriage in the Golden State.

Pete Wilson was never mentioned during the hourlong rally, and the activists didn’t focus on the political parties, but a curious theme had developed in West Hollywood: Powerful Republicans, through happenstance and well-orchestrated public policy, were leading the charge for the legalization and defense of same-sex marriage in California. It was something state Democrats, the seemingly natural allies of the gay-rights movement, could never completely pull off.

Who would have thought, nearly 20 years ago when Andrew Sullivan first wrote a memorable and pathsetting cover story for The New Republic laying out the conservative case for gay marriage, that two states -- Massachusetts first, then California -- would have made equal marriage rights available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and that several other states would have "domestic partnership" or "civil union" laws that grant substantially the same rights to gay and lesbian couples?

And consider that those who most opposed Sullivan's proposal were from the hemidemisemi-Marxist gay left, who fought gay marriage as an extension of a patriarchal, paternalistic, misogynistic, oppressive and repressive institution. (In other words, the reasons Sullivan foresaw gay marriage and declared it good, the socialists declared it bad.)

Yes, that's right -- far from being the leftist cause that conservative opponents of gay marriage fear as a bugaboo, the same-sex marriage cause originated as a conservative reaction to the counterculturalism of the leftwing leadership of the then-prominent gay-rights movement. It emerged from the grassroots of real gay and lesbian couples who sought to live a normal, bourgeois, white-picket-fence life. Far from being an outgrowth of bohemianism, it is much more an emulation of the idyllic Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle that baby boomers observed in their childhoods. The gay "leadership" was late in catching up to the needs and desires of its "followers," who demanded things the leaders had rejected.

No one could have predicted this in the spring and summer of 1996, when Congress debated, and then passed, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), designed to deny the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples at the federal level, and to guarantee that states that chose to deny equal rights to gay couples in their own laws would not have to recognize the rights of same-sex couples who were married in other states.

And certainly it would have been unexpected that the chief sponsor of DOMA, Representative Bob Barr (R-Georgia), would in the 21st century oppose a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, would give money to the opponents of a state constitutional amendment to do the same in Virginia, and would be seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination for President of the United States.

Twelve years ago, in my capacity as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, I wrote an article about DOMA and its intrusive character. (How ironic that its sponsor, Bob Barr, has emerged as the nonpareil defender of personal privacy rights.)

So here, as my first "history lesson," is that article, which appeared in Our Own Community News (Norfolk, Va.) and The Metro Herald in May 1996:
Family Matters: Marriage Bill Expands Federal Government Power
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

On May 15, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a proposed law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This bill represents an unprecedented encroachment of the federal government on the rights of states to make their own laws. The law is more intrusive than any new law or regulation since the Republicans took control of Congress. It contradicts the promises made in the "Contract with America" and grossly violates the Constitution's Tenth Amendment.

Introduced by Representative Bob Barr (R-Ga.), the bill aims to outlaw same- sex (or gay and lesbian) marriages by defining marriage under federal law as "a legal union between one man and one woman." The bill was motivated by the prospect that the Hawaii Supreme Court may soon rule that prohibiting same-sex marriages violates the state constitution and that therefore the government should recognize same-sex couples as having the same responsibilities and rights as other married couples.

Proponents of the bill say that it does not prevent individual states from legalizing same-sex marriage, but merely assures that such marriages will not be recognized by the federal government and that other states, which do not explicitly legalize such relationships, do not have to recognize them. The result will be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Under current law, married couples are entitled to file joint tax returns. Spouses can name their partners as dependents for tax purposes and as beneficiaries for pensions and insurance (including Social Security and veterans' benefits). Children from the marriage are recognized as dependents and as rightful heirs when parents die.

Suppose that most states continue to prohibit same-sex marriages. Suppose, too, that Hawaii legalizes such unions and five other states follow suit. What will happen? In order to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government will have to expand its capacity to stick its nose into the private lives of every family in the country.

For instance, the Internal Revenue Service -- already one of the most intrusive and feared federal agencies -- will have to scrutinize every tax return from those six states to determine whether same-sex couples are filing jointly, or declaring each other as dependents for income tax purposes. Every time the Department of Veterans Affairs gets a claim from a widow, it will have to make a determination of the sex of her deceased spouse. Ditto for the Social Security Administration.

Would the federal government recognize the children of such couples as legitimate? Under state law they will be dependents and heirs -- but will they be eligible for the federal benefits that other minor children are entitled to? How will this affect inheritance matters, including estate taxes?

And what happens when these married couples travel across state lines? Will spousal rights -- such as visiting a family member in the hospital, or being notified as "next of kin" in case of death or accident -- be recognized? This federal marriage law means to say "No."

Family law has always been the province of state and local government. Nowhere in the Constitution is the word "marriage" mentioned. There simply is no constitutional justification for the federal government to make law on this matter. What we have is a transparent intrusion of federal power on the rights of the people to make their own laws at the state level. These rights are guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment, a favorite of presidential candidate Bob Dole, who quotes it on the stump: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In their Contract with America, congressional Republicans promised to reduce the size, scope, and power of the federal government, to shrink its intrusive character, and to allow individual American citizens to pursue happiness without the interference of government. Yet, as Odell Huff of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty said in the Washington Times: "Now these same Republican legislators are wasting time, energy, and tax dollars trying to knock down the straw man of same-sex marriages. Didn't American voters elect a GOP-controlled Congress in order to see lower taxes, lower spending, and a shrinking federal government?"

Indeed they did. So why do Republican legislators -- and, as it happens, presidential candidate Bill Clinton -- support this bill, which increases the intrusiveness of the federal government by encroaching on what has previously been reserved to the states?

The federal government has no more right to define marriage law for the states than it has to define speed limits on state roads, to prescribe books used in elementary schools, or to set the salaries of state officials.

The Founders wisely divided power between Washington and the states. What this bill tries to do is not a federal power -- let's let the states decide their own family matters.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Richard Sincere is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.

And that, friends, is the first of my promised "history lessons." Watch for more to come soon.

History Lessons

A few days ago, I discovered a cache of articles -- in retrievable digital formats -- that I wrote between 1993 and 1999. Most of them are opinion pieces or reports on contemporaneous issues and news, but some of them are surprisingly fresh.

It occurred to me, while reading them, that creating an archive of my older writings was one of the principal goals of this blog when it began:

I have two primary purposes in publishing this blog: (1) to comment on current affairs and cultural events, including theatre, music, movies, and books and (2) to archive some of my old writings on what-were-then-current affairs and cultural events (you know the rest).
In a way, 1993 does not seem to be that far in the past. But, while watching an "American Experience" documentary about the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt recently, it occurred to me that fifteen years was approximately the distance between the start of the Great Depression and the end of the Second World War. It's also approximately the same period of time between the beginning of the Clinton administration and today.

In 1930, our grandparents had no idea how long the economic dislocations of the Depression might last. In 1941, nobody knew how long the world would be at war, and Hitler's juggernaut looked unstoppable.

In 1993, the Internet was something known to only a few technically-sophisticated individuals, mostly in the government and in the military. Cell phones were just starting to make their appearance among average folks, but they were still quite expensive. Most people still had answering machines, not voice mail.

In 1993, Bill Clinton reluctantly accepted a congressional mandate to keep gay citizens out of the military, known by the shorthand of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In 2008 -- actually, just two days ago -- a federal court ruled that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an unjustifiable policy.

In 1993, the Soviet Union had disbanded and the world was at peace. We had reached the End of History. Not long after that, President Clinton declared that the "era of big government is over." Unfortunately, George W. Bush -- then a Texas businessman with no experience in elective office -- didn't get that memo.

What I'm trying to illustrate with these examples is that in 15 years a lot of history can occur.

Consequently, over the next days, weeks, and months, I am going to reach back into that digital archive of old articles and reprint them here. What I hope to accomplish by doing so is to shed some light on current issues by revisiting similar -- or sometimes the same -- issues as I commented on them in the early and mid-1990s.

To add to the mix, I have also uncovered photographs that I took during that time. (For instance, I have found hundreds -- I'm not exaggerating -- hundreds of photos I took at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and many more similar photos from that year's Libertarian Party convention in Washington.) Some of them have already been scanned and are ready to post, as appropriate, alongside related articles. Some of them still remain to be digitized but I hope to convert them over time.

While, in a sense, republishing old articles may seem like a lazy blogger's habit, I plan to annotate the old pieces by pointing to current events. (In other words, I have no plans to indiscriminately post articles from the 1990s in the absence of a substantive news hook from today.) And I won't stop creating original pieces, whether reviews of new plays (Kander & Ebb's The Visit premieres this month at Signature Theatre) or reports from the field (e.g., next week's state Republican convention in Richmond). And, as a special treat, I may be able to post some video from the 1990s that will surprise and delight you.

Thomas Helde, who taught European Diplomatic History at Georgetown University for many years, once told our class (in 1977) that he ended the two-semester course at 1950 because "anything more recent than 25 years ago is current affairs." I'm taking liberties with his dictum by suggesting that items from 10 to 15 years ago have historic value; perhaps we can call it "contemporary history" and still meet some reputable standard.

Jeffersoniad News

A new weekly feature of the Jeffersoniad collective of Virginia bloggers is the "Jeffersoniad Journal," a blog carnival featuring members of the collective. (It's really more of an anarcho-syndicalist commune, but I should refrain from speaking out of school.)

The latest "Jeffersoniad Journal" is now up and ready to read at Cathouse Chat.

For those who might be in Richmond next weekend for the cage match between Jim Gilmore and Bob Marshall and the less newsworthy (but organizationally important) bout between John Hager and Jeff Frederick, there are rumors that the Jeffersoniad may be hosting a hospitality suite at the state GOP convention. Stay tuned for more details.

And don't forget to convey your birthday wishes to Kat's daddy. He celebrates 90 years on May 24!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brownlee vs. Cuccinelli

Various news sources are predicting that, tomorrow, former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee will announce his plans to run for Virginia Attorney General in 2009, setting up a contest with state Senator Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax County.

Brownlee sent out a press release regarding a news conference at which he will reveal his intentions. The biggest clue that he will, in fact, be running is that the news release was printed on "Brownlee for Attorney General" letterhead.

Just for fun, here is a preference poll for this race:

Whom do you support for the Republican nomination for Virginia Attorney General?

1) John Brownlee
2) Ken Cuccinelli

View Results

Make your own poll

You might see versions of this poll on other blogs belonging to The Jeffersoniad, a collective of Virginia bloggers.

Gay Marriage Causes Polygamy?

The radio and television news is pouncing on the massive child custody proceeding that began today in San Angelo, Texas, in regard to the children who were (at least temporarily) made wards of the state and taken from their parents, who lived in an unconventional local society dominated by a fundamentalist Mormon sect that encourages men to take multiple wives. (The shorthand for this arrangement is "polygamist sect.")

Addressing this case last week in the Washington Times, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council wrote:

The recent raid on the Texas compound of a religious sect that practices polygamy has raised again a number of issues regarding marriage, family, and sex. On the one hand, the existence of such a large group of practicing polygamists within our borders reinforces the concern that some have (which I share) that redefining marriage for the benefit of homosexuals would put us on a slippery slope toward other redefinitions-including legalization of polygamy.
Had I been drinking while reading this, my immediate reaction would have been a spit-take. (The colloquial abbreviation of the thought I had is "WTF?")

The group he describes aspires to live a 19th-century lifestyle, protect itself from secular influence by geographically separating itself from the larger society, and bases its rigid rules on fundamentalist religious beliefs. Yet Peter Sprigg wants us to think that this conservative sect's marital practices are the result of liberalized attitudes toward homosexuality and a robust public debate about whether gay men and lesbians should be able to wed legally.

Isn't this more than a bit disingenuous?

I think Sprigg is just being silly. He's so obsessed with the private lives of gay and lesbian couples that he thinks any unconventional living arrangements emerge only because of increased tolerance of homosexuals. Given that he uses gay marriage as a "hook" for his article on an entirely unrelated topic, his mode of thinking likely rests on the slogan, "If it's wrong, it must be gay."

If his absurd cause-and-effect argument were true, why aren't these weird fundamentalist compounds being built in Massachusetts or Vermont? Why do they pop up in places like rural Texas and Utah, where the animus against gay people (and opposition to same-sex marriage) is so pronounced?

Do people like Sprigg even ask these questions before jumping to unwarranted conclusions?

Today in 'The Examiner'

On April 29, I posted a personal tribute to the late James J. Unger, who was the debate coach at Georgetown University in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Mike McGough, the former editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and now with the Los Angeles Times, saw my blogpost and encouraged me to write something that would be publishable in a daily newspaper. The result of his encouragement appears in today's Washington Examiner, under the headline "An educator's immeasurable legacy":

Washington Examiner James J. Unger college debate coach
My contract with the Examiner gives that newspaper exclusive publication rights in the D.C. area for a limited period of time. When that exclusivity agreement expires, I will post the text of the article here, along with some further commentary that has been bouncing around in my brain in recent weeks.

Thanks to Professor John Q. Barrett at St. John's University for passing along a copy of my article, which does not appear (at least not yet) on the Examiner's web site.

UPDATE: The Examiner's editorial page editor, Mark Tapscott, informs me that my piece is now available on line, here.

Addendum: I just discovered that a web site in tribute to Jim Unger, complete with photographs and personal reminiscences, has been set up by former Harvard debaters Charlie Garvin and Greg Rosenbaum.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Prince Caspian and Peter Pevensie

Chronicles of Narnia Lion Witch Wardrobe Virginia Film FestivalLater tonight, the much anticipated sequel to the 2005 film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, will be debuting at midnight screenings across the country.

The new film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, takes up where the last one left off (with a gap of about 1,300 years, as I understand it.)

I posted my first video to YouTube on October 26, 2006, and have now put 145 videos on that site, many of which have also ended up on the blog, as well.

Of those 145 videos, the two most popular -- by far -- have been very short, quite silent clips of William Moseley, who plays Peter Pevensie in the Narnia films. Moseley was a special guest at the Virginia Film Festival in October 2006. In one of the videos I took, he is participating in a panel discussion moderated by film critic David Edelstein. As of a few minutes ago, that video had 6,221 visitors on YouTube:

In the other video, young Mr. Moseley is signing autographs for delighted fans. That one has attracted 6,709 visitors and 13 text comments (mostly about his hair) on YouTube:
Just for comparison, let me note that, of my 145 posted videos, the third most popular is called "Scenes from a Debate Season," showing images of me and my fellow debaters at Marquette University High School during the 1975-76 academic year. It has had 1,400 visitors:
I figure, as teenage boys go, Peter Pevensie/William Moseley is about five times as popular as loquacious Catholic high school students from Milwaukee wearing leisure suits. What's curious is how much more popular he seems to be than Liev Schreiber, Bay Buchanan, my nephew Gavin, Robert Duvall, Sam Waterston, and Morgan Freeman. By the way, I'll be seeing Prince Caspian tonight and may have comments about it after the screening has ended.  (Chronicles of Narnia photo provided courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival.)