Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President as Mameleh

At the opening of his 100-day news conference tonight, Teleprompter-in-Chief Barack Obama chided Americans as a mother might scold her 5-year-old child.

"Wash your hands," he said, and "cover your mouth when you cough."

At his next major press event, the President will likely tell us to "wipe your feet" and, "What? Were you born in a barn? Close the door behind you. I'm not paying to heat the whole neighborhood!"

Frankly, I want a president who does not condescend to his constituents.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Me and Michael (Phelps)

I have (on very few occasions) met Olympic athletes in the past, usually people who competed on the U.S. Olympic team many years prior to our encounters. Their Olympic careers were pleasant memories by then, but not the defining characteristic of their lives.

Today, for the first time, I met someone who is not only a current competitor, but the person who represents Olympic competition and success more than any other: Olympic gold-medal winner Michael Phelps, who has participated in three Olympic Games (Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008) and who shows no signs of slowing down.

The occasion was the presentation of the Male Athlete of the Year Award from the United States Sports Academy. My business associate, Joe Szlavik, is a member of the Academy's Board of Visitors. He is also president of the U.S. Sports Alliance, a Washington-based trade association, and I serve as that organization's communications director. I was asked to take photographs of the award presentation, which took place in the Mangione Fitness and Aquatic Center on the campus of Loyola College in Maryland.

The center is quite impressive. Out of 3,800 students enrolled at Loyola, about 60 percent participate in intramural sports or club sports. In any given week during the school year, at least 1,000 students will use the Fitness and Aquatic Center's facilities.

Michael Phelps himself was quite friendly and laid back. He arrived by himself -- no handlers in tow -- to accept his award. (He was the recipient of the same award in 2003; previous winners include Lance Armstrong [four times!], Brett Favre, Carl Sanderson, and Tiger Woods.) The presentation was informal, consisting mostly of posing for pictures. (They'll turn up in the newsletter of the United States Sports Academy and perhaps in some other publications, as well.) He has the biggest hands I have ever seen on a human being. (And no, I didn't ask about his reported relationship with Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean. I'll leave that to the tabloids and Perez Hilton.)

Here is the text of the news release announcing the award:


DAPHNE, Ala. – Swimmer Michael Phelps, the all-time leader in career Olympic gold medals, will be presented the United States Sports Academy’s 2008 Male Athlete of the Year award on Tuesday 28 April at 11:30 a.m. in Baltimore, Maryland, by Joe Szlavik, president of the U.S. Sports Alliance.

Phelps won the award after a worldwide online vote in December 2008 when more than 300,000 votes were cast on a ballot hosted by the Academy, and

Phelps, who had approached Mark Spitz’s all-time record of seven gold medals (1972) by winning six golds at the 2004 Games in Athens, blew Spitz’s mark out of the water at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, grabbing an unprecedented eight gold medals in a single Olympiad.

In his third Olympic appearance, Phelps broke the world record in four of his five individual swims, while all three of his relay teams also set world record times.

Phelps won the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4:03.84, as well as the 200 individual medley (1:54.23), 100 butterfly (50.58), 200 freestyle (1:42.96), 200 butterfly (1:52.03), 4 x 200 freestyle relay (6:58.56), 4 x 100 relay (3:08.24) and 4 x 100 medley relay (3:29.34). All times except the 100 meter butterfly were world records.

To date, Phelps has 14 Olympic gold medals, more than any other Olympian, and a total of 48 career medals in major international competitions, spanning from the Olympics to the World Games to the Pan Pacific Championships.

The Academy Athlete of the Year ballot is the culmination of the Academy’s yearlong Athlete of the Month program, which recognizes the accomplishments of men and women in sports around the globe. The Academy Athlete of the Month is selected by an international voting committee comprising media members and representatives of sports organizations and governing bodies.

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, nonprofit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit


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Monday, April 27, 2009

On Meeting McNally

Those readers who also follow my Tweets on Twitter will already know that I saw the new production of Ragtime at the Kennedy Center last Saturday night and that, to my delight and surprise, the Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally was in the audience, seated almost directly in front of me.

It turns out that the whole creative team of Ragtime was there to see the show last weekend. In addition to McNally, who wrote the book of Ragtime (based on E.L. Doctorow's novel), composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens were also present.

After the final curtain call, I had an opportunity to chat briefly with Mr. McNally. (I even obtained his autograph in my program. I may be a critic, but I'm also a fan.) While I was interviewing him for The Metro Herald, Mr. Flaherty also joined us; he signed autographs for other fans. I was also able to take a few photographs -- not in the best lighting conditions, but at least there is a record of the meeting. (You can see some of the results nearby.) Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reach the trifecta of also meeting Ms. Ahrens.

My review of the show is not yet complete (but you can see what I wrote about the original national tour and about the Broadway production as well). This does provide, however, an excuse to post a review of another Terrence McNally play (and movie) -- not a musical, but it does have some dancing in it -- Love! Valour! Compassion!

A sidenote: I saw the original Broadway production of Love! Valour! Compassion! in 1995. In the audience that night was veteran stage and screen actor Hume Cronyn. Though tempted to introduce myself, I was restrained (and polite) enough to let him have his privacy. At the time, I would not have even had the rationale of being a drama critic to justify being intrusive.

In any case, here is my review of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, which appeared in The Metro Herald in June 1997:

A Study in Contrasts:
Love! Valour! Compassion!
on Stage and Screen

Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

How fortuitous for Washington-area drama lovers that the film adaptation of Terrence McNally's Tony-award-winning play, Love! Valour! Compassion!, has opened just when the area's premiere of the stage production is playing at the Studio Theatre. This gives us a rare opportunity to compare and contrast drama in its live form with its cinematic counterpart.

In a recent review of Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Hamlet (America, May 17, 1997, p. 22), film critic Richard A. Blake noted that Shakespeare's play is one of "introspection," in which "a gifted actor on a bare stage speaking lines of unparalleled power and beauty opens the character's alternating spasms of confusion and resolve." Movies, Blake asserts, "don't do that type of soul-searching very well. Film is a medium of action, of epic scope and visual symbol. Words have their place, of course, but the dialogue must fit the images; and dialogue, even lengthy verbal exchanges, provides interludes to explain motivation for action."

So, too, with Terrence McNally's film adaptation of his own hit play. With one exception (TV star Jason Alexander, cast for his marquee value when Nathan Lane refused to participate in the project), the cast is the same as that on Broadway. Love! Valour! Compassion! (hereinafter LVC!) is not a play of action. While not as introspective as, say, Hamlet, and not as motionless as Waiting for Godot, it is essentially plotless. Things happen, to be sure, but only as a means to define and delineate the characters and their relationships.

The characters, in this case, are eight gay men who come together on the three major holiday weekends of the summer at the country home of Gregory Mitchell, a celebrated choreographer (Christopher Wilson at the Studio Theatre; Stephen Bogardus in the film). The concept sounds cliched -- after all, didn't Mart Crowley introduce this conceit in his pioneering 1968 play, The Boys in the Band? Well, yes and no. McNally is a writer with far more universal appeal than Crowley ever had. Contemporaries they might have been, but McNally has built upon Crowley's foundation to create a combination of pathos, tragicomedy, and humanity wholly free of the venomous bile that characterized The Boys in the Band.

The movie fails because McNally has -- for commercial reasons? -- truncated the expository elements of his characterizations that make the play so appealing. In the play, we are given information that clearly establishes the web of relationships among these men: John Jekyll (Kirk Jackson/Studio; John Glover/film, repeating his Tony-winning performance as both John and his twin brother, James) is Gregory's rehearsal pianist as well as a failed Broadway composer; Perry Sellars (John Emmert/Studio; Stephen Spinella/film) is Gregory's attorney; Buzz Hauser (Floyd King/Studio; Jason Alexander/film) is the costume maker for Gregory's dance company. Moreover, Buzz was once (14 years earlier) Perry's roommate who met John the same day that Perry met his longtime companion, Arthur Pape (Michael Russotto/Studio; John Benjamin Hickey/film). None of this -- except a passing reference to Perry's pro bono legal work -- is explained in the film.

These details are not disposable. Without knowledge of these interlocking relationships, the film audience remains puzzled about why these men have come together for their holiday weekends. Why do they know each other? What do they have in common? Why do they tolerate the mean-spirited John? Audiences at the Studio Theatre can answer these questions.

Gore Vidal once wrote that "A talent for drama is not a talent for writing, but is an ability to articulate human relationships." This is true of Terrence McNally, the playwright. It is not true of Terrence McNally, the screenwriter. (This was also evident in McNally's film adaptation of his play Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, which was incomprehensible when performed on screen with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer in the title roles.)

The centrality of character in this play becomes clear, too, when one contrasts the performances of Jason Alexander and his colleagues, who came to the film directly from Broadway. Their months of rehearsal, exploration, and performance as the characters they portray provided them with a substantial depth that Alexander lacks. Alexander, despite his admirable theatre experience, comes off as superficial. (Eight years on Seinfeld may have retrained him to go for the quick laugh, the 23-minute punch that weekly sitcoms demand.)

To a certain extent, this may be explained by what British critic John Berger meant when he said that "Theatre brings actors before a public and every night during the season they re-enact the same drama. Deep in the nature of theatre is a sense of ritual. The cinema, by contrast, transports its audience individually, singly, out of the theatre towards the unknown." Just as the relationships among the characters are much more strongly bonded in the stage play, the relationship between the characters and their audience is much stronger in the theatre than in the cinema. Theatregoers are required to participate much more in the stage production -- the barren stage induces them to use their imaginations. In contrast, the movie sets everything before the audience. For example, while Gregory's blind lover, Bobby Brahms (Sean Pratt/Studio; Justin Kirk/film) pantomimes his tactile exploration of the trees and flowers in the garden on stage, those trees and flowers are there, larger than life, on screen. When Bobby drops a milk bottle on stage, no prop is used but an off-stage sound effect alerts us to what happened; on film, the bottle and milk explode into myriad pieces. The lush realism of LVC! (the movie) detracts (and distracts) from the drama itself.

Here, then, is the irony: Movies require action to attract and retain their audience, which otherwise remains passive. Plays, being less action-oriented, require the audience to be active. The New Republic's longtime theatre critic, Robert Brustein, put his finger on this phenomenon when he noted: "Theatergoing is a communal act, moviegoing a solitary one." Few things are more dissatisfying than attending a live performance in an empty auditorium; being the sole member of a cinema audience is hardly ever disappointing.

In the end, LVC! on film fails for the same reasons it triumphs on stage. McNally's screen adaptation attempts, unsuccessfully, to impose a plot where none existed; to do this in two instead of three hours; and to sacrifice full understanding of each individual character before the (perceived) facile needs of a moviegoing public, assumed to be less sophisticated than the mavens of the Great White Way.

No one should endure this condescension. That is why we in the Washington area are so lucky -- we can take advantage of the Studio Theatre's excellent production of Love! Valour! Compassion! even as others across the country must settle for the inferior film version. This critic's advice: see the play now, while you can, and rent the video when it's released.
Love! Valour! Compassion! is not currently playing in Washington (2009) but Ragtime's run at the Kennedy Center has been extended through May 17.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Columbine Anniversary

The past decade has seen many events that have overtaken most of our memories about the shocking massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, precisely ten years ago. USA Today has a report on the commemorations taking place:

Tributes began Sunday evening with a candlelight vigil at the native Colorado stone monument in neighboring Clement Park, where the community left impromptu memorials in the days after the shooting. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter ordered flags to fly at half-staff Monday. A formal commemoration begins at 5 p.m.Monday at the Clement Park Amphitheater.

"We cannot allow the lessons of this tragedy to fade with the passage of time," Ritter said in the statement.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings at Columbine, I wrote an article for The Metro Herald, which appeared in its edition of April 30, 1999. In retrospect, I might have written something different, and I would not have had just this same reaction if these events happened last year or last month or last week.

We have learned more about Columbine itself, and we have experienced similar school shootings -- such as the one two years ago at Virginia Tech -- that have provided still more questions and more material for study, and thus for learning better techniques for prevention and response. Police tactics are different today because of Columbine, for instance.

Those caveats aside, much of the piece holds up after ten years, so I am republishing it here and welcome comments.
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
Special to The Metro Herald

Crime stories in the news seldom merit my attention. Yet the story of the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20 has kept me transfixed in front of my TV for days. The drama has been preternaturally compelling. The shattering news from Littleton has evoked hours upon hours, page upon page of reporting, analysis, speculation, and bewilderment. A book would be necessary to reply to all of the commentary on the shooting and its aftermath. (No doubt not just one book, but several, will be on sale soon, with movies and TV shows to follow.)

It is difficult to keep silent in the face of such tragedy. Although my preference would be to provide a comprehensive, coherent essay—and may still do so—what follows are some random thoughts about random violence.

We have heard that the mayhem at Columbine High School demonstrates that our culture is corrupt and depraved. This is simply not so. Precisely the opposite is true. What happened in Littleton was the work of two individuals (perhaps with accomplices), not that of our culture or our society. Two facts are important here. First, events like that of April 20 are exceedingly rare in the United States. There are more than 40 million children in school, and less than 10 percent of them will ever be affected by or observe violent acts of any sort in their schools. Rarity makes us take notice. Second, we have almost universally reacted to the Littleton killings with horror, disgust, and grief. The abnormality of the event, plus our proper reaction to it, provide irrefutable evidence that our culture is strong, that our society and we as individuals still possess a profound sense of right and wrong.

We have heard that school killings like this do not happen "anywhere else," that America is almost unique in experiencing such things. Sadly, this is not true, either. In other countries, such occurrences are all too frequent. In Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, events like this have taken place regularly and with more vicious cruelty. The difference from America, of course, is that there the massacres are carried out by governments or by those who want to control the government. The only comparable acts by the U.S. government since the end of the Indian Wars in the nineteenth century were the destruction of the home of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and of the MOVE rowhouses in Philadelphia a few years before.

We have heard that the Littleton massacre shows the need for more stringent gun control. Once again, a tragedy is being used by those who want to see the state extend its control over the lives of individual citizens. This is misguided, wrongheaded, and exploitative. It is easy to say that we must do it "for the children," but how do those children benefit if their rights as adults are circumscribed and violated by the time they grow up? Previous generations have spent their childhoods in a climate in which guns were pervasive. The difference was that children in those days were taught both to respect their weapons and to respect other people.

A retired police chief noted in a letter published in the Wall Street Journal that the problem at Columbine was that "only the bad guys had guns." Columnist Vin Suprynowicz of the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out that "in Israel, teachers and parents who serve as school aides go armed at all times on school grounds, with semi-automatic weapons. Since this policy was put into effect, terrorist attacks in Israeli schools have dropped to zero. The only recent exception was the tragic case of a group of schoolchildren who were murdered by an Arab gunman as they visited the 'Zone of Peace' on the Jordanian border. The Jordanians specifically requested that the Israeli teachers and chaperones leave their weapons behind—which they did. American schools are, on the other hand, 'gun free zones,'" by law.

We have heard that the tragedy at Columbine High School shows the need for more active intervention into the personal lives of students and parents, to prevent future such events. No amount of intervention is likely to help, and it will more probably result in unconscionable intrusion by government in the form of school authorities. The suspected gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had had no disciplinary problems in school. In their one brush with the law, they were released from a community-service program with favorable recommendations. By all accounts, they came from good families, their older siblings had no problems, and they were not "loners" as initial reports indicated—they had friends, girlfriends, and even belonged to a "clique" of their own, the now-notorious Trench Coat Mafia.

Alienation and a sense of loneliness are typical of adolescence. Each of us felt it at some time during our high school years, but for the vast majority of us, it did not lead to crime or violence. The check lists we see about youth "at risk" for disturbing behavior sound like a list of answers to the question, Is your child between the ages of 13 and 19? The "warning signs" include things like: spending a lot of time alone in his room listening to music; rebelling against authority; disdaining being seen in public with his parents; acting "different" from a few years before.

The fact is, we can seldom know when such acts of violence are or have been prevented. An exception was last November in Burlington, Wisconsin, where local authorities received an anonymous tip that an attack on the local high school was scheduled to take place. A quick response led to the arrest of the students involved. In most cases, however, prevention will take place early and unknowingly, through the kindness of teachers and administrators, respect paid by parents or fellow students, by turning potential killers onto the right path of normal behavior. And we cannot know which of them might have been seduced by the dark side. Americans do not like to feel out of control. Randomness itself terrifies us. Random violence compounds the terror. But randomness is part of the price we pay to live in a free society. Only a dystopian sort of totalitarianism could eliminate risks completely, and none of us is willing to live under that kind of dictatorship.

Finally, a question: Why has no one pointed out that the school killings of the past few years—in Bethel, Alaska; Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon; and now Littleton, Colorado—have all taken place at government-run schools? Not a single incident like this has occurred at a private or religious school. That, perhaps, tells us more than anything else. It may tell us more than we want to know.

The next few weeks will bring us more solid knowledge about what happened on April 20. But the questions will linger for many years to come, as will the sadness and the pain. Fortunately for those who suffered, the first Sunday following the Columbine tragedy was "Good Shepherd Sunday" in the calendars of the liturgical churches. Across the country and in Littleton itself, congregations were comforted by the words of the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . . Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (KJV).

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Teabagging in Charlottesville - Part III

Having posted my first set of videos from the Charlottesville Tea Party -- featuring former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, Tertium Quids president John Taylor, WCHV-AM radio talk show host Joe Thomas (in the persona of Thomas Paine), and Karin Agness of the Network of Independent Women -- late on Wednesday night (or was it early on Thursday morning), followed by a collection of photos from the same event, I am now able to post the last few video segments. I would have had more but my camera's battery died before the end of the Tea Party.

The first video features Delegate Rob Bell (R-58), who represents parts of Albemarle and Orange counties, as well as Greene County, in the Virginia General Assembly. He is one of the legislators whose districts cover part of the territory that was once represented by Thomas Jefferson, in his early public service career. (As a member of the Virginia legislature, Jefferson introduced the Statute of Religious Freedom, one of the three achievements he chose to note on his tombstone. The others were being the author of the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia.)

Delegate Bell was the only elected official invited to speak to the 1,500 or so people gathered under the canopy of the Charlottesville Pavilion for the April 15 Tea Party. According to emcee Joe Thomas, it was Bell's connection to Mr. Jefferson that led to the invitation. Here are Rob Bell's remarks, preceded by Thomas' introduction:

The chairman of the Jefferson Area Libertarians, John Munchmeyer, followed Delegate Bell to the microphone. He gave a wide-ranging address, framed by the analogy of the frog in the pot as illustrative of what expanding government is doing to its citizens. (As the story goes, if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, he will immediately jump out. If, however, you put him in a pot of cold water and then turn up the heat slowly, the frog will remain in the water until he is fully cooked -- and, therefore, dead.)

Munchmeyer spoke for about 20 minutes and I have divided his speech into three smaller segments. (The text of his speech is available at the Jefferson Area Libertarians web site:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

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Teabagging in Charlottesville - Part II

Following up on my initial post on Wednesday's Tea Party in Charlottesville, I would like to share a few photographs that I managed to take that day.

A digression: Crystal Clear Conservative has a round-up of coverage by Virginia bloggers about the various Tea Parties around the state. She lists Tertium Quids, Bearing Drift, Deo Vindice, Virginia Virtucon, and yours truly. She also provides links to the opening and closing remarks at the Reston Tea Party by Leslie Carbone, author of the forthcoming book, Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform. There is also photographic and video coverage at the Jefferson Area TeaParty blog. Daily Pundit also has some good photos from the Charlottesville Tea Party. Finally, Norm Leahy has posted another round-up of coverage of Virginia Tea Parties at RedState, including not only bloggers but also mainstream media reports.

Let's start with some of the creative hand-held signs brought to the Tea Party by concerned citizens:

This one says "Let's scuttle the Beltway pirates too!! They're asking 10 trillion $$$$ ransom!!!!"

Here's a slogan for the ages: "Capitalism Rocks / Socialism Sucks" -- no doubt Adam Smith would approve!

A twist on an old joke (which I think originated with "The Wizard of ID" on the comics page): "Congress is revolting and so are we!"

Virginia's state motto: "Sic Semper Tyrannis" or, in English, "Thus always to tyrants"

What does "TEA" stand for? "Trillions Endanger America"

This young lady had a two-sided sign that seemed to refer to the notorious report issued by the Department of Homeland Security on April 7, which identified activists for smaller-government and respect for the constitution as potential terrorists. As recently as Thursday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was defending the report rather than admitting it is an embarrassment. Napolitano does not, apparently, believe (as does, for instance, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation) that "dissent is patriotic."

These signs say: "In 1773, I'm a patriot" and "In 2009, I'm a terrorist."

A slogan for the Age of Obama: "I'll keep my money, freedom, and guns. You keep your change."

Now for some photos of people at the Charlottesville Tea Party:

Former Charlottesville City Council member Rob Schilling, now a talk show host on WINA-AM, poses with Jim Moore, president of the Charlottesville Taxpayers Association.

Delegate Rob Bell (R-58), whose seat in the Virginia General Assembly was once held by Thomas Jefferson, was the only elected official to address the Tea Party multitude.

Charlottesville-area resident Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, also addressed the crowd.

Just beyond the boundaries of the Tea Party area, on Charlottesville's downtown mall but outside the Pavilion, I caught these images:

The First Amendment Monument (which may, within the next few years, have to be renamed the First Amendment Memorial) was a beehive of activity while the Tea Party was going on.

Some bright wag chalked this thesis on the wall: "The problem with socialism is you run out of other people's money!"

Another teabagger put the case more crudely: "Taxes Blow"

How appropriate it was that the whole Tea Party enterprise was watched over by three of the Founders: James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. Whether they watched with bemusement or pride -- or horror that such a protest was necessary -- is unknown.

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Madeleine Albright and Craig Ferguson on Citizenship

On tonight's edition of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS-TV, the lead guest was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The interview touched several issues, including the potential of Texas secession, Albright's collection of brooches and pins (including a "snake pin" she wore at the United Nations to goad Saddam Hussein), the Secretary's new book (Memo to the President Elect), and one thing that both host and guest have in common:

Both Madeleine Albright (born in what was then Czechoslovakia) and Craig Ferguson (born in Scotland) are naturalized American citizens -- that is, they are Americans by choice (and working to achieve it) rather than by birth.

In the course of their conversation, Dr. Albright mentioned that, on July 4, 2000, she visited Monticello and participated in the annual citizenship ceremonies there. She said that, as she handed out the certificates of citizenship to each of the new Americans, she told them, "Treasure this paper. It's the most important piece of paper you will ever have."

I reported on Albright's visit to Monticello for The Metro Herald, as I have reported on subsequent Independence Day naturalization ceremonies.

Let me make a suggestion to the folks up on Mr. Jefferson's little mountain: Craig Ferguson would be an excellent candidate to speak at the annual July 4th event. He's earned it. He'd also be entertaining, and I'm sure his remarks would be both intelligent and witty.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Teabagging in Charlottesville - Part I

At least 1,500 motivated citizens and liberty-oriented activists crowded under the lobster-trap-like canopy of the Pavilion on the east end of Charlottesville's downtown mall on Wednesday. While shelter from the cold drizzle and grey skies may have been one reason for being there, the primary reason was to raise their voices in protest against a government that is growing into an even bigger Leviathan than it has been.

Considering that liberal Charlottesville is one of the bluest areas in an increasingly blue Virginia, the size of the crowd was unexpected. Parking was at a premium. (The Market Street parking garage was full and on-street parking was virtually non-existent. Even the Water Street garage, several blocks away from the site of the rally, was more than three-quarters full.) One speaker, Delegate Rob Bell (who represents the same district in Central Virginia that was once represented by Thomas Jefferson) said he was told to expect about 50 or 60 people. Others commented that a maximum of 200 would be an achievement.

How wrong they were!

It was not just about numbers, however. The event brought together a coalition of citizen activists whose backgrounds could be characterized as conservative, libertarian, or (previously) apathetic. There were signs touting Bob McDonnell for Governor. Another sign, echoing Sarah Palin, said "Read My Lipstick!" Some in the crowd had supported Ron Paul for President last year, others John McCain, still others LP candidate Bob Barr, and some had voted for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party. There were high school students and pensioners, blue-collar workers and executives, radio hosts and elected officials.

The event was non-partisan and lived up to that. There were no calls from the podium to vote for specific candidates this fall, although master of ceremonies Joe Thomas of radio station WCHV-AM urged everyone to get out and vote and send a message to incumbent officeholders by voting them out of office if they are not doing all they can to reduce government spending and the taxes that go along with bloated government.

Because I had to drive around looking for a parking place, I missed the first 20 minutes or so of the 3-hour rally. I arrived just in time to see former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger address the crowd, and I managed to capture his remarks on video:

Secretary Eagleburger, a resident of the Charlottesville area, was followed by John Taylor, who lives in Northern Virginia and is president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and Tertium Quids. Taylor is well-known as a grassroots organizer for issues that affect Virginia voters and taxpayers. Taylor spoke longer than Eagleburger, so his remarks are divided into two video segments:

After he left the stage, Taylor headed to Richmond, where he was scheduled to address that city's Tea Party at around 6:00 p.m.

During an interlude, Joe Thomas took an opportunity to tell a joke at the expense of Charlottesville's City Hall (did this rally really look like a Dave Matthews Band concert?) and to urge the crowd to continue the fight beyond tax day:

Thomas then introduced youthful activist Karin Agness, a law student at the University of Virginia and founder of the Network of Enlightened Women, who addressed the enthusiastic crowd on topics of concern to her generation:

I will have more video tomorrow -- this stuff takes time to edit into easily digestible segments! -- as well as more photos from the Charlottesville Tea Party.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Different Kind of Tea Party

While many of my friends will be participating in tax-day "tea party" protests across the country and across the Commonwealth of Virginia (in Charlottesville, Richmond, Newport News, Reston, and other locations), primarily to draw attention to the federal government's rapid and unconscionable expansion and the accompanying increase in the taxes extracted from citizens to pay for bloat and imaginary "stimulus," a different kind of "tea party" will be taking place in New York City.

According to an announcement from NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws:

On Wednesday, April 15, AT 4:20 PM, representatives of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), including the organization’s national director Allen St. Pierre, will stand on the steps of the General Post Office in Midtown Manhattan and present a check for $14 billion to the US Treasury Department.

The check total is an estimate of what American taxpayers spend every year to maintain marijuana prohibition, according to the report, “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States” (, Americans spend some $6 billion on law enforcement costs related to enforcing marijuana laws. Taxing and regulating the production and sale of cannabis like alcohol would reduce these costs while raising an estimated $8 billion in new tax revenue. That’s according to Nobel Prize Winner Milton Friedman and over 500 other accredited economists.

“We’re representing America’s millions of otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers who ARE ready, willing, vocal and able to contribute this huge sum to our struggling economy, while providing truly ‘green’ jobs and allowing police to focus on more important priorities,” says Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s Executive Director. “All we ask in exchange for our $14 billion is the right to smoke our pot responsibly and in peace – just in the same way as the millions of daily consumers of alcohol products in our country.”

What was it that Ronald Reagan said?
Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
Taxing marijuana and regulating it are long overdue. I can guarantee there will never be a need to subsidize it.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Distorting the Record at the University of Virginia

Talk about intellectual dishonesty! In the age of Google, it is truly remarkable that anyone would make a statement in print -- and in the Washington Post, no less -- that is so easy to disprove.

Last week in the Post's Metro opinion section, Karin Agness wrote about student protests over the choice of federal Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson to be the University of Virginia's commencement speaker. This past Sunday, Amelia Meyer explained some of the reasons for those protests against Wilkinson, a Charlottesville resident who sits on the bench of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond:

Wilkinson's arguments against gay marriage were made clear in an article he wrote for The Post in 2006. The thrust of his argument was that matters of family law shouldn't be dealt with constitutionally. But he further argued against the very idea of gay marriage, writing, "Marriage between male and female is more than a matter of biological complementarity. . . . Without strong family structures, there will be no stable and healthy social order, and alternative marriage structures might weaken the sanction of law and custom necessary for human families to flourish and children to grow." It is this statement with which a number of U-Va students take issue, rightly seeing it as a threat and an insult to many gay students and advocates.
Meyer had to work extra hard to take Wilkinson's words out of context and misrepresent what he said. That's because Wilkinson's original article, appearing in the Washington Post on September 5, 2006, was an argument against banning gay marriage through amendments to either the federal or state constitutions. His point was precisely the opposite of what Meyer claims it was.

Wilkinson said, in part:
To constitutionalize matters of family law is to break with state traditions. The major changes in family law in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the recognition of married women's property rights and the liberalization of divorce, occurred in most states at the statutory level. Even the infamous bans on interracial marriage were adopted nonconstitutionally by 35 states, and by constitutional amendment in only six....

Is it too much to ask that judges and legislatures acknowledge the difficulty of this debate by leaving it to normal democratic processes? In fact, the more passionate an issue, the less justification there often is for constitutionalizing it. Constitutions tempt those who are way too sure they are right. Certainty is, to be sure, a constant feature of our politics -- some certainties endure; others are fated to be supplanted by the certainties of a succeeding age. Neither we nor the Framers can be sure which is which, but the Framers were sure that we should debate our differences in this day's time and arena. It is sad that the state of James Madison and John Marshall will in all likelihood forsake their example of limited constitutionalism this fall. Their message is as clear today as it was at the founding: Leave constitutions alone.
Wilkinson was writing in the midst of the debate in Virginia over the so-called Marshall-Newman Amendment, which appeared on the ballot in the fall 2006 election. (It passed and made it unconstitutional for same-sex couples to marry in Virginia.) For a conservative jurist to go on the record against that amendment (as well as the Federal Marriage Amendment favored by President George W. Bush) when being silent would have been the more prudent course (politically speaking) does Judge Wilkinson great honor.

It does him great dishonor when people like Meyer lie about the record. It says a lot about Meyer's dishonesty that she is willing to distort the record when it is so easy, as they say, to go look it up. I don't know whether to be more disturbed by Meyer's intellectual dishonesty or by her intellectual snobbishness -- that is, her thinking that readers of the Washington Post are too stupid to see through her editorial sleight-of-hand.

It is noteworthy that, in her piece, Agness was identified by the Post as
a law student at the University of Virginia and founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, a national organization for conservative college women.
The Post did not identify Meyer beyond her name. So, for the record, let's note that she describes herself on her Facebook page as a member of the UVA class of 2009 and as "very liberal" in her political views. She also says she is a fan of both the Colbert Report and the Human Rights Campaign. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but let's make sure that the record is complete as well as, pardon the expression, set straight.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Bloggers' Day at the Virginia State Capitol

On April 8, I participated in the third annual Bloggers' Day at the State Capitol, at the invitation of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling.

A few of the other participants (there were between 15 and 20 of us there on Wednesday, with numbers fluctuating through the course of the day as some had to attend to other business) have already posted their reflections on Bloggers' Day: Bearing Drift; Virginia Conservative (with pictures); and a brief mention on Tertium Quids.

What follows is an adaptation of an article I prepared for The Metro Herald in Alexandria. (Since some of that article will refer to this blogpost, it made sense to edit out various redundancies.)

(RICHMOND, April 8, 2009) --- Political bloggers from across Virginia were invited to the state Capitol on April 8 for a series of briefings by elected officials, candidates, campaign consultants, and pundits. “Bloggers’ Day at the State Capitol” coincided with the annual veto session of the General Assembly, at which the House of Delegates and State Senate accept or reject the amendments to bills made by the Governor and consider whether to override the Governor’s vetoes of other bills.

The sponsor of the day’s activities was Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who is also a candidate for re-election this year. Bolling faces token opposition for the Republican nomination from Patrick Muldoon, an attorney from Giles County. The Lieutenant Governor estimated that 20 or 22 bloggers would participate in the day’s events; the actual number fluctuated during the course of the day from about 15 to about 20.

Bolling greeted the group of bloggers at his office in Richmond, and began the day’s discussions by giving an overview of the forthcoming statewide political campaign.

He started with a note of optimism: “We feel good about where we are,” Bolling said. “We’re usually fighting while the other side is united. This time we’re united while the other side is fighting.”

Bolling was referring to the fact that Republicans have already chosen their candidate for governor – former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who faces no opponent in the GOP convention on May 30 – while the Democrats will be choosing their candidate in a primary on June 9 from a three-man field of state Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath County, former Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria, and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of McLean.

The only actively contested race for nomination to statewide office in the Republican Party is that of attorney general, which also features three candidates: former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee of Roanoke, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax County, and former Arlington County School Board chair David Foster. There is only one candidate for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, Delegate Steve Shannon of Fairfax County. (All four are lawyers.)

Democrats also have a contested race for lieutenant governor, with three candidates seeking the nomination: Jon Bowerbank, a Russell County supervisor; Mike Signer of Arlington, a former advisor to then-Governor Mark Warner; and former state Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner of Virginia Beach. A fourth candidate, Virginia Beach school board member Pat Edmonson, failed to gather a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify the June 9 primary ballot.

Bolling said the “conventional wisdom is my opponent will be Jody Wagner, who helped Tim Kaine botch up the state budget.”

The budget, he said, is one of many issues that favor Republicans in this fall’s elections.

“The issues are lining up our way,” Bolling said. “I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this, but if we win [in 2009], we’ll be well positioned for 2011 and 2012.” The entire General Assembly, both the House and the Senate, are up for election in 2011, and 2012 is a presidential election year as well as the year the junior U.S. senator from Virginia will face re-election.

“Conversely,” Bolling continued, “if we lose, it will be a decade or more before we elect another Republican statewide. Virginia will be blue.”

Bolling brought up what he called an “interesting” statistic borne out by recent polls. Among Virginia registered voters, 38 percent consider themselves Democrats; 33 percent consider themselves Republicans; and 29 percent are independents.

What Republicans have to do to win this year, Bolling said, is “we have got to reach the 29 percent. We have got to motivate the 33 percent.”

In reference to the recent decision of the Republican Party of Virginia to fire party chairman Jeff Frederick, Bolling said: “I stayed out of that [situation]. We have to turn the page and move on.” He added that he hopes “the State Central Committee will find someone who is a unifying voice.”

The Republican State Central Committee meets on May 2 to choose an interim chair; a permanent chair will be elected by the state party convention at the Richmond Coliseum on May 30. Between 8,000 and 10,000 delegates are expected to attend that convention, contrasted with about 4,000 who attended the convention last year that chose Frederick as chairman.

Bolling noted that “we can handle disagreements within the party but we cannot handle divisions within the party. To win elections we have to build consensus and build coalitions.”

Concluding his remarks as gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell joined the discussion, Bolling said: “This is not the time to be discouraged. It’s OK to be disappointed; it’s not OK to be discouraged.”

For his part, McDonnell greeted the gathering of bloggers by saying “it’s helpful to navigate our way around the mainstream media,” or MSM. He noted that, in the past, he had spoken to blogging conferences in his role as Attorney General. On those occasions he talked about the rules – rules about libel and slander, for instance, and the line that might be crossed in terms of campaign finance laws.

Having just launched his campaign for governor with a tour of 27 cities and counties over eight days, McDonnell declared that “Virginia is a competitive state. It is certainly not a blue state.”

McDonnell admitted that there are independents “who have left [the Republican party] because they don’t feel we’ve been addressing quality of life issues… We want them back.”

As well as engaging with bloggers, McDonnell said, “we’re using Twitter, MySpace Facebook, text messaging,” and other online tools for reaching voters and volunteers. He said his campaign has hired the firm that did text messaging for the Obama presidential campaign as part of this outreach effort.

McDonnell noted the concerns he is hearing from voters as he traveled across the state. He said he had discerned “great unrest in increasing numbers [of people] about whether a great increase in government spending” is the right way to address the economic crisis. “Is that really the answer?,” he asked.

He admitted that Republicans over the past eight years of the Bush administration had increased discretionary spending, so that the GOP does not have clean hands when it criticizes the new Obama administration.

McDonnell noted that voters have “great concerns about federalizing health care” and “great concerns about the federal government intruding into private corporations.”

In response to these concerns, McDonnell said “we need a rebirth of federalism. The Tenth Amendment has been trampled, undermining what makes America great.”

McDonnell acknowledged that his campaign faces “a difficult dynamic of more government spending and more government solutions.” He asserted that his campaign will be talking “about big ideas to fix the economy.”

“I want Virginia to be the best place in America to start a small business,” the candidate said. “We need to cut red tape.” In addition, McDonnell said, Virginia should be the best state for film production and tourism (sectors of the economy that have also been singled out by McDonnell’s potential opponent, Terry McAuliffe).

Opening up the floor for questions, McDonnell was asked about the leadership crisis in the Republican Party of Virginia. He replied that “grassroots leaders of the party should decide who the chairman should be.” The best person for that job, he said, is someone who is a “solid conservative with management experience.” He added that he and his campaign “want a good, strong working relationship with the party.”

Another question was raised about a controversial issue that would be taken up by the General Assembly that day: whether to accept federal stimulus money that would extend unemployment compensation programs. (In the end, the General Assembly rejected the Governor’s amendments that authorized acceptance of the federal funds, but this action was in the future during the bloggers’ discussion with McDonnell and Bolling.)

McDonnell answered that he was against accepting the federal stimulus money for this program because it would bring with it an “unfunded mandate” that required a change in Virginia law. “In the long term,” McDonnell said, this program would “hurt the effort to expand jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Lieutenant Governor Bolling added that this program would have a “tremendous [negative] impact on the cost of doing business,” that would lead to more businesses laying off employees in order to absorb the costs imposed on them by the government. This would lead, he said, to a “vicious, endless cycle that ends up with more people being unemployed.”

After a few questions about issues that might be discussed on the floors of the House and Senate during the veto session, Bolling and McDonnell left for other meetings.

The bloggers in attendance sat in the gallery of the state Senate, where they were welcomed by the 40 members of that legislative chamber, after being introduced from the floor by Senator Ken Cuccinelli, who called the bloggers “a distinguished group of rabble rousers.”

Here is the video record of the welcome by the state Senate, which includes the invocation by the Reverend James Porter and remarks by Senators John Watkins and Donald McEachin; the welcoming remarks by Senator Cuccinelli begin at minute marker 3:01:

Throughout the rest of the day the bloggers were briefed by political consultant Chris LaCivita of Advancing Strategies, LLC; Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson of Project Virginia, a new social networking platform for civic engagement; former VCU political science professor Bob Holsworth, now with Virginia Tomorrow; Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton), and Paul Haughton, executive director of the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Here, in five segments, is Dr. Bob Holsworth's assessment of the state of Virginia politics; he answers questions from the bloggers in parts 4 and 5:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V, in which I ask a question about the Fifth Congressional District, Congressman Tom Perriello, and former Congressman Virgil Goode:

Dr. Holsworth was followed by Delegate Chris Saxman, who gave the right answer when I asked him about the Virginia government's new prohibition on smoking in restaurants. Let's go to the tape:

This was the third annual “Bloggers’ Day at the State Capitol” and participants expect that there will be more in the future.

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