Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remember to Count the Buts

The punditocracy is abuzz with anticipation of President Barack Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address, scheduled to take place Wednesday night at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

(I will be in Washington, too, but won't be watching the SOTU.  Instead, I will be at Ford's Theatre to see a play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates called The Rivalry, written by Norman Corwin.  Remember when politicians really engaged their audiences with extended and articulate argumentation?  You'd have to be old enough to have seen Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to say "yes.")

Continuing pre-game coverage of the State of the Union sent me back to what I wrote about Bill Clinton's 1996 State of the Union message for The Metro Herald, 14 years ago next week.  One paragraph leaped out at me:

Unfortunately, Clinton does not mean what he says. When he appears to embrace conservative -- even libertarian -- principles, he always has a fallback to traditional, failed liberal policies. In his State of the Union message, Clinton used the word "but" 27 times in 65 minutes. Each time he made a grand statement that conservatives and libertarians could readily and happily agree with -- such as "the era of big government is over" -- he qualified it with a "but." Each "but" meant that "we liberals recognize that conservatives have won over public opinion, so we're telling you we agree with them, even though we're sticking to the same policies we've advocated for thirty years."
Although Obama lacks Clinton's deft political skills (Obama is not nearly enough like a chameleon to match Bill Clinton in that regard), it may be useful to count the "buts" in the President's speech.

In fact, why not make a drinking game out of it? Instead of taking a shot every time President Obama says "Hi, Bob!" (an unlikely prospect, in any case), swing one back whenever he says "but" or "however."

You'll be lucky to leave your SOTU-watching party on your own two legs.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Pop One for Me, Please

It's Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!

Who knew?

It turns out that people have been celebrating the useful (but sometimes annoying) packing material for nine years now, in anticipation (I guess) of the 50th anniversary of the invention of Bubble Wrap in 2010.

According to the Christian Science Monitor -- which used to be available as packing material itself, until it went on-line only last year:

Sealed Air Corporation's Bubble Wrap, like Kleenex, Post-Its, and, well, Snuggies, has come to occupy one the rarest gems of consumer acceptance: adoption of its brand name as the generic term for the product. And because an Indiana radio station decided it nine years ago, today, the last Monday in January, is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, a day when folks the world over are encouraged to pause, ponder, and, well, pop little plastic bubbles of air.
CSM points to a web site to aid the celebration: BubbleWrapFun.com, which includes "Fun & Games," a "Gift Shop," and "1001 Uses." And, of course, Bubble Wrap has an official Facebook page.

All that's left is for you to rush to your nearest office supply store, buy a roll of Bubble Wrap, and tease your dog for hours on end.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fifth District Republicans Debate

Last Friday evening, six of the seven declared candidates for the Republican nomination for Congress in Virginia's Fifth District came together for a forum sponsored by the Lynchburg and Jefferson Area Tea Parties. The candidates' forum took place at the Lane Auditorium in the Albemarle County Office Building in Charlottesville.

The forum was carried live on the radio on WCHV-AM 1260 and -FM (94.1) and that station's morning host, Joe Thomas, welcomed the audience and introduced the participants, including moderator Robert Tracinski, editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist.

Keith McGilvery covered the debate for WVIR-TV (NBC29) in Charlottesville:

Within minutes, talk turned to health care, where the candidates thought it had gone wrong, and how they would fix it.

Candidate Michael McPadden says, "I don't see where the federal government has any role in mandating any sort of healthcare reforms, we can do this via free market reforms, there's a number of things we can do."

A number of candidates at the tea party sponsored showdown argued that creating competition is key.

Candidate Ron Ferrin said, "The bottom line is, my philosophy in government is capitalism is the cure and that is exactly what we're talking about to cure health care."

Candidate Feda Morton says, "We do need to be able to have access to insurance across state lines to make competition between the different insurance companies, so people can compete and choose the insurance they want."

Laurence Verga says, "The health care system needs to move from an employer based system with a limited amount of companies buying insurance to an open market system."

Ken Boyd said, "We need to move out there to the people and let them negotiate for their own health care, that's just one step in the right direction."

One candidate made the case that keeping an eye on our borders could help curb costs. Candidate Jim McKelvey says, "again, shut the borders illegal immigration is a huge burden on our health care system, and it needs to stop."
McGilvery noted, as did others, that state Senator Robert Hurt did not participate in the forum alongside his six opponents for the GOP nod. A playful effigy of Hurt, however, was erected on the dais. Surprisingly, Hurt's absence (and the presence of his cardboard image) was only mentioned once or twice by the other candidates, who chose to focus on the issue-oriented questions that were posed to them by moderator Tracinski.

Brian McNeill, a reporter for The Daily Progress, noted a few of the candidates' other responses in a story on GoDanRiver.com:
Each was asked what his or her top priority would be if elected to Congress with a GOP majority.

Ron Ferrin, a businessman from Campbell County, said he would try to erase everything passed so far during the Obama administration

“I would propose the Liberty Recovery Act of 2011 that would repeal everything that Obama was going to induce in his first two years of office,“ he said.

Michael McPadden, a commercial pilot from North Garden, said he would seek to boost economic activity by cutting taxes and reducing government spending. “You want jobs in this country, then you cut taxes,“ he said. “Cut the size and scope of the federal government."

Laurence Verga, a private real estate investor from Ivy, said he would slash a long list of taxes, including corporate and small business taxes, as well as the estate and capital gains taxes.

Verga said the voters deserve better than the “devastation of Tom Perriello” when it comes to the economic problems facing the district. “We can and we will do better,“ he said.

Jim McKelvey, a Franklin County real estate developer, said he would reduce the size of the federal government by 20 percent and bring to the floor of Congress a bill that would implement the so-called FairTax that would eliminate federal income taxes and replace them with a retail sales tax.

The candidates were asked if they disagreed with any actions undertaken during the George W. Bush administration.

Verga said he objected to the Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout, the McCain-Feingold limits on campaign finance and the No Child Left Behind education reform.

Feda Kidd Morton, a Fluvanna County biology teacher and GOP activist, said she opposed the bank bailout and also the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was actually signed by Bill Clinton in 1994.

“I go back to NAFTA, definitely. NAFTA is draining our jobs overseas,“ Morton said. “I would take NAFTA off the table and bring our manufacturing jobs and businesses back into this country."

McPadden also looked to earlier administrations for his sources of criticism. “I’d go back to the Carter administration, get rid of the Education Department first,“ he said. “Go back to the Clinton administration, AmeriCorps has got to go. Go back to the Bush administration, TARP funding has got to go. And no funding for ACORN ever."

Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd told the crowd that he has a decade’s worth of experience reducing government spending and balancing budgets.

“We need someone willing to step up, cut spending and balance the budget,“ he said. “That’s something we’ve done here in Albemarle County."

Boyd said he, too, would take drastic steps to reduce the size of the federal government.

“The federal Department of Education should be done away with,“ Boyd said, saying it is unconstitutional.
The whole discussion lasted about 90 minutes, and I was able to capture virtually all of it on video, which I had to upload to YouTube in small bites. (That is why the Democratic blog, Blue Virginia, has just two segments posted within its report on the event.)

Here is the complete discussion, in eleven parts:

Part I is the introduction by Joe Thomas and Robert Tracinski:

Part II includes the opening statements by the six candidates:

Part III has the answers to Tracinski's first question,"Would you consider opposing a bill for no other reason than that it grants powers to the government that are not specifically authorized by the Constitution?":

Part IV has the answers to the moderator's second question,"What should we do about health care?":

Part V begins a "lightning round," with two questions requiring answers just 30 seconds long. The first question of the two asks what should be the top priority of a Republican-controlled Congress after next November's elections; the second asks, "What legislation or other measure would you reverse ... from the Bush administration?":

Part VI also includes two questions, "What is the most important thing the government should to to get people back to work?..." and "What will you do to defend [the right to work]?":

Part VII continues the fast-track questions, with one on "cap-and-trade" and the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide, and the other on the candidates' favorite or most influential philosopher or thinker:

After a short intermission and the announcement that the audience had 400 people in it, Part VIII returned to questions requiring a 90-second answer. That question focused on what the candidates thought about the Tea Party movement.

Part IX continues with an answer to the question asked in Part VIII; Michael McPadden's response didn't fit into the 10 minutes allotted to a video clip by YouTube:

The question in Part X assumes there is a Republican majority in the 112th Congress and looks back at the 1994 GOP takeover, asking how the candidates would vote if there was a conflict with a Democratic president like the budget showdown in 1995 between Bill Clinton and the House under the leadership of Newt Gingrich.

In Part XI, the final segment, Robert Tracinski asks about "big middle-class entitlements," namely Social Security and Medicare.

A straw poll taken after the candidates' forum gave Mike McPadden a strong lead at 56.2 percent. Full results can be seen at Virginia Fifth District Watchdog.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Two Strangers, The Rain, and the River'

The cold, wet winter that we have endured since December 19 sent me looking for means to feel warm and dry. I found it in a review of two plays performed in Charlottesville during the summer of 2001, about eight and a half years ago. Here is what I wrote in The Metro Herald on July 27, 2001.  (This article has not previously appeared in an easily accessible on-line format.)

Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
Special to The Metro Herald

It has been said that all dramatic literature fits into one of two categories: a person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.

The archetype of the first category may be Huckleberry Finn in all its incarnations, including the musical Big River. But it also includes films as different as It Happened One Night and Some Like it Hot or plays like— if you take “journey” in a metaphorical sense—Pygmalion and its musical offspring, My Fair Lady, in which Eliza Doolittle journeys from flower girl to lady in three hours plus intermission. Waiting for Godot is about a journey that stands still.

In the second category, the presence of the stranger in town usually results in changes to the town itself, and its people. The town becomes physically or spiritually transformed. This is a common theme in musicals, from The Music Man to The Witches of Eastwick.

Two plays recently produced across town from each other in Charlottesville share this theme: The Diviners, by James Leonard, Jr., and The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash. Both plays are also related in that, on the surface, they are about the need for water.

The Rainmaker is a professional and an amateur theatre perennial, best known from the 1956 film version starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. It was also turned into a musical, 110 in the Shade, by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (creators of The Fantasticks and I Do! I Do!) with a book by the playwright, N. Richard Nash (who also wrote the screenplay). Nash, who died last December at the age of 87, built his reputation largely on this single, oft-produced work. (He also wrote a teleplay of The Rainmaker that was produced in 1982.) As such, it fits in quite nicely with Heritage Repertory Theatre’s mission of bringing familiar works to a new audience each summer.

By contrast, The Diviners, by Jim Leonard, Jr., is a relatively new play, first developed and performed by the Hanover College Theater Group with the support of the American College Theatre Festival, and first produced professionally by the Circle Repertory Company in 1980. Still, it has become remarkably popular, especially among college theatre groups. A Web search turns up more than 560 hits, almost every one of them a reference to a college production of The Diviners in the past six years or so. While not particularly cutting edge or avant garde, its tight focus and emotional impact make it a natural for Live Arts Summer Theater Festival.

Both plays offer a slice of Americana. The Rainmaker is set on a ranch in some unspecified western state in the 1920s. (We know it’s not Kansas or Nebraska.) The ranch and its neighbors have been suffering from a drought. The Diviners is set more identifiably in the small town of Zion, Indiana, in the midst of the Great Depression. While there is no sense of dryness in the air, the search for water and the coming of rain are key elements in the plot.

The main characters in The Rainmaker are the Curry family – father H.C., sons Noah and Jim, and daughter Lizzie. Lizzie is what used to be called an “old maid,” and her father and brothers are anxious to get her married off. When the play opens, she has just returned from a trip to visit some relatives in another town, with the hope that one of her cousins might marry her. That having failed, H.C., Jim, and Noah pay a call on their town’s deputy sheriff, File, and invite him to dinner—essentially setting him up on a date with Lizzie. Into this mix arrives Bill Starbuck, a fast-talking conman who promises to produce a rainstorm within 24 hours, in return for $100 (at that time, a large amount of money).

In the second act, Starbuck intervenes in the Curry family’s quarrel about Lizzie’s future and takes Lizzie into hand romantically, assuring her that she is pretty as well as intelligent. With her confidence bolstered, she is able to make a choice between Starbuck the drifter and File the steadfast.

HRT’s production of The Rainmaker has some excellent performances, with some drawbacks: All the actors could have benefited from a dialect coach, since there is little consistency in the way they talk. The location of the play may be unspecified, but the Sheriff and File sound like they’re from Texas, while Lizzie seems to come from the Upper Midwest, and her brothers speak with the cadences of Generation X’ers from the mid-Atlantic region.

As Lizzie, Andrea Wollenberg is just a bit too pretty to convince us that she’s a hopeless case when it comes to marriage. She does stand taller than her siblings and presents a somewhat “mannish” appearance, but she’s not the “plain” (read: homely) spinster that her brother Noah makes her out to be. She does convince us that she’s a strong woman, however, in the tradition of Katharine Hepburn before her.

As the brooding Noah, Daniel Perez gives a quite different sort of performance than he did in Art earlier in HRT’s season. While Yvan was manic and neurotic, Noah walks around with a black cloud hanging over him. If he could salt that cloud, their ranch would have no problems with drought. His care for his sister comes out in a mean-spirited way, and when he bites, the audience reacts with horror.

Jonathan Walsh sparkles as Jim, the younger, more playful brother. He has a minor subplot involving a local girl, and his transformation, encouraged by the stranger Starbuck’s presence, is the most clear-cut among the characters. Walsh is the sort of actor who could easily be found in the pages of a teen fan magazine, with a countenance that belongs on a weekly TV sitcom. He exudes both confidence and energy.

Director David Shelton has done a good job in assembling the elements for a solid production of a familiar play. Yet The Rainmaker cries out to be done in musical form. Perhaps it would have been a better choice for HRT to present 110 in the Shade. It would be interesting to see the two versions of the same story for comparison.

The Diviners, as directed by Toby Emert, already has music, but not in the sense of a musical play. Instead, it is framed—bookended—by gospel songs performed by the entire cast as a choir. The songs do nothing to advance the action or create characters; instead, they set the scene for us: a small town in Indiana that for 10 years has been without church or pastor. Into this situation arrives C.C. Showers (Chris Estey), who has, for unstated reasons, quit his job as a preacher in his home state of Kentucky and hitchhiked into Zion looking for honest work.

What he finds when he gets there is Buddy Layman (Alex Davis), a 14-year-old idiot savant with a talent for finding water underground (“divining”) and for predicting rainstorms. Years earlier, Buddy’s mother had drowned (and he almost had done the same), and as a result, Buddy the Diviner has an incontrovertible aversion to water.

Th play consists of what seem to be unrelated sketches about the town and its people. Each scene, however, adds more to our knowledge of what came before, and what it might be that afflicts Buddy and gives him his “talent.”

In the key role of Buddy, Alex Davis gives the most remarkable performance I have seen by a juvenile on any stage in years. In a role that could give itself over to histrionics and eccentricities, Davis approaches his character with nuance and subtlety that one would think are beyond his years. (Davis is 15 years old himself.) He gives us an immature boy formed by the mind of a mature actor. He does this both vocally and physically. His wide eyes and bright smile tell us that Buddy is an innocent, and through small—not grand, not hysterical—gestures, like scratching his nose or blowing his hair away from his eyes, he demonstrates a unique understanding of a troubled yet, under the grime and the neuroticism, normal teenager. If this performance is any indication—and one would need to see him in another role to know if he has a broad range—Alex Davis has a great acting career ahead of him.

The acting in this production of The Diviners is competent and, in some cases, strikingly understated. Shawn Fisher, who plays Buddy’s father, Ferris, does not seem to be acting at all. His conversations are as I natural as anyone might have with the local garage owner (which Ferris is). He moves and talks as one would expect a single father in his mid-thirties to move and talk.
Thematically, The Diviners might be seen as either profoundly religious or deeply antireligious. The townspeople seem to have lived quiet yet moral lives in the absence of organized religion in the ten years since their church burned down and their minister left. Yet tragedy ensues when they become overly excited about the arrival of a new preacher, Showers, who resists the role they want to impose on him. Oddly enough, none of the citizens of Zion—is there significance in that name?—seems disturbed that their town lacks a physician. (Melvin [Michael Allenby], a farmer, provides folk diagnoses and folk remedies.) Yet the absence of a preacher strikes at their collective heart.

One of the lovely things about The Diviners is that the secondary characters are drawn with care and distinction. Individuals who in an- other play might just be undifferentiated “happy villagers” each have three dimensions such as Darlene (Deb Stockwell) a rebellious adolescent who down deep is still the “good girl” that her Aunt Norma (Jeannie Jones) wants her to be. Jennie Mae (Alice Reed), Buddy’s sister, bears a remarkable resemblance to Alex Davis, creating a certain tie between them that is re-emphasized by Reed’s sensitive attention to how a loving older Sister actually behaves toward what we would now call a “special needs” child.

How I have managed to go for more than 20 years without seeing The Diviners is a mystery to me, but this production really struck gold, and I plan to go back and see it again before its run ends. To give some indication as to the emotional impact of this play, at the closing of both the first and second acts, the audience, after giving appropriate applause, sat in silence, as though they were in church, rather than engage in the chatter one expects during intermission or as people exit a theatre. Their mood was contemplative. This, if nothing else, is a tribute to the director and his players and this play.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Images from Milwaukee's Marquette High c. 1952

Through the magic of eBay, I recently acquired the 1952 edition of The Flambeau, the yearbook of Marquette University High School in Milwaukee.

This particular volume caught my eye because the 1951-52 school year was the last one that my father attended MUHS.  (Today would have been his 76th birthday.)  I was also interested to see if I could find a photograph of legendary broadcaster Tom Snyder, who graduated with the class of 1953.

I scored on both counts, but also found a few other interesting things.

For one, it seems that virtually nobody at Marquette High in the early 1950s -- whether students, faculty, or staff -- had first names.  Some people in the yearbook were identified with a first initial, if they shared a surname with someone else.  The only people with first names were those who shared both a surname and first initial with another person.  So, for instance, my dad is identified simply as "Sincere" and the future host of NBC's Tomorrow Show is identified as "Snyder."

I also discovered that there were faculty and staff members at MUHS who spanned the period from 1952 to 1977, the year I graduated.  These included math teachers John Fountain and Laurence Kelly, S.J., librarian Miss Elizabeth Connelly, and English teacher Father Richard Forrey, S.J.  (I have an even earlier -- 1927 -- Flambeau that has a photograph of Mr. Fountain as a young teacher.)

By sheer coincidence, I found two MUHS graduates of the class of 1952 who later achieved prominence in their closely-related fields.

Tad W. Guzie became a Jesuit priest, theologian, and liturgist.  He later was laicized and married, passing away in 2001.  Juxtaposed on the same page as his graduation picture is a photograph of John M. Haas, who also became a theologian, specializing in bioethics.

This particular yearbook belonged to James Voell, who became a psychiatrist in the D.C. area, specializing in the problems of homeless people.

Here is the only photo in the 1952 Flambeau I was able to find with my father in it. He is identified as "Sincere" and is the fourth from the left in the top row:

As for Tom Snyder, I found more than a few mentions of his name.

First, his class photo (he is in the bottom row, far left):

Then I found him as one of the performers in the Prep Players' production of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Harvey.  He didn't play Elwood P. Dowd (the role made famous by Jimmy Stewart) but rather was cast as Dr. Sanderson:

In  years past, it would have been difficult to find something as rare as a nearly 60-year-old high school yearbook.  I wasn't exaggerating when I referred to the "magic" of eBay.  The Internet has made possible what we thought was impossible.

Update: The Winter 2010 edition of the MUHS alumni magazine arrived in my mailbox today (March 16) with this note on page 32:
Tom Snyder '53, the radio and late night TV talk show pioneer who often remembered Marquette University High School and the Revs. Jerome Boyle SJ and RJ Connell SJ on-air, paid homage to the school with a recent fift that established an endowed scholarship fund in his name....

The Thomas J. Snyder Endowed Scholarship Fund will help support students who demonstrate financial need and who participate in the arts during their time at MUHS.
The full announcement can be found here.

It wasn't until reading this that I discovered that, not only did Tom Snyder and I attend the same high school (at a distance of about a quarter-century) but we also attended the same elementary school, St. Agnes. (That is, of course, assuming that there has only been one St. Agnes School within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the one in Butler.)

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Virginia Attorney General Issues Opinion on Health Care Legislation

At the request of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, Virginia Attorney General William Mims has issued a two-page opinion on the constitutionality of the health care legislation (HR 3590) currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress.

The substantive text of his opinion letter follows (footnotes omitted):

I write in response to your recent letter concerning the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” pending in the Congress of the United States. You inquire about the constitutional validity of two provisions. One provision would, after a period of several years, exempt Nebraska in perpetuity from increased costs associated with the expansion of Medicaid. No other state, including Virginia, is afforded similar treatment. The other provision would require every citizen of the United States to obtain health insurance or face significant penalties. I share your concerns about the constitutionality of both provisions.

The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers. See U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8. As James Madison wrote: “[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” The Federalist No. 45, pp. 292-93 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961); see also U.S. Const. amends. IX-X. This constitutionally mandated division of authority “was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties.” Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 458 (1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Just as the separation and independence of the coordinate branches of the Federal Government serve to prevent the accumulation of excessive power in any one branch, a healthy balance of power between the states and the federal government will reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front.” Id Therefore, to justify federal legislation, a source of authority must be located in the Constitution. Equally important, legislation may not infringe on rights provided by the Constitution. With those considerations in mind, I address your specific concerns below.

I. Mandatory purchase of insurance
Among the powers accorded to Congress is the power “to regulate Commerce ... among the several States.” U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 3. Following the enactment of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the Supreme Court of the United States “ushered in an era of Commerce Clause jurisprudence that greatly expanded the previously defined authority of Congress under that Clause.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U S 549, 556 (1995) The Court has concluded that Congress’ authority s not limited to “the regulation of commerce among the states,” Ed. at 555, but further allows Congress to regulate activities that “affect interstate commerce.” Id. The Commerce Clause power is broad, but it is not without limits. In Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. See also United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) (invalidating Violence Against Women Act of 1994). Although health care is an economic activity, the failure to purchase health insurance is not an economic activity. The insurance mandate is open to constitutional challenge — although it is not clear that such a challenge would succeed, given the breadth of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Commerce power.

II. The “Nebraska exception”
You inquire whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would provide a basis for challenging the Nebraska Exception. The Equal Protection Clause, by its plain terms, applies only to the states, not to the United States. U.S. Const. amend. X1V § 14. Therefore, a state could not bring a viable equal protection challenge to the Nebraska exception currently found in the pending legislation.

The Nebraska exception is vulnerable, however, on other constitutional grounds. The Constitution provides Congress with the power to collect taxes and to spend money for the “general Welfare of the United States.” U.S. Const. Art. I § 8, cl. 1. Once again, the Supreme Court has given Congress very broad latitude in the exercise of this power. See South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987). Nevertheless, that latitude “is of course not unlimited.” Id. at 207. One of those limits is that Congress must, as the Constitutional text unambiguously commands, spend in pursuit of the “general welfare.” Id. In my view, carving out an exception for a specific state, unrelated to any policy objective other than to secure the vote of a particular senator, would exceed the bounds of what Congress may do under the Spending Clause. Where the taxing and spending is intended to effectuate a benefit for a single state, solely to gamer the vote of a particular senator from that state rather than for the general welfare, the spending at issue is unconstitutional. To conclude otherwise, would mean that the General Welfare Clause is meaningless.

This will not be the final word on this subject.  I expect other states will also be weighing in on the constitutionality of Obamacare.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Launch of a New Weblog: 'Book Reviews by Rick Sincere'

Although the first posts appeared several days ago, I have waited until today to announce the launch of a new blog devoted exclusively to book reviews. Its title is "Book Reviews by Rick Sincere" and its subtitle is "An archive of articles and essays written from 1980 to the present."

It had occurred to me that many of the book reviews I have written over the years have never been available in a digital format (or findable on line). Part of the reason for this is that my heyday as a book reviewer was in the 1980s and early 1990s, although I have periodically reviewed new books since then.

As I explain in my "preface" to the new web site,

While I aim for this blog to deal exclusively in reviews of books, I may from time to time include interviews with authors, either in prose or video formats, or posts about the publishing industry. I hope, however, to remain focused on the printed word on bound pages.
My delay in announcing this new blog launch can be easily explained. I simply wanted there to be a substantial amount of material on the new site for people to read, so that it would not look like a paltry effort or a start-up that will soon be abandoned.

I can guarantee that the latter eventuality is unlikely. I have been digging through my (disorganized) files from the past 30 years and have already found dozens of what will probably turn out to be hundreds of book reviews, not to mention a dizzying array of other articles that I had forgotten about. (Those non-book-related articles will someday find their way to this blog.) Most of the essays and articles relate to foreign policy (with a heavy emphasis on Africa and nuclear weapons policies), although some address issues in education, economics, regulation, and popular culture.

I am quite excited about this new opportunity to recover otherwise lost essays and reviews. I hope that their new availability will be helpful to researchers looking for information about the history of the last fifth of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.

Here is a sample of my first 20 posts on Book Reviews by Rick Sincere (which can be easily found at http://rickreviewsbooks.blogspot.com/:

'The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium'
'Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy'
'Waging Nuclear Peace: The Technology and Politics of Nuclear Weapons'
'Titanic Legacy: Disaster as Media Event and Myth'
'Hold the Roses,' by Rose Marie

'Breathing Under Water and Other European Essays'
'The Struggle' and 'Dialogue in Williamsburg'
'South Africa’s War Against Capitalism'
'A History of South Africa' by Leonard Thompson
'The Counterfeit Ark: Crisis Relocation for Nuclear War'

'Justice and War in the Nuclear Age'
'In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government'
'Politics and Government in African States, 1960-1985'
'The Spaniards: A Portrait of the New Spain'
'How to Make Nuclear Weapons Obsolete'

'Breakfast in Hell: A Doctor’s Experiences of the Ethiopian Famine'
'Law and the Grenada Mission'
Looking back at the "Introduction" to this blog in December 2004, I find that my original intention was to make it an archive of previously-published materials. That mission has changed over time, and Rick Sincere News and Thoughts is much more eclectic than I thought it would be at the beginning, half a decade ago. I hope that Book Reviews by Rick Sincere will maintain its discipline and focus. If it does not, I invite readers to give me a verbal spanking.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Matthew Broderick Discusses 'Wonderful World'

Stage and screen actor Matthew Broderick appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien on Wednesday to plug his new film, Wonderful World, which opens across the country this Friday.

Broderick was a special guest of the Virginia Film Festival last November, when he came to Charlottesville not just to promote Wonderful World, but also to mark the tenth anniversary of his previous film, Election.

The Tony Award-winning actor took time after each screening to discuss his work. After Wonderful World, he appeared on stage in the Culbreth Theater alongside the film's director and screenwriter, Joshua Goldin, and one of the film's producers, UVA alumnus Glenn Williamson.

I caught the discussion on video and posted it to YouTube just a few days ago. I had to divide it up into digestible nuggets of less than ten minutes each.

Some readers may want to be aware of a "spoiler alert," in that Broderick, Goldin, Williamson, and questioners from the audience talk about plot elements and characters in the film.

Virginia Film Festival director Jody Kielbasa introduces the panelists in Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V:

Part VI (Conclusion)

Deborah G. Guadan describes Wonderful World like this in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Ben (Matthew Broderick) believes the world is his enemy, and can you blame him? His folk singing career flopped, his marriage crumbled and his parenting skills kinda dried up. So it's a double blow when his roommate (and chess rival) falls into a diabetic coma. Sometimes tragedy is the only thing that can jolt you from your emotional numbness. Rated R.
Broderick had this to say about his character, named Ben Singer, in an interview earlier this week in the New York Post:

Is it more fun to play a misanthrope than someone who’s well-adjusted?
Probably. Well-adjusted people can be dull. [My character] has a lot of conflicts to fight against, I guess. I like playing happy people, too. Also, I think stories of people my age are not always happy. Characters in their late 40s tend to be going through something that isn’t always [happy]. Something with children.

How did you get your character’s disheveled look?

Oh, that was easy. I didn’t shave. And then just tried to not iron the clothes. We wanted him to look like he used a laundromat and folded his own clothes. He has very simple clothes, and we repeated them a lot to make it look like he doesn’t have many clothes.
Those expecting Ferris Bueller's Day Offwhen the go to see Wonderful World; those who appreciate a well-acted dark comedy will enjoy the film immensely.