Sunday, April 17, 2011

Visitor Number 250,000

Another milestone:  Earlier today, someone at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, became the 250,000th visitor to this blog (according to Sitemeter, which may, some sources say, underestimate actual visits and page views).

Here's a picture of that notable visitor, from 3:56 a.m. on April 17, 2011, more than six years since this blog was launched.

If that's not exciting enough for you, go over to and check out my report on audience reactions to Atlas Shrugged-Part I, the long-awaited movie version of Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand's 1957 novel.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Lookin' Forward to the Weekend with Legal News About Beer

As the ubiquitous song goes:

It's Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend, weekend
Friday, Friday
Gettin' down on Friday
Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend
Although Rebecca Black and her teenage friends may look forward to "kickin' in the front seat" and "sittin' in the back seat" and "partyin'" as Saturday approaches (followed, of course, by Sunday, which "comes after ... wards") with age-appropriate soft drinks, those a bit older might be mulling over what kinds of adult beverages they'll be consuming this weekend.

Thus it is that a couple of legal cases involving beer come to our attention.

Reported by the law firm of Shook, Hardy, & Bacon (bacon is everywhere nowadays, even in ice cream dishes at Denny's) in its on-line newsletter, Food & Beverage Litigation Update, one case comes from Europe and one from the United States.

The European case involves the use of "Bud" as a brand name for beer, and it is a new ruling on an old dispute.
Czech and U.S. brewers seeking to market their beers under the name “Bud,” have apparently been at odds since the early 1900s. In the latest installment of the dispute, the Court of Justice of the European Communities has set aside a decision of the Court of First Instance which allowed the Czech brewer to oppose Anheuser-Busch’s registration of “Bud” in Europe.  Anheuser-Busch Inc. v. Budějovický Budvar, No. C-96-09 (E.C.J., decided March 29, 2011). While the Court of Justice upheld some of the lower court’s rulings, it determined that the lower court erred (i) in the factors it relied on to decide if a “sign,” or trademark, in opposition to a new registration was used in a sufficiently significant manner, and (ii) in holding that the use of the sign in opposition does not necessarily have to occur before the date of the application for new
The language may be dry, but the beverage is still just as wet as you might expect.

The American case a bit more racy and it involves a microbrewery. Microbrewers, by their nature, are always more interesting and adventurous.
Flying Dog Brewery has filed a lawsuit under the First Amendment, alleging that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its individual members violated its free speech rights by prohibiting the company from selling Raging Bitch Twentieth Anniversary Belgian-Style India Pale Ale. Flying Dog Brewery, LLP v. Mich. Liquor Control Comm’n, No. n/a (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mich., filed March 25, 2011). According to the complaint, a British artist, who once worked with journalist Hunter S. Thompson, designed Flying Dog’s beer labels, including the one at issue. The defendants rejected Flying Dog’s application for a license to sell the pale ale in the state, allegedly finding “that the proposed label which includes the brand name ‘Raging Bitch’ contains such language deemed detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public.”
If I can find a six-pack of Raging Bitch, I may drink one or two this weekend while reading a new book that arrived from this week: Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't, by my friend, Garrett Peck. If anything shows the residuum of Prohibition remaining in U.S. law, it's a ruling by a regulatory body that says the name of a beer -- even if it's "Raging Bitch" can be "detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare" of anybody.

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Social Media Mischief at The Washington Times?

The Washington Times has an article on its web site about Thursday's Capitol Hill hearing on Don't Ask Don't Tell, the now-repealed policy that prohibits the service of open and honest gay and lesbian Americans in the military.

The headline and subhead read:

Services OK with ending ‘don’t ask’
No ‘push-back,’ brass reports to Capitol Hill
The first paragraph says:
Preparations for repealing the military’s ban on openly homosexual service members have proceeded very well — even among Marines, who have not demonstrated any resistance, the Marine Corps commandant testified Thursday.
If you click to share the story on Facebook, however, the headline reads:
Lawmaker skeptical of repeal of 'don't ask' - Washington Times
And the excerpted first paragraph, designed to appear on Facebook's feed, says:
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said on Thursday that he is troubled by the rushed way the Obama administration is moving to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military.
Similarly, if you click to share on Twitter, you get this retweet:
RT @washtimes Congress skeptical of repeal of military's gay ban - Washington Times
However, if you click on a different Twitter icon, you get this:
Services OK with ending 'don't ask' - Washington Times via @AddThis
(Note that the shortened URLs are different in the two different Tweets.)

And if you click on a different Facebook button, you get this:
Services OK with ending 'don't ask' - Washington Times
Preparations for repealing the military's ban on openly homosexual service members have proceeded very well — even among Marines, who have not demonstrated any resistance, the Marine Corps commandant testified Thursday.
Confused? I was.

It looks like somebody at the Washington Times -- I don't know who, but it's certainly not the reporter who wrote the story, Shaun Waterman -- is attempting to put a spin on the story through social media that is not borne out by the actual report itself.

I just noticed this by chance.  An important question to ask is, does the Washington Times do this with other articles, or is this a one-off phenomenon?  What are the ethics of changing the headline and the emphasis of a story when spreading it through social media sites?  Is this worthy of criticism?

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments space, below.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

366 Days at

April 6 marked my first anniversary as a contributor at

In those 52 weeks, I have published 178 articles --almost one every other day, despite a few dry periods -- most of them interviews with public officials, authors, pundits, and educators.  According to statistics kept by, these articles have generated 25,274 page views.  Last year's page view count of 18,251 compared to a Charlottesville average of 1,617 -- that is, the average number of page views generated by other Charlottesville Examiners.

I became the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on something of a lark.  I happened across another local Examiner's page and spotted the "write for us" link and followed it.

I'm glad I did, because it forced me to be a more aggressive reporter than I have been as a blogger.  I can't imagine so aggressively pursuing some of the interviews I did for this blog alone, which lacks the institutional support (and, dare I say it? credibility) that has.

Social Times reported at the end of December:
Local news network is closing out 2010 with two significant milestones: It posted article No. 1 million for the year earlier this month, and it set site records for monthly unique visitors and total page views in November, tallying 22.4 million and 63.1 million, respectively, according to Omniture.

And according to comScore, the site’s traffic rose 19 percent in November compared with October, making the No. 83 domain in the United States and No. 7 in the general news subcategory, ahead of brands including Fox News, BBC News, USA Today, and NBC Local Media.
I've noticed the site has had a makeover in the past few days, which gives it a cleaner look that seems easier to navigate.

Blogging is fine, in its way, and it allows me a more personal take on culture and current affairs, as well as a wide berth in terms of topics and voice. requires more discipline and a more narrow focus, both of which I can appreciate.

We'll see if, by April 6 of next year, whether that results in more page views and lots of "likes."
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Guest Blogger: Tim Hulsey Reviews 'And the Curtain Rises'

Tim Hulsey, who recently completed a quest to see all of Shakespeare's plays performed on stage over a five-year period, accompanied me to the press performance of Signature Theatre's new production, And the Curtain Rises, the third in a series of original musicals commissioned by the American Musical Voices Project.

Here is Tim's review of And the Curtain Rises for The Metro Herald:

Signature Premieres ‘And the Curtain Rises’:
An Honorable Failure with Breathtaking Music
Tim Hulsey
Special to The Metro Herald

The world-premiere musical And the Curtain Rises, playing through April 10 at Signature Theatre in Arlington, is far from a great – or even a good – show. At the moment, it's an immensely promising rough draft, with some amusing knockabout comedy, a sweetly predictable central romance, and an uncommonly good musical score.

Unfortunately, the show also has a leaden, unfocused first act that sinks the story before it can properly begin. Many shows have “second-act trouble,” but And the Curtain Rises may be the only show I've ever seen with “first-act trouble.”

Playwright Michael Slade, composer Joseph Thalken, and lyricist Mark Campbell have combined forces – with varying degrees of success – to tell the story of The Black Crook, the 1866 song-and-dance spectacular that many scholars believe was the forerunner of American musical comedy.

Slade has clearly done his homework researching the period, cramming the book with references to 19th-century cultural arcana. Yet he seems uncertain about the story he wishes to tell. Campbell's lyrics are frequently marred by banality and triteness, as he invokes tried-and-true sentiments that showbiz folks are “family.”

Thalken, however, emerges from this show as a major new presence in American musical theater, providing an innovative, emotionally resonant musical score that invokes the best Broadway traditions while forging ahead with fresh-sounding melodies and compelling harmonies. (It doesn't hurt that Signature Theatre has graced this score with a lush fourteen-piece orchestra, which director Kristin Hanggi shows off at every possible opportunity.)

Thalken's score, glorious as it is, is yoked to the most clichéd of inside-showbiz plots: First-time producer William Wheatley (Nick Dalton) attempting to stage a hopelessly hackneyed drama written by pretentious Civil War army buddy Charles Barras (Sean Thompson). With the help of his over-the-hill leading lady Millicent Cavendish (Rebecca Watson), a ragtag group of actors, and a stranded crew of French ballerinas, Wheatley has less than two weeks to turn a surefire flop into the toast of New York. Anyone who doubts the outcome for even a split second has probably never heard of Mickey, Judy, or the old phrase “let's put on a show.”

This story has been told once before as a musical, in the 1954 Sigmund Romberg flop The Girl in Pink Tights. (The title comes from a theater legend in which French ballet dancers turned The Black Crook into a full-blown succès de scandale by dancing in pink tights that resembled bare skin under the limelight.) Perhaps in an effort to avoid cliché, the creators of And the Curtain Rises have chosen to present the genesis of The Black Crook as an ensemble piece, with several possible storylines vying for attention and no clear protagonist.

The entire first act feels diffuse and unsettled, rather like a Robert Altman film, though without Altman's subtle technique for bringing different scenes and stories into a narrative framework. A gay subplot between an underemployed composer (Brian Sutherland) and an elderly aspiring classical actor (Erick Devine) feels both extraneous and wrong for the period, as do the various entanglements of a scheming, manipulative, sexually promiscuous ballerina (Anna Kate Bocknek).

Although the second act is clearly focused and much tighter than the first, unresolved strands from the first act frequently intrude and distract from the main story. And, as one might expect, budgetary constraints prevent Signature Theatre from displaying Wheatley's most extravagant scenic effects, such as live flames and a waterfall. Even the infamous pink tights get short shrift, as a sort of coda that winks at the earlier musical that told the same story.

As William Wheatley, Nick Dalton is disappointingly bland. His second-act solos “Think ...” and “Stay“ allow him to show off his pleasant baritone, but for the most part, Dalton reacts to more colorful supporting characters instead of steering the action. Rebecca Watson makes a firmer impression as Wheatley's leading lady, and Thalken gives her a doozy of an eleven-o'-clock number with “Enter Love.”

No backstage drama would be complete without a mustache-twirling ham to play the villain, and although And the Curtain Rises breaks with tradition somewhat by assigning the role to a playwright, Sean Thompson fills it marvelously. His comic solo “The Words” is one of the few bright spots in a dismal first act. But supporting actress Alma Cuervo, as the headmistress of a French ballet troupe, seems to find the show's true heart, with her winningly low-key rendition of the show's inspirational anthem, “A Little Pretend.”

At a time when American theaters are overrun with jukebox shows and kitschy spectaculars, any attempt to revive or rejuvenate the Broadway musical is welcome, and a story about the origins of musical comedy might not be such a bad place to begin anew. Unfortunately, And the Curtain Rises is not the right story, nor indeed is it much of a story at all. Although the show must be judged a failure, it is at least an honorable one, with lofty ambitions and some breathtakingly beautiful music.

And the Curtain Rises (directed by Kristin Hanggi; book by Michael Slade; music by Joseph Thalken; lyrics by Mark Campbell) began previews on March 17, with an official opening on March 29. Performances continue through April 10. Show times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

Tickets range from $55 - $81 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-SEAT (7328) or visiting Group discounts are available for parties of ten or more by contacting Bethany Shannon at or by calling (571) 527-1831. For more information please visit

Top left - Erik Altemus (as George C. Boniface) appeals to Rebecca Watson (as Millicent Cavendish) in And the Curtain Rises. At Virginia's Signature Theatre through April 10, 2011.

Center right - Nick Dalton (as William Wheatley) shows his theatre company how to ward off evil demons in And the Curtain Rises. At Virginia's Signature Theatre through April 10, 2011.

Bottom left - Alma Cuervo (as Mme. Grimaud) speaks on behalf of her French Ballet Troupe in And the Curtain Rises. At Virginia's Signature Theatre through April 10, 2011.

All photos by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Signature Theatre:
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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Happy Birthday, Doris Day!

I am hosting the 66th Book Review Blog Carnival at my other blog, Book Reviews by Rick Sincere.  The carnival features reviews of fiction, non-fiction, history, and books on writing from bloggers across the United States and around the world.  (I think at least one entry came from Australia.)

Published biweekly on various blogs, I chose to subtitle this one the "Doris Day Edition."  Why?

Today is the 88th birthday of actress, singer, animal-rights activist, and America's sweetheart, Doris Day, who herself has been the subject of several books in recent years, including Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, by David Kaufman (2009); Doris Day: The Illustrated Biography, by Michael Freedland (2009); Doris Day: Sentimental Journey, by Garry McGee (2010); Doris Day: Reluctant Star, by David Bret (2009); and Considering Doris Day, by Tom Santopietro (2008). All in all, that's a lot of attention paid to a film star who hasn't made a movie since 1968.
Doris Day started making movies in 1948 and for twenty years was one of the top box-office draws. She earned one Academy Award nomination but probably deserved more.

Severely underrated by a reputation for bubble-gum wholesomeness, not only could she play serious dramatic roles (the climactic scene in Hitchcock's 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much is illustrative) but some of her comic turns in movies like Pillow Talk were subversively transgressive. (Maybe the way her scenes with Rock Hudson were coded just went over the heads of critics and audiences alike, but those who were in the know knew.)

What a remarkable movie career Day had, even if judged only by the leading men she played against.

In addition to Hudson, she appeared on screen with Clark Gable, James Stewart, James Garner, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, Cary Grant, Gordon MacRae, Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, Ronald Reagan, Danny Thomas, Ray Bolger, Jack Carson, David Niven, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Rod Taylor, Gig Young, Arthur Godfrey, and Tony Randall, among others. The list of her castmates reads like a Who's Who of 20th century movie stars, especially if you add some of her female costars like Lauren Bacall, Ginger Rogers, Virginia Mayo, Thelma Ritter, and Arlene Francis.

Speaking of Arlene Francis, on an episode of What's My Line? in 1957, Doris Day was a "mystery challenger" facing questions from the panel that included regulars Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Francis, as well as the father who knew best, Robert Young.  She was in New York to promote her new film, The Pajama Game.  Let's go to the tape:
Day was equally adept at playing comedy, drama, or in musicals. She introduced the great lesbian anthem, "Secret Love," as well as her own theme song, "Que Sera Sera," and -- in her earlier career as a girl singer -- Les Brown's wartime hit, "Sentimental Journey." Any one of those things would have established her as an institution on its own.

Although she has avoided the public eye for most of the past three decades, movie star Doris Day is firmly embedded in popular culture. It's only appropriate to wish her a happy birthday.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Ford’s ‘Liberty Smith’ Evokes Laughter, Delight from Audience

On Wednesday evening, Nigel Ashford, Tim Hulsey, Richard Morrison, and I were able to see the world premiere of Liberty Smith at Ford's Theatre. Before the show and during the intermission, I was able to chat with the show's composer, Michael Weiner, who spoke to me by telephone a few weeks ago.

Here is my review of Liberty Smith, intended for next week's edition of The Metro Herald.

Romance! Danger! Comedy!
Ford’s ‘Liberty Smith’ Evokes Laughter, Delight from Audience
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

If your weekend plans include seeing the new musical Liberty Smith at Ford’s Theatre, you don’t need Rebecca Black to tell you to expect “fun, fun, fun, fun” on Friday, Saturday, or the Sunday that comes afterwards. If you don’t yet have tickets for Liberty Smith, why not? You should.

Ford’s latest production is a wholesome family musical, appropriate for theatregoers of all ages. That said, it is neither sedate nor anodyne. Instead, the rollicking show offers all the romance, danger, and comedy that another new musical across the river fails to supply.

Liberty Smith is historical fiction set in the time of the American Revolution. Far from a docudrama, however, it takes liberties (no pun intended) with the facts so that sticklers for chronology might be puzzled or offended. No matter, since it’s all in good fun and serves the purpose of entertaining the audience.

The story opens, Cyrano-like, when an old (132 years old!) Liberty interrupts a clumsy stage production of Parson Weems’ story of George Washington and the cherry tree, saying “that’s not how it happened. I know, because I was there.” The year is 1859 – not incidental, since that was the eve of the Civil War, an event that would change the prism through which American history is observed. The story proceeds as a series of flashbacks, with Old Liberty (Drew Eshelman) narrating here and there but not obtrusively so.

As the narrative begins, the young George Washington (Gregory Maheu) has befriended the eponymous Liberty Smith (Geoff Packard), an orphan farmhand living near Mount Vernon in Virginia. (These types of heroes are nearly always orphans, perhaps because family ties would anchor them to a specific place and prevent their free spirits from wandering where the story needs to take them.)

Enamored with neighborhood belle Martha Dandridge – played by Lauren Williams with all the tact and charm of a middle-school Queen Bee -- who mockingly bids him to free the colonies from British rule, Liberty sets out on a knight errant’s quest (like the role model in his favorite book, Don Quixote) that takes him to Philadelphia, Boston, Paris, and more.

Along the way, Liberty encounters Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, James Otis, Thomas Jefferson, King Louis XVI of France and his consort, Marie Antoinette, and dozens of other patriots and knaves (including a villainous Benedict Arnold).

Like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Liberty Smith finds himself in places where history is being made and, in fact, inadvertently makes it himself – though others invariably end up with the credit. And throughout, his story is told through song and dance.

The songs are all Broadway-style, many pastiches of familiar forms. Composer Michael Weiner draws not only on colonial-era tunes (“Yankee Doodle,” for instance) for atmospherics but also on 20th century standards and showtunes for his inspiration. In combination with lyricist Adam Abraham, the team becomes a latter-day Stan Freberg.

There’s a comic list song (“The Art of Wit”) that catalogs proverbs, quips, and clichés. “One Shocking Moment” not only shows the protagonist’s state of mind but makes wicked fun of over-the-top Ziegfeld Follies-style dream sequences. “Declarations” uncovers a less-than-ideal process of writing the Declaration of Independence.

A feminist anthem (“A Better Tomorrow,” sung by Kelly Karbacz as Emily) echoes Ragtime’s “Back to Before” while the first-act finale (“The World Turned Upside Down”) is a de rigueur spoof of Les Miserables, the sort of send-up we can trace at least to 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. It is to the creative team’s credit that they can poke fun at meta-musicals like Urinetown and Avenue Q with subtlety and wit while avoiding the snarkiness of the “originals.”

Liberty Smith’s conventional musical style is no disadvantage – when you see two young people disdain each other in Act I, you know wedding bells will ring by the end of Act II – and instead extends and reinforces the overall entertainment experience. Predictability, in this case, enhances the comic twists that pop up like Whack-a-Moles every five minutes or so.

While the subject matter may be the stuff of the 18th century, Liberty Smith is peppered with contemporary pop-culture allusions. Although the writing team responsible for it has been working on the script and songs off-and-on since the mid-1990s (and in earnest since 2006), which might have resulted in stale creakiness, Liberty Smith is as current and fresh as a headline from The Onion or a “Funny-or-Die” viral video.

Some dialogue echoes the scene, oft-repeated late at night in dorm rooms, from Monty Python’s Life of Brian about the “Judean People’s Front, People’s Front of Judea,” etc. One song’s lyric mentions “George W” and the “coalition of the willing.” There is even a reference to Johnny Tremain, the main character of the Newbery Award-winning book of the same name, whose similarity to Liberty Smith is winked at by Mrs. Paul Revere, who says “that’s another story.”

The 20-member cast is made up mostly of Washington-area actors, including at least six Helen Hayes Award nominees and winners. (Music director Jay Crowder, who leads an 8-person ensemble with a richer sound than its size would indicate, is also a Helen Hayes recipient while fight director Brad Waller and director Matt August have both been previously nominated.)

While funnier than most in a genre characterized by self-important sobriety, Liberty Smith would not be out of place as an outdoor drama (for example, the Outer Banks’ venerable pageant, The Lost Colony) and, with a trim to about 80 minutes from its current two and a half hour running time, could easily become a successful fixture at Colonial Williamsburg or Busch Gardens. As it is, many tourists visiting Washington as well as school groups will be able to take advantage of the show’s presence at Ford’s through May 21. (The “Child Actor,” played on opening night by grammar-school-age Noah Chiet, is on stage in almost every scene, a compelling presence to keep the attention of kids in the audience.)

Liberty Smith could also be easily adapted for performances by high school or college theatre groups, even without the elaborate, eye-popping costumes designed by Wade Laboissonniere and the multi-leveled set (which fits nicely into Ford’s narrow performance space) of scenic designer Court Watson.

It is hard to think up enough complimentary terms to praise Liberty Smith. Totally unpretentious, the creative team – book writers Marc Madnick and Eric R. Cohen in addition to librettist-lyricist Abraham and composer Weiner – achieve precisely what they set out to do: to deliver an enjoyable, entertaining romp into America’s revolutionary past.

While it does not “advance the form,” Liberty Smith is a delightful throwback to the sort of Broadway revue one might have seen in the 1950s. This is not an Adam Guettel-style cerebral challenge. As a matter of fact, too much thinking might detract from the overall enjoyable experience: just sit back and let flow its life, “Liberty,” and the pursuit of happiness.

Liberty Smith: music by Michael Weiner, lyrics by Adam Abraham, book by Marc Madnick, Eric R. Cohen, and Adam Abraham; choreographed by Denis Jones; directed by Matt August, continues through May 21, 2011, at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, N.W., in Washington. Performances Monday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (except April 25), matinees on Fridays and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. (except April 1 and 15 and May 6 and 13); noon matinees on May 6 and 13. Ticket prices: $15 to $55 with discounts available for groups, senior citizens, military personnel, and those younger than 35. Tickets available through Ticketmaster at 800-551-7328 and

If you've read this far, you should know that I really liked Liberty Smith. I strongly recommend it and may even go to see it again myself before it closes next month.

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