Sunday, December 29, 2013

Comparing 2013 Movie Box Office With Movie Search Trends on Google

Just out of curiosity (or perhaps late-night boredom), I decided to compare the top ten movies of 2013 in terms of box office receipts against the top ten movie searches on Google during the 12 months of 2013.

To my surprise, there was a big difference between the two lists. Only three films appeared on both: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Despicable Me 2.

I took the box office figures from the 2013 domestic grosses reported by Box Office Mojo.

As you can see from the Box Office Mojo list below, the top-grossing movie of 2013 in the United States was Iron Man 3 (it grossed over $409 million); it was the number two search on Google.

Man of Steel was the top search term on Google but only the fourth-ranked grosser at the box office (with just over $291 million in receipts).

The animated Despicable Me 2 was ranked seventh in Google searches and third in box office receipts (charting just under $368 million in ticket sales).

Source:  Box Office Mojo

Top-grossing films that didn't make Google's trending search list included The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Gravity (with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), Fast and Furious 6 (starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker), Oz the Great and Powerful with James Franco, Star Trek Into Darkness, and the animated holiday release, Frozen.

Trending search terms on Google's list that did not reach the top ten in box office receipts included the zombie saga World War Z, Jobs (the Steve Jobs biopic featuring Ashton Kutcher), The Conjuring, Baz Luhrmann's post-modern take on The Great Gatsby, The Purge (with Ethan Hawke), Pacific Rim, and Mama (starring Jessica Chastain).

I should mention that I have not seen any of the fourteen movies that span these two top-ten lists.  (The most recent narrative films I've seen this year are Nebraska, with Will Forte and Bruce Dern, and the overrated August: Osage County, as well as the political documentaries Caucus, Our Nixon, and The Kennedy Half-Century.)

Setting aside that (embarrassing?) admission, are you as surprised as I am by the relative lack of correlation between the two top-ten lists? If you have a theory to explain it, leave a comment below.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Were the Top 10 Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner Stories in 2013?

Over at, I have posted a listicle featuring the top ten stories reported by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during 2013.

I used Google Analytics to provide the statistics and generate the top-ten list. Technically, the article I listed as number 10 was number 11.

The reason for that is that the article that came in ninth, according to Google Analytics, was originally published in November 2010. It's an interview I conducted with author and documentary filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy at the Virginia Film Festival that year, when she presented Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird.  (That film covers the same ground as Murphy's 2010 book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

I suspect that the staying power of that three-year-old article, "Filmmaker: To Kill a Mockingbird was ‘ammunition in the civil rights movement'," is largely the result of web searches by high-school students doing research for a term paper about Harper Lee's famous novel or its well-regarded movie version.

Since just nine of the top ten stories for 2013 were actually published in 2013, I decided to skip number nine and include number 11 to reflect more accurately the events of this year.

Here's part of my summary of the 2013 top ten. I'll omit the "number one" article for now. If you want to see that story and be as surprised by it as I was, click here.

Virginia politics, the 1963 Kennedy assassination, humorist Tina Fey, marijuana legalization, liquor laws, and the Boston Marathon bombers dominated the most popular stories reported by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during 2013.

Given that 2013 was a gubernatorial election year in Virginia, it comes as no surprise that articles about Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe (now governor-elect) and his Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli drew a large number of views. Cuccinelli, in fact, was the subject of three of the top-ten stories, although Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis entered the top ten only in an interview about the election with political scientist Larry Sabato. Marijuana-smoking lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson (R) also made the list.

The JFK assassination was a trending topic on Twitter and Google through much of November, and an interview with Lee Harvey Oswald's co-worker ranked third. (An interview with another assassination witness just missed the cut, at twelfth among 2013 stories.)
Publishing this top-ten list continues a tradition I began in December 2011.  That first yearly list was divided into three parts published over three days: Part I, Part II, and Part III.  The second annual top-ten list, in 2012, was slimmed down into a single article published on the last day of the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Signature Theatre to Resurrect Political Musical 'The Fix'

Welcome news arrived in the form of an emailed news release from Arlington's Signature Theatre this week.  To mark the end of its 25th anniversary season, Signature will be reviving The Fix, a musical play about political corruption that was produced there in 1998 in its first American outing.

For someone like me, whose interests in musical theatre and politics rarely overlap, this is a development worth celebrating.

As explained in the press release:

The revival, directed by Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, will round out an anniversary season chock-full of work by some of the Theatre’s brightest collaborators from the past 25 years.

“The Fix paints a picture of American politics that’s part fun-house, part haunted house,” said Schaeffer. “It’s twisted, and it pushes boundaries. It instantly became one of Signature’s favorite projects. And on top of that, it’s one of the shows most requested by our audiences. It’s only fitting that we close the season celebrating our first 25 years by bringing it back in an all-new production.”

With a rock-laced, eclectic score and scandalous lyrics, The Fix skewers the American bureaucratic machine. Reminiscent of Sondheim, with tinges of Kander and Ebb and a voice uniquely its own, it is a darkly brilliant, over-the-top, audaciously fun ride through the shenanigans of political elections.

When a popular presidential candidate dies in his mistress’s bed, his ambitious wife Violet thrusts their lackluster son Cal into the spotlight. With the help of her strategic brother-in-law, Violet transforms Cal into the perfect citizen. Together they create one of the most dysfunctional – and brutally entertaining – almost-first families ever.
(My original review of The Fix from April 1998 can be found here.)

Writing in the Washington Post Style section, Jessica Goldstein reports:
For its 25th anniversary season, Signature is bringing back “The Fix,” a production which, unless the political process somehow gets squeaky clean between press time and when you read this, is as relevant a show today as it ever was. “The Fix” will run in 2015, from May 12 to June 28.

“I say it’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ meets ‘Caligula,’ ” said Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, who directed the 1998 production and will helm 2015’s as well. For the young’uns, that basically means it’s like “Scandal” meets, well, “Scandal.”

The script will be getting some tweaks to allow for changes in “the communication things, sending this picture and that,” Schaeffer said. Even our fictional politicians don’t know that no one wants to catch them with their pants down on Twitter. “John [Dempsey, who wrote the book and lyrics] is looking to make it even more dangerous.”
Signature's current musical production is the classic Gypsy, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  The show, directed by Joe Calarco, has been extended through January 26 and first reviews should appear early next week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Obligatory Dylan Sprouse Nude Selfie Blog Post

Twitter is abuzz with conversation -- some adulatory, some snarky -- about the semi-nude selfies of Disney Channel actor Dylan Sprouse that have been making the rounds since they were leaked sometime on Sunday.

Sprouse himself -- who co-starred with his twin brother, Cole, on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and its sequel, The Suite Life on Deck -- has approached the situation with a great deal of equanimity and maturity for a 21-year-old celebrity on hiatus to earn a college degree at New York University, where he is studying video-game design, poetry, and studio art.

On his Tumblr page, Dylan Sprouse wrote:

First off, I will state that the reason I’m making light of the situation is because I don’t think what I did was wrong. To be blunt, I was proud of my progress in the gym, thought I looked hot, and wanted to share it. I’m of the mindset that whoever you are, if you are proud of your body and want to show it off, so be it! You do you. There is an odd taboo with the human form (especially in the USA) and I don’t particularly think its a good thing to teach people that you should “hide yourself” as something incredibly sacred. Blah blah blah, that’s a medieval notion.
Indeed, even a cursory look at the leaked photos shows that chunky teenage Dylan has been transformed into svelte young man Dylan, enough to stimulate salivation among (literally) thousands of fans on Twitter and Tumblr, both male and female.

Young Mr. Sprouse has approached this situation in a fashion that could teach a few things to Anthony Weiner, Geraldo Rivera, and other selfie-senders (even Justin Bieber, whose alleged nude selfies lack an identifiable face). He's a reflection of his generation, which lacks inhibition and recognizes that there's no reason to be embarrassed about something that most people would be proud of.

Dylan Sprouse even had a strong enough sense of humor to turn the most revealing photo into a t-shirt, which he apparently plans to wear around campus at NYU.  He also quipped on Twitter that "at least you can't see my third testicle," while his twin brother Cole -- an archaeology major at NYU known on Instagram for fighting "camera duels" with amateur paparazzi -- shyly admitted that "now they've basically seen me naked which is weird I guess."

Interestingly, this is the same Sprouse brother who recently posted an intelligent, insightful retort to Joe Jonas' self-pitying article about how badly he was treated by Disney as he piled up millions of dollars and myriad adoring fans.

And here's a final bit of Cole and Dylan Sprouse trivia:  The twins share the same birth date as President Barack Obama -- who is himself associated with a famous selfie.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Today Is Repeal Day - Let's Celebrate!

Today, across the country, Americans are celebrating "Repeal Day." As David Boaz of the Cato Institute put it, "Today is a great day for freedom."

What's the celebration about? We are commemorating the 80th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which was ratified on December 5, 1933, and took effect ten days later (coinciding with Bill of Rights Day). Ratification was confirmed by a vote of the Utah legislature to repeal the 18th Amendment that prohibited the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages within the boundaries of the United States.

While it would be easy to attribute the celebration to nothing more than the desire of Americans to imbibe a shot and a beer without bribing a police officer or paying a mobster, the repeal of the Prohibition amendment represents something far more fundamental: It means that, despite Ronald Reagan's quip that "the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program," it is indeed possible to end programs that fail miserably, are counterproductive, increase the size and scope of government, and intrude in the private lives of citizens.

In other words, the 21st Amendment should offer a lesson for everyone who wants to repeal Obamacare (or, for that matter, marijuana prohibition and NSA domestic spying).

Although recent history may give more reason for pessimism, it is not impossible to reverse a bad government program. The effort may take hard work, extend over a long time (Prohibition lasted almost 14 years and its effects are still with us -- such as Virginia's socialist liquor monopoly), and encounter setbacks, but success can happen.

With that in mind, to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, "What America needs now is a drink!" Toast now; legislate later.

(Cross-posted from Bearing Drift)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Georgetown's Mask & Bauble Launches Fundraising Drive to Light Stage III

Just in time for #GivingTuesday (which follows #BlackFriday, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and #CyberMonday), the Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society at Georgetown University has announced a fundraising drive to purchase new lighting equipment.

Now in its 162nd season, Mask & Bauble claims to be the oldest continuously-operating student theatre troupe at any U.S. college or university -- and, even if it's not the oldest, it certainly is in the top three or five.

Mask & Bauble's storied history includes putting on shows at the White House during the Kennedy administration, helping to create the legend of Camelot that was revisited so extensively last month. It launched the careers of Tony-winning playwright John Guare, Tony-winning director Jack Hofsiss, and Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper, among many other theater professionals too numerous to name.

According to an email sent to M&B alumni and a post on the group's web site:
Our current lighting system in Stage III is on its last leg, and needs to be replaced. As many alumni can attest, the current dimming system in Stage III has been a problem for the past several years, with many productions suffering from flickering lights and spontaneous blackouts. In order to keep the electrics in Stage III in show-ready condition, we are officially launching our "Keep the Lights On!" campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase and install a new lighting system for Stage III!
I know the current lighting system at Stage III in Poulton Hall is far more modern than the one in use during my years as a lighting technician and designer there. I remember how we used to have to jump into a pit below the tech booth and grab live electrical cables to switch them from one circuit to another. It's statistically incredible that nobody was turned into a human lightning rod.

The M&B email continues:
Replacing this system, which is about fifteen years old, will cost an estimated $33,000. Mask & Bauble has already committed $5,000 to the project, and we are hoping to secure an additional $5,000 through Georgetown funding outlets.

That leaves us with $23,000 to raise, and together, we can make that happen!

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Mask & Bauble today by clicking the button below. For larger gifts, feel free to make arrangements with the Department of Performing Arts' Administrative Director, Ron Lignelli. All donors will be acknowledged via Mask & Bauble's standard tiered gift recognition structure, with two additional tiers*.

Sponsor: $50+ (your name appears in our program, newsletters and notices)
Benefactor: $150+ (a season subscription for 2)
Name Your Dimmer!: $700 will purchase a whole dimmer for M&B!
Angels: $1,000+ (complimentary invitation to our annual Banquet and Awards Ceremony)
Name Your Dimmer Rack!: $8000 will purchase an entire dimmer rack for M&B!

All donations large and small are very greatly appreciated, and every little bit will help us reach our goal. All donors over $700 will be acknowledged on a plaque that will be hung in Stage III.
To contribute something to this campaign to bring light to the stage, visit this secure donations web site:

If that URL is too long, try this one:

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Pope's Medieval Economics - Still and Again

With a brief respite for Thanksgiving, social media and the blogosphere have been astir with conversations about Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("Joy of the Gospels"), which, despite being a lengthy disputation on the Trinity and other aspects of Catholic theological dogma, has had its few passages on economics singled out for praise and criticism.

I have earlier written about how the top ranks of the Catholic hierarchy are stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to economic thinking, including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The core problem in the current Pope's thinking is found in this passage from Evangelii Gaudium (slightly truncated):
"In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts..."
This has been "confirmed by the facts" so many times I am confounded by the Pope's ignorance of free-market economics, whose theoretical principles were first propounded by the Spanish Scholastics of the early Renaissance.

This Pope, like his predecessors, adheres to a medieval mode of thinking about economics in which wealth distribution is a zero-sum game: Some people are rich because other people are poor. It completely ignores how wealth can be created (making a bigger pie, not just cutting up smaller and smaller pieces to share) through human ingenuity facilitated by the rule of law, respect for property rights, and freedom of thought and information.

The rise of capitalism -- or, as I prefer to call it, free enterprise -- has historically been the most effective driver of wealth creation and lifting people out of poverty. In the past 30 years alone, a billion people who were once living in dire poverty are now middle-class and even rich (by any standard) just in China and India, where liberalized economic policies have freed them from lives that were, by all accounts, nasty, brutish, and short (if not solitary, given those countries' large populations).

As Matt Welch, writing in Reason, put it in a slightly different way:
More people have escaped poverty the past 25 years than were alive on the planet in 1800. Their "means of escape" was largely the introduction of at least some "laws of competition" in endeavors that had long been the exclusive domain of authoritarian, monopolistic governments.
To be fair, the Pope comes from Argentina, where cronyism and mercantilism have long been presented (falsely) as free enterprise. In that context, it would be easy to assume that capitalism creates poverty rather than eliminates it. The affluence and abundance of the modern world were never envisioned by the Bible, which incorrectly prophesies that "the poor will be with us always."

As we have seen in the unprecedented progress of the past 200 years, there is no inevitability to poverty.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kennedy and Nixon at the 2013 Virginia Film Festival

Wesley Buell Frazier (left) and Larry Sabato
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Television, radio, and newspapers are full of remembrances, with witnesses, historians, conspiracy theorists, and political commentators weighing in on that momentous event.

Earlier this month at the Virginia Film Festival, there was a screening of a new documentary film about JFK's legacy from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, called The Kennedy Half-Century, which is tied to a book by the same name by UVA political scientist Larry Sabato (The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy).

There was also a screening of a new documentary film about Kennedy's 1960 presidential election campaign rival, Richard M. Nixon.

That film, called Our Nixon, features never-before-seen behind-the-scenes "home movies" from the first four years of the Nixon administration.

Gerald Baliles (left) and Brian L. Frye
The amateur movies were made with Super-8mm cameras by White House aides H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin.

 All three men were later convicted of crimes connected to the Watergate Affair, which also brought down Nixon himself, when he became the first (and, so far, only) U.S. President to resign his office.

Each screening featured a three-person panel discussion.

The panel discussion that followed The Kennedy Half-Century focused on the Kennedy assassination itself, which is only briefly covered in the movie, because the film's focus is largely on how Kennedy's legacy has been treated by the presidents who followed him into the White House, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.

Larry Sabato moderated a discussion with two witnesses to the JFK assassination: Tina Towner Pender, who at the time of the murder was the youngest person who photographed the event; and Wesley Buell Frazier, a co-worker of Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository, who drove the assassin to work the morning of November 22.

After the panel discussion, I interviewed both Pender -- who has written a memoir called Tina Towner: My Story as the Youngest Photographer at the Kennedy Assassination -- and Frazier, who was manhandled by the Dallas Police and accused of being an accomplice of Lee Harvey Oswald or co-conspirator in the assassination.

Here is video of that panel discussion, which took place in the Culbreth Theater on Saturday, November 9:

The next day, November 10, Our Nixon was shown at the Newcomb Hall Theater. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, now director and CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and featuring Brian L. Frye, co-producer of Our Nixon and a law professor at the University of Kentucky, and Miller Center scholar Ken Hughes.

After the panel, I spoke to Frye and asked him about how he found the long-lost Super-8mm footage that makes up the bulk of his film, how it was preserved, and what his next film projects are.

Here is the video of the Our Nixon panel with Baliles, Frye, and Hughes:

Our Nixon has been aired by CNN and shown at several film festivals (in addition to the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville) and it will also be available on DVD in January 2014.

From the Archives: 'West Side Racist?'

In a recent commentary on controversies surrounding sports team names, Winston Jones wrote in the Douglas County (Ga.) Sentinel:

Our society has gotten too picky and thin-skinned so that too many people are offended by too many things. And too many people are running circles around themselves to try to be politically correct on everything. Don't take life so seriously.
That's the point I tried to make in an opinion piece I wrote 14 years ago in reaction to complaints about a New England high school's production of West Side Story. The article appeared on November 21, 1999, in the Daily News of Bowling Green, Kentucky, under the headline, "West Side racist? - Objections to classic play is a sad commentary on our times." The only other place it is available on the Web is here.

This text, however, is more accessible.

- - -

Word comes from Amherst, Massachusetts, that some students and parents object to a planned production of the classic 1957 musical play, West Side Story, at the local high school. They are insisting that it be canceled.

The local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette noted in its Nov. 11 edition that a petition presented to the school board with over 150 signatures states: "The play continues to generate negative stereotypes of Puerto Ricans in society and perpetuates the racism that we as students have been working so hard to eliminate in our school and community." Other complaints cited the play's use of violence as a way to solve problems.

This is yet another case of ill-informed cultural critics failing to see the forest for the trees. Anyone who has seen West Side Story - or performed in it - cannot help but be touched by its message against prejudice and violence. The message is not subtle. It is not hidden. It is not difficult to grasp.

Like a previous protests against such literary works as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the complainers seem not to understand that in order to present a theme that condemns racial prejudice and stereotyping, it is necessary also to present unsavory characters and dialogue that express the ideas and conditions to author wishes to condemn. Because these types of protests are successful, students are denied an opportunity for fruitful exploration of some of the complex and sad problems faced by our society.

West Side Story is itself based upon an earlier classic, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In its original concept, it was called East Side Story and its focus was to be on a conflicted Catholic-Jewish relationship. As creators Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents (and later Stephen Sondheim) moved forward on the project, they became aware of the tensions in Los Angeles between Americans and Mexican immigrants and in New York's West Side between native English speakers and recent migrants from Puerto Rico. They decided to reset their play in this environment.

But does it "perpetuate stereotypes"? Does it inflame racial or ethnic tensions? Hardly. As Ethan Mordden notes in the chapter on West Side Story in his history of the Broadway musical in the 1950's, Coming Up Roses, "West Side Story is about real people: real life, real love and something is possible, for all the despair."

In Amherst, one alumna said the possibility of her high school presenting West Side Story is "humiliating." A parent, Elizabeth Capifali (a doctoral candidate in the multicultural education at the University of Massachusetts), called it "a very racist play" that is "replete with racial discrimination, creating negative images of Puerto Ricans and poor European immigrants."

Which European immigrants? The characters in the play are all "Americans" - but the ones who speak English and originally lived in New York come off looking much worse, morally speaking, than the Americans who speak Spanish and come from Puerto Rico. It is the "Anglos" who are unwelcoming, disrespectful and hostile toward their new neighbors. It is the "natives" who would rather fight the Puerto Ricans than work and play alongside them. The "natives" are blustery Archie-Bunkers-in-training, with a violent, gangster-like bent. The Puerto Rican characters - also Americans, as they don't hesitate to remind us, and their adversaries - simply want to make a better life for themselves. What kind of negative stereotype is that?

Bowling Green Daily News, November 21, 1999
Aside from the play's message, which can only be missed by someone wearing blinders and earplugs, it is a landmark of the American stage that deserves to be seen and performed by young people who wish to be culturally literate.

West Side Story was cutting-edge in 1957, yet seems somewhat old-fashioned today. (This was my reaction to a London revival earlier this year [1999] that recreated the original production, including the sets and costumes.) Still, students of the theatre recognize its innovations: in music and lyrics, in its focus on young people to the exclusion of adults, in its daring realism in a medium that relies on fantasy. Its progeny include Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, and Ragtime. To deny members of the Amherst Regional High School community an opportunity to participate in, observe and learn from West Side Story is petty and barbarous.

We can only hope that the level-headed faculty, students, and school board members stand up to these philistines. The show must go on.

- - -

For more discussion about West Side Story, check out these videos of a post-screening discussion about the movie from the 2008 Virginia Film Festival.

Part I:

Part II:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From the Archives: 'Act Now to Save Lives After a Nuclear War'

Thirty years ago tonight, ABC-TV broadcast The Day After, a movie about the aftermath of nuclear war set in the American heartland. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the film featured John Cullum, Steve Guttenberg, Wayne Knight, John Lithgow, Amy Madigan, Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, and other familiar actors.

Henry Kissinger in 2006
That Sunday night, I was in the audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a special screening of The Day After that was followed by a live post-broadcast discussion about the movie, hosted by Ted Koppel and featuring George P. Shultz, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State at the time, as well as National Review founder William F. Buckley, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, astronomer Carl Sagan, and Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel.

I was seated in the auditorium next to a traditionalist Catholic who, when called upon to present a question by Koppel, asked the puzzled policymakers on stage whether nuclear war would be a fulfillment of the prophecies made by the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, during the First World War. As I recall, none of the panelists made an attempt to reply to his question; I'm sure only Buckley actually understood it. I slunk in my chair, aware that the TV cameras were aimed in my direction at that moment.

Several days prior to the broadcast, because of my affiliation with the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA), I had seen a preview screening of The Day After, so I knew what to expect. The movie had been hyped in the weeks preceding its on-air debut, so I expected many people would be watching. (It turns out to have been seen by as many as 100 million home viewers, a record for a made-for-TV movie.)

At the time of the broadcast, USA Today invited me to submit an opinion piece about The Day After, which appeared a week later with the dateline of St. Louis, Missouri. (I was actually in Washington, D.C., when I submitted the draft but was about to leave St. Louis the morning the article was published, having attended a conference there on war and peace and nuclear weapons policy. The editor told me he did not like too many datelines from Washington on the same page, so it looked like I wrote from St. Louis.)

Here is "Act now to save lives after a nuclear war," which was published on Monday, November 28, 1983 -- almost 30 years ago -- in USA Today.  This is the first time the article has been made available on the Internet.

- - -

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – During the opening sequence of the ABC-TV movie, The Day After, the camera pans through scenes of Kansas City and its surrounding countryside. Then we see a plaque reading: “Be Prepared.”

To thinking and concerned citizens, that was the clear message of this film. The threat of nuclear war requires us not only to hope and work to avert war, but to prepare for the failure of nuclear deterrence and the consequences of nuclear devastation.

It is significant that, despite the attempts of some groups to persuade the public that no medical help would be available after a nuclear war, a hospital is still standing in The Day After – as would likely happen in real life.

Also, as in real life, the fictional doctors and nurses put forth better than their best efforts to treat an enormous number of patients – not only victims from near the hospital, but refugees from hundreds of miles away who come looking for help.

Dr. Oakes, played by Jason Robards, responds to the question, “What will we do with all those people outside?: by saying: “We're going to let them in … as many as we can.”

Rick Sincere with Helen Caldicott on CNN's 'Crossfire', 1983
The doctor's dedication, which he carries to his death, stands in stark contrast to the bleak attitude of doctors such as Helen Caldicott of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who argue against preparing ourselves for the horrid consequences of a nuclear war.

Towards the end of the movie, one character says: “We knew the score. We knew all about bombs. We knew all about fallout. We knew this could happen for 40 years. Nobody was interested.”

Those of us committed to increased civil defense preparations indeed “know the score.”

All the people you saw in the film who survived the initial blast did not have to suffer and die before the ened of the story. Simple preparations, elementary education about the effects of nuclear weapons, and caution could easily have prevented the sickness and death

People should be taught that they should not walk around in the fallout, but stay indoors. They should know that simple, everyday hygiene practices can prevent much of the sickness, both from radiation and germs, that would occur after a nuclear attack.

Above all, people should not be outdoors when an attack occurs, and they should not look at the blast or run towards it, like so many characters in The Day After seemed to do.

Civil defense is a moral obligation – it saves lives and alleviates suffering. Without it, all Americans are left vulnerable to deadly attack, if by accident or design nuclear war should occur. The Swiss have a slogan: “Better civil defense without nuclear war than nuclear war without civil defense.”

Richard E. Sincere Jr. is a member of the board of directors of the American Civil Defense Association.

Friday, November 15, 2013

SNL Alumnus Will Forte Discusses 'Nebraska' at 2013 Virginia Film Festival

Will Forte at 2013 Virginia Film Festival
The new Alexander Payne film, Nebraska, opens in cinemas across the United States today. It has already won wide acclaim, including a best-actor award for leading player Bruce Dern at the Cannes Film Festival last May.

The movie is about an aging man's journey across the plains from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, with his younger son, and a reunion with family members and friends in his long-ago hometown (location-shot in Plainview, Nebraska, represented as the fictional "Hawthorne").

Dern's turn as Woody Grant is getting plenty of Oscar buzz. The generally talkative (in real life) Bruce Dern plays a taciturn octogenarian who falls for a sweepstakes scam and insists on picking up his winnings.

Although Nebraska is set in the present day, the black-and-white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael recalls period pieces like Paper Moon (1930s) and The Last Picture Show (1950s), both directed by Peter Bogdanovich in the early 1970s.

Last week, co-star (and SNL alumnus) Will Forte came with Nebraska to the Virginia Film Festival.

Before the capacity screening at the Paramount Theater downtown, Forte bantered with local reporters about the film and his career. (You'll hear my voice asking him about his experience with animated comedies like The Cleveland Show and Bob's Burgers.)

After the screening, Forte was joined on stage by one of the film's producers, Ron Yerxa, for a question-and-answer session moderated by NYU film studies professor Harry Chotiner.
In addition to the Cannes and Virginia film festivals, Nebraska was also screened at the new Middleburg Film Festival in Northern Virginia, where Bruce Dern came to promote it, along with Ron Yerxa and his producing partner, Albert Berger.

At the 2009 Virginia Film Festival, actor Matthew Broderick discussed another Alexander Payne film set in Nebraska, Election.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Daily Progress to Charge More for Thanksgiving Day Edition

Today I received this message in my email box from Lawrence McConnell, publisher of the Charlottesville Daily Progress:

On Thanksgiving Day, we will deliver to you the biggest newspaper of the year! As always, it is loaded with information you can use and valuable advertising to get your holiday season off to the right start. Because of its sheer size, the Thanksgiving Day newspaper is one of the most expensive to produce and difficult to distribute. And many of our carriers must use additional help to complete deliveries in a timely manner.

Effective this year, we will charge a premium rate of $2.50 for the Thanksgiving Day newspaper. This charge will be debited to your newspaper account on Thanksgiving Day. The small increase in the rate for the Thanksgiving Day newspaper will result in a slightly earlier expiration date for your current subscription term.

We hope you can appreciate the value of the Thanksgiving Day newspaper and the necessity for the premium charge to partially cover our added expenses and those of your carrier.

Thank you for reading and supporting the Charlottesville Daily Progress.
Now, I am aware as much as anybody of the challenges the legacy media face these days. Revenues are down, expenses are up, subscriptions are down, newsstand sales are down while competition proliferates in the form of cable and satellite TV stations, talk radio, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, and web-only news sites.

But think about this for a moment: Just why is the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Daily Progress so big? Or that day's edition of any newspaper?

The answer should be obvious. It's because that day's newspaper carries more advertising than any other day of the year, with the possible exception of December 26.

In other words, the Daily Progress is saying, "Subscriber, we are charging you more because we are making more money that day."

I hope I'm not the only Daily Progress reader who noticed this attempt to turn us into Thanksgiving turkeys.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Robert Sarvis Finishes Campaign in Downtown Charlottesville

Robert Sarvis in Charlottesville
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis held his final campaign rally at the Free Speech Monument in downtown Charlottesville on Monday evening, November 4, just hours before polls open statewide for the 2013 general election.

Sarvis, the Libertarian Party's nominee, faces two rival for governor in Tuesday's election:  Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

The Libertarian candidate brought his wife, Astrid, and two young children to the rally, along with his mother, who cared for the kids while Sarvis answered questions from supporters and reporters.

Both NBC29 and the Newsplex were on the mall to interview Sarvis.

In this exclusive video of the complete Q&A with voters, Sarvis talks about immigration, taxes, abortion, transportation, reforming marijuana laws, privatizing state liquor sales, EPA stormwater regulations, Medicaid and health care policy, his reaction to being endorsed by the Danville Register & Bee, and generally reducing the size and scope of Virginia's government.

The video is unedited and there are some audio problems because a train rumbled down the nearby railroad tracks in the middle of the rally.

Polls open at 6:00 o'clock a.m. and close at 7:00 o'clock p.m. on Tuesday, November 5. The polling hours are uniform throughout the Commonwealth. Weather is predicted to be partly sunny with cool temperatures.

If Sarvis receives 10 percent or more of the vote, the Libertarian Party of Virginia will obtain official ballot status and will be able to nominate its candidates for public office in the same manner that Republicans and Democrats do, avoiding the lengthy, labor-intensive, and costly process of gathering petition signatures.  For statewide office, the law requires independent or third-party candidates to collect thousands of signatures across Virginia.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Full Text: E.W. Jackson's Unjustifiable Characterization of Gays as 'Totalitarian'

E.W. Jackson, May 2013
In August, I noted in this space that the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star had a month earlier published an opinion piece I write about E.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia this year. Jackson faces state Senator Ralph Northam of Norfolk, the Democratic party's nominee, on Tuesday in a general election that will also see voters choose among three nominees for governor (Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis) and between two candidates for attorney general (Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain).

All the candidates are traversing the state this weekend in the final stretch of the campaign season. Within 48 hours of the time I write this (barring a virtual tie in any of the top three contests), winners will be known and soaked with Gatorade or champagne and second- and third-place candidates will be licking their wounds and planning their comebacks.

Upon reflection, I realized that my summary of my op-ed piece on E.W. Jackson did not do it justice. Since it has been more than three months since the Free Lance-Star printed it, I feel it is within my authorial rights to republish it here, while its message is still relevant.

This is the text as I submitted it to the Free Lance-Star, which put it on its opinion page on Sunday, July 21, 2013.

- - - - -

E.W. Jackson's unjustifiable characterization of gays as 'totalitarian'
Richard Sincere

In remarks widely circulated only after he received the Republican Party of Virginia's nomination to be lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson said that gay men and lesbians have “an authoritarian, totalitarian spirit that has decided they know what’s best for everyone.”

Jackson repeated the characterization, adding: “I used two words to describe what they’re trying to do: authoritarian and totalitarian, and I believe that. I believe that they are of a mindset that says we want to destroy, in any way we need to, anyone who dares oppose this agenda.”

Although there are radicals within any political movement, whether right or left, the totalitarian impulse is rare and exists only on the fringes.

Jackson's words are at odds with the attitudes and activities of the large number of gay and lesbian Americans whose core beliefs are keenly attuned to the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that Jackson claims animate his own political agenda.

Take, for example, the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR).

Reason magazine correspondent Michael Lynch began one report by saying, “Two and a half years in Washington and I've finally found the free marketeers in the Republican Party – they're gay.”

Lynch had attended an Arlington LCR meeting that featured a talk by British political scientist Nigel Ashford, who made a case against employment non-discrimination laws, and he noted that the vast majority of those present “appeared to agree with Ashford.”

He added that the president of the group said that LCR's mission is “to work with Republican candidates on shared issues, such as lower taxes, while letting them know you're gay and that there are good gays dedicated to the party.”

That hardly resembles an “authoritarian” or “totalitarian” agenda. Maybe that's why former Prince William County Republican chairman Bill Kling once said that Northern Virginia Log Cabin meetings are “fast becoming a 'must' campaign stop for many GOP candidates.”

Or look at the Pink Pistols, a pro-gay, pro-gun organization, with its 60 chapters across the country and abroad.

Pink Pistols filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Court eventually decided that firearms ownership is an individual right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The Pink Pistols argued that "not only do members of the LGBT community have a heightened need to possess firearms for self-protection in their homes, the Second Amendment clearly guarantees this most basic right. This Court should not permit the democratic majority to deprive LGBT individuals of their essential and constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in their own homes.”

Defending the Second Amendment rights of individuals is neither “authoritarian” nor “totalitarian.”

Third, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL), which I cofounded in 1991 with a group of like-minded libertarians, classical liberals, and conservatives, has a mission to advance the ideas of economic and personal freedom and individual responsibility.

Considering that, earlier this summer, the Boy Scouts of America ended its policy of excluding gay teens from membership, it is noteworthy that in 2000, GLIL took the BSA's side before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a friend-of-court brief, GLIL asserted that, as wrong-headed as the BSA's policy was, it had a right to maintain it as part of the Constitution's guarantees of free speech and freedom of association.

As conservative columnist George Will summarized our argument, “GLIL vigorously deplores the Scouts' creed, which is that homosexuality is incompatible with the Scout obligation to be 'morally straight' and 'clean.' But GLIL agrees that the Scouts are a creedal organization with an explicitly moral mission. And citing much history – for example, until the late 1970s the IRS denied tax-exempt status to organizations that 'promoted' homosexuality – the GLIL brief argues that gays have suffered 'when freedom of association has not been respected and governments have been allowed to trample on the rights of citizens to freely gather together.'”

Standing up for the freedom of association for those with whom one disagrees, while reserving the right to persuade them to change their position, does not demonstrate a totalitarian impulse.

Whether E.W. Jackson was the best choice as the GOP's lieutenant governor nominee is a broader topic best left to other days and other commentators.

One thing is clear, however: his blanket condemnation of gay citizens as “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” lacks factual foundation. He should acknowledge that there are many gay men and lesbians who share his fundamental desire for strong families, free markets, and smaller, less intrusive government.

* * *

Richard Sincere was a Charlottesville delegate to the Republican Party of Virginia's state convention on May 18. He blogs about politics and culture at

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Libertarian Evolution of George F. Will

Reason magazine's current issue has a lengthy interview with conservative columnist George F. Will, conducted by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, authors of The Declaration of Independents.  Not yet on line, the article is headlined "George Will's Libertarian Evolution."

That's a title I thought of using myself recently (and you will see a variant above) when I saw Will's October 23 column that virtually endorsed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis, running as a Libertarian Party nominee, and I remembered Will's 1992 column about Libertarian presidential candidate Andre Marrou, which in the Washington Post was headlined "Consider a Libertarian?; Get Serious."

(I should mention that, as a campaign advisor, I accompanied Marrou to the interview with George Will at his Georgetown office that preceded the publication of the column, and we both came away from it feeling positive and expecting, perhaps naively, great praise and even an endorsement.)

At the Post, that article is behind a paywall, but I found a copy on the Baltimore Sun's web site.  Here are some tidbits:

There hangs about [Marrou] the acrid aroma of strange incense burnt at silly altars. There is, in fact, some Lenin in the clanking rhetoric by which he expresses his encompassing ideology, his life in the familiar 20th-century abode, the well-lit prison of one idea.

The idea is that ''government power is opposed to individual liberty.'' Must we still debate such sophomoric notions? One's spirit sags at the prospect of plowing all the over-plowed intellectual ground from late-night college arguments, long ago when we smoked French cigarettes and thought Italian movies were deep. But plow we must.

So, here goes: Police and armies that keep bad people at bay, and roads that make practical the freedom to travel, and education that makes people competent for life in a free society, these are not ''opposed to individual liberty.'' Besides, liberty, although very important, is not the only value. There are also justice, domestic tranquillity and a good five-cent cigar.

The Libertarians' extremism (they oppose laws setting minimum drinking ages, or banning concealed weapons, or restricting immigration, and so on) makes them unelectable, so their extremism also makes them safe recipients of protest votes....

All of which makes the Libertarians' frivolousness especially regrettable. Once upon a time there were politically serious third parties -- Bob La Follette's Progressives, Norman Thomas' Socialists -- which, by working at the margins, expanded first the nation's political discussion and then the nation's agenda. No more.
By contrast, Will's latest foray into commentary on Libertarian candidates has more negative to say about the Republican and Democrat running against the LP candidate than about the Libertarian Sarvis, whom Will finds so attractive he includes the script of a pro-Sarvis TV ad:
During an intermission in the telecast of a notably disagreeable McAuliffe-Cuccinelli debate, viewers heard from their television sets a woman’s voice asking, “Can’t vote for these guys?” Then Sarvis’s voice:

“Like you, I can’t vote for Ken Cuccinelli’s narrow-minded social agenda. I want a Virginia that’s open-minded and welcoming to all. And like you, I don’t want Terry McAuliffe’s cronyism either, where government picks winners and losers. Join me, and together we can build a Virginia that’s open-minded and open for business.”

McAuliffe is an enthusiast for, and has prospered from, government “investments” in preferred industries, which is a recipe for crony capitalism. Cuccinelli is a stern social conservative, an opponent of, among other things, gay marriage. Marriage equality interests Sarvis (whose mother is Chinese) because his wife is African American, so his marriage would have been illegal in Virginia before the exquisitely titled 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia.
Earlier in the piece, Will noted:
The Democratic and Republican candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, each say that no good can come from electing the other fellow; Sarvis amiably agrees with both.

In Sarvis, the man and the moment have met. He is running at a time of maximum distrust of established institutions, including the two major parties. He has little money, but McAuliffe and Cuccinelli have spent millions of dollars on broadcast ads making each other repulsive to many Virginians, who surely feel as Will Rogers did: “You got to admit that each party is worse than the other.”
To be sure, Will doesn't predict Sarvis will win, but he recognizes the value of the vote as a message-bearing mechanism:
Third-party candidacies are said to be like bees — they sting, then die. Still, Sarvis is enabling voters to register dissatisfaction with the prevailing political duopoly. Markets are information-generating mechanisms, and Virginia’s political market is sending, through Sarvis, signals to the two durable parties.

One aspect of that signal is that Virginia voters want an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

Robert Sarvis with Coy Barefoot
If Sarvis breaks the 10 percent vote threshold, the Libertarian Party will have official ballot status for the next four years, meaning the LPVA can nominate candidates the way the DPVA and RPV do, through caucuses and conventions (and even primaries), without going through the tedious, time-consuming, and expensive process of collecting petition signatures to get candidates' names on the ballot. Money that could instead go into voter education (TV and radio ads, direct-mail appeals, phone banking) now gets spent on ballot access.

For four years, if the LP is organized well enough to take advantage of its new status, Virginia Libertarians can spend money on campaigning rather than on petitioning.

Whether George Will explicitly knew about this aspect of Virginia election law is not really relevant. The fact that he recognized the Libertarian candidate as a torch-bearer for electoral choice as well as human liberty -- and that this represents a shift in his thinking over the past two decades -- is what I find significant.