Thursday, November 30, 2017

Guest Post: Casablanca at 75 – still a classic of WWII propaganda

Stephen McVeigh, Swansea University

Casablanca, which brought together the combined star-power of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, remains one of the best-loved movies ever produced in Hollywood. But the film, which hit the silver screen on November 26 1942, is more than just a love story set in Morocco. Released in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – which propelled a reluctant United States to enter World War II – the film was actually a classic piece of propaganda cinema masquerading as popular entertainment.

Casablanca movie poster
When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, the United States was the only major power with neither an intelligence nor a propaganda agency. But this all changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Just as intelligence would be essential for shaping and directing political and military objectives in Europe and Asia as the conflict spread, propaganda would be vital for supporting the American war effort by shaping and directing American ideas and beliefs in relation to the conflict.

In June 1942, the office of war information (OWI) was set up to promote the war effort and was given the task of developing campaigns to enhance public understanding of the war at home and abroad. A key element of this was the co-ordination of government information activities, as well as liaising with the press, radio, and – crucially – motion pictures.

In effect, the OWI was charged with selling the war. After experimenting with propaganda in the form of posters and documentaries, the OWI turned to more imaginative sources. Its director, Elmer Davis – formerly a reporter with the New York Times and CBS – made this key observation:

The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go in through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realise they are being propagandised.

Hollywood would play a significant role in this. For box office reasons as much as political ones, Hollywood was eager to harness the medium of entertainment to support the war effort. And so several popular films made at this time – including Mrs Miniver (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), This is the Army (1943), Since You Went Away (1944) – combined traditional artistic and entertainment concerns with a purposeful political dimension.

The agency issued specific guidelines, as well as reviewing scripts and early cuts of films, making suggestions for insertions or deletions. It required film makers to consider seven questions before producing a movie:

  1. Will this picture help win the war?
  2. What war information problem does it seek to clarify, dramatise, or interpret?
  3. If it is an “escape” picture, will it harm the war effort by creating a false picture of America, her allies, or the world we live in?
  4. Does it merely use the war as the basis for a profitable picture, contributing nothing of real significance to the war effort and possibly lessening the effect of other pictures of more importance?
  5. Does it contribute something new to our understanding of the world conflict and the various forces involved, or has the subject already been adequately
  6. When the picture reaches its maximum circulation on the screen, will it reflect conditions as they are and fill a need current at that time, or will it be out-dated?
  7. Does the picture tell the truth or will the young people of today have reason to say they were misled by propaganda?

A beautiful friendship

At the heart of Casablanca is a concern with the implications of American isolationism in the context of the threat posed to Europe by Nazism.

Elements of the dialogue between characters in the film echo and then argue with contemporary American foreign policy attitudes – offering reasons to engage. Bogart is perfectly cast as cynical bar owner Rick, an American formerly living in Paris who has fled the German occupation to open his Café Americain, which has become a melting pot of wartime nationalities. Rick advances what had traditionally been a popular American justification for isolationism:

I stick my neck out for nobody. The problems of this world are not in my department. I’m a saloon keeper.“

But for Roosevelt’s administration – and for increasing numbers of Americans – the attack on Pearl Harbor had shattered any lingering illusions that America might turn its back on the world. From this perspective the story of Casablanca is the story of Rick’s transition from aloof to engaged. This is made explicit by the owner of the Blue Parrot cafe, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), who tells Rick:

My dear Rick, when will you realise that in the world today, isolationism is no longer a practical policy?

But more dynamic than these relatively subtle pieces of dialogue is the famous scene where Rick clearly takes sides, showing the audience who he believes are the heroes and the villains of the European conflict.

A contingent of German officers is singing nationalist songs. Victor Lazlo (Paul Heinreid), a heroic resistance fighter who represents the nobility and sacrifice of the oppressed Europeans, demands that the band play "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. The band look to Rick, who nods assent and in that nod he relinquishes his isolationism. The anthem is rousingly played and the Nazis, who initially try to sing more loudly, are drowned out by the patrons singing in unison and they give up. By identifying with Rick, moviegoers were encouraged to make the same choice.

Casablanca is a dramatic, heartbreaking movie, an unsurpassed classic from Hollywood’s golden era. But it is also an extremely effective piece of propaganda cinema, persuading an American audience reluctant to commit to another European conflict to set aside its isolationism simply by dramatising the heroism of the European resistance to Nazi Germany.

Stephen McVeigh, Associate Professor in War and Society, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

From the Archives: Policy analyst James Gattuso discusses problems with Net Neutrality – Part II

Policy analyst James Gattuso discusses problems with Net Neutrality – Part II
January 24, 2011 12:15 AM MST

net neutrality James Gattuso Heritage Foundation regulation
In a January 11 interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, James Gattuso – who is a senior research fellow in regulatory studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, where he focuses on communication policy – spoke about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent ruling on so-called “Net Neutrality.”

Gattuso argued that the new rules were at odds with efficient economic operation of the Internet and also that they were based on “flawed” claims of legal authority by the FCC.

He also predicted that Congress will take action to reverse the FCC's ruling.

Congressional Review Act
One avenue will be the Congressional Review Act, which was passed in 1996 and allows Congress to overrule executive branch regulations.

Another possibility, Gattuso said, is “standalone legislation to reverse the FCC’s decision and strip them of authority to act in the future.”

This could face a hurdle, however, because Net Neutrality rules have “been a priority item for president Obama and he can veto any such standalone bill.”

He suggested that a “much more potentially winning strategy is going to be the funding approach, where they will put on an appropriations rider prohibiting the FCC from using any funds to enforce this rule.”

Threat to the First Amendment
James Gattuso Heritage Foundation 2011
James Gattuso (c) 2011 Rick Sincere
Finally, Gattuso expressed his concerns that the FCC’s new rules could have negative implications for freedom of expression now protected by the First Amendment.

“The rules as written by the FCC ban ‘unreasonable discrimination,’” he said. “They use the word ‘reasonable’ quite a bit in the rules, which ultimately means the FCC will have discretion to decide how content can be treated on the web, what can be given priority, and what must be given priority.”

This means, he added, that “whenever a company has a plan for treating one group of content different from another or even treating it the same as another, the FCC can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

That will put the FCC “inevitably into the business of deciding what speech is valuable, what speech is important, and which speech is favored.”

That, Gattuso concluded ominously, is “a dangerous path.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on January 24, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

From the Archives: Policy analyst James Gattuso discusses the problems with Net Neutrality – Part I

Policy analyst James Gattuso discusses the problems with Net Neutrality – Part I
January 24, 2011 12:03 AM MST

When the Federal Communications Commission issued rules regarding Net Neutrality in December 2010, it set off a debate about the value and legitimacy of those regulations.

Net neutrality James Gattuso Heritage Foundation
Earlier this month, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner had an opportunity to interview James Gattuso, senior research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Gattuso had addressed a group of Virginia political activists in Richmond about the FCC’s new rules.

Gattuso summarized his remarks by saying that “the FCC last month adopted rules to regulate the Internet. They’re vague rules but, I think, very detrimental rules to society and the economy.”

‘Vague notion of fairness’

The argument for these rules, he said, “is essentially a vague notion of fairness,” which posits that “ISPs -- companies like Verizon and Comcast, which provide Internet service to individuals and businesses -- should treat all traffic the same, with no differentiation between how the speed or quality with which they’re delivered.”

This, he went on, is a “tempting idea but ultimately flawed.”

It is flawed “because for practical purposes there’s always been and needs to always be differentiation” in services regardless of what kind of business is under discussion.

Moreover, Gattuso said, “the idea of premium services and discount services is inherent to a marketplace. I can’t think of a single industry that does not use premiums and discounts. It’s an economic tool that’s beneficial to consumers.”

Premiums and discounts, he continued, are “necessary to the success of the Internet itself.”

No legal authority

Gattuso also argued that the FCC lacks the legal authority to issue Net Neutrality regulations.

James Gattuso net neutrality Heritage Foundation
James Gattuso (c) 2011 Rick Sincere
The FCC gets its authority from the Communications Act of 1934 and many subsequent amendments, he said. This law “gives the FCC authority over broadcasting. It gives the FCC authority over the telephone system, but it does not give authority anywhere in the text [for] regulating the Internet.”

To get around this lack of legal authority, Gattuso noted, “the FCC has argued in the past that it has what is known as ‘ancillary jurisdiction,’ which means if they regulate something that is similar to the Internet, they can regulate the Internet itself.”

The problem with this position, however is that the claim “was thrown out in a case in federal court last April, without much ceremony. It was not taken seriously by the court, nor should it have been,” said Gattuso.

However, he added, “with this December decision, the FCC is coming back again with a very similar argument, this time based upon a particular section [of the code] that was meant to be deregulatory.”

In that section, “Congress instructed the FCC to act to encourage development of advanced Internet services. This was a provision that was meant to instruct the FCC to deregulate, to reduce barriers, to advance Internet services if they are not being deployed.”

What the FCC is claiming now is that this deregulatory provision of communications law is “in fact a new grant of authority that they did not otherwise have, mandating them to regulate.”

This, Gattuso concluded, is “a complete reversal of what Congress intended and, ultimately, also legally flawed.”

In Part II of this interview, James Gattuso talks about what the congressional response might be, and whether Net Neutrality is a threat to freedom of expression.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on January 24, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

From the Archives: 'A Measure of Human Frailty'

The cascade of allegations, accusations, apologies, and resignations that has followed news reports about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, and many other powerful and celebrated men may suggest to a visitor from Mars that sexual harassment is a concept with its origins in the 21st century. Far from it, as this 20th century review of a 16th century play will show. Whether William Shakespear's Measure for Measure is the first dramatic piece about sexual harassment to be performed may be up for dispute, but it surely is the one with the greatest longevity.

This review of Mask & Bauble's production of Measure for Measure was originally published in The Metro Herald in October 1995.

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A Measure of Human Frailty
(Review of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at Georgetown University)
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

In the 1960s, before the professional theatre scene in Washington blossomed to the extent we now know it, the Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society at Georgetown University (M&B) was the Capital's premier venue for classical and modern drama. Mask & Bauble members were invited to perform at the White House by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Mask & Bauble alumni of that era include Tony-award winning director Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) and Tony-winning playwright John Guare (The House of the Blue Leaves).

William Shakespeare Measure for MeasureWith the opening of the Kennedy Center, Georgetown University Theatre lost some of its lustre relative to the new works available on the banks of the Potomac, and with the Kennedy Center as their furrow, newer and more ambitious theatres sprouted around town. Yet the student actors, directors, and technicians at M&B -- the oldest continuously operating, student-run theatre society in America -- still plow forward.

To open its 143rd season, Mask & Bauble offers William Shakespeare's comedy, Measure for Measure. "Comedy" is used here in a broad technical sense, because despite a few bawdy and funny moments, this is a serious play in which the the threat of death and dishonor hangs over the characters throughout. It is a comedy in that all the protaganists remain alive at the closing curtain and there is, in a sense, a "happy ending." The path to reach that ending is no primrose lane, however. Rather, it forces the audience to consider eternal questions of right and wrong, of tyranny and justice, of mercy and legal precision.

Producer Philip Hammack told the Metro Herald that he and director Jack Shay were drawn to Measure for Measure because of its theme of "human frailty" and its requirement of "self-reflection in the light of self-deception." To convey this theme graphically, the play takes place on an austerely decorated set, which consists largely of blocks of wood, dappled with drab grey and embedded with shards of mirrors. A full-length, two-way mirror predominates upstage, so that surreal actions can take place behind it and explain off-stage elements of the story wordlessly.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: The Duke of Vienna takes leave of his subjects and places responsibility for government, in his absence, in the hands of Lord Angelo. Angelo begins to enforce some of the stricter moral codes that the lenient Duke has ignored during the previous 14 years of his reign. Caught in this new legalism is Claudio, imprisoned and sentenced to death for fornication. Claudio's sister, Isabella, about to become a nun, pleads with Angelo for clemency for her brother. Angelo refuses to commute Claudio's sentence -- unless Isabella has sex with him. With no witnesses to this callous request, Isabella knows that no one will believe her if she tells them that the upright Angelo has behaved like this. She goes to Claudio in prison and tells him she cannot sin to save his life. At the same time, the Duke, who has disguised himself as an ordinary priest, finds out what has happened. He arranges for Angelo's jilted former fiancée to substitute herself for Isabella. Then he returns without his disguise and tricks Angelo into admitting his calumny. He commutes Claudio's death sentence -- but orders him to marry the woman Claudio had impregnated -- allows Angelo to marry the woman he mistakenly seduced, and asks Isabella to be his wife.

William Shakespeare Measure for Measure 1957The overriding theme is one of whether and how mercy can temper justice. In this, it is carried over from some of Shakespeare's other works, notably The Merchant of Venice. Superimposed on this is, for modern audiences, a potent political message. It asks: What happens when a liberal government -- one that does not enforce severe and strict laws addressing personal morality -- is replaced by a more puritanical one? Indeed, what role does government have in using its coercive power, even the threat of death, to make its people virtuous?

Virtue, of course, cannot be coerced. Otherwise it is not virtue, because virtue must be freely chosen. Shakespeare surely recognizes this. The evidence is the contrasting characters of the Duke and his deputy, Angelo.

Angelo is a prig who becomes a hypocrite. The Duke is a liberal-minded ruler with a "live and let live" philosophy. He is righteous without being self-righteous. From the very first scene, we know the Duke is modest and lacks ambition for himself. He genuinely cares for his subjects. Angelo, in contrast, cares more for the letter of the law than for its spirit. He cares less for his people than for justice most narrowly defined. He cannot, in the Duke's words, "condemn the fault" without also condemning "the actor of it."

The student actors convey these themes with strength and understanding. Claudio, played by Andrew Owiti, breathes pure desperation as he begs Isabella (Leila Howland) to forsake her own -- and her family's -- honor to save his head from the hangman. Angelo (Patrick McFadden) reeks self-righteousness, but falls short in making us believe he has fallen in love with Isabella; his stolid emotions do not vary from before and after their first meeting; he is indeed a stoical puritan. Jason Heffron as Elbow provides strong comic relief, and Henry S. deGuchi as Claudio's friend, Lucio, presents a convincing "man-about-town" who finds himself participating in a life-and-death dilemma.

The theme of sexual harassment is not something recently discovered by the likes of Michael Crichton (last year's hit movie, Disclosure) or David Mamet (his play, Oleanna). Shakespeare was writing about it 400 years ago. In the bard's own words, there is "nothing new under the sun." And so we continue to wrestle with our own frailties, our own inclination to deceive ourselves and our fellows.

Measure for Measure continues through October 21 at Stage III, Poulton Hall, 37th and P Streets, N.W. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for general admission. For reservations, call 202-687-6783.

Monday, November 27, 2017

From the Archives: Modern Music Brightens NSO's Future

While primarily a theater critic during my tenure at The Metro Herald, occasionally I ventured into other aspects of the performing arts, such as this example, in which I reviewed a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra. Writing for a weekly newspaper, it sometimes made little sense to write about a one-time event (as most symphony concerts are) that was in the past, with no opportunities for readers to see (or hear) it. Yet newspapers do publish such reviews regularly. In any event, this review appeared in The Metro Herald in November 1995, and it does reference some recordings:

Modern Music Brightens NSO's Future
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor 

For conductor Leonard Slatkin to choose John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 as the first piece he records with the National Symphony Orchestra speaks volumes about Slatkin's views about modern music and the direction the NSO should take. It suggests a dedication to modern, and to American, music that should undergird the NSO's entire mission.

John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts NSO Slatkin
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Slatkin, who remains Music Director Designate until next year, explained before the Kennedy Center Concert Hall premiere of the Corigliano work that "music through the ages has traditionally been the abstract," but this composer works from the concrete. The symphony, he noted, had its "genesis" in the composer's response to two things: the AIDS epidemic and the famous Names Project Memorial Quilt, which serves as a vivid reminder of those who have lost their lives -- often very young lives -- to AIDS.

Strangely enough, the Corigliano First Symphony has been played by every major orchestra in America, in over 600 performances, since its commissioning by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra five years ago. Of the country's major orchestra's, only the National Symphony waited until now to perform the work for Washington audiences.

Corigliano has written a piece for a huge orchestra. The string sections are full, the horns and woodwinds are double and triple their normal composition, and the percussionists are busier than one ever sees them. The symphony calls for three piccolos, three flutes, three oboes, six clarinets, and three bassoons. The percussion section alone could fill a music store, with some instruments that are positively odd (yet add much to the totality of the work): The percussionists must play rototoms, temple blocks, crotales, a whip, a flexatone, a metal plate, a tam-tam, a brake drum, chimes, an anvil, and a police whistle. Corigliano has also written parts for two pianos, one onstage and one offstage.

Written, as symphonies are, in four movements, the third and fourth movements slide into each other imperceptibly. The first movement ("Of Rage and Remembrance") serves as an introduction of the themes that will predominate throughout the score. The second movement is manic in its form, which technically is a "tarantella," a wild folk dance of Italy. It is meant to represent the slowly building dementia suffered by so many people with AIDS. The third movement, by contrast, is far more lyric. It is dominated by a cello solo (with a bass continuo) that was inspired by a 1962 recording by the composer's good friend, Giulio, who died of AIDS-related causes. The fourth movement returns us to the themes that have been woven throughout the piece, and with "sonic waves" provided by the brass section, the solo cello continues, in dialogue with another cello, ending in a diminuendo that terminates the symphony on the same note with which it began.

The performances of Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 on November 9, 10, and 11 were recorded both by National Public Radio for future broadcast and by RCA Victor Red Seal. In a few months, we will be able to see whether Slatkin's interpretation of Corigliano will stand up against the premiere recording, by the Chicago Symphony under the baton of Daniel Barenboim.

Accompanying the Corigliano work in this set of concerts were three other pieces: Samuel Adler's organ fanfare, "Festive Proclamation," Henry Purcell's Chacony in G minor (orchestrated by Benjamin Britten), and Hector Berlioz's "Les nuits d'été," a song-cycle performed by Dutch mezzo-soprano Jard van Nes.

Slatkin's selection of the Britten/Purcell work is an indication of his tastes in music, too. Britten is seldom performed in the United States. Slatkin, however, has recorded several Britten works as director of the St. Louis Symphony, including the opera A Midsummer Night's Dream (which is available in a video recording in the Kennedy Center gift shop). Britten fans in the Washington area have much to look forward to, as the National Symphony has not offered much of the 20th century British composer's work in recent years.

Adler's organ fanfare is one of 25 fanfares commissioned for the NSO this season by the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund. Its driving rhythm, strong contrapuntal technique, and use of all the registers of the organ (including some significant pedalpoint work) will bring this work into the mainstream of organ music. Though written specifically for the NSO's organist, William Neil, it is not hard to believe that this composition will quickly find its way into the repertoires of many church organists throughout the country. It would be appropriate for weddings, ordinations, special celebrations, and even secular events such as theatre dedications or presidential inaugurations.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Guest Post: Sheep can recognize celebrities from photographs

Catherine Douglas, Newcastle University

Sheep are surprisingly smart. New research from the University of Cambridge shows the animals can learn to recognise people from photographs, even people they’ve never seen in real life, such as celebrities.

The researchers tested the sheeps’ recognition abilities using images of famous people including Barack Obama, actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, and UK newsreader Fiona Bruce. While this is an amusing way to demonstrate what sheep can do, the research could actually have serious uses.



For one thing, increasing our understanding of sheep’s perceptual abilities could be used to argue for improved animal welfare. But sheep are also being used as models for understanding brain disorders such as Huntingdon’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, along with psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. So learning more about their cognitive capacities could aid the work in this field.

In 2001, the Cambridge team showed that sheep could discriminate between photos of familiar sheep and humans and respond to the emotions portrayed in these photos. But they wanted to see whether sheep could actually recognise the people rather than just memorise familiar photos.

They used a computer screen to show eight Welsh mountain sheep the celebrity pictures, and then used food rewards to train the animals to select these familiar faces from a wider selection of pictures of other people and objects. The sheep could recognise the celebrities even though they had never met them personally and had only been introduced to a face-on photo. Incidentally, the sheep didn’t appear to have a preference for Emma, Barack, Fiona or Jake.

To see if the sheep were actually recognising people, rather than just memorising certain images, the researchers showed them photos of the celebrities taken from different angles. The sheep were able to correctly identify the celebrity 80% of the time, dropping to 66% for photos taken at a different angle. This compares to rates of 90% and 76% in humans.

This is an enviable record for the sheep given that they are recognising the faces of another species. (How many humans could recognise different sheep from their photos?) This sound scientific set-up was also able to time the sheep’s responses, showing they appeared as confident whether looking at the face in the same position as the original photo or from a different angle.

There was one final surprise for the sheep. After proving they could recognise faces of people they’d never met from two-dimensional photos, the sheep were shown pictures of their regular human handler. Although they hadn’t been trained to recognise these images, they selected them over the unfamiliar photos anyway.

Smart sheep

I was asked if, as an Ig Nobel laureate myself, I thought this recent Cambridge sheep study would be a contender for an Ig Nobel award, the prize for science that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think”. Celebrity-spotting sheep might sound funny but the science involved in this study actually isn’t sniggerable.

First it makes an interesting contribution to animal science, showing sheep have much greater cognitive abilities than many people realise. This includes farmers, who often manage hundreds of animals with little actual contact, in the presence of dogs and during unpleasant experiences such as worming or shearing. This means sheep are usually at their least composed around humans, without the inclination to show off their impressive cognitive capacities.

My own work and that of colleagues in Scotland has found that ewes can identify pain in their lambs who have undergone tail docking or castration. Another recent study demonstrated that it is possible that sheep have a sense of self and can recognise themselves in a mirror – something we only know is possible in very few species, including chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and magpies.

Learning more about sheep’s cognitive abilities could also feed into work on using their brains to study neurological conditions in humans. We know that the neural networks that sheep’s brains use for face perception are similar to those used by human brains. That means that we might be able to use sheep to test treatments for human diseases where patients lose the ability to recognise faces or emotions, such as Huntington’s disease.

The ConversationIf sheep were on the Ig Nobel judging panel, they would laugh at the idea that people are surprised at their abilities. (And we know that animals really can laugh. And they might also be interested to know that Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded for studies showing many human identical twins cannot tell themselves apart visually. Or that humans with an itch on the left side of their body, can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching their right side. This research suggests that actually humans aren’t as good at visual recognition as we perhaps think.

Catherine Douglas, Lecturer in Animal Science, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

From the Archives - "The Gate of Heaven": Two Lives Examined

This review appeared in The Metro Herald in November 1996:

"The Gate of Heaven": Two Lives Examined
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Usually, when artists portray the meeting of cultures, they express it as a confrontation, a "culture clash." Seldom do they show the other side -- the meshing of cultures, their ability to complement each other, the capacity of people from different backgrounds to learn from each other and to grow more completely as human beings.

Ford's Theatre Washington DC This "other side" is shown with accomplishment by the creators of The Gate of Heaven, which opened at Ford's Theatre in Washington on October 23. Ford's outgoing artistic director (and main engine of growth) Frankie Hewett introduced the play to the audience by saying there is "no better theatre, and no better city in America, to present this play." The Washington premiere was made possible through a financial partnership with General Dynamics, which underwrote much of the costs for transferring the production from San Diego, where it was first produced.

The Gate of Heaven is a collaborative effort in which the two actors -- Lane Nishikawa and Victor Talmadge -- are also the playwrights. They benefited from the dramaturgical contribution of Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and director Benny Sato Ambush. It tells the story of two men, Japanese-American soldier Kiyoshi "Sam" Yamamoto (Nishikawa) and Leon Ehrlich (Talmadge), an East European Jew rescued by Yamamoto from the Dachau concentration camp at the end of the Second World War.

Ten years later, after searching far and wide, Ehrlich locates Yamamoto in San Francisco, eager to thank the American for saving his life. In the decade since the end of the war, Yamamoto had become an accountant while Ehrlich had, in turn, moved to Israel, fought in the war for independence there, come to America (where he became a citizen and a psychiatrist working for the Army).

From that point forward, Yamamoto and Ehrlich -- Sam and Leon -- become fast friends. Each teaches the other about his life and culture. Leon, who never marries, is adopted into Sam's family. Despite arguments and personal tragedies, their friendship persists throughout the next 40 years of their lives.

The Gate of Heaven deals with issues that many Americans would like to sweep under the carpet, including racism and the forced relocation of Japanese-American citizens into concentration camps during World War II. Sam's family had been relocated while he volunteered to serve in the 442nd Regiment, the most highly decorated unit in American history -- consisting almost entirely of Japanese-Americans whose families were living in horrid conditions in prison camps in Utah and Arizona. Worse, even while wearing his country's uniform and medals awarded for valor and several Purple Hearts, Sam and his fellows from the 442nd are derided and spat upon when they return home from the war. Restaurants refuse to serve them because they are "Japs."

The issue of racism comes to the surface -- and works dramatically as a means to cause a temporary estrangement between Sam and Leon -- on the occasion of the U.S. Bicentennial, the 4th of July in 1976. A seemingly simple conversation about what restaurant they should patronize -- Sam wants "American food," like steak while Leon wants something exotic, like sushi -- turns into a vivid exposition of racist undercurrents in American society. One example stands out: Earlier in the day, tourists had approached Sam and Leon asking for directions. They spoke only to Leon -- the immigrant with a foreign accent, who happens to have white skin -- while ignoring Sam -- the native-born American with no accent but with a different complexion. The tourists simply assumed that Leon was American and Sam was foreign, even though the opposite was true. This, Sam says, is one of the subtle but constant reminders of America's residual racism.

To Leon, this seems trivial. He had, after all, lived through the Holocaust, when his entire family and 6 million other Jews had been exterminated by "real" racists. He had seen the ethnic conflicts in Palestine after the war, and in contrast America is a paradise.

Voices are raised, leading to a separation of the friends lasting for several years.

The Gate of Heaven is an episodic drama. Many of the plot lines are revealed not linearly, but through flashbacks and asides and allusions. There are twists that do not become clear until late in the play. Nonetheless, the various facets come together seamlessly, creating a luminous gem of the theatre.

Much credit goes to the actors, Nishikawa and Talmadge, who have chosen difficult parts to portray. Not many actors can carry off the aging process of two men over a 50-year period with the same level of excellence as these two do.

Both actors are approximately the same age as their characters are at the beginning of the play. Nishikawa does a marginally better job at aging his character, Sam, in large part because his aging process is more subtle. He does this mostly through changing his voice, making it, over the years, huskier and more gravelly. For his part, Talmadge ages his character more physically -- letting his hairline recede, growing a mustache, slouching at the shoulders -- but he also uses his voice to show the passage of time. As Leon, Talmadge begins the play with a heavy East European accent, but slowly discards it so that by the end of the evening, one can hardly tell Leon's foreign origins. This is a realistic way to portray an immigrant, most of whom lose their accents over time. He easily could have kept the dialect throughout the play, but by choosing this method, he underscored the "Americanness" of Leon, his equal status to Sam.

The first performance of The Gate of Heaven actually took place at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, a quite appropriate venue. The play provides a starting point for discussing the Holocaust and also the culpability of the U.S. government in oppressing its citizens of foreign origin (primarily Japanese-Americans). As a matter of fact, Ford's Theatre has provided a study guide for the play that can be used with high school (or college) history classes ("Backstage View: A Teacher's Guide to The Gate of Heaven," by Davi Walders, available from the Audience Development Director at Ford's Theatre, 202-638-2367 or http://www,

The Gate of Heaven is simultaneously entertaining and instructive. It is poignant as well as hard-hitting. It successfully demonstrates how individuals can adapt to changing circumstances, how we can learn from each other and adopt other people's customs as our own, and how we are all better people when we do so. It accomplishes this without being preachy or didactic, keeping entirely within the dramatic context set by the playwrights, director, dramaturg, and scenic and costume designers.

Because it is a two-character play, The Gate of Heaven will probably gain a great following among community-theatre groups around the country. Props and setting are simple, so even the smallest low-budget company might be able to mount an adequate production. Whether amateur groups can find actors as excellent as Nishikawa and Talmadge remains to be seen, however.

Ford's Theatre deserves commendation for bringing The Gate of Heaven back to Washington for an extended run. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Thursday matinees at 1:00 p.m. (perfect for class trips) and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Signed performances will take place on Wednesday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, November 17 at 3:00 p.m. For ticket information, call the Ford's Theatre box office at 202-638-2367 or ProTix at 703-218-6500.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Guest Post: Economic Localism Is No Better than Economic Nationalism

The best path toward enriching everyone is allowing everyone to trade with everyone else.

by Steven Horwitz

As Black Friday has continued to expand in recent years, one response to its orgy of discounts and deals has been to promote the following day as “Small Business Saturday.” The idea is to encourage people to shop at their local stores rather than at national chains or big-box stores, or perhaps on the Internet. Doing so, argue its proponents, is both moral and good for the local economy, as it keeps jobs and money in “our communities” rather than, presumably, in the hands of faceless and distant corporate masters.

Let’s ignore the irony that the sponsor of this movement is the international corporation known as American Express. Is there a moral or economic case for shopping local, whether on the Saturday after Thanksgiving or in general?

There is not. Many of the same arguments made by progressives in favor of shopping local are the same as those made by Trump and his supporters in favor of what they call “economic nationalism.” For the same reasons that shopping local isn’t morally or economically superior to buying from chains and big boxes, neither is buying “Made in the USA.” The most moral and economic choice is to buy from whomever you want based on your preferences about price, service, or any other number of factors.

Big Boxes Employ Locally
If we only shopped from locally-owned businesses, we would be paying higher prices and overall employment and incomes would be lower.  The moral and economic cases against buying local are intertwined. Consider the argument that buying local is better because buying from Walmart or Target doesn’t keep money and jobs in the local community. This argument ignores that the average Walmart Supercenter employs around 400 people and the numbers are similar for Target. Those jobs continue to exist because people shop at those stores. The hundreds employed at any given big box store are just as much members of the local community as are the owners of the small business that compete with the big boxes. 

To the extent that the prices at the big box stores are cheaper, they enable those who shop there to have income left over to spend on other goods and services, including things from locally-owned businesses, creating jobs that would not exist otherwise. If we only shopped from locally-owned businesses, we would be paying higher prices and overall employment and incomes would be lower. Plus, consumers would not have access to the variety of goods available at chain and big box stores, forcing them to not only spend more but get less value for it.

Buy National?
The same logic applies to international trade. Those imploring us to “buy local” are falling for the same sorts of fallacies that Trump, and many who voted for him, implicitly accept when they argue for raising barriers to international trade. “Economic localism” is nothing more than a smaller scale version of the “economic nationalism” of Steve Bannon and other Trump advisors.

Increasing duties on imports, thereby forcing more Americans to buy “local” in terms of the global economy, does nothing to create jobs or improve the economic standing of Americans. “Keeping the money in the USA,” like “keeping the money in the community,” harms those it is intended to help, and does so for the same reasons.

Forcing Americans to buy only, or predominantly, American-made products means we will spend more to get less, and the net effect on jobs will be zero at best. Globalized trade certainly shifts the mix of jobs in the US economy, as we have shifted in relative terms from manufacturing to hi-tech or services for example, but does not reduce the total number of jobs. One need only look at the data on overall job growth, and the increased variety of cheaper and better goods available to even the poorest Americans, over the last 30 years to see this.

The moral case for buying local is similarly weak. It’s best seen by making the moral case for buying globally.

The promoters of buying local often argue that buying from international corporations is problematic because so many of their products are bought from China or other parts of the world where wages are low and working conditions are bad. The belief is that by buying from those firms, consumers are supporting the exploitation of workers in those countries, making such purchases morally questionable.

Here is where the economics entangles with the morality: large firms are morally suspect because of the supposed negative economic effects they create. But are those negative economic effects real? Without an extended discussion of so-called “sweatshops” (but do see Ben Powell’s excellent book), two quick points are in order.

How Wages Rise
That Chinese workers have factory jobs that pay as well as they do, compared to the other options available to them, is a result of firms like Walmart buying the products those factories create. Wages depend on the productivity of workers (and the capital they use) along with the value of what they create. When the demand for those Chinese products goes up, thanks to us buying at Walmart, wages for the workers in those factories rise. And the evidence is clear that rising wages and the pressure of large Western firms are key drivers of improved working conditions.

Buying Chinese made products at Walmart not only doesn’t further exploit Chinese workers; it is of positive help to them.

Geography and Morality

It is not clear why people more near to us geographically should have moral weight than those further away. Given the choice between helping a middle-class small businesswoman in our neighborhood or increasing the chances of better employment at a higher wage for much poorer men and women in China, why should we believe that the former is necessarily morally superior? 

If human beings deserve our moral consideration by virtue of their humanity, and if those who are worse off economically are deserving of more such consideration, then it would seem that if there is a moral case for anything, it’s for buying in ways that help the least well-off, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.

Certainly most of the progressive proponents of shopping local do not imagine themselves to be guilty of the same prejudices as Steve Bannon and other partisans of Trump’s economic nationalism, but the underlying logic is the same. The best path toward enriching everyone is allowing everyone to trade with everyone else.

Buy Wherever
To be clear, my argument is not that buying local is somehow wrong. It’s not. But it’s also not morally or economically superior to buying from Walmart or Target or even Amazon. Many local businesses offer better products or superior service, or perhaps fill a unique niche that large stores cannot. They also provide better opportunities to socialize with friends and neighbors. Those are all good reasons to buy from local businesses.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are somehow benefiting your local economy or doing something that’s morally superior. You’re just doing what globalized markets with a range of alternatives allow you to do: deciding what elements of your economic activity matter to you and choosing accordingly. Restricting those alternatives, whether through well-intentioned progressive “economic localism” or the darker, reactionary forces of “economic nationalism,” harms people, and often those who can ill-afford worsening poverty.

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University, where he also is a Fellow at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. He is the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. and is a Distinguished Fellow at FEE and a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Guest Post: Why Black Friday leads shoppers to behave badly

Jaeha Lee, North Dakota State University

The manic nature of Black Friday has at times led shoppers to engage in fistfights and other misbehavior in their desperation to snatch up the last ultra-discounted television, computer or pair of pants.

What is it about the day after Thanksgiving – a day meant to celebrate togetherness and shared feasting – that inspires consumers to misbehave?

Fellow researchers Sharron Lennon, Minjeong Kim, Kim Johnson and I have in recent years been exploring the causes of consumer misbehavior on Black Friday, historically one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Our latest research shows how our emotions affect our likelihood to misbehave, as well as a significant difference between men and women.

A fight breaks out in a Walmart in 2016.

Black Friday mayhem

The term “Black Friday” first appeared in the journal Factory Management and Maintenance in 1951. It signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, when many retailers finally go “in the black” – that is, they become profitable for the year.

More recently, Black Friday has become a setting for consumer misbehavior as shoppers compete for deeply discounted products. Fighting, pepper-spraying, dumping merchandise, ransacking stores, robberies and shootings have all been reported on Black Friday. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has even issued guidelines to retailers about how to avoid injuries and deaths.

In the U.S., the most shocking example of misbehavior occurred in 2008 when a Walmart worker was trampled and killed as shoppers rushed to enter the store.

So what causes some consumers to behave so badly?

It starts with the unique characteristics of Black Friday sales promotions and the frantic retail environment they create. Retailers heavily promote their most desirable items at deeply discounted prices in order to encourage more foot traffic. Demand for those precious few items naturally exceeds supply. That imbalance can lead to aggressive consumer behavior.

But another key ingredient is sleep deprivation, which results from the very timing of the sales, which may begin at midnight or early in the morning and require eager customers to camp outside a store all night. That means many Black Friday shoppers aren’t functioning at their best, resulting in grumpy moods and bad decisions.

Impact of crowded stores

Research my colleagues and I conducted in 2014 examined how two situational variables – large crowds and the rude, argumentative behavior of fellow shopper – affected the likelihood that otherwise jovial consumers would become Black Friday miscreants.

We created a questionnaire based on past research of the topic and asked several hundred students at four universities located in different regions of the country to fill them out. We analyzed only results from the 260 participants who reported to have shopped on Black Friday in the past and completed the survey.

On the whole, we found the large crowds that congregate on Black Friday actually had positive effects on consumer behavior, reducing dissatisfaction and aggression and thus errant activity as well. That is, as long as the shoppers were expecting to have to navigate very crowded stores.

All it takes is one bad seed, however, to ruin the experience for others. Being unable to purchase the advertised product seems unfair, leading to misbehavior and in turn making others more likely to follow suit.

Since an expectation of crowds seemed to make it less likely that shoppers would perceive inequities, posting signs at entrances or in advertisements reminding shoppers to bear with Black Friday’s crowded conditions may help keep customers civil.

Emotional shoppers

In our latest study, published in June, we examined how our emotions and personality traits influence consumers and whether there are differences between women and men.

Black Friday, Northern Virginia, 2013 (c) Rick Sincere
Black Friday, Northern Virginia, 2013 (c) Rick Sincere
We designed an online survey in which participants – 411 students who indicated they had previously shopped on Black Friday – were randomly assigned to read one of three scenarios involving a customer trying to buy a discounted item the day after Thanksgiving.

In two of the scenarios, the customer went home empty-handed after not being able to make a desired purchase, either because the retailer ran out of the product or because the promotion had ended. In the third one, the participant read about a customer who managed to successfully snare the desired product – either a smartphone or clothing – at the greatly reduced price.

After reading the assigned scenario, participants completed a series of scales that assessed their emotions such as anger and thrill, their personality traits and their likelihood to misbehave on Black Friday.

Our findings showed that participants – both men and women – who had an emotional response to the scenarios, whether negative or positive, were more likely to be willing to engage in consumer misbehavior.

As for differences between the sexes, we found that men’s capacity for self-control was the primary trait that determined whether they were likely to behave badly on Black Friday.

In other words, possessing more self-control mitigated any anger that might lead to misbehavior. For women, self-control was irrelevant. What mattered for them was public self-consciousness – that is, how others viewed them. And surprisingly, women deemed to have a high degree of public self-consciousness were more likely to misbehave if they got angry.

Battle of the fittest

Black Friday creates a competitive environment since not all shoppers can get what they want. Thus, this competitive environment causes both positive and negative emotions. Consumers are thrilled when they get what they want and frustrated when they do not.

For retailers, Black Friday is meant explicitly to attract these large crowds in hopes of ringing in more sales. But besides leading to minor misbehavior, more people jostling over a small number of deeply discounted items can also lead to injuries or even wrongful death lawsuits. Retailers need to balance making more money and the safety of their customers and workers.

In general, reducing the number of unpleasant customers would improve the shopping experience for other shoppers as well as for store employees. Rather than ignoring or accommodating such shoppers, retailers should be proactive by clearly communicating store policies and quickly reacting to signs of aggression by removing the bad actors. Other steps retailers could take include adding checkout lanes to speed up traffic and putting more employees on the sales floor to improve responsiveness to shopper concerns.

Ultimately, customers are responsible for their own behavior. When shoppers behave responsibly, the Black Friday experience isn’t spoiled for their fellow customers and everyone is able to buy their digital goods and clothes in a safe and relatively stress-free environment.

The ConversationThis article incorporates elements of a piece written by the same author and published on Nov. 28, 2014.

Jaeha Lee, Associate Professor of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management, North Dakota State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.