Sunday, November 17, 2019

Gerald Baliles and the Virginia film industry

Former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles was laid to rest yesterday after a funeral service at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville.  After serving in the House of Delegates and as Attorney General, Baliles was elected governor in 1985 and served a four-year term ending in 1989.  He succeeded Governor Chuck Robb and was, in turn, succeeded by Governor Doug Wilder.

Gerald Baliles Virginia Film Festival 2013
Gerald Baliles (c) Rick Sincere 2013
During his term as governor, Baliles became a co-founder (with Patricia Kluge and others) of the Virginia Festival of American Film, which eventually became the Virginia Film Festival.  The most recent film festival, the 32nd annual, took place across various venues in Charlottesville last month.

At the 26th annual Virginia Film Festival in 2013, I spoke to Governor Baliles -- who was then director of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia -- and asked him about the beginnings of the film festival and his role in enhancing the footprint of the film industry in Virginia.

Baliles had just moderated a panel discussion following a screening of the CNN documentary film, Our Nixon, with the film's producer, Brian L. Frye, and Miller Center historian Ken Hughes (see below).

I began by asking whether the Virginia Film Festival, as it had developed over the years, had met or exceeded his expectations back in the 1980s.

"When one launches a new venture," he said, "one has a vision. One has hopes, expectations. I thought it was entirely conceivable that the first couple of years, if they went well, would provide the setting for a much larger public acceptance and interest in support of what has come to be known as the Virginia Film Festival."

He conceded that "it is impossible to predict the details but it is also possible to envision the possibilities and that's what we had 26 years ago."

I also asked about his desire to expand the activities of the film industry in Virginia. He explained how he used a legislative maneuver to authorize what became the Virginia Film Office.

Virginia Film Festival logo
Virginia Film Festival logo
Baliles explained that every state in the United States and foreign countries "are competing for production of films in their own localities."

He noted that, "when I was a young legislator, I was struck by a film that was made in Hampton Roads, and I read that the producers had left 40 percent of their budget in Hampton Roads and I thought, 'Why don't we do this sort of thing?'"

After he learned about that, he said, "I put a bill in to create a Virginia film office as a way of enticing producers to come to the state. We would provide advice and counsel and scouting locations and that sort of thing."

The bill failed, however, but then-Delegate Baliles "happened to serve on the Appropriations Committee and the budget always contains a lot of fine print in the back. So, when my bill was killed, I just inserted the same language in the back of the budget. The budget was approved, of course, and so was the film office. The film office then started, I think, to create the possibilities of attracting film producers to the state. The Virginia Film Festival was created 10 to 15 years later, when I was in office as governor."

His aim in seeing more movies in Virginia was not incidental, he continued.

"My interest in film has been one of long standing. I read a lot but I also recognize we are a visual society, and pictures speak louder than words."

The entire interview with former Governor Gerald Baliles is available for listening as part of the November 9 podcast episode of The Score from Bearing Drift, "The Score: Virginia Elections, Candidates Speak, Assessing Politics, Business Ethics, Gerald Baliles."


Here is the video of Governor Baliles moderating the panel discussion on Our Nixon in 2013:

And here is Governor Baliles introducing a screening of All the President's Men at the Virginia Film Festival in 2012:

He also moderated a post-screening panel discussion about the movie with journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward:

Unrelated to the Virginia Film Festival, here is former Governor Baliles speaking at the ceremony marking the opening of the visitors' center at Monticello in 2009:

Friday, August 02, 2019

From the Archives - Nipping ahead of regulators: Nick Gillespie discusses, free speech, and restraint (2010)

Nipping ahead of regulators: Nick Gillespie discusses, free speech, and restraint
August 2, 2010 3:27 AM MST

Nick Gillespie Reason magazine libertarian thought Rick Sincere was started in October 2007 as a video journalism site designed to complement the work of the Reason Foundation, the print edition of Reason magazine, and the magazine’s web site,

Since then, according to’s editor-in-chief, Nick Gillespie, the site has grown every month, not only “in terms of web traffic but more importantly in terms of a kind of recognition among free-market-oriented, libertarian think tanks [for which] we are setting the standard for video.”

Gillespie spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner after a panel discussion hosted at Reason’s Washington office on July 12. (Another article based on this interview with Gillespie, focusing on the potential for privatizing Virginia’s liquor trade, appeared on on July 19.)

Measures of Success
In addition to its own web site, has a YouTube channel with 410 uploaded videos that have been viewed at least 5,840,679 times; it also has 16,363 subscribers and 7,398 “friends” on YouTube.

From among those 400-plus videos, Gillespie points to two of them as his favorites.

“One of them,” he says, “is Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey, a fifty minute, six-part series about how Cleveland might turn around a 60-year decline in population and economic fortunes. It’s a really interesting piece where we leverage all of the expertise we have in the public policy division of Reason Foundation, the journalism angle, etc.”

The other one he likes is called “UPS vs. FedEx, which was a two-minute long piece that looked at the way in which UPS is trying to get FedEx’s labor classification reclassified. We used a technologically advanced understanding of green screens and white screens and we had a lot of fun with it. It got a very complex message out in a very short period of time.”

Finding Government Nannies
A regular feature on is the “Nanny of the Month,” which looks at examples of paternalistic government action. Gillespie explained how he and his team find these “Nannies.”

Nick Gillespie Reason magazine libertarian Rick Sincere
Nick Gillespie
“We find the Nanny of the Month through two ways,” he said, first through original reporting by the staff of Reason, and second, through submissions by readers. “We get a hell of a lot – 50 to 100 – submissions a month.”

Gillespie noted that “that’s actually one of the things that’s interesting about the Web in general, that it’s a distributed intelligence network, so we’re getting a lot of information from people” who are strangers to the organization but who nonetheless “send us stuff.”

As the interview drew to a close, Gillespie mused that, “if there’s a message from, it’s that the 21st century, far from delivering on the utopian dreams of the 20th century, is a weird world where technology has continued to barely nip ahead of [the] government regulators at their heels across a wide variety of levels.”

Still, he remains optimistic, expressing the hope that “we’ll be able to outpace” government controls. The problem he sees is that the past two administrations – George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s – each have tried to restrict liberty in their own ways.

‘Worst continuity possible’
“This is something that I think people should understand,” he said, “which is that we tend to think in dichotomous terms about conservatives/liberals [or] Republicans/Democrats,” but these artificial divisions are “wrong.”

Gillespie pointed out that “George Bush signed the most restrictive campaign finance regulation act known to history, the McCain-Feingold law, which was then basically routed around by new technology. Barack Obama wants to control your political speech, he wants to control what is available on cable and satellite TV, and he wants to control what you can buy and sell on the Internet, just like George Bush.”

He concluded:

“Anybody who considers himself a liberal or a conservative should be concerned because what we are seeing is the worst continuity possible between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on August 2, 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.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

From the Archives: Attorney General Cuccinelli calls Charlottesville ABC sting operation 'overkill'

Attorney General Cuccinelli calls Charlottesville ABC sting operation 'overkill'
July 3, 2013 4:17 PM MST

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli characterized as “overkill” an ABC sting operation in Charlottesville that resulted in a University of Virginia coed spending a night in jail and being charged with three felonies.

Ken Cuccinelli ABC sting Elizabeth Daly Charlottesville
Cuccinelli, who is also the 2013 Republican nominee for governor, made his remarks during a July 3 interview with afternoon radio host Coy Barefoot on WCHV-FM.

The April 11th incident has received national attention since the charges against Elizabeth Daly were dropped by Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman on June 27. is currently circulating a petition demanding that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control apologize to Daly and her two companions and to discipline the officers involved.

Late in the evening of April 11, Daly and two friends purchased cookie dough, ice cream, and canned sparkling water at the Harris Teeter store in Barracks Road Shopping Center. A group of six ABC agents, mistaking the water for beer, approached them.

The women did not recognize the agents as law enforcement personnel, called 911 to report their fears, panicked, and drove away. Daly was subsequently charged with striking two of the agents with her car and evading arrest, charges that brought with them the threat of up to 15 years in prison.

Well-placed concern

“I think your concern for overkill is well-placed,” Cuccinelli told Barefoot. “Mind you, I have not spoken to the agency about this,” he explained, so his knowledge of the situation has been based upon press reports.

However, Cuccinelli added, “these folks have a job to do, but do you really need a half dozen of them? Let's say this was hard liquor” that Daly allegedly bought. “So what?”

Based on the descriptions he had seen, the Attorney General said, “it seems to me that frankly – even if she bought beer or something – she got more than enough punishment in jail.”

Cuccinelli said, putting himself in the shoes of the women that night, “if I see a bunch of men surrounding me, that's going to instill a lot of fear in me.”

'Extreme measures'

Noting that, as an undergraduate at UVA, he had helped start a sexual assault prevention group on campus, Cuccinelli explained that he is “glad it didn't turn out worse than it did. It would have turned out worse for the agents. If I'm defending myself and I'm in my car, and I'm a young woman worried about sexual assault, I'm going to use extreme measures to keep myself safe.”

Why, he asked, “do we have six ABC agents staking out one store? It doesn't seem particularly wise. You end up with confrontations like this that could turn out a lot worse.”

Asked by Barefoot if he would teach his daughters to behave with the same sort of caution that Daly and her companions displayed that night, Cuccinelli exclaimed: “Absoflippinlutely!

“I would never suggest to my daughters that they just trust what they've been told,” by people who might or might not be law enforcement officers. Those women, he said, “did exactly the right thing” by calling 911 and attempting to drive to the nearest police station.

“The important thing for us on the law enforcement side is we need to learn from this,” Cuccinelli said. “We need to be more concerned about the perspective of the person on the street.”

He pointed out that “the average person buying alcohol, even if they're buying it illegally, does not have the idea of escalating [the act] violently to complete the crime.”

Cuccinelli expressed confidence that higher-level officials at the ABC had already “had some serious conversations with [the agents] about their tactics.”

Looking forward, the gubernatorial candidate concluded, “what the rest of us need to do is [to ensure] the likelihood of this ever happening again gets as close to zero as we can make it.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on July 3, 2013. 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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

From the Archives: Charlottesville civil liberties lawyer assesses 2012-13 Supreme Court term

Charlottesville civil liberties lawyer assesses 2012-13 Supreme Court term
June 29, 2013 11:10 PM MST

After 40 years of practicing law, Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead says he is “creeped out” by the decline in respect for civil liberties in the United States.

Whitehead, author of the new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (released June 25 by SelectBooks), spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner at the Barracks Road Barnes & Noble just before delivering a talk about his fears of increasing authoritarianism in the United States.

John Whitehead Rutherford Institute Supreme Court
A longtime civil-liberties attorney who once represented Paula Jones in her lawsuit against President Bill Clinton, Whitehead offered his assessment of the U.S. Supreme Court term that ended on June 26 with a pair of rulings about gay marriage.

“One of the worst” terms ever, he said sharply.

This year, he said, the Supreme Court “basically upheld policemen taking you into custody and not giving you your Miranda warnings.” The Court also, he explained, eroded the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because “now by being silent it's evidence of guilt.”

The Court, he added “approved the strip searching of anybody. If you're arrested now you can be strip searched by police for minor offenses like running a stop sign.”

'Statist Supreme Court'

“What I'm seeing is a very statist Supreme Court,” Whitehead explained.

“Some people say it's a right-wing Supreme Court. Well, I'm not sure it's right-wing. I put it more in the statist camp.”

He said the voting rights decision (in Shelby County v. Holder) was made “as if racism's no longer in America. Well, what I'm seeing in America is, there is a lot of racism.”

He gave the example of how “90 percent of the people who are arrested for marijuana offenses in New York City are either African-American or Hispanic but all evidence shows that whites smoke marijuana at a much higher rate than people with brown skin.”

Justices of the Supreme Court, Whitehead cautioned, are “living in an ivory tower.”

Supreme Court members are “chauffeured about in limousines and they don't know what we have to go through out here, especially if we're people of color.”


On Fourth Amendment rights, Whitehead noted that “Justice [Antonin] Scalia, whom I've been critical of in the past, and the women on the Supreme Court have been great in their dissents.”

Four instance, he said, those four justices objected “to the forced taking of DNA from people now. If you're arrested for anything, they can go into your body and take your DNA.”

The DNA decision is part of what Whitehead calls “the new movement toward bodily probing.”

He explained that, “in large cities across the country, police are stopping men on the street and doing rectum searches, sometimes causing bleeding. This is without a warrant, without arresting them.”

He gave the example of how recently in Texas, “two women were pulled over for throwing a cigarette out of a car. The policeman accused them of smoking marijuana” but when he found no cannabis in the car, “he called for back up, [who] did vaginal and rectum searches on the women without changing their gloves.”

Those Texas police officers, he said, have “been sued for a million and a half – and they should have been sued.”

'462 words'

Offering advice to citizens, Whitehead warned, “I just say, be alert. Let's read the Bill of Rights again. Most people don't even know what's in the Bill of Rights. It's 462 words but most people have never read it. Can you believe that? 462 words, you can read it in less than five minutes.”

Because “we're not teaching [the Constitution] in school anymore, people don't know” what it says.

“If you're stopped on the street and they want to do a really weird search on you,” Whitehead advised, “assert your Fourth Amendment rights.” The police “have to have probable cause.” Before they begin a search, he said, citizens should ask, “Am I doing something illegal, officer?

Next: John Whitehead talks about the growing American police state.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on June 29, 2013. 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.

Friday, June 28, 2019

From the Archives: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says Obamacare decision is 'a win for liberty'

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says Obamacare decision is 'a win for liberty'
June 28, 2012 11:30 AM MST

In a press conference today, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said that the Supreme Court’s health-care decision was a “victory for individual liberty” and that his initial reaction to the ruling was more negative than it ought to have been.

Ken Cuccinelli Obamacare SCOTUS health care commerce clause
Speaking to reporters in Richmond and via telephone conference call, Cuccinelli called the ruling “a win for liberty” and explained that for the first time in 85 years, the Supreme Court had set “an outer limit” on the expansion of federal authority through the Commerce Clause.

He said that by its 5-4 ruling on the limits of the Commerce Clause, the Court had put in place a “critically important containment of federal power” and that in the parts of the ruling dealing with Medicaid, the justices had for the first time since the New Deal said that Congress has limited power to compel states to act through its spending authority.

Politics and legislation

Moreover, Cuccinelli argued, by defining the individual mandate as a “tax,” as Chief Justice Roberts did in his majority opinion, the Court opened up political challenges to the law because Congress’s taxing authority is the most accountable and sensitive of its powers to popular will.

By calling it a tax, he said, the Court (specifically the Chief Justice) removes the political cover for those legislators who claimed not to have voted for a tax increase. They can no longer go back to their home districts and say they did not vote for a tax, he said, and thus they will be subject to the judgment of voters on Election Day.

Given that, Cuccinelli predicted that, with the impending elections this November, the ruling will show the critical role that voters play in “ensuring that their liberties are preserved.”

‘Bipartisan failure’
As a policy matter, Cuccinelli said, health-care legislation has been “a bipartisan failure” and that the Affordable Care Act is such a “bad policy” that even the people who supported it are backing away from it, as a constitutional matter, “individual liberty has been substantially preserved in this case.”

He also noted that, apart from the aspects of the law addressed in the decisions delivered by the Court today, there are still matters about the ACA that continue to be litigated. He gave as an example the lawsuit filed by the Catholic bishops with regard to contraceptives.

Federalism preserved
Cuccinelli said that the justices came to their decision in an “unlikely way,” but that “if there had been five votes to compel us into commerce, federalism would have been dead,” pointing out that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent on the Commerce Clause part of the ruling, claimed that the “Commerce Clause power is plenary,” that is, unlimited.

Wrapping up, the Virginia Attorney General said that upon reflection, his analysis of the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling is more muted than his initial reaction was, and that “by and large” the decision preserved individual liberty.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on June 28, 2012. 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.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

From the Archives: 5 years after Kelo v. New London: Are property rights safe?

5 years after Kelo v. New London: Are property rights safe?
June 23, 2010 7:54 PM MST

In its 1972 ruling in Lynch v. Household Finance Corporation, the U.S. Supreme Court explained:

“Property does not have rights. People have rights. The right to enjoy property without unlawful destruction, no less than the right to speak or the right to travel, is in truth a ‘personal’ right.” The court went on to declare that “a fundamental interdependence exists between the personal right to liberty and the personal right to property.”

Property rights – a shorthand term for the rights of people to own and use property – and human rights are indistinguishable. One cannot exist without the other. The right to a free press is impossible without the right to own ink or a photocopier or a typewriter. The right to free exercise of religion is not possible without the right to own churches and seminaries and cemeteries and Talmuds and schools.

Kelo v. New London
It is fitting today to remember these fundamentals because five years ago, on June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court undercut Americans’ property rights in the case of Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the Court ruled that governments can take the property of one person, using the power of eminent domain, and hand it over to another person, who may be able to generate more tax revenues from the property than the original owner was able to do – or chose to do.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to hold property and to make contracts using that property. The Fifth Amendment makes plain that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Property Rights Under Attack
Still, property rights are under assault throughout the United States. Through taxation and regulation, state and federal governments are impeding our rights to do what we please with our property, even if we are not harming other people or their property.

Rick Sincere kelo new london property rights scotus
Towns and cities across the country, for example, have begun to designate certain neighborhoods as “historic districts,” usually without the consent of homeowners in those neighborhoods. This designation is accompanied by hundreds of restrictions regarding what homeowners can do with their property, such as whether they can repaint their homes, put up aluminum siding, replace a roof, cut down a tree, and so forth.

This is not a trivial issue. It affects any person who owns property, whether a residence or a business. “Historic district” designations strike at the root of individual liberty and should not be dismissed lightly. Much is at stake. In fact, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled a similar law unconstitutional because it took away the decision making capacity of homeowners in favor of a politically defined “public good,” thus taking private property for public use without just compensation.

Environmental regulations do much the same. Thousands of acres of farms, ranches, and residential areas have been declared “wetlands” that deserve government protection. The owners of the designated property are not permitted to plant crops, graze cattle, or build homes or factories on government-designated “wetlands” unless they can cut through miles of red tape.

Kelo’s Legacy
The Kelo decision states that it is permissible for the government to use eminent domain to seize one person's property and give it to another. The recipient is almost invariably wealthier and better connected politically than the victim of the seizure.

In the aftermath of Kelo, the good news is that the American people demanded that laws be made to reject the Court’s decision. Across the country, state legislatures have passed statutes or even constitutional amendments to protect people against eminent domain abuse. (In Virginia, the law is somewhat better than it was but still weaker than it should be.)

The bad news -- sadly ironic news -- is that the situation that started it all, Pfizer's demand that the city of New London, Connecticut, destroy a working-class neighborhood to create housing for its high-paid executives, turned out to be moot. Pfizer pulled out of the project, which was never built, and Suzette Kelo's former neighborhood is a desert, populated only by "feral cats," as one chronicler noted. New London took a vibrant cityscape and turned it into blight.

Kelo’s lesson is that nobody’s property is safe, even though property rights should be seen, properly, as one component the bundle of basic human rights that each individual possesses.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on June 23, 2010. 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.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Guest post: Easter – a Christian festival that feels pagan

Jane Stevenson, University of Oxford

There’s a lot of confusion about Easter – not least because this most important of all Christian festivals moves around so much from year to year, decided by a complex set of calculations based on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon. Easter symbols – eggs, bunnies, lambs and the rest – give the festivities an air of pre-Christian paganism.

happy easter chocolate candy crossSo where do the origins of Easter and the rituals observed by so many – whether Christian or not – really lie?

The first mention of Eostre is in the eighth century, in The Venerable Bede’s frustratingly cryptic account of the native Anglo-Saxon calendar in De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time). The Anglo-Saxon equivalent of April called Eostremonath is named for the goddess Eostre – but we only know about Eostre via Bede’s writings and the only thing he tells us about her is that “feasts were celebrated” in her honour. So, if modern Easter is frequently a festival of overeating, this has tradition on its side.

But Eostre was evidently significant enough for the Anglo-Saxons to later transfer her name to the Christian festival of the resurrection rather than adopting the Latin name “Pascha”.

Similarly, Easter is “Ostern” in German – which implies she must have been known outside England. Confusingly, the great 19th-century folklorist and philologist, Jacob Grimm, invented a German goddess called Ostara – “the divinity of the radiant dawn, upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing” – on purely etymological grounds: the name is derived from a proto-Indo-European root meaning “to shine”. But Grimm didn’t present a shred of supporting evidence that such a deity had ever been worshipped in Germany, leaving us with just Bede to go on.

Easter roughly coincides with the spring equinox – so there is a good deal of lore attached to the season which is not actually Christian. Easter is preceded by Lent – a period of fasting in memory of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. But it is also a season when, in pre-modern Europe, food would have been running low. Winter supplies would have been coming to an end and there was not enough sun and spring growth yet for hens to start laying and cows to give milk. In a sense, therefore, Easter is a natural feast – to celebrate passing out of that hardship.

Easter and Passover

The association of lamb with Easter is something we have borrowed from Jewish tradition and Passover – which was also the festival that Jesus and his disciples celebrated with their Last Supper.

At least as far back as the 15th century, Easter was also marked in England by eating “tansies” – a kind of custardy pudding made with the bitter (and poisonous) herb tansy and sometimes with other bitter greens such as nettles. The 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey adds a further detail:

Our tansies at Easter have reference to the bitter Herbs [eaten at Passover by Jews] though at the same time ’twas always the Fashion for a man to have a gammon of Bacon, to shew himself to be no Jew.

Eggs are an ancient and natural symbol of returning life in many parts of Europe, but the Easter egg may also derive from Passover – which includes, among various symbolic foods, a roasted egg: the beitzah. Until at least the mid-20th century, more people marked Easter with decorated, hard-boiled hen’s eggs than chocolate ones.

The earliest documented mention in England of decorated eggs comes in 1290, from the household accounts of King Edward I for 1290, which records the purchase and decoration of 450 eggs , some gilded, some dyed. These eggs were presented to the royal household at Easter, and cost 18 pence.

In many parts of Britain the custom was for people, children especially, to play with their “pace-eggs” by rolling them down a chosen slope before eating them. In Iona and Peter Opie’s 1959 study The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, a child reports that: “In Cumberland we take more notice of the pace eggs than chocolate eggs.” Easter eggs as also rolled on the lawn of the US White House, a custom going back to 1878.

Bunny business

The association of hares with Easter also considerably predates foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies. As early as 1682, Georg Franck von Franckenau’s essay De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) speaks of a German tradition of an Easter hare bringing coloured Easter eggs for the children.

In southern Germany, children used to be told that a hare laid the pace-eggs and they would make a nest for the creature to lay them in. The Easter hare was also known in parts of the British Isles and was particularly associated with having to hunt out eggs hidden in the garden, where the hare was supposed to have put them.

A curious entry in the Calendar of State Papers for April 2 1620, suggests that hares were also often eaten at Easter:

Thos. Fulnety solicits the permission of Lord Zouch, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, to kill a hare on Good Friday, as huntsmen say that those who have not a hare against Easter must eat a red herring.

Hares were also ritually hunted at Easter in England – there is a note in the Chamberlains’ Accounts for the year 1574 that twelvepence was “given to the hare-finders at Whetston Court”.

An Easter hare hunt survived as part of Leicester’s ritual year as late as the 18th century, though by then a dead cat was substituted for an actual hare. Jacob Grimm, looking at this evidence for an association of ritual activity involving hares with the Easter season, conjectured that the hare was sacred to the goddess Ostara, piling one conjecture on top of another.

So the truth is that Easter rituals as we know them today represent an untidy collection of customs connected with celebrating spring growth and the end of austerity – a time for new clothes and rich food. Any connection with pre-Christian paganism is entirely coincidental.The Conversation

Jane Stevenson, Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Guest Post: 2019 Oscars may be more remembered for the crises than the ceremony

Julie Lobalzo Wright, University of Warwick

Comedian Kevin Hart lasted just three days as the host of the 2019 Academy Awards. Almost immediately after his name was announced on December 4, a backlash began on social media about homophobic jokes Hart had made on Twitter between 2009 and 2011. After refusing to apologise, even when the Academy demanded it, Hart stepped down as host on December 7, leaving the ceremony without a host.

The last time that happened was in 1989, an occasion the Academy would prefer to forget as, instead of a host, producer Allan Carr had arranged a bizarre revue involving Snow White and Rob Lowe singing Proud Mary. Disney sued for breach of copyright.

This year’s ceremony is shaping up to be just as controversial. Ratings for the awards show have been declining for some years, perhaps because people have grown tired of the overt political messaging. (It’s interesting to note here that there’s also a strong correlation between the box office performance of the film that wins multiple Oscars and the ratings for the awards show. So, in 1998, when Titanic won 11 Oscars and took US$2.1 billion worldwide, more than 57m people watched the show. Last year, when The Shape of Water won best picture – having earned less than US$200m at the box office – less than half that number of people tuned in: 26.5m.)

With the thought of boosting ratings this year, in August the Academy proposed the introduction of a new category: best popular film. This was widely thought to be a Really Bad Idea.

People involved in fims such as Black Panther, which took more than $US1 billion within 26 days of release, asked whether the film’s global popularity meant it would be pigeonholed as “popular” rather than “excellent”. “What,” asked the New York Times,, “if it received a nomination for the populist Oscar but not for best overall picture? Would that mean Black Panther and films like it were second-class citizens?” The idea was swiftly shelved.

At least it will be diverse

In the end, when the nominations were announced in February, box office behemoths, such as Black Panther (the first best picture award for a superhero movie), were nominated alongside critical successes, such as The Favourite and Roma.

Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody (which has also done very brisk box office at US$850m and counting) is also nominated for best picture, despite mixed critical reviews – the film has the lowest average scores of any of the best picture nominees on Rotten Tomatoes. The Guardian reviewer, Steve Rose took particular exception to the film’s handling of Freddie Mercury’s private life, casting “Mercury’s wilderness years as a symptom of his gayness”. And, shortly after the Queen biopic won best picture at the Golden Globes, The Atlantic published a long list of allegations of sexual misconduct against director Bryan Singer, who had been fired by 20th Century Fox in December 2017, with three weeks of filming left – reportedly over differences with the cast and crew. His name was removed from nominations at the Baftas. Singer has denied the allegations, telling the BBC that the story “rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention”.

One accusation this year’s Oscars is hoping to avoid is the unwelcome tag of #oscarssowhite, which has dogged the awards in recent years, exposing the lack of diversity in Hollywood cinema and in the voting branch of the Academy. Nominations for Black Panther and Blackkklansman, in addition to the Mexican film Roma and the queer female ensemble film The Favourite, should ensure the ceremony has at least the impression of diversity it has so craved previously.

Bad timing

But, ever conscious of ratings, the show’s planners set about designing a shorter ceremony, hoping to encourage viewers who have previously been put off by a running time of three and a half hours (four hours and 23 minutes in 2002). But when it was announced that only two of the five songs nominated in the best original song category would be performed, there was a widespread backlash – and musicians reportedly showed solidarity: either all the songs would be performed, or none. Once again the Academy relented.

It was also announced that four awards would be given out during the ad breaks – cinematography, film editing, live action short, and makeup and hairstyling. None of these categories, it was quickly noticed, involved nominees representing films made by Disney (the parent company of ABC, the network broadcasting the ceremony). And surely cinematography and editing are two of the most fundamental crafts to the art of cinema. Movie makers certainly thought so.

After protests from, notably, the American Society of Cinematographers as well as a host of big names such as Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, within the week the Academy announced that all 24 awards would be presented live on TV.

What else could go wrong? It is possible the awards will still feature spontaneous moments, surprise wins, and sensational stars to supplant the months of negative publicity leading up to the event. Only two years ago when an otherwise fairly unremarkable evening became one of the most talked-about Oscars in years when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong name for best picture. This year it’s going to take something pretty sensational or outrageous on the night to save the Oscars from being remembered as a fiasco from planning to broadcast.The Conversation

Julie Lobalzo Wright, Teaching Fellow in Film Studies, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guest Post: Oscars 2019: Roma, Yalitza Aparicio and the fascinating history of non-professional actors

Catherine O'Rawe, University of Bristol

The surprise nomination of non-professional indigenous woman Yalitza Aparicio for this year’s best actress Oscar for her role as a domestic servant in Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed Roma has been greeted as a “fairytale”.

Aparicio was training to be a teacher when she reluctantly went to an audition where Cuarón was immediately struck by her. Her presence and her similarity to his own childhood maid – on whom the film is based – secured her the role.

Propelled into the spotlight by her role, she has become the first indigenous woman to grace the cover of Mexican Vogue. She also endeared herself to her growing social media following by uploading to Twitter a video of her sobbing reaction to news of her nomination.

If Aparicio wins, she will be the first indigenous Latina Oscar winner and will join the small number of non-professional actors to win an Oscar in recent times. This number includes Anna Paquin for her role in The Piano (1993) and Haing S Ngor, a former doctor from Cambodia, who won the 1985 best supporting actor Oscar for his role in Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields, in which his own traumatic experiences informed his outstanding performance as a local journalist.

In the same year as acclaimed indie hits such as Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, in which Brady Jandreau played a version of himself as an injured rodeo rider, and Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen, featured an all-girl skate collective from New York, it seems that authenticity in casting and performance is all the rage.

But Aparicio also stands out as being typical of the non-professional’s experience throughout cinema history. Her “journey” from naïve provincial girl to the red carpet hits many familiar notes. Interviews emphasise how little she understood of cinema, and how she had never heard of Cuarón and feared the job offer might be a trafficking scam.


Aparicio’s unpolished and untrained authenticity is sharply juxtaposed with the glamorous world in which she now finds herself. Part of the non-professional’s effect is to throw into relief the extraordinariness of stars, as well as their proficiency, understood as a product of years of training and dedication to their craft. Aparicio’s novelty, spontaneity, and natural appearance are all singled out as antithetical to the professionalism of her co-star, experienced stage actress Marina De Tavira, who has also been nominated for an Oscar.

Her story mirrors the “discovery” of Barkhad Abdi, the untrained Somali-American who played a memorable co-lead to Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. It also recalls the children recruited by Danny Boyle from the Mumbai slums for global hit Slumdog Millionaire.

In the latter case, ethical concerns around the effects of sudden fame on vulnerable children were recognised by Boyle. He set up a trust fund for them, though this didn’t prevent allegations that the father of one of the girls tried to sell her to capitalise on her fame.

Power imbalance

The non-professional child actor came to prominence in post-WWII Italian neorealism, which specialised in taking performers from the streets. Vittorio De Sica’s Oscar-winning 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves was particularly celebrated for its non-actors, chosen for their faces and bodies rather than any acting talent.

Lamberto Maggiorani, who played the tragic father, lost his factory job after the film and struggled to find work as an actor; he repeatedly begged De Sica to help him out. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Enzo Staiola made several further films and retired at the age of 15. However, accounts of his treatment on set , which included De Sica publicly humiliating him to make him cry, match other testimonies of neorealist directors extracting performances from non-professionals by insulting and even beating them.

This power differential, always implicit in the actor-director relationship, is obviously exacerbated when the actor is inexperienced and has no manager to guide them through the film industry. While Aparicio and Cuarón’s on-set relationship seems to have been affectionate, one anecdote about the film’s shooting is somewhat disturbing. In a central, traumatic scene for her character Cleo, Cuarón admitted that he deliberately withheld from Aparicio what would happen. Her anguished reaction is genuine – and presumably she could not be trusted to generate that response otherwise.

Aparicio has declared that she would like to continue to act, though she admits that Roma may be a one-off. French film critic André Bazin wrote of neorealist actors that the non-professional can be used only once because their effect can never be replicated. But non-professionals have gone on to career success – Paquin, obviously, as well as Sasha Lane, discovered by Andrea Arnold for her film American Honey, is continuing to work. So is Abdi, though in low-profile parts. Others, like the kids of Slumdog Millionaire, have returned to their old lives.

In all the press talk and interviews with Cuarón and Aparicio, one thing is never mentioned: pay. While one presumes that she received a fair salary for the part, non-professionals generally come cheap because it’s often assumed that part of the reward is the experience itself, the fairytale story. But when the magic finishes and the closing credits roll, they all too often find themselves alone.The Conversation

Catherine O'Rawe, Professor of Italian Film and Culture, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, February 08, 2019

From the Archives: Glenn Beck's substitute host Doc Thompson talks about libertarian values and hot issues of the day

Glenn Beck's substitute host Doc Thompson talks about libertarian values and hot issues of the day
August 19, 2010
11:40 PM MST

Radio talk-show host Doc Thompson, whose regular gig is afternoons from 3 to 6 o’clock on WRVA (1140 AM) in Richmond but who sometimes substitutes for Glenn Beck on his nationally syndicated program, spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on August 10 about his political philosophy, the hot issues of the day, and this year’s election prospects.

“Personally, I live my life with fairly conservative leanings,” Thompson explained, but “I take a little bit of a step toward libertarian when it comes to government, in that I want to be left alone. Yes, I’m a conservative, and I have conservative values, but I don’t want the government necessarily supporting conservatism or liberalism. I want them to just leave everyone alone.”

Listeners are ‘ticked’

radio host Doc Thompson Richmond Virginia
Doc Thompson
Thompson said that his listeners are angered by the growth and intrusiveness of the federal government.

Most of what concerns them, he said, “is the simple, ‘I can’t believe government is doing this’ issues, the no-brainer issues.”

He listed their top issues: “They’re ticked about health care, they’re ticked about the spending, and they’re ticked about immigration. Those are probably the big three things right now.”

The listeners’ irritation is easy to understand, he added.

These all are “really simple issues to them. You know: don’t spend what you don’t have; I can’t spend that much. Let me pick for myself whether I want health care and what [kind of] health care. And immigration – there’s a border; you’re breaking the law.”

‘Speaking from their hearts’
These concerns are not limited to people in the Richmond area, either. When Thompson wears Glenn Beck’s headphones, he hears the same complaints.

“It’s very similar when I fill in for him,” he pointed out.

“I’m not sure if that’s because that’s the general attitude of anybody [who is] leaning conservative, or if it’s that Glenn and I are similar. Our approaches are pretty similar to things but the topics, the discussion, the things people are saying are virtually the same.”

Thompson has noticed a similar phenomenon with regard to the Tea Party movement.

Glenn Beck radio
“It’s the same, too, tea party to tea party. I go around and meet with people all over the region, from Williamsburg to the Shenandoah Valley. I was up in Pittsburgh in the spring, speaking at a tea party. All of them, it’s the same. It’s like you’ve taken the same people and just put them in a different place. The same quotes – [but] it’s not talking points. These people are speaking from their hearts and saying the same things: ‘Enough is enough, leave me alone!’”

While this year’s election looks to be good for Republicans, Thompson said, he predicts it might turn out to be more of a mixed bag, with no “clear-cut winner.”

“It’s just going to be election by election, district by district. I think you’ll see a conservative movement somewhat this election, and probably a bigger one the next election,” when President Obama faces re-election in 2012.

For those outside the Richmond area who want to hear him, Doc Thompson will be filling in for Glenn Beck on Labor Day and again on the following Friday.

Editor's note: Doc Thompson passed away on February 5, 2019. To hear the audio version of this interview, visit the February 9, 2019, episode of The Score from Bearing Drift.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on August 19, 2010. 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.