Archive for category Politics

Theater Review (Washington, D.C.): Special Performances of ‘The Originalist’ at Arena Stage

In July 2012, I won a ticket lottery during my summer internship on Capitol Hill. The speaker slated at the closing lecture was the late Justice Antonin Scalia. To my surprise, Scalia devoted his hour to Q&A time rather than to a prepared speech.

Photo of Edward Gero and Kerry Warren in 'The Originalist'

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Kerry Warren as Cat in The Originalist at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater March 6-April 26, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

I was struck by a couple of things about Antonin Scalia as I sat in the Supreme Court. He was very polite. Second, he seemed genuinely excited that all of us were interested in government and law, regardless of our backgrounds. He was also quite passionate about looking at the original meanings and contexts within the U.S. Constitution. “I am a textualist. I am an originalist. I am not a nut!” he exclaimed to us. Read the rest of this entry »


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Interview: Mark Tooley, Author of ‘The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War’

Photo of Author Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute of Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. This year marks his first visit to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA. His latest book is The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War.

I don’t remember learning about the Washington Peace Conference in high school.

Even history and civil war buffs don’t know about it or, if they do, they know very little about it! Most history books devote only a few paragraphs. James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, one of the best overall histories about the Civil War, [has] only two and half pages. It’s a neglected and forgotten topic. There hasn’t been a book about it specifically since the 1950s.

Why is it important? Read the rest of this entry »

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UVA Center for Politics Screens ‘Ball of Confusion: The 1968 Presidential Election’ – Now Airing on PBS Stations

Edward Nixon

Edward Nixon. Photo: Pat Cuadros

On the eve of Halloween, the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia hosted an advance screening of Ball of Confusion: The 1968 Presidential Election. The documentary is slated to run on public television stations starting this month. It’s the latest project of Larry J. Sabato, a professor of American politics at the University of Virginia. He is also the longtime director of the UVa Center for Politics and he has won two Emmy Awards for previous documentaries.

Prior to turning down the lights, the politics professor interviewed Edward Nixon, who shares a strong resemblance to his late brother and the former U.S. President, Richard. As he took his seat, the 85-year-old raised his hands and gestured with the familiar victory signs. His field is in international commercial trade, a venture that has taken him to China on many occasions. Mr. Nixon spoke to the audience about the difficulties of growing up during the Great Depression. His family endured because their business was a grocery store; they helped their community by letting people do small jobs at the store in exchange for food. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cromwell’s Situation Appears Uncertain in “Wolf Hall” with Looming “Crows”

Caution: This post contains spoilers from the fifth episode of “Wolf Hall.”

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. Photograph: Giles Keyte/BBC/Company Productions Ltd

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. Photograph: Giles Keyte/BBC/Company Productions Ltd

This coming Sunday, Masterpiece on PBS will air the final chapter of “Wolf Hall.” Take the opportunity to catch up before the big finale. The fifth installment of “Wolf Hall” from last weekend is aptly named “Crows” with a marked change in Thomas Cromwell’s (Mark Rylance) circumstances. He’s always had a few adversaries to contend with but this time they are gaining ground. It’s the first time in a while that the Machiavellian administrator is scrambling on a defensive position, rather than calling the shots.

Mark Rylance is always a standout performer, but Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) also came out strong last weekend as King Henry VIII: wrestling with impatience for a male heir and a burgeoning interest in Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips). The latter plot development derails Cromwell’s hopes of securing a union with Jane, which was nicely captured in the shot in the castle as the King’s “right hand man” watches her from the door. She’s bathed momentarily in the light from the window, yet the distance between the two marks the ever constant isolation of Cromwell the social climber.

Cromwell’s isolation and disruption of courtly hierarchy are themes that are hit upon constantly in “Wolf Hall,” even explicitly at times. He remarks on one occasion, “How many men can say, ‘My only friend is the King of England?'” Not many and yet it’s not a position to be envied, as he muses. The extra layer in such few words there is fantastic.

Queen Anne (Claire Foy) is frustrated in trying to get pregnant, resulting in the bizarre death of a dog. That ledge is awfully high off the floor for a dog just to jump by itself. Another strange and arguably exaggerated moment is the near death of the king at the jousting. Cromwell hits Henry in the chest as a sort of CPR, one might suppose. Jane Seymour’s family seems eager to gain favor with the king and push Anne out of her position. Cromwell is going to have to choose a side, but he gets shaken after the king shouts at him. The whole mix of these scenes made for an uneven episode that wasn’t as strong as the previous installments, yet still offers some of the intrigue and lovely artistic touches that comprise such a great program.

Sometimes it feels as though “Wolf Hall” is channeling a bit of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the vengeance goal. Jonathan Pryce here as Cardinal Wolsey is like the dead King Hamlet, as Cromwell seemed to regard him as a father figure. Wolsey returns with a warning: “The trouble is, Thomas, the king wants a new wife; fix him one. I didn’t and now I’m dead.” These brief moments are extraordinary in their quietness, much in the same way as the Jane Seymour window shots. Wolsey’s words bring a nice symmetry with the beginning of the “Wolf Hall” series, as Cromwell’s fate teeters on an uncertain path. There may have been a remark early in the series about getting on the wrong side of Anne Boleyn. In the end, it’s the king who is the most dangerous figure. Make your move Cromwell, before it’s too late.

It seems almost effortless the way Peter Kosminsky directs “Wolf Hall” to pull you into Cromwell’s world and his point of view. There’s his use of the Steadicam as figures walk along and then the over-the-shoulder shots beside Cromwell during encounters with difficult characters. The edginess and discomfort from these shots work in tandem to the frames of Cromwell’s face and his reaction to what others say. Mark Rylance does brilliant work with the straight stare back, an expression that one might mistake as utterly neutral, but in the eyes reveals a man who is trying to read the situation. Every time, it almost leaves you waiting with bated breath, wondering what Cromwell will say next.

This series is adapted from Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the first two books in her Cromwell trilogy. Mantel has yet to release the final book, but one hopes there will be a sequel to this television show soon afterwards. Of course, it’s not a complete production without the virtuosity of both director Peter Kosminsky and actor Mark Rylance.

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UVA Center for Politics Celebrates 2014 Emmy Win with ‘Out of Order’ Screening

On Friday night, local residents and students packed Nau Hall at the University of Virginia to view a special screening of Out of Order. The event was hosted by the UVa Center for Politics, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting the importance of education and civic participation in government.

Attendees seemed excited to be at the screening, some arriving an hour early to secure good seats. Indeed, the celebratory mood was fitting; the Center’s most recent documentary, The Kennedy Half Century, won the the 2014 Emmy Award for Best Historical Documentary from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Out of Order won the same award in 2013.

Introductory remarks were made by Professor Larry J. Sabato, founder and director of the Center for Politics. In Out of Order, Representatives and Senators share their insights as to the extent of gridlock in Congress. Rather than focusing on the task of governing, the pressures of campaign fundraising, ideological extremism, and voting only on party lines often hinders attempts to iron out important compromises. Commentators like Bob Schieffer also lament the decline in camaraderie and a literal “crossing of the aisle” by Members; personal friendships and discussions across parties helped to foster a willingness to cooperate.

Americans continue to find themselves frustrated and cynical over the inability of Congress to handle routine business, such as producing a workable budget in a timely manner. Instead, we have been repeatedly subjected to hasty midnight deals and other temporary fixes such as raising the debt ceiling. It is unfortunate that the gridlock has not abated, producing the memorable 16-day shutdown in 2013.

Retired Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Professor Larry J. Sabato, and Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA)

Retired Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Professor Larry J. Sabato, and Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA) discuss politics and American history. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

Q&A with the “Warner Brothers”

Following the screening, Professor Sabato interviewed retired Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about their careers in politics. The older Warner reflected on the cooperative spirit in the earlier decades that he spent in the Senate, as well as his decision to step down in 2009 and support Mark Warner. Sabato was somewhat more forceful in his line of questioning towards the latter, to the amusement of many. He asked for names of Members who were willing to work toward compromise and those who were stalling the issues.

Then the audience was allowed to participate, putting forth some great questions. Should we change the workweeks Congress operates on? If Members no longer cross the aisle, why don’t we just get rid of the aisle so Senators and Representatives do not sit with their parties?

I asked the panel whether changes to Congress would come from within or from the states and populace. Professor Sabato responded that the changes would probably come from Congress itself “on the 12th of never”.

The best instruments of change are the people of this great nation. Part of that comes from being informed citizens: knowing how government works and what positions our elected officials take on the issues. Sabato points out that we are at fault as well because we cast the votes (or didn’t cast any votes, I would add) to elect the Congress we have today.

Congratulations to Professor Sabato and his hardworking staff at the Center for Politics! Will we see another Emmy win in 2015?

For more information about Out of Order and The Kennedy Half Century, check out the Center for Politics website.

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