Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guest Post: Will Hammer on 'Judicial and Police Reform'

(Will Hammer is a candidate for the Virginia General Assembly. He submitted this opinion piece as a guest post to Rick Sincere News & Thoughts.)

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Judicial and Police Reform Needed
by Will Hammer

The recent appalling incident that left UVA honor student Martese Johnson bloodied and arrested is yet another example of the apparent increase of excessive force used by police across the country. Unfortunately, this incident is nothing new as police brutality, especially against minorities, has been a widespread problem in this country for a very long time. Technology has just allowed for this issue to come to light, allowing anyone to record high definition video at anytime and anywhere with their phones.

Will Hammer (left) with Robert Sarvis in Buena Vista, September 2014
The news has been peppered with similar incidents over the last year, luckily this one did not end fatally unlike many of the others. While there are discrepancies with what happened leading up to the Michael Brown incident, there is no doubt that the Eric Garner tragedy was unjustified. Technology allowed us to see that Eric Garner did not aggress against the police officers who would go on to put him into a chokehold, resulting in Garner’s death. A good Samaritan filmed the altercation, preventing Eric Garner from becoming just another statistic.

Though film evidence is not available, it appears that Martese did nothing to warrant the excessive force that was used against him. He was not intoxicated nor did he present a fake ID, though, even if he did, that still would not warrant the actions of the ABC police. With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder why a regulatory agency even has law enforcement officers to begin with.

Incidents like this, and the numerous police brutality videos found online, hurt public trust in the police. Law abiding citizens feel anxious and nervous around police officers, worrying if they are unknowingly doing something that would warrant the police officer to ticket or arrest them. Last year I was pulled over for speeding. I was doing 37 in a 35 that just turned into a 25 when the police officer coming the other way flashed his lights. The police officer approached my car with his hand on his gun and kept it there the whole time, barely showing his face by leaning forward. I had my hands on the steering wheel, showed no aggression or agitation. Why was I treated like a criminal? It has become the norm and it’s abhorrent. People of all social backgrounds, ethnicities, sex, and age get the same treatment. There seems to be more and more insulation between law enforcement and the communities; the mantra “to serve and protect”, has become “to fine and arrest”.

So how do we bridge the disconnect between law enforcement and the community? We need judicial and police reform. There needs to be more transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training.

To create more transparency, we must take several steps. First, we need legislation requiring all law enforcement agents to wear body cameras as well as heavy penalties if the cameras, memory cards, or video are tampered. Second, internal affairs is a conflict of interest because they are not an independent department. We need to have an independent organization where citizens can report incidents involving police. Also, there needs to be legislation requiring police officers to file a ‘use of force incident report’ for every matter that requires any force, not just the use of their firearm.

It is said that the average citizen commits 3 felonies daily on average in the US. This statistic is appalling and just shows how ridiculous and numerous laws have become. About ½ of the prison population stems from victimless crimes. Peaceful citizens get locked up for longer sentences than child molesters. It is clear the system is broken. Legalization of marijuana will greatly reduce the military aspect of police, reduce spending, and reduce crime rates. Look at Colorado and the success they have had with legalization. Violent crime is down, more tax money goes to schools; it’s been a huge success.

Finally, police need to be trained and acclimated into their communities. The police officer who pulled me over seemed scared, as if he was waiting for me to attack. Police officers need to be trained to not assume everyone is a violent criminal and to not rush to use their firearms. Police need to be able to protect themselves, obviously, but not to the point where it makes everyone feel like a criminal or in danger from the officer.

In conclusion, there is a rampant issue across the US of excessive force being used by law enforcement and it disproportionately affects black males. This is not a new issue, but rather a problem that has been going unchecked and expanding for decades if not for a century. Apart from that, we have a system where just about every citizen is committing crimes. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world because of this, about half being non-violent. We need serious judicial and police reform to bring about transparency, less victimless crimes and finable offenses, and better training for law enforcement to protect and serve, not fine and arrest.

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Will Hammer is a resident of Staunton. He ran for US Congress last year and is currently seeking the Libertarian Party nomination to run against Dickie Bell for the VA House of Delegates, 20th District.




Saturday, March 07, 2015

America Asks: When Does Daylight Saving Time Begin?

In the spirit of my February 2014 post, "America asks: What time is the Super Bowl?," today I help Americans who inquire about the start of Daylight Saving Time.

The answer, according to iDigital Times:

The spring Daylight Saving Time change in the United States begins on the 2nd Sunday in March. This year, that date is Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 2 am. Therefore, Americans in most of the 50 states should prepare spring forward, setting their clocks forward one hour at 2 am on Sunday, March 8, 2015
For the answer to a different form of the question -- when did Daylight Saving Time begin? -- let's turn to Backstory with the History Guys (Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, and Peter Onuf). In an episode of the radio program rerun this weekend to coincide with the onset of Daylight Saving Time, they discuss the origins of the concept, by Ben Franklin in Paris:
BRIAN: That’s exactly right. I mean where did daylight savings time come from in the first place? I mean I don’t think it was around back in my time, where we were in perfect synchronicity with the world around us. So why did you guys invent this?

ED: Well, I think we’ve got to throw that to Peter because we know who came up with the idea for daylight savings time.

PETER: Well, it was that visionary Ben Franklin. He was all over daylight savings time.

In 1784, in the Journal of Paris, he was writing about well, the way they kept their time in Paris. And what they did is to sleep all morning because they were up all night. And Franklin did one of these calculations, a characteristic Enlightenment thing. And he’d count the number of candles that had to burn to sustain this misuse of daylight. And it would be an immense savings to the French people.

And they were going into debt at this period, badly into debt. And it led to the French Revolution. So no French Revolution, if they had had daylight savings time.

ED: And they might not have sold Louisiana to us if they wouldn’t had to pay for those candles.

PETER: Absolutely.
... and the origin of the practice, in the early 20th century:
ED: Franklin was the first to admit that he didn’t have the means to implement daylight savings time. So Karin, let’s put it Ed out of his misery. Daylight savings time in the United States started in 1918.

And there’s one thing that consistently in the 20th century got the whole country to go on daylight savings time and that was war. It was actually the Germans who first started daylight savings time in 1916.

BRIAN: So if we were going to fight, then we had to be on the same streets.

ED: Exactly.

PETER: Because you show at a battle and they wouldn’t be there.

ED: Well quite literally, the British did go on daylight savings time, a month later or very shortly after. The real point, Karin, is that Germany, Britain, the United States, go on daylight savings time because we can save energy. It was all about well, where are we spending most of our money on energy? And a lot of it was being spent on lighting when daylight savings time was first introduced and even during World War II.

Then we have this thing called air conditioning that comes along. So that when Richard Nixon, at the height of the energy crisis in the early 1970s, calls for extended daylight savings time, it’s not so clear that we’re really saving that much energy because people have started air conditioning their homes. They come home after work and if they’re in Dallas or Houston or Jacksonville, they turn on the air. And that uses a lot of energy.
When I was younger, Daylight Saving Time began in April and ended in October, so it was about (or a bit less than) half the year. Now it begins in March and ends in November, so Daylight Saving Time actually makes up a greater part of the year than Standard Time. By that standard, so to speak, shouldn't the period of the year now known as Daylight Saving Time be called "Standard Time" and what's now called "Standard Time" be called "Winter Time"?

We'll have an extra hour to think about it next fall.







Saturday, December 27, 2014

Robin Williams remembered by 'Dead Poets Society' producer, screenwriter

According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, actor-comedian Robin Williams' suicide last summer prompted the largest number of Google searches during 2014. It was also one of the top-ten topics on Facebook.*

The tragic and untimely passing of Robin Williams in August made for the most Googled term of the year. The actor’s name ranked No. 1 on Google’s most searched list of 2014. Last week, Facebook released data around the most-talked about topics on the social-networking platform, and Williams ranked No. 4. Needless to say, this moment was one of the biggest of the year.
This year also marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Dead Poets Society, the 1989 film that brought Robin Williams his second Oscar nomination for best actor in a leading role. (He later won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for 1997's Good Will Hunting.)  Dead Poets Society also earned Williams a Golden Globe nomination for acting.

To commemorate the movie's quarter-century and to pay tribute to Williams, the Virginia Film Festival screened the film and brought its screenwriter, Tom Schulman, and one of its producers, Paul Junger Witt, to Charlottesville to participate in a conversation about the making of Dead Poets Society. The discussion was moderated by film and stage director Mitch Levine, president of the Film Festival Group.

In addition to Dead Poets Society, for which he received an Academy Award, Tom Schulman's screenplays include Honey I Shrunk the Kids (with Rick Moranis, 1989), Medicine Man (with Sean Connery, 1992), and Welcome to Mooseport (with Ray Romano and Gene Hackman, 2004). His producing credits include Indecent Proposal (with Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, 1993) and Me, Myself, and Irene (with Jim Carrey, 2000), and he directed 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (with Joe Pesci, 1997).

Paul Junger Witt has produced more than 60 movies and TV shows, ranging from 1960s TV series like Occasional Wife, The Second Hundred Years, and Here Come the Brides to The Partridge Family and Soap in the 1970s (a decade in which he also produced the award-winning TV movie, Brian's Song with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams) to Benson, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Blossom in the 1980s.

Levine, Schulman, and Witt discussed Dead Poets Society and related topics on Sunday, November 9, the closing night of the 2014 Virginia Film Festival at the Culbreth Theater on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

Paul Junger Witt at the Virginia Film Festival
Asked by Levine whether Robin Williams was the first choice to play John Keating, the unconventional English teacher at a boys' boarding school in 1959 New England, both Schulman and Witt nodded their affirmation.

Director Peter Weir, Witt said, “got a performance from Robin that we hadn't seen before.” For the younger cast members (including Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, and Ethan Hawke), “most of whom were green, were inexperienced, Robin actually became that figure [of an inspiring teacher] because he was so generous and so patient with the kids and kept them so loose and kept them laughing and inspired. They adored him, much the same way, as characters, they adored their teacher.”

Before Dead Poets Society, he noted, Williams “had done a couple of turns as a serious actor and he had an energy that we believed audiences would find believable in terms of a teacher who is inspiring.”

Schulman added that “we encouraged Robin to bring as much of himself as he could to the part. Dinging the bell and things like that, that's Robin, his comedy.”

Levine suggested that what he finds “remarkable” about Williams' performance as John Keating “is that he doesn't do – forgive me – the 'Robin Williams shtick,' with the performance. It's so subtle and so nuanced that even when he's imitating Marlon Brando, it's with reason and truth and intent and complete believability. For those who, at that moment, only knew him from the funny stuff, it's a remarkable tribute to him as part of this collaboration.”

Schulman agreed: “It seemed to me the essence of his character was to reach these boys and Robin gave of himself in that way. You can feel the connection.”

Witt agreed, as well: “And they adored him. If any of them could have made it this evening, they would have. Most of them are working, which speaks to how well it was cast. They just adored him.”

Recalling Williams' unexpected passing last August, Levine said that “one thing I was particularly struck with when we learned of his death was [the] outpouring of public and private mourning and grief for a man who was a public figure and not part people's lives in an immediate way, for most of us – yet people grieved as if they lost one of their own. I think, for me at any rate, he was so lacking in guile. That's so rare. There wasn't an evil molecule in him and for him to offer a performance like this” in Dead Poets Society, “it's for the ages, and we have it for the ages, which is a fact.”

Witt added that he had worked on a second film with Williams, the Christopher Nolan-directed Insomnia, which also featured Al Pacino.

“It was a tough shoot,” he said. Pacino's acting style “is very different than Robin's but they blended perfectly and Robin kept, as he could, the entire set loose. He even managed to make Al smile a couple of times. He was just an extraordinary talent and a really good guy.”

On the set of Dead Poets Society, Schulman recalled, “As soon as you'd call cut, he would start doing his thing and at a certain point you'd just have to send him away because you couldn't get any work done.”

Witt also remembered how one of the key shots in the film had to be done on the morning of New Year's Day, because the weather conditions were just what were needed.

“We couldn't take a break between Christmas and New Year's,” he said. “We had the school [St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware] and we could use it completely because the students were home” for the holidays.

“There was one shot that Peter had planned but there was never enough snow” to do it, he continued.

On New Year's morning, “after an evening of debauchery, the crew came together with [cinematographer John Seale] and they went out and got this one extraordinary shot and gave it to the director as a gift because it was on their own time, on a holiday, [with] no charges to the production because it would have been triple [time] or whatever.”

That was the shot in the snow when the students have learned about their classmate's suicide.

At Levine's request – because it was a show he grew up with – Witt talked a bit about his experience producing The Partridge Family, the 1970-74 ABC-TV sitcom about a musical family led by mom Shirley Jones and featuring David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, and Dave Madden.

“I wish I could tell you a happy story,” Witt replied. “It was a kind of a nightmare. The business can, – and especially a series – can be very hard on kids. I did the pilot and the first year and I walked away from a hit because of what I was seeing and could not stop. I was never sorry. I never again did a series that featured kids that young. And we chose the kids, the children we worked with very, very, very carefully in areas beyond their talent. It's tough and that show was painful for me in that respect.”

Screenwriter Tom Schulman
An audience member noted that “Robin Williams humor seems so organic,” almost like rock and roll. “Did he seem to suppress it during filming?”

Schulman said no, he didn't.

“In fact, I remember the first day Robin showed up for a shot. He was going to be there for a day and he was going to go to New York for two weeks to be in a play. And he seemed almost too on-book, so literal in the way he was delivering the lines that it worried me. I wanted more of Robin's humor and Peter [Weir] agreed and said, 'Well, we've got two weeks to think about it.'”

When Williams came back to the set, the director “did an improv with Robin. He said, 'What would you like to teach the class? A little Shakespeare, maybe read to them?'”

Weir told Williams he would shoot the improvs, just to see what happened.

“And Robin came in and did that improv, he did the John Wayne thing, he did a reading from that book, and something connected. Robin realized, 'Even though I'm doing all the talking, it's a dialogue, I'm getting something from these kids.' It changed his performance right away and from that day on, Peter never said another word about Robin's performance. Robin just got it. Peter called him 'Robin Keating' – Robin and the character became the same guy. It felt to me that whatever wacky humor Robin used, say on Mork & Mindy or in his improv, he never used that” during the filming of Dead Poets Society. “It was all blended into the teaching” of the character, John Keating.

The entire conversation among Mitch Levine, Tom Schulman, and Paul Junger Witt can be seen on this YouTube video.

*For what it's worth, here's the entire top-ten Google search list for 2014:

1. Robin Williams
2. World Cup
3. Ebola
4. Malaysia Airlines
5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
6. Flappy Bird
7. Conchita Wurst
8. ISIS
9. Frozen
10. Sochi Olympics

I have no idea who or what “Conchita Wurst” is, and I imagine a lot of people asking “What is Flappy Bird?”














Saturday, December 20, 2014

Director Barry Levinson Talks About Making 'The Natural'

Movie director and screenwriter Barry Levinson is in the entertainment news pages these days because he is making his debut as a musical theater writer. He is now adapting his 1982 film, Diner, into a musical play at Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington.

Levinson's collaborators on this world-premiere musical version of Diner include Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer and composer-lyricist Sheryl Crow, who is also writing her first score for a book musical.

In a feature by the Washington Post's Nelson Pressley, Levinson acknowledges that he's not a big fan of musicals but he's dived into the genre to create this new version of Diner for the stage.
Levinson’s been reading theatrical memoirs and marveling about great numbers written under the gun on the road, even though in his early days he met weekly deadlines as a TV writer for Marty Feldman and Carol Burnett. This was just after he studied broadcast journalism at American University and interned at a Washington TV station, working on the morning puppet show and eventually directing the evening news – just like the protagonist in “Sixty-Six.”

But he’s never been particularly crazy about musicals. He enjoyed “Book of Mormon” and laughed at “The Producers,” by his old mentor Mel Brooks – Levinson helped write “Silent Movie” and “High Anxiety” – but he rightly categorizes them as comedies first, with music. What he really admires is the sturdy melodic stuff, like “South Pacific.”

He can talk “Guys and Dolls” and “Carousel,” [director Kathleen] Marshall says, and Crow says he easily refers to everything from early rockabilly icon Eddie Cochran to “High Society.” But at the diner, he seems wary of the dark mark of the frivolous Broadway show.

“I’m not precious about the material,” he says. “But it does have to be a dramatic comedy. There are dilemmas. Shrevie and Beth don’t share common interests, and they’re desperately trying to connect. You can’t just pull that out and make it a fluffy piece.”
Last month in Charlottesville, Levinson came to the Virginia Film Festival, where he discussed the making of his 1984 baseball film, The Natural, with New York Times journalist Mike Tackett.  Over the same weekend, the director also presented his newest film, The Humbling, which features Al Pacino as a late-career actor in a panic.  The Humbling is based on a novel by Philip Roth.

Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, Levinson's film version of The Natural starred Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs and a supporting cast that included Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, and Darren McGavin (uncredited).

Here is video of that conversation, recorded at the Paramount Theater on Charlottesville's downtown mall on Sunday, November 9:


Other celebrities who spoke at the Virginia Film Festival this year included actor Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and novelist Adriana Trigiani (Big Stone Gap), as well as political scions Barry Goldwater, Jr., and Skip Humphrey.






Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sanctions: South Africa, Libya, and the Cuban Embargo

Today's announcement from Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro about progress toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba and the possible end of the 55-year-old embargo on trade with that island nation reminded me of a time, long ago, when I was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee on Africa.

The topic was sanctions against South Africa, with an aim of ending apartheid there.

I testified that sanctions were a futile gesture and never worked the way they were intended.

The subcommittee chairman, Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.) identifying me as a conservative -- I was testifying alongside Alan Keyes -- tried to trap me by asking whether I also opposed sanctions against Libya or Cuba. I said yes. He was surprised but commended me for my consistency.

Here's a clip from C-SPAN of that hearing on November 5, 1987:




Here's the entire three-and-a-half hour hearing, which includes testimony from Chester A. Crocker, Assistant Secretary, Department of State-African Affairs; Thomas Reilly Donahue, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO; Nicholas Haysom, Deputy Director, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg-Centre for Applied Legal Studies; Alan Keyes, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; James Mndaweni, President, National Council of Trade Unions; Thokoana "James" James Motlatsi, President, South Africa-National Union of Mineworkers; Patrick J. O'Farrell, Executive Director, African-American Labor Center; Richard Sincere, Research Associate, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Damu Smith, Executive Director, Washington Office on Africa; and Peggy Taylor, DirectorAFL-CIO-Legislation.






Has It Been Ten Years Already?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my blogging life.

Starting here on December 17, 2004, this writing platform has expanded to include Book Reviews by Rick Sincere, Where Are the Copy Editors?, Bearing Drift, and the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, with a few smaller projects along the way. The orbit of this blog includes three YouTube channels (see the sidebar to your left).

By coincidence, I produced several interesting blog posts on December 17, without making explicit reference to its being a blogoversary.

By far the most popular of these has been one from last year, headlined "Obligatory Dylan Sprouse Nude Selfie Blog Post." To date, that report on the former Disney Channel star's naked mishap and his deft handling of it has been viewed 4,723 times, which is a pretty good rate.  It's remarkable how interested people are in seeing a celebrity's genitals.

On this date in 2007, I noted that that was the ten-year anniversary of the blog itself.

Quoting Kai Ryssdal, the host of the public radio show, Marketplace, at the time:
The blog is celebrating an anniversary today. Ten years ago a guy named Jorn Barger coined the term "weblog" to describe his website Robot Wisdom. It was shortened to "blog" two years later by someobody else.

Back then only about 23 websites were properly considered blogs. These days, whether you write them or read them, blogs are a pretty common pursuit.

Estimates are that 120,000 new ones are created everyday. No word, though, on how many are actually read.

There are a lot more than 23 "weblogs" today, that's for sure.

The most-viewed post on this blog was "Snowpocalypse!," a collection of photos from the big snowstorm of December 2009 -- published, coincidentally, on December 18.

The second most popular post is an oddity: "Shirtless and Circumcised," which traces strange search terms that lead readers to this blog.

Other blogoversary posts have included "Christmas Carols: The Odd and the New," a review of the Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, also from 2009.

On December 17, 2006, I took the Washington Post ombudsman to task for sloppy writing in "Small Pool."

Two years later, I reported on the progress of the breathtaking recount in the razor-thin race between then-Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Rocky Mount) and future former Congressman Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) in "Fifth District Recount Continues."

Only once, nine years ago, in 2005, did I make an explicit commemoration of the start of my blogging in "Anniversary Waltz." In fact, for a long time, I thought my blog-start was on December 22. I had to look up the correct date as I prepared for this post!

Let's hope I have at least ten more good years of filling this space with compelling words arranged in sentences and paragraphs.

Cheers!