Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Misplaced Drunk Driving Priorities

Today's Washington Times carried a lucid op-ed piece by John Doyle, executive director of the American Beverage Institute, pointing out how some law enforcement efforts to combat drunk driving are misdirected and therefore ineffective. These are feel-good rather than substantive measures.

Oddly, the article does not appear on the Times' web site, but I tracked it down at the Union Leader in Manchester, New Hampshire, where it appeared May 7. (Both newspapers indicate that the article first appeared in the Providence Journal-Bulletin in Rhode Island.)

Doyle begins with a scenario that reflects reality for a lot of Americans:

WITH SPRING blooming, you decided to treat that “special someone” to a romantic dinner at your favorite restaurant. The evening had started off well enough. A fine meal. The perfect companion. A bottle of wine. The two of you hadn’t driven far from the restaurant when you saw it: a police roadblock.

No problem, you thought. All you did was split a bottle of wine over a long meal. Since you weigh 180 pounds, your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is .03 percent at the most. And the legal arrest threshold is .08 percent — more than twice yours.

Unfortunately for you, police have begun arresting people with a BAC at just a fraction of the legal limit. One Florida man recently ended up in jail for driving with a BAC of .02 percent — the equivalent of about one drink. The grandson of a former Supreme Court justice, who’d had a little wine with dinner, was arrested in Washington with a BAC of .03 percent. And just a few months ago, a Florida man who admitted he drank a few beers hours before spent a night in jail even though his BAC was a flat .00 percent. These are more than just isolated incidents. They are harbingers of a growing trend.
Doyle traces this ludicrous, authoritarian trend to the obvious source:
Politicians looking to make names for themselves are advocating even tougher controls. Lawmakers in three states have gone so far as to call for the installation of breath-testing devices in every single car. If they have their way you won’t make it out of the parking lot until you test yourself; whether or not you drink is irrelevant!
Doyle points out that this trend of targeting the least-dangerous drivers (light and moderate drinkers who are not impaired) has not produced the results that the politicians desire:
In December, Congress ordered an audit of the nation’s drunken-driving programs after noting that we have seen “no discernible progress” over the last six years. That’s the same period during which the noose has tightened around responsible drinkers. In addition to multimillion-dollar “zero-tolerance” advertising campaigns, the legal limit for drinking and driving was lowered from 10 percent to.08 percent BAC.

An honest look at the evidence will lead government auditors to conclude that this approach has failed, and that the real problem has been reduced to what Mothers Against Drunk Driving calls “a hard core of alcoholics.” These people will not be persuaded by PR campaigns, and according to government research they go out of their way to avoid highly publicized roadblocks.

More than ten years ago, I testified before a Virginia State Senate committee on what was then a proposal to reduce the "legal limit" in Virginia from 0.10 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08 percent. I was accompanied on that occasion by Candy Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), whose sensible opinions on how best to combat drunk driving had led to her being ostracized by her former comrades-in-arms.

At about that time, I wrote an article that was published in several newspapers. An early version of this article appeared in the Northern Virginia Sun in December 1993. The version reprinted here appeared in The Metro Herald in March 1997:

A Wrong-Headed Change in Drunk Driving Definition
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking his listeners, "If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does he have?" Someone would always answer: "Five." "Not so," Lincoln would admonish them. "Just because you call a tail a leg doesn't mean it's a leg. It's a tail just the same."

So it is with members of Congress who seek to be seen as "tough on drunk driving" by changing the legal definition of drunkenness. By using a carrot- and-stick strategy against states that do not do their bidding, Congress would force state governments to do what the Constitution does not authorize the federal government to do: Write and enforce drunk-driving laws.

Under legislation introduced on March 6 by Representative Nina Lowey (D-N.Y) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), states would have to reduce their legal intoxication limits or lose part of their federal highway construction funds. Lowey and Lautenberg claim at least 500 alcohol-related deaths could be avoided yearly if all 50 states adopted a 0.08 percent limit on the amount of alcohol in a driver's blood. Most states currently have a blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.10 percent.

This misguided approach will have no discernible effect on traffic accidents but instead will waste precious law enforcement resources and give politicians a warm feeling that they have "done something."

Definitions have little to do with actual impairment on the road. According to Dr. William Hotchkiss, former president of the American Medical Association, 83% to 97% of people tested were considered physically impaired at BAC levels of 0.10 to 0.15. In the same study, up to 86% of persons at a BAC of .05-.10 are not physically impaired. This is why a 0.10 BAC has become an accepted standard.

An unexpected opponent of the 0.08 BAC is Candy Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She says: "Half of the drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes have a BAC of 0.17 or greater. Even among young people aged 16 to 24, the great majority of deaths involve drinkers with a BAC of at least 0.15 percent. Lowering the blood alcohol content won't make a difference to these offenders."

Minnesota Judge Dennis Challeen, who over the past 30 years has sentenced hundreds of people for DWI violations, agrees with Lightner. "Most drunk driver fatalities," he notes, "have BAC levels close to 0.20, twice the legal limit. If lawmakers reduce the limit to 0.08, they are simply catching more of the wrong people, the people who are not the problem."

Judge Challeen further argues that stricter laws will be ineffective because those who do not need to be sanctioned -- law-abiding citizens and responsible drinkers -- are most likely to be "self-correcting," while chronic drunks and scofflaws are least likely to respond to harsher penalties.

The fact is, by changing the definition of drunkenness, we enable the police to arrest more people. That may seem tough, but the effect is clogging the courts with people who are not really the problem, creating conditions whereby truly dangerous people are let off without punishment so that we can make room for the minor offender.

The author of Confronting Drunk Driving, Professor H. Laurence Ross, estimates a potential increase of 60 percent of DWI arrests under the new definition with the possibility of no decrease in fatalities. "Adoption of 0.08 percent BAC has not to date been accompanied by any comparable new investments in police resources," Dr. Ross reports, "thus diluting an already inadequate control system. The effect may well be to reduce the chances of any impaired drivers being arrested."

This proposal will raise costs to taxpayers, waste resources and energy, and cause a bureaucratic and legal morass that will not be balanced by better highway safety.

MADD's Candy Lightner makes the point best when she says: "Rather than put our limited resources into laws that fail to address the real problem, we need better enforcement of existing laws and proven policies that have demonstrated a significant impact." She adds: "If we really want to save lives, let's go after the most dangerous drivers on the road. Putting our trust in new laws and regulations that only address the tip of the iceberg will not make our highways safer."

I agree. Our focus should continue to be on education -- the fact that alcohol-related highway deaths are down from nearly 25,000 in 1982 to 23,000 in 1988 to about 17,000 in 1993 is evidence that social disapproval and education are working -- and on tough enforcement of existing laws. Congress should, therefore, turn back any efforts to change the definition of drunkenness nationwide from a BAC of 0.10 to a BAC of 0.08. All that will do is illegitimately extend the federal web into the proper legal domain of state lawmakers.
A decade on, it's hard to believe that the situation we're dealing with -- irrational, feel-good "solutions" that do little to address the core problem -- has changed so little. It's also hard to disagree with John Doyle's conclusion in his newspaper column:
Our collective failure to adequately deal with alcohol abusers who drive drunk should not be used as an excuse to punish moderate consumption of adult beverages. Responsible adults who share a bottle of wine with their dinner deserve privacy, not persecution.

George Fitch in the Homestretch

I received the following letter from the George Fitch for Virginia governor campaign, which I reprint here without comment -- well, except one: "Teddy Roosevelt Republican" is not a term that inspires confidence that Fitch is as dedicated to small government as his earlier statements would have us believe. But, that quibble aside, on with the letter:

Dear Friends,

I would like to urge you to support a candidate—a man who could genuinely improve the lives of all living in this great State.

George Fitch seeks the Republican nomination for Governor of Virginia. The primaries for both parties this year will be on June 14, only two weeks from now. Because we are an “open primary” state, any registered Virginia voter may ask for either party’s ballot, (without making any commitments to that party), and vote as he or she likes. I appeal to each of you: please take the Republican ballot, and vote for George Fitch.

You may not have heard about George; the GOP party elites are working hard to keep it that way, because George is not one of the professional political class. He is a thoughtful and independent man of conscience who has shown repeatedly that he can get good things done in unconventional ways, and is not afraid to rock the boat if necessary.

George can deliver. In the past 6 years, as twice-elected mayor of Warrenton, he has done the most unlikely thing: he fulfilled all his better government campaign promises. The town has gone from among the highest taxed to now the lowest taxed community in Virginia, the growth rate of government spending cut to less than the rate of inflation (while more than $3 million in debt has been retired early through annual operating surpluses). All of this was done without cutting any services, and the town is more functional today than when he was sworn in.

George’s local opponents didn’t believe it could be done; later they joined in re-electing him, and today they are supporting his candidacy for governor.

Most critically, to me, George is a Teddy Roosevelt Republican—a conservationist conservative—and so Warrenton’s reforms have not been at the expense of its beauty and wonderful quality of life. (The Town recently received the Preserve America Community Award from First Lady Laura Bush and her Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a high honor we shared with Williamsburg, otherwise alone in Virginia.)

George’s positions on containing sprawl, reorienting our transportation policies, protecting the environment, and reforming inefficient government operations are the best of any candidate, in either party.

Born in China, where his great-grandfather and grandfather were Christian missionaries, and where his father served with the OSS and later with General Chenault’s “Flying Tigers” fighting the Japanese, George had a distinguished U.S. Foreign Service career, including work on Caribbean economic development initiatives during the first Reagan Administration. A businessman now, he has lived in Virginia for 30 years with his wife Patricia, and been the active embodiment of the concept think globally, act locally.

Can a small town mayor defeat the party bosses and gain the Republican nomination? Yes, of course! If we vote for him. Let me quote from Bacon’s Rebellion, the enlightened insider’s policy wonk e-publication: “But it would be a mistake to dismiss Fitch as a gadfly. No one took him seriously when he wanted to organize the Jamaican bobsled team to compete in the Calgary Olympics. Remarkably, the Jamaicans proceeded to beat 10 other teams, as portrayed in the Disney movie, Cool Runnings. No one thought Fitch had a chance either to displace the heir apparent in a run for mayor of Warrenton, yet he not only went on to win, but he made good on promises to slash spending, stimulate economic growth and reduce taxes.”

I encourage you to take a look at www.georgefitch.com and read about George’s plans for Virginia. His strategies for creating more livable communities, for better coordinating land use planning with transportation, for reigning-in an overreaching Dillon’s Rule and unlocking the problem-solving resources of local leaders (freeing them from Richmond’s grip and from that of developers), and more, are detailed there.

For still further information, call (540) 341-7900, email him at george@georgefitch.com or visit his campaign office located at 32 Ashby Street, Suite 201, Warrenton, VA 20186. Also, feel free to email back to me if I can help you obtain information on this election.

Please put voting June 14th on your calendar. It matters!

Many thanks,

P.S.: For my many friends who typically vote for candidates with a “D” next to their name, please consider voting for George now even if you are likely to support Tim Kaine in the fall. There are those in the Democratic Party who say that Tim would be more competitive against George than against the much better known Jerry Kilgore, and are voting for George for that reason. I prefer to say this: The Commonwealth would benefit from a debate between two intelligent, policy-oriented candidates, and from an election where the tone would be civil, even enlightened. Whatever your motivation, please vote for George Fitch on June 14.

Honoring Adam Smith

The Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think-tank founded in 1977 and based in London, has announced plans to erect a memorial to its namesake in Edinburgh, where Smith lived and wrote many of his most famous works, including The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

According to the Institute

A unique opportunity has opened up. An opportunity to give the world a landmark monument to Adam Smith - the pioneering Scottish economist, philosopher, and author of The Wealth of Nations. A monument to stand at the very heart of Scotland’s capital, where he lived, worked, and died.

We can make this happen. Planning consent has been granted, the City of Edinburgh has donated a prime site, designs and models have been created, the sculptor and other professionals are ready, and the local heritage groups are enthusiastic. But we need your help.

Why a monument to Adam Smith? As author of The Wealth of Nations (1776), he was the champion of free trade and the pioneer of the modern market economy that dominates the free world today. With David Hume, he was one of the leading figures of the Scottish Intellectual Enlightenment. He lived and died in Edinburgh: yet there is no statue of him anywhere in Scotland. Many visitors go to Edinburgh to seek out Adam Smith's tomb, but come away disappointed. It is gloomy and hard to find, in an old churchyard off the narrow Canongate. It stands in grim contrast to Karl Marx's imposing, well cared for, iconic and much-visited monument in London. And of course, throughout the world, hundreds of statues of Marx still remain.

It is time that Adam Smith was properly commemorated. So the Adam Smith Institute is proposing to erect a hugely impressive statue of the great sage in the city he made his home.

I wonder if Charlottesville musician/actor Adam Smith and Washington state Congressman Adam Smith are aware of this effort to honor their Scottish namesake?

Comments and Tips Always Welcome

There are two ways a writer feels appreciated for his work:

(1) Reaction, positive or negative, from readers, demonstrating that his writing is reaching an attentive audience; and

(2) Payment for his product.

That means that comments regarding articles to this blog are always welcome, as are tips through the PayPal tip jar (to your left) or purchases from advertisers, especially Amazon.com.

Also, new visitors are encouraged to explore a little bit. You may have been brought here for one purpose, but I like to think of this blog as the stacks of a library, through which browsing brings unexpected delight and reward. New visitors (especially those attracted through search terms like "Dave Moffatt" or "Aaron Carter") might be interested in my postings about high school proms or about courageous teen playwright Sabrina Audrey Jess.

Other visitors may prefer to browse my postings on theatre, such as my multi-part tribute to Stephen Sondheim on his 75th birthday, or my reviews of plays and musicals like Ragtime and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Articles about recent movies and TV shows or the Virginia Film Festival might also catch your eye.

Still others may be more interested in the articles about Virginia politics, education policy, the U.S. Supreme Court, or lowering the drinking age.

Whatever intrigues you, please stay for a while. Enjoy your visit, and thank you all for your support! If you like what you see, please tell your friends to visit, too.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Dave Moffatt's Huge Surge

Thank you, Dave Moffatt! This blog just received its largest surge of hourly traffic -- over 200 visitors in just over 90 minutes -- almost entirely from your fans.

I traced the rise in interest to a LiveJournal blog called "Oh No They Didn't," characterized as "celebrity gossip at its greatest."

One of "Oh No They Didn't" contributors linked to my post called "More on the Moffatts." Ninety-one percent of my most recent visitors went directly to that article. Whew!

Teen-idol fans will be pleased to know -- but the political pundits and policy wonks who read this blog will be dismayed -- that the most consistently popular of my posts continue to be those on Aaron Carter and his Backstreet Boy brother, Nick Carter, and those on Canadian rockers Dave, Clint, Bob, and Scott Moffatt. In fact, the search phrases that most often bring people here are variations on "Is Aaron Carter gay?" and "Is Dave Moffatt gay?"

Believe me, when I started blogging back in December, I never would have predicted this kind of fanbase -- or the fans' prurient interests.

Check back later for updates.

Update (June 9, 1:34 a.m.): According to press reports, Dave Moffatt has made it into the round of 32 in the current edition of Canadian Idol. (The show is not, as one might expect, generally available for viewing south of the 49th parallel.)

The Canadian Press (CP) reports:

The 32 finalists were announced Wednesday night on the popular televised singing contest. The group is made up of 16 males and 19 females representing eight provinces.

The contestants will now be divided into groups of eight. Each group will perform over four consecutive Tuesday nights. The two competitors who get the most votes each week will remain in the competition.

The final two Top 10 competitors will be determined after a "wild card showdown" on July 12.

The top 10 contestants will face off beginning July 19.
CTV adds:
The 32 competitors represent eight provinces and 25 communities from Duncan, British Columbia to Burlington, Newfoundland. Ranging in age from 16 to 27, the semi-finalists are a snapshot of Canadian youth, representing Canada's diverse ethnic population, regional distinctions and rich history of talented performers. Four were born outside of Canada (Cuba, Columbia, India and England). Four speak French as their first language. Among the 13 guys and 19 girls are an automotive technician, night club host, children's theatre instructor, Stratford Festival actor, paralegal, make-up artist, radio DJ andfinance consultant. One of them will become the next Canadian Idol.
Dave will be competing on June 21 against Vince Benenati, Alinka Chambers, Casey LeBlanc, David Mongar, Josh Palmer, Julie Tellier, and Emily Vinette. (Is it just me, or do all those surnames just scream "I am Canadian/Je suis canadien/Je suis canadienne"?)

Civics Education and Backwards History

In his Memorial Day column for the Washington Times, the distinguished free-speech advocate and jazz critic, Nat Hentoff, bemoans the woeful state of civics education in our country. Hentoff begins by writing:

Too few studies of what's wrong with our school systems focus on a crucial failure -- enabling the young to learn the foundations of their liberties and responsibilities. How do local, state and federal governments interact? How does the Constitution work, and why and how has it survived as the oldest guarantor of its citizens' freedoms in the world?

A chilling 2003 report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Maryland reveals that in our high schools, "most formal civic education today comprises only a single course on government compared to as many as three courses in civics, democracy and government that were common in the 1960s." This situation has not yet markedly improved.

The report adds that in this single civics course, these days, there is hardly any discussion of the role of a citizen in this society.
One of CIRCLE's reports has some intriguing findings. Civics Curriculum and Civic Skills: Recent Evidence, by Melissa K. Comber, notes that:
Those students who reported having studied civics also reported higher levels of civic skills. For example:

- Students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, or political systems and voting reported greater confidence in their ability to understand political issues.

- Students who reported studying topics such as Congress and how laws are made answered slightly more political interpretation questions correctly than students who did not report studying these topics.

- Students who reported learning about aspects of American government, especially Congress, were more likely than other students to expect to write letters to a newspaper about social or political concerns as adults.

- Students who have had courses requiring them to pay attention to government, politics, or national issues within the past two years were slightly more confident that they could write letters to government officials about an issue that concerns them.

- Except for 11th graders, students who have had courses requiring them to pay attention to government, politics, or national issues within the past two years were slightly more confident that they could make a statement at a public meeting.

- Students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, how laws are made or voting and political parties were more likely than other students to agree that they have something to say regarding social or political issues when part of a discussion.

- Students who reported studying Congress, political parties and voting and how laws are made were more likely to participate in student councils than students who have not studied these subjects.

- For every grade except 12th grade, students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, how laws are made or voting and political parties were more likely to have worked with student government.

- Students who reported studying the Constitution, Congress, political parties and voting and how laws are made were more likely to read newspaper articles “often” or “sometimes”.

- Overall, the percentage of students stating that they read the newspaper “almost daily” or “at least once a week” was greater in the older grades. Once again, students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, how laws are made or voting and political parties read the national news more often than other students.

- Students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, how laws are made or voting and political parties watched or listened to national news more often than other students.

- Overall, the percentage of students who have participated in a debate was greater in the higher grades. Students who have studied Congress, the Presidency, how laws are made or voting and political parties were more likely to have participated in such a debate or discussion.

Hentoff proposes to solve the civics education deficit through federal spending on education, which I think is the wrong way to go. Improvements in civics education should come through initiatives at the lowest levels of government, such as local school boards, with funding coming from the political parties and private foundations. (The Republican and Democratic parties already subsidize education for democracy in foreign countries, through the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, respectively.)

Hentoff endorses a federal subsidy of $21.5 million for the Center for Civic Education in Calabasas, California. I accept Hentoff's judgment that the center does laudable work, but that does not translate into entitlement for taxpayers' money from the federal government. We should be trying to wean schools off of the federal teat and reduce Washington's involvement in education at every level, rather than increasing government interference in private institutions like the Center for Civic Education and in local schools' curricular decision-making processes.

Let me add another suggestion to the mix, one inspired by my mentor at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Ernest W. Lefever, who is still active at the age of 85. He recently published an article in the Washington Times entitled "Why theocracy can't happen here"; his most recent books are America's Imperial Burden: Is the Past Prologue? and The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power. (I wonder if he was thinking of the title of my book, The Politics of Sentiment, when he named that latter one?)

In the late 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, Dr. Lefever came up with the novel idea of "teaching history backwards" in order to enhance the engagement of students in the study of current affairs. In December 1996, when I was serving as co-chairman of the Social Studies Advisory Committee for the Arlington County (Virginia) government schools, I wrote an article based on that concept. It appeared in the metropolitan news section of the Washington Times, and I think in this post-Cold War, post-9/11 environment, the proposal still has merit:
How About Teaching History Backwards?
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

In his 1978 essay, "Teaching History Backwards," Ernest Lefever noted that "most high school seniors probably know more about ancient Greece and Rome and the voyages of Columbus than about the recent events that have shaped the outlook of their parents."

Lefever went on to say that learning history "is vital for any people. It is especially so for the United States, which is a democracy, a superpower, and the leader of the free world. The exercise of U.S. power and influence or the failure to exercise it has global reverberations. A responsible American citizen must understand this and must also be aware of the external dangers which threaten our freedom or that of our allies." The global scene has changed tremendously in the past 20 years -- symbolized vividly by the fall of the Berlin Wall -- but this perspective is still valid today.

To address the problem of how the recent past affects our present more saliently than the distant past, even while schools often fail to teach about recent events, Lefever suggested "teaching history backwards" -- starting with the past 30 years, then moving on to more distant developments that have affected U.S. and world affairs.

For the past several years, the Social Studies Advisory Committee has recommended that the Arlington Public Schools add a fourth year of social studies to the required high school curriculum. Specifically, we have recommended that a second year of world history be offered in Grade 10, largely to compensate for the phenomenon that many of us have experienced -- one year of world history is simply too short to cover all of the developments in the 20th century. We commonly experience this as "not getting past World War II" in a typical history course.

Arlington schools now face an additional problem: The new state Standards of Learning (SOLs) require an assessment at Grade 11, which may become a barrier to graduation, just like the "Literacy Passport." We felt that something should be done to prepare our students for that test in a way that would also fulfill our long-held desire for a fourth required course in social studies.

In response, the curriculum development staff has recommended a new tenth- grade course, called "The World Since ‘The War to End All Wars.'" This staff proposal, which has been forwarded to the School Board for final approval by Superintendent Arthur Gosling, meets the criteria set by the Social Studies Advisory Committee. The course is precisely what our committee had in mind when we made our repeated recommendations for a fourth year of social studies. As envisioned, it combines history, geography, and political science in an interdisciplinary and case-study fashion that brings students up-to-date in regard to the important events and trends of our own era. A course like this builds a conceptual bridge to the 21st century and helps students find a common language to communicate with their parents and grandparents, who lived through these same events and trends.

Some parents and students object to this change in the curriculum -- which would begin in the 1998-99 school year -- because it reduces elective opportunities for students, particularly art or music electives. True, the number of electives available during tenth grade would fall from three to two, but the negative impact -- if there is any at all -- will fall on students taking social studies electives, primarily psychology (359 students), sociology (173), AP European History (143), and economics (25). Out of 1100 tenth-grade students, only a few dozen -- if any at all -- would have to forgo art or music classes.

One reason the School Board is considering this curriculum change now is precisely to give fair warning to parents and middle-school students that in two years they will have to meet this new requirement, and that they should plot out their course of electives with this in mind. Those desiring to take art, music, or AP European history can plan on taking them in later grades, or can use one of the other two tenth-grade elective slots for these courses.

If the Virginia Board of Education makes the eleventh-grade social-studies assessment a barrier to graduation, but the School Board fails to make this curriculum change, we could face major problems down the road. Should any Arlington students fail the test because no preparation was available in tenth grade, our whole school system will be poorer for it.

In designing this new course and considering all other options, the staff aimed for minimal disruption to the current curriculum, as well as the lowest cost to taxpayers. The new 20th-century history course is being added to the high school program of studies with almost surgical precision, designed to meet both state-mandated requirements and the desire of Arlingtonians to prepare our students from the classes of 2001 and beyond to be better, more informed citizens.
I had to resign from the Social Studies Advisory Committee in August 1997 for health reasons, and subsequently I lost track of the committee's progress in implementing curriculum reforms. Perhaps readers in Arlington can bring us up-to-date on what is being taught in Arlington schools in terms of recent history and civics/citizenship.

Crossovers for Fitch?

Over at Bacon's Rebellion, former Democratic Delegate Barnie Day has a proposal that offers both merit and mischief: That Democratic voters on primary day cross over to vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate George Fitch. Day writes:

Okay, fellow Dems, listen up. In the best spirit of bipartisanship, it falls our duty to help our addled Republican friends choose who will be their candidate for Governor in November by voting in the June 14 Republican Primary. That's right, as a Democrat you can vote in the Republican Primary. We're having two that day, simultaneously--one for the Ds and one for the Rs. (And, no, this doesn't threaten the Sage of the Shenandoah--Russ Potts will be on the ballot either way.) It doesn't change your registration. You don't have to swear to anything. Just tell the folks at your polling place you want the Republican ballot. They have to let you vote in the Republican Primary if you want to. Hey, our ticket is largely set, with Kaine and Deeds. (That middle one will sort out.) This time around, we need to be helping our Republican friends out. There will be two names in the Republican ballot for Governor--Jerry Kilgore and George Fitch. Lord, have mercy! What must we do?
Since most jurisdictions in the state will have a Democratic primary ballot that only includes the contest for Lieutenant Governor (there are a handful of General Assembly nominations being contested, as there are in the Republican primary), this suggestion could prove tempting to a lot of Democratic voters -- at least those who are particularly attuned to state politics.

Day's proposal has merit because Goldwater Republicans like me would like to see Fitch get beefed-up vote totals. The social-conservative/big-government wing of the Republican party (which, alas, is in ascendancy at the moment) needs to be sent a signal of discontent among GOP voters. For the same reason, I would like to see the challengers to pro-tax Republicans -- Steve Chapman, Chris Craddock, Shaun Kenney, and Chris Oprison -- get as many votes as possible. (Note I do not include Mark Jarvis, the challenger to Delegate Ed Scott, in that list. Jarvis is a theocratic wingnut who deserves to be trounced.)

Day's proposal offers mischief because it will throw a spanner into the future calculations of Republican strategists and campaign consultants. (And, come to think of it, those of Democratic strategists and consultants, too.)

Why? Virginia voters do not register by party. The only way the political parties can identify potential voters in their respective camps, short of massive phone-banking or door-to-door surveys, is by separating voters according to their primary election voting patterns. Voters who consistently vote in Republican primaries are, therefore, known as "hard Rs," while those who vote more often than not in Republican primaries are known as "soft Rs." (Democratic voters are the same.)

The dual primary on June 14 offered both parties a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get solid data on the party preferences of primary voters. For the first time in memory, voters will be forced to choose one party or another on election day, and their preference will be marked in pollbooks that are made available to candidates and parties after the election is over. Both parties assumed that crossover voting would be kept at a minimum under these circumstances.

In some districts, crossover voting might still have happened regardless of Barnie Day's suggestions. For instance, in the 57th House District, there are three Democrats facing off to succeed Mitch Van Yahres, in a primary election that is the de facto general election for that safe-by-design Democratic seat. (There will be a token Republican candidate in November, Tom McCrystal.) That means Rich Collins, Kim Tingley, or David Toscano will be the new Delegate from Charlottesville and its close-in Albemarle County suburbs. Similarly, the 30th District is a safe Republican seat with no Democrat declared for the November election, so the winner between Jarvis and Scott will represent that district in the General Assembly.

A statewide wave of crossover voting could dash the hopes of Virginia political strategists from both parties. But it could be a boost for small-government conservatives who like Fitch's approach to fiscal and governance issues.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ethics in a Democracy and Jury Nullification

On "All Things Considered" on Sunday, May 29, on National Public Radio, a listener, Tom Kimmel of Tucson, Arizona, asked what his options are if he gets called to serve jury duty but disagrees with the law. Host Jennifer Ludden and New York Times Magazine ethicist Randy Cohen tried to answer Kimmel's question, which was prompted by an experience he had while serving on a federal jury during a trial of defendants on drug charges, whose only "crime" seemed to be being in the wrong place at the wrong time while a drug transaction took place. (That is, they had no active participation in the drug offense itself.)

Cohen, who I find interesting because sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree with him, said something in response to Kimmel's question with which I profoundly disagree:

Some people believe in something called jury nullification, that you have a right when you're in that jury room to simply say, 'I don't like the law, i'm going to ignore the judge's instruction, and I'm just not going to follow the law.' I do not believe that. We're a nation of laws and you do not have an ethical right to accomplish in the jury room what you fail to do at the ballot box.

When you live in a democracy, you're governed by any number of laws that you think are imperfect. There are many laws, I'm sure, for each of us and for each of our listeners that they think are deeply foolish laws, but you cannot simply ignore them when you're on jury duty.

But Tom has slightly more options than he allows himself. One of the things he can do is he can hold the prosecutor to the highest possible burden of proof. Sometimes he can seek a lower offense to charge the person with. Often you have those options. You have a duty as a juror to be an active juror, a vigorous juror and to really demand the most of the prosecution, and if you think there is reasonable doubt, then acquit. But you can't simply ignore the law, and you can't lie about that to get on the jury.
Cohen has it exactly backwards. Jurors have a moral obligation to judge both the facts and the law in a criminal case, as well as the conduct of prosecutors that might be considered an unjust application of the law. Juries routinely refused to enforce the fugitive slave laws, for instance, in the years leading up to the Civil War. Would a thinker like Cohen say that juries had an ethical obligation to uphold such "imperfect" laws in the face of morally grotesque slavery, because they had failed to repeal them "at the ballot box"?

Cohen may not realize it, but he disagrees with a long heritage of moral and ethical reasoning when it comes to thinking about jury nullification.

I first wrote about this topic way back in 1993, when I wrote a long letter to the Washington Blade showing how jury nullification could be a tool for resisting unjust sodomy laws, which were still on the books in a number of states and upheld (at the time) by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case later reversed by the Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.

I took that letter to the editor and revised it into an opinion article, which appeared, in slightly different form from what is reprinted below, in the Northern Virginia Sun in February 1994. When this was published, I was serving as vice chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia:

Jury "Nullification"--An Important Bulwark of Liberty
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

The Virginia General Assembly has been considering legislation to permit juries, while deliberating the sentence to be passed on convicted felons, to hear about the criminal records of defendants. The purpose is to make sure that juries have full information before passing judgment. This particular proposal is worthy of consideration but it does not, however, go quite far enough. Virginians who care about justice should join in the call for "fully informed juries," a call to return to our country's long tradition, now sadly losing its pre-eminence, that casts jurors as the protectors of liberty against repressive state action.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." The Webster's Dictionary current in Jefferson's time defines a jury as a group of citizens empaneled to judge both the facts and the law in both civil and criminal cases. Jury "nullification," or the voiding of a law by juries who judge it to be immoral or repressive or simply wrong, is part of our legal heritage.

President John Adams once noted that "It is not only [the juror's] right, but his duty ... to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court." As recently as 1972, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the jury has an "unreviewable and irreversible power ... to acquit in disregard of the instruction on the law given by the trial judge. The pages of history shine on instances of the jury's exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge; for example, acquittals under the fugitive slave law." Two famous cases illustrate the importance of jury nullification.

William Penn, the Quaker leader, was charged in an English court with unapproved preaching of a non-established religion. The judge told the jury that since the facts were clear, they must return a conviction; if they did not convict Penn, the judge said, he would hold the jury in contempt of court and send the jurors to jail. Yet, at great personal risk to their safety and liberty, these jurors—who knew that the English tradition gave jurors the right to judge the law as well as the facts—refused to convict Penn.

About a century later, New York printer and publisher John Peter Zenger was hauled into court and charged with printing seditious reports about government officials. The law and the facts were clear; Zenger had indeed criticized the officials. Again, the jury, knowing its rights, refused to convict Zenger.

These two cases provided the foundation for the freedom of religion and freedom of the press clauses in the U.S. Bill of Rights. By rejecting these repressive laws and refusing to use them to convict righteous citizens, the juries weakened the laws and began the chain of events leading to legislative recognition of citizens' natural right to religious and political dissent. Jury nullification strengthens constitutional protections of minorities against the caprice or malice of political, ethnic, or sexual majorities.

Unfortunately, contemporary judges seldom inform jurors of their right to judge the law in a case; prosecuting attorneys often object to defense lawyers who try to inform jurors of their rights, and judges almost as often sustain these objections.

Should anti-abortion protesters be convicted under RICO, a law designed to combat organized crime? Juries can decide. Should AIDS patients or cancer victims who use therapeutic marijuana to relieve their pain be convicted of violating federal drug laws? Juries can decide. Should anti-war protesters who engage in dramatic and symbolic action at the Pentagon be convicted of unlawful demonstrations? Juries can decide. Should law-abiding gun owners be forced to register their weapons or obey the "one-gun-a-month" law? Juries can decide. Should angry taxpayers who withhold money from the IRS because of the government's wasteful spending go to jail? Juries can decide.

Since jury nullification is such an important tool in combatting repressive laws, Virginians in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson—as Governor Allen, for instance, describes himself—should support legislation that will require judges to inform jurors of their full rights. In this, they can be guided by a model bill written by the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), which has worked to get such requirements placed into the laws of several states.

By rendering repressive laws unenforceable, juries can perform an important function in preserving and expanding liberties for all Americans.

In looking up the URL for the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), I learned that it is also now known as the American Jury Institute (AJI) and I discovered that my old friend, Nancy Lord Johnson, who was the 1992 Libertarian Party vice-presidential nominee, serves as the organization's vice chairman. Clay Conrad, author of the book, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine, is chairman. (Glenn Reynolds published a review of Conrad's book in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, which is available on his Instapundit blog.)

I hope that Randy Cohen looks further into jury nullification and reverses his opinion of it.

I do agree with Cohen on one matter, however. It would be wrong to lie about your beliefs -- whether of jury nullification in general or in regard to a particular law -- in order to get on a jury. If asked directly in voir dire, tell the truth. But if not asked directly, there is no reason to volunteer the information. This is a case in which "don't ask, don't tell" is appropriate, ethical, and moral.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Jefferson Endorses Tingley?

It should have been big news when Republican state Senator Ken Cuccinelli endorsed two challengers to Northern Virginia Republican incumbents in the House of Delegates (Steve Chapman vs. Harry Parrish and Chris Oprison vs. Joe May), but no one seems to have noticed.

Now another big-name Virginia politician -- a former member of the House of Delegates -- has endorsed an underdog candidate, this time in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 57th District.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson (who once held the seat now filled by Delegate Rob Bell) has endorsed Kim Tingley. That is, a cartoon version of Mr. Jefferson does so in a TV commercial from Tingley's campaign. (Actually, I'm not sure if it's properly termed a "TV" commercial, since I haven't yet seen it on the airwaves. Perhaps it's on the low-rated CBS and ABC affiliates in Charlottesville, which are still struggling to attract more than 1,000 viewers to their evening newscasts. But it is available for viewing on Tingley's campaign web site.)

Waldo Jaquith has the best comments on this and other Tingley ads, including one where Tingley gingerly endorses gay rights without ever saying the words "gay" or "lesbian" or "homosexual" or "marriage" or "same-sex" or "same-sex marriage" ...

Breaking News: GOP Candidate in 57th House District

This email just arrived from Bob Hodous, chairman of the Charlottesville Republican Committee and co-chair of the 57th House of Delegates district GOP committee:


Tom McCrystal has pre-filed, and he is the only one. Hopefully you can make it to the meeting on June 6, 2005. Tom is already starting to raise money and working on support from people he knows because of his work with the General Assembly. He will be in a position to receive funds in about one week. Your help will be greatly appreciated. Make checks payable to Virginia's Future, and send them to 103 East Water Street, Suite 201, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

McCrystal, a computer consultant who lives in Charlottesville, will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the 57th District, to take place on June 14. The candidates for the Democratic nomination are Rich Collins, Kim Tingley, and David Toscano.

To become the official Republican candidate, McCrystal must be nominated at a 57th District mass meeting scheduled for 6:00 o'clock p.m. on June 6 at McIntire Park in Charlottesville. That mass meeting will coincide with a joint quarterly meeting of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Republican committees, as well as a potluck supper preceding the formal proceedings.

Knife Control in the United Kingdom

When I heard Neal Boortz this morning make an off-hand comment about a proposal in Britain to ban sharp-pointed kitchen knives, I thought he was just kidding -- just a joke at the expense of Britain's recent laws making self-defense illegal.

Then I found a post at the QandO Blog pointing to a New York Times article that confirms the story that Boortz told:

The authors of an editorial in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal have called for knife reform. The editorial, "Reducing knife crime: We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives," notes that the knives are being used to stab people as well as roasts and the odd tin of Spam.

The authors of the essay - Drs. Emma Hern, Will Glazebrook and Mike Beckett of the West Middlesex University Hospital in London - called for laws requiring knife manufacturers to redesign their wares with rounded, blunt tips.

The researchers noted that the rate of violent crime in Britain rose nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2004, and that in the first two weeks of 2005, 15 killings and 16 nonfatal attacks involved stabbings. In an unusual move for a scholarly work, the researchers cited a January headline from The Daily Express, a London tabloid: "Britain is in the grip of knives terror - third of murder victims are now stabbed to death." Dr. Hern said that "we came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot" to get people talking about crime reduction. "Whether it's a sensible solution to this problem or not, I'm not sure."

In the United States, where people are more likely to debate gun control than knife control, partisans on both sides sounded amused. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, asked, "Are they going to have everybody using plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airlines?"

Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun control, joked, "Can sharp stick control be far behind?" He said people in his movement were "envious" of England for having such problems. "In America, we can't even come to an agreement that guns are dangerous and we should make them safer," he said.
The response in England to this ridiculous proposal -- could it be satire? -- was predictably cool. The Yorkshire Post reported that "police in Yorkshire last night called the idea impractical, unenforceable and even slightly silly." The newspaper cited two prominent police officials who questioned the wisdom of the doctors' recommendation:
[The] president of the Police Superintendents Association, Rick Naylor, a South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent, said the idea was "slightly silly".

He said: "I can see the doctors' point but it would be absolutely tortuous for any law enforcer to try to put down that law in writing.

"I think we would end up catching people who should not be caught and perhaps letting those who should be caught get away."

The chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, Tom McGhie, agreed.

"I would support anything which takes weapons out of the hands of people who use them to do harm to others. But although this is a good idea in principle, it's probably impractical and unenforceable in practice."
If this latest proposal is in fact some sort of parody, it's not hard to see why. The left-leaning quality paper, The Guardian, explains:
The Home Office said the law already prohibited the possession of knives in a public place without good reason, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding 8cm (3in). The government has also announced plans to make knives harder to buy and to raise the minimum age for ownership from 16 to 18.

And don't think that the writers for the British Medical Journal were not comprehensive in their research. They went to great lengths to determine that pointy kitchen knives were unnecessary even in the kitchen. They interviewed fifteen -- that's 15 -- chefs. Surely that is the majority of users of kitchen knives in Britain. Here's the full passage from their article, just so you don't think I'm making this up (emphasis added)
Perhaps the pointed kitchen knife has a culinary purpose that we have failed to appreciate? We contacted 10 chefs in the UK who are well known from their media activities and chefs working in the kitchens of five leading London restaurants. Some commented that a point is useful in the fine preparation of some meat and vegetables, but that this could be done with a short pointed knife (less than 5 cm in length). None gave a reason why the long pointed knife was essential. Domestic knife manufacturers (Harrison-Fisher Knife Company, England, personal communication, 2005) admit that their designs are based on traditional shapes and could give no functional reason why long pointed knives are needed. The average life of a kitchen knife is estimated to be about 10 years.

And if this methodology is not inadequate enough, it's probably also an exaggeration. According to The Scotsman:
The doctors claimed they had consulted leading chefs who said the knives were not needed for cooking - a claim disputed by chefs contacted by The Scotsman.

* * *

Restaurateurs and chefs reacted angrily to suggestions of banning kitchen knives. Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, said: "Kitchen knives are designed for a purpose. It would be like asking a surgeon to perform an operation with a bread knife instead of a scalpel. Anything in the house like a cricket bat could be used as weapon in the hands of an idiot."
In addition to law enforcement officials and chefs who see the idiocy in this proposal, even leading doctors question it. The Glasgow Evening Times quotes Rudy Crawford of that city's Royal Infirmary:
"I would rather focus more on the culture of carrying weapons rather than trying to ban them.

"I would have thought a ban would be very difficult to implement.

"And what else would you outlaw - screwdrivers? We see a lot of people stabbed by them."

Perhaps what is most disturbing about this proposal is that it is taken seriously in a Britain that has abandoned the historical right of the people to keep and bear arms, a right enshrined in the British Bill of Rights of 1689 and described quite clearly by the Recorder of London (that is, the city attorney of London) in 1780, just eleven years before the same right was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution:
The right of his majesty's Protestant subjects, to have arms for their own defence, and to use them for lawful purposes, is most clear and undeniable. It seems, indeed, to be considered, by the ancient laws of this kingdom, not only as a right, but as a duty; for all the subjects of the realm, who are able to bear arms, are bound to be ready, at all times, to assist the sheriff, and other civil magistrates, in the execution of the laws and the preservation of the public peace. And that right, which every Protestant most unquestionably possesses, individually, may, and in many cases must, be exercised collectively, is likewise a point which I conceive to be most clearly established by the authority of judicial decisions and ancient acts of parliament, as well as by reason and common sense.
(I found that illuminating quotation in a review by David Kopel of Joyce Lee Malcolm's 1994 book, To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right.)

It's a sad day indeed when an ancient and respected right is replaced by nannyism and disdain for personal responsibility.

Tom DeLay: Criminal Intent

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has his knickers in a twist over a reference to him made on the season finale of the NBC-TV crime drama, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

According to the Washington Times' "Inside Politics" column on May 27,

On the program, an assistant district attorney announces that someone has killed "an African-American judge, an appellate court judge, no less." Another character says police are "setting up a task force. People are talking about multiple assassination teams." [Note from RS: The "African-American judge" was also characterized as the "most conservative" on that court.]

Noting a similarity between the judge's death and a previous shooting for which a white supremacist was accused, a detective on the show says, "Looks like the same shooters. [Investigators] found the slug in a post, matched it to the one that killed Judge Barton. Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."
DeLay responded with a letter of complaint to the network. As quoted by CNN:
"This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse," DeLay wrote in a letter to NBC President Jeff Zucker.

"I can only assume last night's slur was in response to comments I have made in the past about the need for Congress to closely monitor the federal judiciary, as prescribed in our constitutional system of checks and balances."
DeLay has, indeed, been critical of the federal judiciary. The Washington Post noted in a May 11 article that DeLay has "complained about an 'arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary,'" going on to report that
The Constitution specifies that Congress will set the jurisdiction and budgets of the courts, and Republican lawmakers began agitating to exercise that power after Schiavo's death. DeLay drew wide attention to the issue by declaring that the judges involved in that case would have to "answer for their behavior." As a guide to his views on the subject, DeLay has been urging reporters to read "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America," by Mark R. Levin.
I saw the episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that mentioned DeLay, although I normally do not watch that program. (It happened to be in the timeslot regularly filled by the original Law & Order franchise, which I do watch.) I, too, was surprised -- almost shocked -- when I heard his name, but not for the same reason that Mr. DeLay was upset.

It struck me as odd that a program like this would make such a discrete reference to contemporary political controversy, because such a reference makes the show more timebound than it ought to be. It reduces the syndication value of Law & Order: CI, since five years from now, few viewers will understand what even today is a throwaway line about a marginal (in the grand scheme of things) political figure. Imagine who will be watching a rerun of this show on some UPN affiliate in 2010 or 2011. Even if the viewers know who Tom DeLay is, they will surely have no idea that he was highly critical of federal judges in an ephemeral controversy of the spring of 2005.

Not long ago, I pointed out here how DeLay had demonstrated how he had gone off the deep end in criticizing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for using the Internet to aid his legal research.

While DeLay may have some justification in complaining to NBC about the use of his name in connection to fictional TV criminals who kill the judges who make them unhappy, he should have kept his complaint private. By releasing his letter to the media, he draws more attention to the program than it otherwise would have received. Such political grandstanding aims to make a political mountain out of an entertainment molehill -- and makes a political molehill out of DeLay himself, because through this public complaint, he diminishes himself by suggesting he is too thin-skinned to take the criticism that a public figure is sure to receive.

Inch by inch, Tom DeLay demonstrates that he is incapable of being an effective leader for the Republican party in Congress. He should step down and let someone with real ability and political courage take his place.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

No More ED Drugs on Taxpayers' Dime

Prompted by news that Medicaid offices in New York state had paid out more than $85,000 over the past five years to provide Viagra to convicted sex offenders, authorities around the country are moving to end the practice of using tax money to underwrite the sex lives of the underclass. The New York report was quickly followed by one in Florida that revealed that, over the past four years, $93,000 of taxpayers' money was spent to give 218 sex criminals erections.

Now Governor Jeb Bush is seeking federal approval to deny the provision of Viagra and other recreational drugs (Cialis, Levitra) to all Medicaid recipients.

The question is: Why does he need federal approval? Why was the government picking the pockets of the taxpayer to build trouser tents?

According to the Associated Press, "It's not clear how many people in Florida are being reimbursed for Viagra or other drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, or ED. But [Florida Agency for Health Care Administration] spokesman Jonathan Burns said the state paid out $4 million for about 170,000 claims for ED drugs in calendar year 2004."

Four million dollars? For party drugs? A Republican state legislator, Ray Allen of Grand Prairie, Texas, said that "convicted sex offenders do not have a right to have a happy sex life at the expense of taxpayers." That's clear -- but is Mr. Allen implying that other people do possess such a right? Just which Texans -- or Americans -- does he think are entitled to "a happy sex life" at our expense?

At least veteran U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has seen the light. According to Reuters,

No federal money could be spent to pay for Pfizer Inc.'s Viagra and other drugs for enhancing sexual performance under legislation unveiled on Tuesday by a key Republican senator.

Viagra and competing impotence treatments Levitra and Cialis are "lifestyle" drugs that taxpayers should not have to cover, said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated the Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs would spend $2 billion on such drugs between 2006 -- when new Medicare prescription drug benefits start -- and 2015.

"We live in a world of limited resources and those dollars could be spent more wisely," Grassley said.

* * *

Grassley's bill would prohibit any federal program from spending money on Viagra, Levitra and Cialis when the drugs are prescribed for sexual performance. Researchers are studying other uses of the drugs and the legislation would not prevent coverage if the medicines were used for other treatments, Grassley said.

Imagine -- a politician with common sense in Washington! Too bad Grassley has to get the rest of Congress to go along with his proposal. The erectile dysfunction lobby is sure to flood Capitol Hill with little blue pills in an effort to preserve its taxpayer subsidy. Grassley and the taxpayers will need some help against that onslaught.

Update on Trespasser Rich Collins

Apparently Coy Barefoot, author of The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson on Leadership has joined the on-air staff of WINA radio.

At least it was Barefoot's voice reporting that the ACLU has taken on the case of 57th District House of Delegates candidate Rich Collins, who was arrested for trespassing (a Class 1 misdemeanor) after he refused to leave the privately-owned Shoppers' World shopping center after being asked to do so by the property owners.

The WINA web site summarizes the report:

There's a new development in the saga that involves a local candidate for the General Assembly. WINA News has learned the Virginia ACLU will champion the cause of House of Delegates candidate Rich Collins. Democrat Collins has been out campaigning for the 57th District House seat, and he found out the company that manages Shoppers' World frowns on that activity. The retiring UVA professor was charged May 7th with a misdemeanor offense of trespassing on private property. Collins will appear in Albemarle General District Court on July 5th.
We reported on Collins disrespect for private property and the rights of property owners on May 15. The Hook had an extensive report on the case in its May 19 edition, noting that the ACLU was attentive to Collins' plight:
"We're obviously interested in the case," says Kent Willis, head of ACLU of Virginia. A research committee will make an initial decision, and the case would have to be approved by the ACLU board when it meets May 21.

In Robins v. Pruneyard [sic], the Supreme Court decided that political speech protected by the first amendment applies only to public property, explains Willis-- but states are free to write their own laws to extend that protection to shopping malls, which California had done.

"We'd ask the Virginia Supreme Court to interpret free speech rights on private property," says Willis. "If town centers have disappeared and are replaced with shopping centers and malls, we're looking to extend those rights to shopping centers and malls."

If "town centers have disappeared," they certainly have not done so in Charlottesville.

In fact, Charlottesville -- all of which is in the 57th District -- provides one of the best examples of reviving the agora, the public square, in the form of its downtown mall. Not only does the bustling pedestrian mall extend for more than 10 blocks smack in the center of town, it is going to be the site of a gargantuan chalkboard that will be a living monument to the First Amendment, a place where anyone can write anything they want to comment on politics, culture, the arts, or neighborhood gossip. The chalkboard will also have a podium, representing the old-fashioned soapbox on the street corner that even today symbolizes freedom of speech. Billionaire John Kluge recently gave a substantial contribution to underwrite the First Amendment monument, and Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek emceed a fundraiser at the Paramount Theatre that raised $17,000 for it. The monument is a project of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

In addition to the downtown mall, Charlottesville also boasts an extensive network of city parks: McIntire Park, where the Fourth of July fireworks take place each year; Azalea Park, Lee Park (named after Robert E. Lee), and Washington Park (named after Booker T., not George, Washington), to name just a few of the 23 parks within Charlottesville's 11 square miles.

Perhaps there is some other community in the country, even in Virginia, where all (legally and technically and practically) public spaces have been absorbed or erased by private property owners. We are blessed with plenty of public spaces in which to assemble and exercise our rights to free speech.

Tony the Tiger Roars No More

Thurl Ravenscroft of Fullerton, whose voice was known worldwide through his work in movies, TV and at Disneyland, died Sunday from prostate cancer. He was 91.

Tony the Tiger?

That was Ravenscroft.

The Pageant of the Masters narrator?

Ravenscroft again.

Disneyland? Too many voices to mention, but Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room were all graced by Ravenscroft’s pliable, unique voice.

Movies? How about "Cinderella," "Dumbo" and "Lady and the Tramp"?

* * *

In 1952, Ravenscroft achieved a measure of immortality, thanks to a TV commercial.

"I’m the only man in the world that has made a career with one word: Grrrrreeeeat!" Ravenscroft roared in a 1996 interview with The Orange County Register. "When Kellogg’s brought up the idea of the tiger, they sent me a caricature of Tony to see if I could create something for them. After messing around for some time I came up with the ‘Great!’ roar, and that’s how it’s been since then."

Ravenscroft's distinctive basso voice can also be heard on the familiar soundtrack of the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While Boris Karloff provided the narration, Ravenscroft sang the immortal line, "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch."

The breakfast cereal jungles have lost a mean roar.

Howard Morris, 1919-2005

Actor, comedian, and director Howard Morris has died at the age of 85. My first acquaintance with Morris came from the cast album of the 1960 Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow, in which he played Og, the leprechaun originated by David Wayne in 1947 and played by Tommy Steele in the 1968 movie. Morris' impish qualities were perfect for songs like "Something Sort of Grandish" and "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I'm Near)".

Morris made his mark, however, on television. He was a semi-regular on The Andy Griffith Show and he directed the premiere episode of Get Smart. He guest starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

What most of us remember Howard Morris for is his association in the 1950s with Sid Caesar, on Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. Morris was in dozens -- if not hundreds -- of memorable sketches. Just say the words "Uncle Goopy" or "the General's dresser" and comic images instantly come to mind.

In his 2003 memoir, Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter, Sid Caesar tells some amusing anecdotes about Morris (pages 85-86):

I was a very physical comedian and I needed a sidekick who was not only funny but was a person I could pick up with one hand. When Howard Morris first came in to audition, I reached out, grabbed him by the lapels, lifted him up, and did the scene. I turned to Max [Liebman, the producer] and said, "I think he's going to be okay." We did a sketch together early on where I was the violin teacher and Howie was the student. Howie was supposed to have an aluminum plate hidden under a wig, but he forgot to put it on. "No, no, no! Not like that." I took the bow out of his hand. Each no was followed by a rap on the head with the bow. I kept whacking him on the head, and after a few of my shots he started to go down. I realized he didn't have the plate on and I had to ad-lib right away. So I grabbed him and waltzed off the stage. "That's your lesson for today," I said. Howie went right with it. He was game for anything and became a core member of the troupe.

Howie and Mel Brooks also became fast friends. When Howie first came on board, Max introduced him to the writers: Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and a little Frenchman named "Monsieur Bri," who Max saidwas researching American television. For the next two days, Monsieur Bri said very little to Howie. When he did speak, it was in broken french, which was laced with what sounded suspiciously like Yiddish. On the third day, Monsieur Bri walked up to Howie, extended his hand, losing the French accent, and said, "Howie, how the hell are you?"

Despite their friendship, Howie became, like everyone else, a victim of Mel's insanity. Just before one Christmas, Howie and Mel were leaving rehearsal at the City Center. At the bottom of the stairs, Mel turned to Howie and said, "Stick 'em up." Howie said "What are you doing," which only made Mel angrier. "Shut up, give me everything you got! EVERYTHING!!" So Howie gave Mel his watch, his wedding ring, his wallet, his driver's license. In short, everything. Mel gave it all back the next day as a Christmas gift.

The following year, history and Mel repeated themselves. Howie and Mel were in a rowboat in the pond in Central Park, and as Howie rowed under a bridge, Mel said, "Give me your wallet, or I'll throw you in the water and drown you." Mel was so crazy, you had to believe him, so Howie gave up all his valuables. Howie then took off his shoes, stepped out of the boat into the three-feet-deep water, and walked back to shore. Mel again gave everything back the following Christmas as a gift. The holidays meant a lot to him.
Throughout the book are descriptions of the sketches that paired Morris with Caesar as well as with Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and many distinguished guest stars. While reading about a sketch or even seeing its transcript can be amusing, it is no substitute for watching the original performances. Let's hope that, like so many other programs from the Golden Age of Television, Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour (and perhaps even the Admiral Broadway Revue) are made available in toto on DVD.

American Century Theatre to Mount 'Emperor Jones'

My most recent experience with Eugene O'Neill was a production of Ah, Wilderness! at Live Arts in Charlottesville a couple of seasons ago. Ah, Wilderness! is an atypical O'Neill play -- for one thing, it's a comedy, the only one of O'Neill's plays that could possibly have been adapted into a musical (which it was, as Take Me Along, starring Robert Morse and Jackie Gleason). It's also a coming-of-age story that suggests that O'Neill was not completely warped by an unhappy childhood and adolescence. The O'Neill family's addictions to opium and booze and self-pity did not leave Eugene completely bereft of pleasant memories.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to see Jason Robards, the actor who defined Eugene O'Neill in the popular imagination, in both A Touch of the Poet and The Iceman Cometh. Those productions were at the Kennedy Center in Washington more years ago than I care to remember. In high school, my English class went to see Long Day's Journey into Night at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago; one of my great regrets from the year I lived in London was not seeing that play directed on the West End by Jonathan Miller, with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey in the leads.

In the summer of 1999, I saw Thirst, an early one-act play by O'Neill about three people on a raft after a shipwreck. It was on a double-bill at the American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, with a one-act by Elaine May called Adaptation, described as "a contest, played like Parcheesi, in which the contestant advances or is sent back through the seven ages of man." The two plays were so dissimilar that I was flummoxed and failed to write a review of the evening's program, "Two Masks." Adaptation is a fanciful comedy that, while it has philosophical undertones, aims its barbs at the popular culture of the 1960s. (The play was first published in 1969.) Thirst, being early O'Neill, does not show the playwright at his best -- at times it seems overwritten, more in the style of The Count of Monte Cristo that made his father famous, than in the modern idiom that was O'Neill's contribution to American theatre and literature. Still, it is clearly a naturalistic drama, nothing like the surreal comedy of May's Adaptation.

Now comes the announcement that O'Neill is returning to the American Century Theatre, this time in the form of The Emperor Jones -- the play that made Paul Robeson famous. This very dark, Darwinistic drama is seldom produced (naturally, otherwise TACT would not have much of a challenge), so I look forward to seeing it. (I have seen excerpts of the 1933 movie starring Robeson, which was salvaged after many years of being lost.) Some may lay charges of political incorrectness against this portrayal of a black man who becomes a brutal dictator, but such philistines must be resisted. The Emperor Jones explores the same universal questions of what turns a man from good to evil as Revenge of the Sith does.

Here is the announcement from TACT about its upcoming production of The Emperor Jones:

Eugene O’Neill Classic: The Emperor Jones featuring Bus Howard
Next for American Century Theater: Opens June 23rd

The American Century Theater’s next production is one of the most daring dramas in the entire American stage repertoire: Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. When it was first produced in 1921, The Emperor Jones made it clear that its playwright was determined to make good on his pledge to re-make drama into something more vital and challenging than earlier generations could even imagine.

At the height of Jim Crow racism and with the Ku Klux Klan ascendant, The Emperor Jones presented to the white main-stream theater audiences a character study of a complex, powerful, flawed tragic hero who was black. It was an immediate sensation, and had two Broadway productions within four years, the second starring Paul Robeson. Robeson went on to play "Brutus Jone" in the movie version of the play.

"We have wanted to do this marvelous drama since the American Century Theater was founded," says Artistic Director Jack Marshall. "For ten years we have been looking for the right director, and the actor who can play Brutus Jones. We found them."

The director is TACT Artistic Associate Ed Bishop, who has a long list of stage achievements over the past two decades. His personal quest has been to oversee the revival of classic plays about the African-American experience that more timid theater companies have shelved for fear of being castigated for being socially wrong-headed.

"Brutus Jones is a man on the way to self-discovery and O’Neill boldly exposes his complex inner-emotions," says Bishop. "His terrifying experiences as he flees for his life pursued by his former followers, his enemies and especially his own personal demons will connect with all of us."

Taking on the daring and huge role of Brutus Jones is Bus Howard, a veteran of such Arena Stage productions as The Great White Hope and Polk County. Most recently, he has been seen in the continuing role of “Ott” on the HBO’s hit series, "The Wire."

The cast includes Tel Monks, Linda Williams, Patricia Buignet, Bruce Allen Dawson, Constance Ejuma, Clarence V.M. Fletcher, DeLon Howell, James Lewis, and KC Wright. Producer Rhonda Hill has assembled technical artisans such as Tom Kennedy (The Andersonville Trial, Machinal) Set Designer, Rip Claassen (The Time of Your Life, Paradise Lost) Costumer, Ann Marie Castrigno, Lighting Designer, Suzanne Maloney (The Time of Your Life) Props Designer, and Patricia Buigney, Movement Coordinator.

The play is famous for its use of drums to build feverish suspense, as well as its expressionistic portrayals of ghosts, dreams, animals and "Formless Fears."

"Melvin Deal and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers" are pivotal to set the scenes for The Emperor Jones, as music is an important part of the production. The rhythms of drums are heard throughout the production.

Marshall hastens to add. "The play never lags. And audiences will be in the middle of the action of this dangerous play. Audiences will also be able to get their O’Neill fix without a four hour commitment."

The Emperor Jones runs June 23-July 23. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM with 2:30 matinees on July 10, 17 and 23. Tickets are $18-$26. Performances are at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia 22206. Call 703-553-8782 or visit www.americancentury.org for information and reservations.

The American Century Theater is a 501 (C)(3) professional nonprofit theater company dedicated to producing, great, important and neglected 20th Century American playwrights. TACT is funded in part by the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division of the Department of Parks Recreation and Community Services, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, numerous foundations and many generous donors.