Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bill of Rights Day 2008

I have been remiss in failing to post the video of this year's Bill of Rights Day commemoration by the Jefferson Area Libertarians at the First Amendment Monument across from Charlottesville's City Hall on Monday, December 15.

This annual event has taken place, in one form or another, for more than a decade. This year there was a featured speaker from out-of-state, Duke University political science professor Mike Munger, who was the Libertarian Party's candidate for governor of North Carolina in 2008. Professor Munger won a sufficient number of votes to gain the LP ballot status in the Tarheel State for the next four years.

In this first segment, JAL's John Munchmeyer introduces the ceremony, and he and James Curtis lead the participants a formal reading of the text of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution), including its seldom-heard preamble.



In the second segment, Dr. James Lark, a former national chairman of the Libertarian Party who teaches at the University of Virginia, delivers brief (2 minutes 40 seconds) remarks.



In part three, John Munchmeyer discusses the Second Amendment and Mike Munger addresses the participants.



Finally, in the fourth of the four parts, Munchmeyer discusses the much-neglected Tenth Amendment and other, related topics as he closes the ceremony.



The eve of a new year is an appropriate time to reflect on our rights and liberties, which must be vigorously defended so they are not lost to violence or attrition. With a new administration taking the reins of government in only three weeks, now is a good time to reflect on the need to be vigilant in the defense of liberty. Enthusiasm and good intentions are liberty's greatest -- and stealthiest -- enemies.




Don't forget to check out the Christmas ornaments and greeting cards at my CafePress shop and the quirky gift ideas I posted at the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As Featured In ...

My two Christmas-related blogposts from yesterday (Christmas in Milwaukee - 1959 and Later, about my childhood holidays in the city that made beer famous, and A New Christmas Tradition in Arlington, which is a review of the new holiday musical revue at the American Century Theater) are now featured in the 2008 Carnival of Christmas, hosted by CatHouse Chat and posted earlier today.

My twinned posts get a place of honor (thanks, Kat!) in a section called "Christmas Traditions and Memories." (The first of several such sections, followed by "Christmas Meditations," "Christmas Recipes," "Christmas Songs, Pictures, Video, and Poetry," "Christmas Advent Series," "Christmas Humor," "Christmas Miscellany," and "Christmas Delays" -- quite a list, and quite readable, at that.) Take a look:

Our Carnival Daddy, Adam Graham, starts us off in this category with The Christmas Advantage. Don’t forget, in these uncertain times, “a lean Christmas doesn’t have to be a poor one.” Amen, Adam. Amen!

Jenn H. presents His Christmas Legacy over at Mixed Metaphor.net. It is a beautiful and touching tale about the simple faithfulness of the season, and how rich a simple, loving life can be.

Rick Sincere, one of my Virginia blog-brothers, has sent in two delightful posts – one about his memories of how his family celebrated Christmas in Milwaukee (and he’s got pictures AND a video – gosh, you were a cute kid, Rick!). I love seeing how other families have traditions springing out of their former cultures… His second entry is no less worthy, and speaks about new traditions being made, this time in Arlington, VA. I will definitely have to try and get up there next year for some good music and theater – maybe Rick can get me the tickets! LOL *wink*

Have you ever wondered whether wrapping presents is worth it? Well, according to a study that GrrlScientist dug up, it certainly is!

Suldog reposts Pointy the Poinsettia this year, and all Pointy’s fans will be delighted to know he’s doing very well!

TF Stern sent in his Gingerbread Cookie Tradition – which ought to go in the recipes section, except it’s not a recipe. It’s a story about sacrifice in lean times, and how the true value of any gift is how much of yourself you put into it.

Here is a very worthwhile read: Teaching Your Children About Giving on Christmas Day. Vickie of SidetrackedMoms is one of our prolific contributors this year, and I think this is my favorite entry from her. But then again, I also adore her post about Christmas traditions, so you ought to go over and decide for yourself!

Oh, I remember cutting our own Christmas tree – and this story about a family’s first experience with cutting their own tree is both funny and heartwarming… Thanks to Philaazophy for this contribution!

Laura Lee Donoho tells us a beautiful tale of how she learned to give the gift someone wanted. That’s a very difficult lesson to learn – we often want to give what we think someone ought to want – but Laura relates the story with a simple honesty that is truly touching. There’s a lot more, so you really really need to go read! Thank you, Laura; I’m so glad you found the Carnival this year! (And Jo was always my favorite, too!)

My dear blog-brother – and new grandapa! – GM Roper writes about Daddy Bah and his Gift of Love. The GMan writes so well, and the story of enduring and selfless love will really bless your heart!

How many of us sing the story of Frosty the Snowman? Well, Jody Wilcoxat Contemporary Conservative shows us how very like Jesus ol’ Frosty is… And does an exemplary job of reminding us of the meaning of Christmas!

Obi’s Sister sends in two entries of Christmas memories: the Best Santa Ever! and one about singing with Robert Shaw’s youth chorus one year *happy shivers* I love hearing big, well-trained choirs sing!

Finally for this section, Big Dog (yeppers, another blog-brother!) reminds us that a Simple Gift for Christmas is what it’s all about.

You can read the rest here.

Not only does Kat deserve thanks and kudos for putting together an extensive and entertaining Carnival of Christmas, she also is due some congratulations for having the carnival linked by Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit. (Watch that holiday traffic go through the roof!)

Merry Christmas, everybody!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Milwaukee - 1959 and Later

This past weekend on public radio's A Prairie Home Companion, Broadway director and actor Walter Bobbie reminisced about celebrating Christmas in a Polish-American family in Scranton, Pennsylvania (when Scranton was known more for coal mining than for Dunder-Mifflin paper products) during the 1950s and '60s.

Bobbie's memories described something remarkably close to the Christmas traditions practiced by my own Polish-American family in Milwaukee in the 1960s and '70s.

For instance, Bobbie told the radio audience about the sharing of opłatki (singular: opłatek), a flat wafer similar to the host served at Communion. He noted that his family members would send opłatki in Christmas cards (as did members of my family who would be far away at Christmas time), and that on Christmas Eve, family members would break off a piece and give it to each other, along with a greeting of "Christ's peace." They might, he said, dip it in honey. (We did not include honey in our ritual.)

A book called Treasured Polish Christmas Customs and Traditions, published in 1972 by the Polanie Publishing Co. of Minneapolis, gives some background on opłatek:

Little or no food had been eaten during the day. All waited for the most significant moment of the entire Wilia [vigil] supper, the breaking and sharing of the opłatek. The host and hostess enacted the ancient rite of the opłatek, facing one another each holding an opłatek, each breaking and sharing a part of the other's. They embraced warmly and expressed their love by wishing for each other, a fulfillment of their deepest yearnings. Then they broke and shared the opłatek with each one present, with messages of love (sometimes in rhyme) of good health, happiness, and an untroubled life, for one to be as sweet as the springtime and to live do dosiego roku, to live as long as "Dosia" lived. She was reputed to be many years over a hundred when she died, jolly and alert to the end, but no one could be found who knew her. The hostess performed a special task when she shared her opłatek with all those present. Besides the good wishes and love, she expressed without words that she would share her bread with those present here, should they be in need, just as she herself sould be willing to take from them, should her position be reversed.

The
opłatek, frail, perishable, has for all Poles a mystical meaning which cannot be explained logically. At Christmas time it is sent to absent members and close friends in strange lands, who in their loneliness, partake of it, as of communion with their loved ones at home.

The
opłatek, of little monatery value, is the treasured link that brings warm memories of Poland to her children settled in different parts of the world. Losing reality for the moment, they once again dream that they are seated with the family at the Wilia table, enjoying the blessing, forgiveness and warmth of those under the parental roof. At the time of this writing, it can be obtained from the nuns in the convents of America where a large number are of Polish ancestry.
Bobbie also said that dinner on Christmas Eve in his home was austere: fried herring, cabbage soup, and prunes for dessert. (This elicited groans from the audience at Town Hall in New York.) I am happy to say that this was not the tradition in my family by the time I was born (my dad usually brought home a bucket of chicken from Dutchland Dairy to spare my mother the task of cooking), but it is similar to the Christmas meal prepared by my great-grandfather and described to me years later by my mother: scrambled eggs, fish, and -- yes! -- prunes for dessert.

Finally, Bobbie said, after the early evening rituals, he and his family crowded into a car and traveled from house to house, starting with the youngest uncle until they ended up at his Uncle Johnny's place in Jersey City.

I thought I was listening to a recitation of my own childhood Christmas memories.

When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was the big affair and Christmas Day, as pleasant as it was, was almost an anticlimactic afterthought. Perhaps Christmas Eve memories remain more vivid to me today because the anxious anticipation of that night made it so embeddable in the mind and soul of a seven-year-old.

Here is how our family celebrated on Christmas Eve.

Each year a different aunt or uncle (siblings of my mother's mother) would host a party for exchange of opłatki and of gifts. Eventually my mother and her sister would, as adults with children, share in the hosting duties. No meal was served -- each individual family would take care of dinner ahead of time -- but dessert was available, and Christmas cookies, and herring and crackers and other delicacies, and plenty of beer and liquor. (This was Milwaukee, after all, and we were Polish.)

Before heading off to the family gathering, my parents would drive over to the convent attached to my school (St. Agnes in Butler) and deliver two gallon jugs of wine and a box of Christmas cookies to the sisters who taught me. It was during one of those deliveries when, at age 7 and sitting in the back seat, I read an article in The Milwaukee Journal that explained the origins of Santa Claus. It opened my eyes but I didn't let on for a while, perhaps thinking that if I revealed a disbelief in Santa, there may not be gifts under the tree for me on Christmas morning.

So one year the party might be at the Michalak residence, the next at the Czutas, the next at the Jaegers, the Geilenfeldts, and eventually at the Benkerts and Sinceres. But the pattern always remained the same: share opłatki and wish everyone, individually, a Merry Christmas, followed by an exchange of presents, with the youngest cousin opening his or hers first, and circling around the room by age until the floor was strewn with wrapping paper and toys and games were piled high in front of each recipient. (The last year I remember hosting at our house was my senior year of high school, 1976, and some classmates of mine from Marquette University High School arrived "unexpectedly," costumed as Santa Claus and his elves. That was a treat for the young ones, of course, and a minor break in the pattern.)

After that party broke up, usually around 10:00 o'clock, we began to make the rounds of homes in the Sincere family. We would start at my father's parents' house, then move on to my Uncle Bill's and Uncle Carl's and sometimes other homes, as well. At each stop there was lots of smoke (cigarette and cigar) and lots of booze.

I am astounded, given the snowy and icy weather that accompanied Christmas Eve in Milwaukee, and given all the heavy drinking going on, that we made it home without crashing into a snowbank or telephone pole. But we did.

As a child, Christmas Eve meant sitting in the back seat of the car, staring out the window at the sky and wondering if I would catch a glimpse of Santa's sleigh. Before leaving our house, we would listen to the Santa trackers from NORAD in periodic broadcasts on radio station WEMP, which played wall-to-wall Christmas music all day and all night. (And not that monotonous dreck played by "all-Christmas" stations these days -- radio stations in the 1960s had a much longer, much more varied playlist than they do in 2008.)

We would finally get home around 3:00 a.m., which is very late for a 7- or 8-year-old. Worn out by all the activities, my dad would carry me into the house, lay me in my bed, and, before I knew it, the sun was shining through my window and I discovered that Santa had, indeed, arrived with a load of presents.

My Christmas-childhood ended, in a manner of speaking, when I was 15 years old. That year, I joined my parents in laying out the gifts underneath the Christmas tree in the late-night hours of Christmas Eve after my younger sister had gone to bed. That transformed me into an adult for the holidays. (The next year, of course, when I was old enough to drive, was even more of a transformation -- I became the designated driver for the evening, which meant my mom and dad could imbibe even more freely than in all previous years. And I'm not talking wassail, either.) With age comes responsibility.

When my parents moved, with my sister, to Las Vegas while I was in college (in 1979), we did our best to continue the traditions with which we had grown up in Milwaukee. Even if it was just the four of us together on Christmas Eve, we would share an opłatek wafer and then attend a Polish-language Mass at St. Anne's Catholic Church on South Maryland Parkway. It was a little bit of snowy home brought to life in the arid desert.

While looking through some old home movies that had been converted to VHS and DVD, I recently came upon a sequence from Christmas in 1959. (Luckily for me, my grandfather -- who took most of the film -- included the date clearly in one shot.) That turns out to be my first Christmas, and you can see me opening presents on Christmas morning -- at the age of eight months!

The family posed and singing in this video seems to be from my mother's father's side of the family: Michalaks and Labinskis and Sasses and Ambrowiaks. In later years, we would celebrate with those branches of the family on a date closer to Epiphany rather than on Christmas Eve, on a Saturday evening in which we went from one house to another in a "progressive" dinner, each home serving a different course in a full meal. (The first two houses would be drinks and hors d'oeuvres, the third house would be drinks and salad, the fourth house would be drinks and the main course, and the last house would serve after-dinner drinks and dessert.)



The musical soundtrack I have added to this video consists of traditional Polish carols -- known as kolendy and pastoralki -- some of which were sung by Walter Bobbie last weekend on A Prairie Home Companion. And so the circle is complete.


Don't forget to check out the Christmas ornaments and greeting cards at my CafePress shop and the quirky gift ideas I posted at the start of the Christmas shopping season.



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A New Christmas Tradition in Arlington

I missed the opening night performance of The American Century Theater's new production, An American Century Christmas, but I did catch a matinee last Sunday. I wish I had seen it earlier so that I could get the word out that this is a show worth seeing. (The run ends on January 4.)

The show is a musical revue done very much in the style of a TV variety show of the 1950s or '60s. (A format that has declined and disappeared, as noted by TACT's artistic director Jack Marshall in an audience guide for the show.)

I am hoping that, despite the midweek holiday, my review will appear in this week's edition of The Metro Herald. (If not, it will certainly be in the January 2 issue.) Here is a preview:

‘American Century Christmas’ Launches New Holiday Tradition
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Behold, we bring you tidings of great joy: This month, in the County of Arlington, a new Christmas tradition is born.

The American Century Theater (TACT), which since 1994 has been reviving great and obscure plays of the 20th century in a black-box theatre within Gunston Middle School, now brings us a delightful compilation of song and dialogue that traces the celebration of Christmas in America.

Conceived and compiled by TACT’s artistic director Jack Marshall, musical director Tom Fuller, and assistant director Kathryn Fuller, An American Century Christmas could – if the company wills it – become a Washington-area holiday tradition that can rival A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre. (That story, by the way, is reduced to 90 seconds in TACT’s telling.)

Largely a musical revue, like those that peppered Broadway in mid-century, An American Century Christmas is family-friendly and audience-interactive. (Come prepared to answer Christmas trivia questions and be rewarded with a Tootsie Pop, with even more substantial prizes for children.)

A warm and welcoming set (designed by Trena Weiss-Null) looks much like the studio sets that hosted annual Christmas specials of the 1950s and ‘60s that featured Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and many other singers and comedians who often brought out their families to join in the celebration. (One irony, of course, is that many of these “Christmas” specials, with principals and ensemble bundled up in sweaters and parkas, were taped far in advance, often in August in Los Angeles. The last of the Bing Crosby Christmas specials – the one where he performed a haunting duet with David Bowie – was produced in the summer and broadcast months after Crosby’s death in 1977.) Colorful costumes – with an emphasis on shades of red and green, of course -- by Rip Claassen add flavor and a note of nostalgia to the production.

Besides a plethora of Christmas songs, both secular and religious, An American Century Christmas includes dialogue scenes from It's a Wonderful Life, Earl Hamner’s The Homecoming (precursor of The Waltons), Miracle on 34th Street, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, with readings of The Littlest Angel and a poem by Edgar Guest, a musical number from The Dick Van Dyke Show (the episode known as “An Alan Brady Christmas”) and tuneful, thematic medleys -- for example, the Santa-oriented songs released annually for more than a decade by Gene Autry, and Jule Styne’s Broadway-style songs for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

The cast even recreates, on stage, the radio satire “Green Chri$tma$” by Stan Freberg. In introducing the piece, however, they repeat the factoid that, while “Green Chri$tma$” was produced and released in 1958, because it was disliked by advertisers, the skit was never played on commercial radio until 1983. I can attest that this is untrue, because I heard it on WEMP-AM in Milwaukee no later than 1972; I even quoted it in a paper I wrote for my eighth-grade English class that year. That quibble aside, it was a pleasure to see Freberg’s biting and continuingly relevant send-up of holiday advertising reproduced today.

The magic of An American Century Christmas is that it holds the potential of being re-staged every year with minor changes so that it remains fresh for each new audience.

This is because the revue is written in a modular fashion. Scenes can be rearranged, removed, and inserted almost at will without harming the flow of the piece.

For example, the Gene Autry medley – which moves from “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” through “Up on the Housetop” to “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – could be replaced with a medley of songs by Alfred Burt, who is represented later in the show with one of his “Christmas cards,” “Some Children See Him” and a brief sample of “Caroling, Caroling.”

No doubt the team of Marshall, Fuller, and Fuller hundreds of possible clips and musical manuscripts to come up with the show in its current form. No doubt many usable and entertaining items were filed away, regretfully, simply because adding them would make the show too long. (I think they gave short shrift to the Christmas songs that emerged from Broadway musicals, for instance, and could bring a few more forward in future productions.) No doubt these “leftovers” will fill a hundred nights over many Christmas seasons.

The ensemble cast does a terrific job in presenting the songs, often with a humorous twist. They relate to each other so smoothly that one might think they are members of the same family, gathered on Christmas morning to celebrate together. It would be unfair to single one out of the nine on stage (and one booming through the sound system), so here they are, as listed in the program: Ann DeMichelle, McCall Noelle Doyle, Kathryn Fuller, Bill Gordon, Adam Juran, Scott Kenison, Steve Lebens, Mick Tinder, Patricia Tinder, and Glenn L. White.

An American Century Christmas plays only through January 4 (when it will be replaced by Life with Father, whose run was interrupted for the holidays), so hurry to American Century Theater to celebrate Christmas with the cast and crew. Ticket information and showtimes can be obtained at www.americancentury.org.

Of course, if my prediction is true, you will be able to enjoy the tradition of An American Century Christmas for many, many years to come.

An American Century Christmas opened Wednesday, December 10, 2008, and runs through Sunday, January 4, 2009, at Theatre II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia 22206. Performances most weeks are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., with Saturday and/or Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., and with additional weeknight shows during the weeks of Christmas and New years. More information is available at www.AmericanCentury.org or by calling the theatre at 703-998-4555 to order tickets.

The audience guide that was compiled by Jack Marshall includes an amusing item called "The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time," by John Scalzi, which includes such titles as "An Algonquin Round Table Christmas," "The Mercury Theater of the Air Presents the Assassination of Saint Nicholas," and "A Muppet Christmas with Zbigniew Brzezinski." My personal favorite is this:
Ayn Rand’s A Selfish Christmas (1951)

In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts — and therefore Christmas — possible. Prior to broadcast, Mutual Broadcast System executives raised objections to the radio play, noting that 56 minutes of the hour-long broadcast went to a philosophical manifesto by the elf and of the four remaining minutes, three went to a love scene between Santa and the cold, practical Mrs. Claus that was rendered into radio through the use of grunts and the shattering of several dozen whiskey tumblers. In later letters, Rand sneeringly described these executives as “anti-life.”
When you see the show, be sure to pick up a copy of the audience guide. It has information that adds depth and texture to the production; it is educational without being didactic, entertaining without being flip.



Don't forget to check out the Christmas ornaments and greeting cards at my CafePress shop and the quirky gift ideas I posted at the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fifth District Recount Continues

The recount for the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia (known by its judicial name of Goode v. Perriello) has been continuing today at the Albemarle County Circuit Court in Charlottesville.

The second phase began at approximately 9:10 a.m. when the recount court convened to accept the paperwork from the 22 counties and cities in the district. (In each jurisdiction, recount officials met yesterday to review tally tapes from DRE -- electronic -- voting machines, to re-feed optical and digital scan ballots through their respective machines, and to hand-count certain ballots.)

Ten minutes later, the three judges -- Judge Tim Sanner from Albemarle County, Judge Gary A. Hicks from Henrico County, and Judge Jane Roush from Fairfax County -- recessed to allow five recount teams to review the materials.

Each team was made up of one member from the State Board of Elections, one member from a state-retained accounting firm, and one representative of each of the parties involved in the recount.

Three "floor teams" reviewed the materials first. If any problems -- even something as seemingly unimportant as a missing label on an envelope -- were encountered, the floor team turned over the materials to an "appeals team" for review. (The appeals team included James Alcorn of the SBE and lawyers from the Perriello and Goode campaigns.) Generally, once the appeals team passed on a county or city's report, it was then turned over to the "summary team," which is adding up the numbers, creating a spreadsheet, and readying the results to turn over to the judges' panel.

If, however, the appeals team is unable to resolve an issue, that matter is sent to the judges for review and decision. As of the time I had left the courthouse, nothing had been sent to the judges.

There may be a problem from at least one jurisdiction, however: There is a discrepancy in the Central Absentee Precinct of Halifax County. Because I do not fully understand the issue, I would rather not describe it here. I will say that it might be as simple as a clerical error or it could be something more serious.

Keeping all that in mind, it appears that the paperwork from most of the counties and cities in the Fifth District has been in good order. This is due to the attentiveness and competence of the election officials chosen by the two parties to act as recount officials in their home jurisdictions.

Yesterday in Charlottesville we began the recount at about 9:00 a.m. and finished by 3:35 p.m. It could have lasted much longer -- and, early in the morning, before the teams of recounters got into an efficient rhythm, it looked like we might be working until 6:00 o'clock or later -- but it didn't. Both recount officials and observers were diligent, asked intelligent questions when necessary, and took their roles seriously.

You can see some video reports on the Charlottesville recount at the NBC29 web site.

From what I was able to see by the time I left the courthouse at 2:15 p.m., there will not be a sufficient number of votes shifting to make a difference in the ultimate winner of the race. For myself, however, I am far more interested in the process -- which to many people might be akin to watching paint drying or grass growing, but which I find fascinating -- than in the outcome.

By the way, for those who might have participated in the recount (whether candidates Perriello and Goode, the many attorneys, SBE officials, local election workers, or observers from the campaign), I have created a few mementos of the occasion that can be found at CafePress, here. Now you can proudly proclaim: "I survived the 2008 Fifth Congressional District recount in Virginia!" on a ceramic travel mug, teddy bear, or t-shirt.

I will be discussing the recount tomorrow morning on Joe Thomas' program on radio station WCHV-AM. Joe, who was a recount observer both yesterday and today, invited me to talk about the process during the 8:00 o'clock a.m. hour. WCHV is found at 1260 on the AM dial. (Do they still say it that way?)

Update: As expected, Democrat Tom Perriello was declared the winner over incumbent Republican Virgil Goode. The margin of victory was 727 votes. The total number of votes for Perriello was 158,810 while the number of votes for Goode was 158,083.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Old/New Ideas for Transportation

I was digging through an unlabeled file box the other day, not knowing what I might find, when I uncovered an article I wrote more than thirteen years ago for the now-defunct Arlington Journal. Written in response to a previous article, my piece was identified as "Second Opinion" and headlined: "End the government monopoly on mass transit service."

Since transportation issues are as salient today as they were in 1995, I thought it might be worthwhile to post the text of the article here and solicit comments from readers. Do you think any of these ideas are worth pursuing today? Free-market solutions, I believe, deserve to be given a chance when government-centered programs fail to deliver all they promise.

Here is what I wrote back then, which (IMHO) remains fresh today:

End the government monopoly on mass transit service
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
(The Arlington Journal, Friday, April 21, 1995)

Some local government officials are moving in the right direction as they discuss the future of Metrobus service (“N.Va. systems threaten Transit giant,” April 11[, 1995]), but most seem too wary to step toward creativity and market-based decision making.

These local government officials deserve credit for their willingness to consider privatization of Metrobus routes as a means to make the system more cost-effective. Unfortunately, it seems that to them “privatization” is still limited to a county- or city-owned bus system to replace Metro or -- at best -- a government-granted monopoly to a private company within single jurisdictions.

Why not consider more and varied alternatives that, when used together, will have the ultimate effect of reducing costs, improving efficiency, increasing mass-transit use age, and alleviating pollution:

Here are some examples:

* Legalize Jitney service. Jitneys are vehicles smaller than buses, such as vans, that operate independently (like taxis) but on a predetermined route (like buses). The operators set their own fares, which they can base on distance traveled or on other face ton. Different jitneys can compete for the same passengers along the same routes, or a fleet of jitneys can divide up territory. Jitneys could operate within and across jurisdictions, feeding into Metrorail or connecting Tysons Corner to Silver Spring.

* Restore the Potomac’s status as a highway. The cities of Washington and Alexandria lie where they are because the Potomac River was once a major transporter of goods and people. A water-taxi service between Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown, with stops at the Washington Marina and in Arlington, could make the Potomac again a significant people mover.

* Turn Interstates 66 and 395 into toll roads, with tolls based on the number of passengers. For instance, instead of the dreaded high-occupancy vehicle lanes, we could charge vehicles a toll based on a sliding scale, such as $2 for lone drivers, $1.50 for two-passenger cars, $1 for three passengers, 75 cents for four passengers, and no charge for more than four. Such a scheme would persuade some people to take Metrorail, some to take the bus, some to car pool, and some to bear the economic price of the toll, depending on their preferences.

* End the government mass transit monopoly. These three examples only touch the surface of creative, market-based solutions that are there for us to consider and to use. The best way to encourage more use of mass transit, however, is to make more types of mass transit available, and to give commuters and travelers more choices than they have today. Allowing private services to compete with Metro on the same routes will be a good first step.

After all, we would never think it proper to grant Giant a monopoly in Fairfax County and Safeway a monopoly in Arlington County, and not let them compete against each other or against 7-Eleven. If consumers can pick a grocery store, why not let them pick a type of mass transit? And why not let entrepreneurs give them what they want?

• Richard E. Sincere Jr. of Arlington chairs the Libertarian Party of Virginia.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jefferson Loses in Louisiana

It might not be a sign that hell has frozen over -- though certainly one that lumps of illicitly acquired cash have been frozen -- but indicted long-term Louisiana incumbent William Jefferson has been defeated in a congressional runoff election in the state's second district. Anh "Joseph" Cao (pronounced like "gow"), a lawyer with little previous political experience, becomes the first immigrant from Vietnam to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cao is also the first Republican to represent the New Orleans-based district in many decades.

Jefferson's defeat marks one of the first times in modern memory that Louisiana voters have rejected a politician who lived under a cloud of corruption. (Remember Edwin Edwards' campaign slogan, "Vote for the crook, it's important", which he used to defeat Klansman David Duke?)

A Wikipedia entry on Jefferson notes that in August 2005,

FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and, as noted in an 83-page affidavit filed to support a subsequent raid on his Congressional office, "found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers." Serial numbers found on the currency in the freezer matched serial numbers of funds given by the FBI to their informant.
With regard to yesterday's runoff election, veteran political observer Hastings Wyman writes in Southern Political Report:
With all precincts reporting, Cao (pronounced “Gow”) had 33,122 votes (50%) to Jefferson’s 31,296 (47%). In a district that is 64% African-American and only 2.7% Asian, as well as about two-thirds registered Democrats, the results underscored the voters’ reaction to Jefferson’s ethical problems; the congressman will stand trial in early January on multiple federal bribery and corruption charges.

Cao, who becomes the first Vietnamese American in Congress, came to the United States from Saigon -- now Ho Chi Minh City -- when he was eight years old. He has an undergraduate degree in physics, a master’s degree in philosophy and a law degree. His only previous political experience was as an independent candidate for the state House of Representatives in which he came in fifth in a field of six.

Despite his lack of a significant political record, Cao, 41, had top-ranking support, including Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and US Rep. Steve Scalise (R) from the neighboring 1st District (Metairie, etc.), as well as some Democrats, including Helena Moreno, who lost the Democratic runoff to Jefferson on November 4; former District Attorney Harry Connick (father of the singer); and several New Orleans city council members.

While Cao made only passing references to Jefferson’s legal problem in the campaign, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) financed direct mail and automated phone calls that labeled Jefferson “crooked.” In his statement congratulating Cao, NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (OK) said, “Joseph Cao represents a new era in Louisiana - one in which voters continue to reject the politics of corruption.”
(In the photo above, Congressman Jefferson [right] shakes hands with Joseph Wilson, then the U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, at a reception sometime in 1993 or 1994.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Celebrating the 21st Amendment

Lovers of liberty and lovers of libation should celebrate today, the 75th anniversary of the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages that had been mandated by the earlier, Eighteenth Amendment.

It took a little more than a decade for Americans collectively to slap their foreheads and say to themselves, "Duh! Prohibition causes more problems than it solves."

Among the problems that Prohibition caused were twin and not unrelated evils: a growth in the size and scope of organized crime, and a growth in the size and scope of government. (Please, no comments about redundancy.) Alcohol prohibition, like the income tax, gave the federal government new and unprecedented authority to insinuate itself into the private lives of American citizens, authority that -- despite the Twenty-first Amendment -- has never dissipated.

For the fun of it, I decided to check into how the end of Prohibition was met in my hometown, Milwaukee. One would expect that a city made famous by beer and breweries would have celebrated the ratification of the repeal amendment with street parties, parades, and noisemakers. Instead, I found out, the reaction of Milwaukeeans was one big yawn.

Robert W. Wells, a longtime reporter and editor of The Milwaukee Journal, wrote a book called This is Milwaukee: A colorful portrait of the city that made beer famous (Renaissance Books, 1970). I assume the book is long out of print, although Amazon shows a printing from 1978.

I have long had a hardback copy of This Is Milwaukee on my bookshelves (but I confess to not reading it in at least 30 years) and I remembered a section about the end of Prohibition. Wells writes in his chapter entitled "The Long Drouth Ends":

The twenties finally tested the question that had been raised early in Wisconsin history – whether the opponents of strong drink could keep the rest of the population from drinking. A referendum on the matter was held in 1851. Milwaukee Germans walked to the polls with ox horns filled with beer over their shoulders, but the statewide vote was 27,519 to 24,109 in favor of prohibition. The Legislature, controlled by Democrats, ignored the vote but four years later the Republicans won and passed a Prohibition law. The Democratic governor, William A. Barstow, promptly vetoed it. By the time national Prohibition arrived, the wets probably outnumbered the drys in Wisconsin and certainly in Milwaukee, but it took some years of watching the results to convince all but a shrinking minority that legislating universal sobriety simply wasn’t going to work [p. 198].
After focusing for several pages on the mayoral career of Socialist Daniel Hoan, Wells explains why Milwaukee greeted the end of Prohibition so laconically. It turns out the real celebration took place eight months earlier in 1933, on what would one day be my birthday, April 7:
....Meanwhile, at 4:32½ P.M. on December 5, 1933, Milwaukee had a more important issue to think about, the end of Prohibition, which arrived at that moment In cities from coast to coast, celebrants took their first legal drinks since June 30, 1919, and then proceeded downhill on some of history’s most spectacular benders.

On the banks of the Milwaukee, however, it was just another quiet night. A reporter assigned to cover the celebration couldn’t find one. He finally did what reporters usually do under such frustrating circumstances and wandered into a bar. He got to talking with what he described as a “slim young thing in a modishly tailored, two-toned green dress,” who told him:

“Good grief, they let anyone in here. I liked it better at Heinie’s old place. You knew whom you were drinking with there.”

Any slim young thing who could remember to say “whom” on a night like that obviously wasn’t getting into the spirit of the occasion. Neither, it turned out, was Milwaukee. Prices were too high—some bars wanted forty cents a shot for bonded whisky. Besides, there had been plenty of liquor available before 4:32½ P.M. on December 5, But mostly Milwaukee ignored that excuse for a celebration because it had already held the biggest one in its history up until then—bigger than when Germany won the Franco-Prussian War, bigger than the celebration after World War I, even bigger than the turnout for Prince Henry of Prussia. It had taken place the previous April when beer came back. By comparison, the excitement over the return of liquor was barely noticeable.

Congress had been under considerable pressure in 1933 from unemployed brewery workers as well as the thirsty to do something about making beer legal. The repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment took time, but meanwhile the congressmen studied the matter and discovered that any beverage with no more than 3.2 percent of alcohol would not be intoxicating, starting one minute past midnight of April 7. Until that moment, when the congressional action became effective, beer containing more than half of one percent of alcohol would continue to make a man drunk under the Volstead Act. The world was full of admiration for the Washington lawmakers, who had performed a miracle by increasing every drinking man’s legal capacity by 640 percent.

As you may have heard, 1933 was not a good year. The Depression was still new enough so that people were hoping for a magic formula to turn the calendar back to 1929. Around Milwaukee, it seemed that making beer legal might do even better than that and restore 1919. As things worked out, hard times didn’t end on April 7, 1933, in Wisconsin, but the breweries hired eighty-five hundred men, which helped keep that many families in sauerbraten.

In the weeks before the moment when 3.2. beer became nonintoxicating, Milwaukee’s breweries made ready. They bought enough federal tax stamps to legalize the sale of 2,232,000 gallons. They hired every truck within miles. Production was begun. Three hundred sixty railway freight cars were loaded, ready to rush this new soft drink to a parched world. Planes were poised at the county airport. Within twenty-four hours after 3.2 beer became legal, Milwaukee breweries planned to sell fifteen million bottles of it.

As midnight of April 7 drew near, Milwaukeeans prepared for a night that would be equaled only twice in the next quarter century, when the city celebrated the defeats of the Japanese and of the New York Yankees. Three lines began forming at each of the seven surviving breweries. One was made up of trucks and cars, their owners waiting to buy beer by the case or the barrel. One line contained Milwaukeeans patiently anticipating a free glass of beer at the brew- house. The third was a line of shabby men who hoped for a job.

It was snowing, the wet flakes swirling down on the waiting customers. No one minded. The clock ticked toward midnight. On Wisconsin Avenue, on Wells and Mitchell and all the other main streets, prospective celebrants roamed the sidewalks, each with a bottle opener in his pocket. At last, it was 12:01 A.M. The first trucks roared away from the breweries, every factory whistle in town let loose a triumphant toot, the fireboat sirens blasted, bells clanged and the crowds yelled and banged on things.

Twenty-three minutes later, one of the planes took off in the snowstorm for Chicago, carrying the first airborne shipment of Milwaukee beer to Roosevelt in the White House. At the Pabst brewery, members of the Liederkranz Society pushed a wheelbarrow from the former Methodist church next door where they had their headquarters, filled it with supplies and hurried back to start the Forst-Keller party. At Miller’s, two men merrily rolled a half-barrel of beer up the State Street hill to where they’d abandoned their car in the hopeless traffic jam. At Schlitz, two men in frayed overcoats pulled at the immaculate sleeve of Erwin Uihlein. They pointed out, respectfully but firmly, that they ran the bar across the street and the brewery president lifted down two cases from the conveyor line and sent them happily away.

Many downtown celebrants had whiled away the hours before drinking became legal by having a few drinks. Others had decided as a matter of principle to stay stone cold sober until 12:01 A.M., so they could bring a virgin thirst to the historic first sip of Milwaukee brew. This turned out to be more of a sacrifice than they’d anticipated. Once beer became legal, there arose such an elbowing for space at the bar that no one got more than a glass or two. Arthur E. Hamilton, newly appointed thief of the federal enforcement office, reported next day that he’d seen no drunks—which shouldn’t have been surprising, Congress having ruled that beer was nonintoxicating. The police had sharper eyes. They arrested twenty-two celebrants, but District Judge George F.. Page reported after fining them the next day that all of them admitted they’d been drinking either moonshine or bathtub gin.

Because of Lent, the city’s official celebration was postponed until April 17, when twenty thousand people jammed into the Auditorium, thousands more were turned away and six bands provided background music for blowing off the foam and shouting, “Prosit!

Once the excitement subsided in Milwaukee over the return of beer, complications arose. The fiction that 3.2 beer was not intoxicating made it possible for almost anyone to sell it A price war broke out. A south side tavern sold a customer all the beer he could drink in an hour for a penny a minute and was doing great business until a Wauwatosa barkeep made the same offer for fifty cents. A roadhouse north of Milwaukee tried to appeal to less-hurried drinkers by offering “all you can drink in five hours for a buck,” providing a challenge for Milwaukeeans who wanted to get the maximum amount for their money.

Other tavernkeepers tried to outdo each other by increasing the size of their ten-cent beers. The champion was a fellow who sold a twenty-six ounce stein for a dime. Competitors tossed jack handles through his windows and several breweries cut off his supplies, but he held fast for some weeks, doing a roaring business.

There was one complication in restoring the good old days, aside from getting used to calling the saloons taverns. Some of those who had been brewing their own beer at home had grown to take pride in their product and refused to go back to the commercially produced variety. Some of them predicted that home brewing would continue indefinitely, even if it was no longer necessary to get around the law.

The breweries hadn’t waited through the long dry spell only to be beaten at their own game by amateurs, however. They promptly raised the price of the malt syrup used in home brew to the point where it was cheaper to buy beer ready-made. There was grumbling and complaining, but the home brewers finally gave up.

For years, they were easy to recognize in Milwaukee bars. They were the ones who kept squinting toward the light through a foaming glass and complaining that the beer just didn’t have the body it used to have, back in the good old days when everybody made his own [pp. 207-10]
While the 21st century seems stuck with another form of prohibition that continues to do more harm than good, we would do well today to raise a glass and toast the men and women who fought the campaign to end the greatest and most ill-fated experiment in social engineering in U.S. history.

If December 5 is not an official holiday, at least it should be marked informally (and, if not every year, in those ending in "5" and "0") with the good wishes that one expresses so often during this end-of-the-year holiday season. (Let's see: We already have Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas' Day, Bill of Rights Day, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Twelfth Night ... why not add another?) On this Non-Prohibition Day, I wish you good times and good health: Na Zdrowie!

(Don't forget to check out my new online store at http://www.cafepress.com/ricksincere.)

Update:
This weekend's edition of "Backstory," a public radio program hosted by three American history professors (Peter Onuf of the University of Virginia, 18th Century; Ed Ayers of the University of Richmond, 19th Century; and Brian Balogh of UVA, 20th Century) focused on the story of alcoholic beverage use and regulation in the United States since the early colonial era, with a special emphasis on Prohibition. One of the experts interviewed said that Prohibition was the father of big government, rather than (as is commonly assumed) the later New Deal. He noted that the degradation of the Fourth Amendment, for instance, began during Prohibition, and that Americans, especially in rural areas, became more tolerant of federal interference in their lives during the Prohibition era, which led to much more federalization of law and regulation in the later 20th century up to and including the present day. To add my own take on this, I'd say that Prohibition sparked the fire under the pot with the frog in it.



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Taking the Commercial Plunge

As I am coming close to 1,000 posts on this blog -- that is one thousand posts since December 17, 2004 -- it may seem odd that I am just now taking the plunge into Internet commerce in anything but the most peripheral fashion.

From the beginning, I have participated in the affiliate programs of Amazon.com and, eventually, also TLA Video. Emulating models in the blogosphere, however, I have now added to the various hats I wear: one marked, "CafePress Shop Owner."

Yes, I have opened up a shop on CafePress, hoping to tap into the bottomless wealth of the Internet. The shop is designed to meet the gift-buying preferences of readers of Rick Sincere News & Thoughts. That is, at least, what I hope.

The main page of the shop can be found here. The designs are mostly based on photographs I have taken over the years -- here in Charlottesville, in Milwaukee, in Britain and Europe, and around the United States. (Sharp eyes might catch one or two photos that would have been impossible for me to have shot.)

There is also a section devoted to Christmas products (called "Christmas Cheer"). Another section, called "Politics & Travel," will eventually be populated with products for the libertarian-minded shopper; for now, it has magnets and notecards decorated with various views of the Washington Monument and other notable buildings.

A third section, "Saints & Sinners," fulfills a more impish function. Check it out and see what I mean. It, too, will soon have more, and more distinctive, products.

More items and sections are sure to be added, and reminders will be posted here and around the web.











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Monday, December 01, 2008

Crazy Homophobes to Picket Charlottesville

It was only a matter of time before it happened, given our town's reputation for tolerance, free inquiry, and intelligence, but the inmates of the insane asylum known as Westboro Baptist Church (motto of divine compassion:  "God Hates Fags") are coming to Charlottesville to picket the University of Virginia Hospital.


From the godhatesfags.com web site comes this announcement of their plan to be in Mr. Jefferson's city, demonstrating in front of one of the nation's most admired teaching hospitals, on Tuesday, December 2, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.:
University of Virginia - God Hates You W. Main St. & Jefferson Park Ave The mocking patriots of the whore monger, slave-raping, God-hater Thomas Jefferson shall get picketed while we are in the neighborhood. No problem, we're happy to visit. Someone needs to tell you self-important little brats some truth for once in your sad lives. You think you can thumb your nose at God by having that stinking pale of slime called "The Laramie Project". Then, when we tell you we will picket you - you threaten us, and come out with mob mentality to "get with" the servants of God?! You are in big trouble, WITH GOD! Stand by for the outpouring of His wrath, but in the meantime YOU WILL KNOW THAT THERE HAS BEEN A PROPHET IN YOUR MIDST! Eze 2:5 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,)yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. AMEN!
The group also plans to picket the Synchronicity Foundation in Afton beginning at 4:30 p.m.  (They obviously don't know much about traffic patterns or geography, if they expect to make it from downtown Charlottesville to Afton in half an hour.)  And, through some feat of bilocation, the fag-haters will be in Richmond at the same time, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., this time picketing the VCU Medical Center (formerly known as the Medical College of Virginia) at 14th and Broad Streets.

Apparently, the Phred Phelps Klan has been in Virginia Beach today and will return there on Wednesday (Fort Story Army Post and Oceana Naval Air Station) , as well as Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Yorktown.  (God hates the fact that faggot Cornwallis surrendered to faggot Washington.  Real men don't wear powdered wigs!)

If you're interested in a sick sort of street theatre, the Westboro Baptist Church may turn out to be the most entertaining thing in Virginia this week.

Update: Just by coincidence, I found this hilarious video of the Westboro Baptist Church crowd getting Rick-rolled in Milwaukee. You'll laugh.


Update #2: C-VILLE reports that the WBC gang failed to show up.



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