Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that U.S. Senator George Allen is celebrating the tenth anniversary of what he considers one of his most important accomplishments during his term as Governor of Virginia (1994-1998):

U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., came to Richmond's Gilpin Court yesterday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his welfare-reform program.

As governor, Allen pushed through the General Assembly in 1995 a welfare-reform plan that required able-bodied recipients to work. It also limited welfare payments to two years.

A reluctant President Bill Clinton signed federal welfare-reform legislation a year later.

Virginia sought and won a waiver from the federal law.

"Our plan was more comprehensive, tougher, more effective," Allen said.

Asked why he is talking about an accomplishment as governor rather than as a senator, Allen said the federal plan is coming up for renewal this fall and he wants to make sure that the Virginia program, again, receives a waiver.

"We don't want to be weakened by the federal law," he said.

Seeing Tyler Whitley's article in today's paper reminded me that I had written about Governor Allen's welfare-reform program at the time it was initiated. The following piece appeared in the Metro Herald in September 1995:

Allen Heading in Right Direction on Welfare, But Falls Short of Goal
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

Once again, as he envisions large-scale reform of Virginia's welfare system, Governor George Allen is following his Jeffersonian instincts in the right direction. Once again, he is failing to follow those instincts to their logical and ethical conclusion.

At a meeting of private-sector welfare providers in Fredericksburg, Allen noted, correctly, that we all "want to help those among us who are most in need so they will have some hope and freedom." He also argued, correctly, that "for too long government has wrongfully assumed the rights and responsibilities of individuals and private entities," adding that "the government cannot, and in fact should not, do it alone." According to the Washington Times, he said government "can help promote the work ethic, self- reliance, and a positive economic environment."

On this point, Allen is wrong. Our experience in the past century shows quite the opposite: When the government gets involved in welfare, far from promoting these good things, it destroys the work ethic, undermines self- reliance, and creates a troubled economic environment.

Why doesn't Allen take his Jeffersonian principles to their logical and ethical conclusion? That is, why doesn't he say outright that government should not be in the welfare business, that the private sector and the voluntary actions of individuals are better suited to help the poor, that we need separation of charity and state as much as we need separation of church and state?

Allen has fallen under the spell of Great Society rhetoric, which says that the government has a proper role to play in the provision of charity, that a "compassionate" society is one that uses tax-funded bureaucracies to subsidize poverty. Only when he shakes himself from that reverie will he be able to lead Virginia in a truly revolutionary -- truly Jeffersonian -- direction.

In his book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, Professor Marvin Olasky explains that virtue and compassion are not government characteristics. Only individuals and the voluntary associations they form can provide compassionate assistance to the poor. Compassion only occurs willingly, voluntarily.

Involuntary programs funded by tax dollars always fall short of their supposed goal of raising the poor out of poverty. After 30 years and $5 trillion of aid to the poor, the poor are still with us, the inner-city black family has been destroyed, and single-mother families are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Private sector programs, which offer assistance only with "strings attached," are far more effective -- and far less costly -- than government assistance programs. The "strings" that are attached to these programs include things like: get a job -- stop using drugs -- don't have sex out of wedlock -- return to school -- get married. Such "strings" mean that aid recipients must take responsibility for their own lives and learn to live with the consequences of their decisions. These "strings" tie the recipients to their communities and those communities' highest moral values. As a result, recipients of private charity are better able to rise out of their adverse circumstances and become productive, healthy members of our society.

In contrast, government programs are doomed to fail by this and any other standard. Writing in the monthly journal National Minority Politics (August 1995), Robert Woodson of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise notes: "Governments operate through bureaucracies which are not easily receptive to input from the population that is served and which add greatly to the cost of services (in some cases absorbing as much as 70 percent of the funds channeled through them). The cumbersome regulations imposed by these bureaucracies and the fact that the professionals who dictate these regulations are physically distant from the problems combine to make most government programs costly, misdirected, and ineffective."

Deroy Murdock, an adjunct fellow of the Fairfax-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation, explains the difference provided by private organizations a few pages later in the same publication. "Private charities physically see aid recipients when they come in for their benefits. This allows them to judge when things are going right or wrong in their lives and respond accordingly. Public bodies tend to spew checks out of computers. When someone peers through the window of the envelope bearing his payment, no one is on the other side to see if he or she is misusing these funds or sorely lacking something besides cash."

Private charities, because they are neighborhood-based, are able to provide more one-to-one attention and to take care of non-financial needs -- spiritual or psychic needs that computers and overworked bureaucrats cannot or will not address. Individuals, in other words, can show genuine compassion. Bureaucracies lack compassion -- utterly.

Governor Allen should take whatever steps are necessary to take welfare out of the hands of bureaucrats and put it back where it belongs: with the family, neighborhood, church or synagogue, and union hall. Anything short of that betrays the Governor's self-ascribed Jeffersonian inspiration.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Richard Sincere is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.

I can't think of a word I'd change in that article, nearly ten years later.

Monday, July 25, 2005

School Days, School Days

The multipartisan group of Charlottesville residents seeking to put a measure on the ballot that, if approved, would change Charlottesville's school board from an appointed to an elected body, are well on their way toward success.

The group has until August 10 to collect the signatures of 2,332 registered voters. They have so far collected 2,122 valid signatures, with an absolutely amazing -- and amazingly consistent -- validity rate of about 85 percent.

Barring the most adverse circumstances imaginable (or unimaginable), it looks like the referendum will be on the ballot and Charlottesville voters will have a real campaign on their hands between August 10 and November 8.

Don't Fence Me In

Judge John Roberts looks certain to glide toward his confirmation as the successor to Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. He has strong conservative credentials: Is he, as I suspect, the first member of the Federalist Society to be named to the high court?

There seems to be little substance to cause objections to President Bush's choice of Roberts. From what I have been able to gather, Roberts has a jurisprudential temperament closer to that of Antonin Scalia -- considering himself mostly bound by precedent -- than to that of Clarence Thomas -- what might be termed "originalist," or having a willingness to overturn precedent in order to return to the meaning the drafters of the Constitution intended. Thomas has a healthy skepticism of expanding government power that builds upon incremental judicial decisionmaking. Roberts, like Scalia, appears to be too much of an incrementalist and too deferential to the legislature for my tastes.

Still, I found something worrisome in the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post. Douglas T. Kendall, identified as "founder and executive director of Community Rights Counsel, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm in Washington," writes on the op-ed page:

In contrast to Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit, who made a name for herself by delivering bombastic speeches that thrill the libertarian right, Roberts made his reputation largely on his undisputed skills as a litigator representing clients in cases before appellate courts and the Supreme Court.

I have particular knowledge about one of these cases, having worked on it. In 2002, the property rights movement was at its zenith; developers had won a string of Supreme Court victories that undercut environmental and land-use laws across the country. That year, the court agreed to hear a challenge to a carefully crafted consensus plan to save Lake Tahoe from the damaging effects of overdevelopment. Facing the prospect of a devastating defeat, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency did a very smart thing: It hired the best conservative Supreme Court advocate it could find. That advocate was Roberts, and he wrote the best legal brief I've ever read in a takings case. His argument in front of the court aimed at and won the court's two swing votes, O'Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy, resulting in a surprising and broad Supreme Court victory that stopped the takings movement in its tracks.
Coming on the heels of Justice O'Connor's passionate dissent in the last term's Kelo v. City of New London, in which the Court's majority said that federal, state, and local governments have virtually unlimited authority to transfer property from one owner to another, the idea that her successor may hold views on the Fifth Amendment more in keeping with those of environmentalists than those of property-rights advocates is disturbing.

To be sure, Kendall says that Roberts wrote a brilliant brief on behalf of his client, and an excellent advocate will be able to argue either side of an issue regardless of his personal views. But Kendall's endorsement should give us pause.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Politics and Poker

Bob Gibson, the political writer for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, devotes his weekly commentary column in Sunday's paper to news that political bloggers from around Virginia are going to be gathering in Mr. Jefferson's home town on August 27, under the auspices of the Sorenson Institute.

Gibson notes:

Virginia’s political blogs - a fast-moving feast of news, comments and critiques - are a growing collection of mostly informal discussions and observations in a medium with sites that tend to divide into left and right.

Bloggers are people who keep a running Web log that can resemble a cross between a diary open to the world and a place to post or discuss newsy nuggets. They are often the first responders when news happens. Their opinions tend to be informed and infused with the bite of their views and those of some readers.

There’s plenty to talk about at the first-of-its-kind Virginia blogging conference.

Bloggers have a lot to discuss about their power to inform people and to include various points of view. Many people can be welcomed into the political process through civil blogs that adopt a code of dignity and respect.
Gibson also gives this blog a nice plug:
Bloggers are still mostly independent enough that they will show the government - that creature many view as the most ungainly and inefficient of hungry beasts - the door.

Libertarian blogger Rick Sincere, a fiercely independent and civilized voice of Charlottesville, has a little message for potential government regulators on his blog, which can be found at: http://ricksincerethoughts.blogspot.com.

On the side of his blog is “The Political Bloggers’ Pledge: If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.”

If the Federal Election Commission tries to crash this bloggers tea party, they may find themselves in Boston Harbor.
For more information about the conference, visit the Sorensen Institute's page on the "Summit on Blogging and Democracy in the Commonwealth."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

Readers will recall my June 18 post ("Young Zach Among the Philistines") about Zach, a gay Tennessee teenager whose parents shipped him to a brainwashing facility run by an "ex-gay" ministry called Love in Action.

Now the New York Times has picked up the story and the Christian Broadcasting Network has published an interview with Zach's father, who admits to his abusive actions regarding his son, using the smarmy language of compassion usually employed by liberals who advocate a rights-constricting law because it is "for the children".

In his interview with CBN, Joe Stark -- who apparently is brash enough and so lacking in shame that he uses is own name -- says:

“We felt very good about Zach coming here because… to let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future, and to give him some options that society doesn't give him today,” Stark said. “Knowing that your son... statistics say that by the age of 30 he could either have AIDS or be dead.”

* * *

“Zack has got a mind of his own, and that's a God-given gift,” Joe said. “And Zack will have to make those choices when he is an adult as to what exactly he is going to do with his life. But until he turns 18 and he's an adult in the state of Tennessee, I'm responsible for him. And I’m going to see to it that he has all options available to him.”

* * *

“A lot of things that Zach spent a lot of his time doing were taken away,” Stark said. “And I can see why they do it now. It's because, if you're not doing those things, then what are you doing? Sometime or other, you have to communicate with your family. And that's a big thing that has happened in our family – Zach is communicating a lot more with us.”
One of the survivors of the Love in Action program told the New York Times:

"It's like checking into prison," said Brandon Tidwell, 29, who completed the adult program in 2002 but eventually rejected its teachings, reconciling his Christian beliefs with being gay.
CBN was fair enough to interview Tidwell, as well:
“Rarely in life will you ever live that closed off from the world,” Brandon Tidwell, a former client of “Love in Action,” said. “It's very, I think, deceiving, or misleading, or creates a false hope for people, to help them to create change in that very isolated environment, and then move out into the real world and try to continue to…understand themselves in a whole different way.”
The Times notes that
Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.

"Their identities are still in flux," said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. "One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in."

Two weeks ago the Tennessee Department of Health sent a letter to Love in Action, saying it was suspected of offering therapeutic services for which it was not licensed, a department spokeswoman said. Mr. Smid insisted in the interview that his program is a spiritual, not a counseling, center, and he is removing references to therapy from its Web site.

He said he does not track his success rate. Mr. Harwood, who graduated from the adult program in 1999, said that of 11 fellow former clients he has kept track of, eight once again consider themselves gay.
Fortunately, Zach is going to be released into the real world soon. We can only pray that his keepers have not lobotomized him (metaphorically speaking). The Times ends its article with a quotation from Zach's blog, suggesting that, despite his youth, he has the fortitude to overcome this terrible episode:
Zach is due to leave the program next week. His June 4 message expressed thanks for the more than 1,700 messages on his page, many voicing support. "Don't worry," he wrote. "I'll get through this. They've promised me things will get better, whether this program does anything or not. Let's hope they're not lying."
Perhaps that last sentence is simply a manifestation of youthful naivete.

Fly Me to the Moon

Today is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the flight that culminated in man's first landing on the moon.

Last year, to commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary (years ending in zero or five are more natural for celebrating anniversaries than those ending in six), I wrote a piece for The Metro Herald. It was something of a childhood memoir, sort of like Truman Capote's -- er, Harper Lee's -- To Kill a Mockingbird, but without the style, story, or substance. But it's a sketch, not a novel. (If I have a novel in me, it has not neared the surface.)

This article appeared in the July 23, 2004, edition of The Metro Herald:

Celebrating Humankind's Greatest Achievement
Richard E. Sincere
Exclusive to the Metro Herald

(Charlottesville, July 20) --- It was a sultry midsummer Sunday evening, warm even by Wisconsin standards.

Only recently had the Milwaukee archdiocese permitted local churches to expand their weekend Mass schedules beyond the traditional Sunday morning services to include Saturday and Sunday late afternoons and evenings. (The first time my family went to church on a Saturday for the new "vigil Mass," the church bulletin had a headline, "Do you feel Jewish?")

Despite the Vatican II reforms that had shortened the Sunday liturgy significantly, I was anxious for this evening Mass to end. Normally a well-behaved, quiet 10-year-old, on this occasion I persistently tugged my mother's sleeve, silently asking, "When will this be finished? When can we go home?" She replied with a motherly, "Calm down. We won't miss it."

What was it I was so afraid of missing? What had transformed a languid, leisurely Sunday into a mess of pre-teen anxiety?

The date was Sunday, July 20, 1969. If that does not sufficiently explain my addled state of mind that day, you were probably born much later.

That was the day, 35 years ago, that man first set foot on the moon. That was, perhaps, the last time the nation united as one to celebrate an accomplishment of peace and science. The New York Times reported the news with a front-page headline in 96-point type. (By comparison, this article you're reading is in 12-point type.)

The entire country was riveted to its (mostly black-and-white) TV screens. Normal programming was pre-empted by coverage of this momentous event. "Lassie" and "Bonanza" reruns would have to wait for another Sunday evening.

There have been other occasions when all Americans were as absorbed by a news event, so absorbed as to fear blinking on the chance something might pass them by. But those events have been almost uniformly tragic ones: the Kennedy assassinations, Nixon's resignation speech, the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

What made this event even more remarkable was that the nation was at war, not only abroad but, metaphorically speaking, at home. The Vietnam War had divided the country politically. Protest demonstrations often erupted into violence while American soldiers, sailors, and Marines were fighting and dying overseas. Race riots had scarred America's cities in the previous few years, most notably in the days following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., only 15 months earlier.

Yet on that hot summer night, the fabric of the nation was noticeably unrent. We shared a communion of fascination that is unlikely to be repeated in the jaundiced age in which we live today.

There is a current comic strip called "Red and Rover," by cartoonist Brian Basset, which looks at the world through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy and his dog at about the same time as the moon landing. Young Red's obsession with the space program may be exceeded in intensity only by his crush on Marcia Brady. To him, as to many of his contemporaries, the names Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were not just words in a history book -- they were genuine, visible, vibrant heroes. And Walter Cronkite, Frank McGee, and Wernher von Braun were not just television talking-heads -- they explained and made accessible to youngsters and adults alike the wonderment of lunar travel.

"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind": The words are as familiar -- or should be as familiar -- to Americans as "Four score and seven years ago ... " or "When in the course of human events ..." Armstrong's well-chosen ten words sum up the ingenuity, courage, and incredible virtuosity that took us to the moon -- man's destination from time immemorial -- within a decade of the decision to go there.

Today we live in a world of technology that we take for granted. Home computers, cellphones, iPods are simply parts of daily life. A visitor to Cape Canaveral can look at the banks of computers in its 1969-vintage control room and shake his head in bewilderment at how such primitive technology could have taken not just one, not just three, but a dozen men safely to the moon and back. (I know, because I was that visitor to Cape Canaveral just a few years ago.)

We have made many scientific advancements in the past 100 years. Didn't we just celebrate the centenary of the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk a few months ago? In the 65 years and seven months between that achievement and the moon landing, we saw the development of jet engines, the atomic bomb, television, and satellite communications. Since 1969 we have developed more technologies and inventions than anyone could count. The recent prospect of privately-underwritten space travel is exciting in an economic and political sense, but hardly awe-inspiring.

Really: In the past 35 years, has any scientific or engineering achievement been so dramatic, so earth-shattering, so emotionally satisfactory, as man's first steps on the moon?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Strange Fruit (Reprise)

I've been very popular with reporters today.

Hours before my telephone conversation with Los Angeles-based writer James Verini about the International Freedom Foundation (I am sure I disappointed him by not having known Jack Abramoff), I received a call from Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press, who had come across a piece I wrote some years ago about hate-crimes legislation.

He was interested in my views on the topic given the vandalization of the UCC church in Middlebrook. I told him what I have always believed: hate crimes laws are unnecessary if local law enforcement officials are doing their jobs of investigating, prosecuting, and punishing crimes that are committed, regardless of motivation or the words expressed by criminals before or during their crimes. I also added my reservations about anti-bullying laws passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

Watch for Chris's article in a forthcoming edition of the Augusta Free Press.

Lost in the Stars

This afternoon I received a telephone call from James Verini, a journalist working on a story for LA Weekly about a think-tank I worked for in the early 1990s, the International Freedom Foundation (IFF).

Since the IFF has been defunct for a decade now, it seemed odd that a reporter would be interested in it. The hook is that one of the IFF's founders was Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist now in hot water for alleged fraudulent activities involving several clients, in particular some Indian tribes.

I told Mr. Verini that my time at IFF came after Abramoff's involvement in the organization and that, in fact, I had not met Abramoff (who may actually have remained on the IFF's board of directors but who had no role in its day-to-day activities).

My first contact with the IFF came in 1989, when I was asked to write a book under contract. That book was published in 1990 under the title Sowing the Seeds of Free Enterprise. Later, after working for almost a year in the public affairs office of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), I was asked to apply for the new position of Director of African Affairs at IFF. I jumped at the chance, since I really did not like working at CSIS because it was bureaucratic and unwieldy and my job there was not intellectually challenging, while IFF had a small staff (I think about 15 at the time) and I was promised a great deal of autonomy in my research.

I edited a newsletter called Sub-Saharan Monitor (not the publication now available on line) and later was promoted to Director of International Economic Affairs. When Mark Franz left IFF to work for the Bush 41 re-election campaign, I took his job as editor of the quarterly journal, terra nova. I really enjoyed editing terra nova: it was, as Robert Bork put it in another context, "an intellectual feast." I was able to interact with scholars from around the world, commission articles on interesting subjects, combine articles and book reviews so that they fit a common theme, and try to market the product to readers in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. It was a dream job for a writer/editor like myself, and one that I would love to replicate some day.

I explained that I had left IFF after the 1992 election when a number of staff, including myself, were laid off as fundraising faltered. Verini asked if this was because a Democratic administration was coming into office, but I told him that it was more because the end of the Cold War had caused funds to dry up for anti-Communist organizations like the International Freedom Foundation.

He asked if I was aware that the IFF had been funded by the South African government. (He characterized it as a "front" for the apartheid government.) I said no, that I only became aware of that fact when I googled IFF about six years ago and discovered that files had been uncovered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigations. In fact, while I was at IFF, it seemed we were always scrambling for money, trying to find new and bigger funding sources. That was hardly the mark of an organization that was underwritten by a foreign government.

So far as I know, no one at the IFF at the time, including chairman Duncan Sellars or executive director Jeff Pandin, was aware of any underwriting by the South African government, the SADF, or South African intelligence services. The source of the money, such as it was, was hidden, and it is easy, in hindsight, to conclude that the money had been laundered quite successfully. Upon reflection, when I learned about the IFF's ultimate funding source a few years back, it occurred to me that the South African money must have been channeled through several European donors to IFF, who we all thought were primarily anti-communist in their motivation, none of whom had any apparent ties to South Africa or its government. (One, I remember, was described as an elderly Belgian businessman. And, no, I never learned his name.)

In his questions, Mr. Verini suggested that the International Freedom Foundation was a "pro-apartheid" organization. I told him this was a mischaracterization, that in fact the IFF was critical of the apartheid government, which we viewed as "ethnic socialism." (This view was best expressed, at the time, by George Mason University economist Walter E. Williams in his book, South Africa's War Against Capitalism, which I believe I reviewed in the predecessor to terra nova, International Freedom Review.) While the IFF was, in fact, opposed to the African National Congress, that was never equivalent to being in favor of apartheid.

I explained that we staff members -- researchers, writers, editors -- never had any pressure put on us to say anything in particular. Far from a propaganda front, the IFF provided us with free rein to pursue research topics. Naturally, those of us who worked for IFF shared a certain philosophy -- free-market oriented (in my case, libertarian) and anti-communist. No constraints were placed upon us in terms of what not to write about, and no direction was given about specific topics to pursue. There was no doubt, of course, that part of our job was to refute disinformation emanating from the ANC and pro-communist groups in southern Africa. Our overarching aim was to promote liberal democracy and free enterprise as an alternative to both communism and apartheid. This was typical of conservative and libertarian think tanks and advocacy groups in the closing years of the Cold War.

Verini asked what my views were on South African sanctions. I told him that I had testified before U.S. congressional committees during the 1980s, expressing my view that sanctions were an ineffective policy tool, and that I opposed the embargo against Cuba and sanctions against Libya for the same reason. (Believe me, such consistency was not common in the Reagan years. In fact, during my testimony at one hearing, Howard Wolpe, then-chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, congratulated me for my consistency, albeit with a puzzled look on his face.) I also told Mr. Verini that my views have not changed, that I still believe sanctions are wrong-headed and ill-advised.

After our initial conversation, Verini called back to ask whether, during my time at the IFF, I had had any contact with the Bush administration. I told him nothing more than routine meetings with State Department officials, ambassadors, and the like, typical for anyone who works for a Washington think tank.

I did add this anecdote, however:

In the fall of 1992, I was working as the chief foreign policy advisor to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Andre Marrou and his running mate, my friend, Nancy Lord. My predecessor as editor of terra nova, Mark Franz, was working for the Bush re-election campaign. One day in September or October, Mark called me at work to ask me for some advice about how to frame a campaign issue. In the course of our conversation, I said to him, "You know, it's nice to have the luxury of knowing you're working for a presidential candidate who is going to lose." Mark responded ruefully: "I know exactly what you mean, Rick."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I'm in the Mood for Love

The actress and singer Frances Langford passed away on Monday, July 11, at the age of 92.

Demonstrating how the press always seeks to emphasize the local angle on any story, the Stuart News on Florida's Atlantic coast ran a timeline of the celebrity's life which barely touches on her show-biz career. Instead, it mentions her philanthropic and business activities in that part of Florida, including her donation of "Langford Park" and opening the "Outrigger Restaurant."

To most people around the country, however, Langford is best known as the singer who accompanied Bob Hope on so many trips to entertain the troops around the world that any impressionist who does a "Bob Hope" juggles the names of "Frances Langford" and "Jerry Colonna" as punchlines to good-hearted jokes.

My own recollection of Frances Langford stems almost entirely from her long association with actor Don Ameche in the radio sketches featuring the Bickersons. Langford played Blanche, a somewhat shrewish (but still loving) wife to Ameche's exasperated husband, John. As one historian of radio explains:

The Bickersons was a half-hour radio slot on NBC in 1946. Frances Langford played the part of Blanche Bickerson and Don Ameche portrayed the husband John.

John was victim of Contagious Insomnia, or Schmoo's Disease and many plots centered on his snoring. The battling couple would frequently go at it at 2 in the morning when John’s incredible, whining, giggling, tumultuous snoring would cause Blanche to wake him up.

They would fight about everything from relatives to Nature Boy (the cat) to sexy friend Gloria Gooseby.
I first heard the Bickersons, appropriately, late at night on the radio in the 1970s and '80s, when WMAL-AM's overnight host Bill Mayhugh -- in the years before local radio was overtaken by syndicated shows -- would periodically play excerpts from Ameche and Langford's faux battles. These dialogues are just as funny today as they were 60 years ago.

Despite performing on Broadway and in some 30 films, Langford may best be remembered for her songs, particularly "I'm in the Mood for Love," a sultry recording with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jimmy McHugh that reminded the fighting men of World War II of just what it was they were fighting for.

NPR had a nice tribute to Langford on Monday's "All Things Considered."

Isn't It Ironic?

Is it just me, or did anyone else catch the slight irony in the report that the creator of Charlie the Tuna died by drowning recently?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Of Thee I Sing

Note, please, a permanent addition to the sidebar of this blog. Tipped off by CatHouse Chat of the Old Dominion Blog Alliance, I have signed a pledge originated back in March by a California blogger who goes by the name "Patterico." The pledge is a simple one. It says simply and in full:

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.
According to his on-line biosketch, Patterico is a prosecuting attorney in Los Angeles County, California. He adds:
In addition to prosecuting criminals, Patterico maintains a blog called Patterico's Pontifications. Topics include media bias, legal issues, and political discussion from a libertarian/conservative perspective.

I didn't actually count, but it looks like hundreds of bloggers have taken the pledge and reported this to Patterico. Who knows how many hundreds of others have done so, quietly on their own?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes, in the treatise on law within his Summa Theologica, that "a tyrannical law, though not being according to reason, is not a law, absolutely speaking, but rather a perversion of the law" (Question 91, "Of the Various Kinds of Law"). He adds:
Now it happens often that the observance of some point of law conduces to the common weal in the majority of instances, and yet, in some cases, is very hurtful. Since then the lawgiver cannot have in view every single case, he shapes the law, according to what happens most frequently, by directing his attention to the common good. Wherefore if a case arise wherein the observance of that law would be hurtful to the general welfare, it should not be observed (Question 96, "Of the Power of the Human Law").
Civil disobedience. It's the law -- the moral law.

Strange Fruit

In what appears on first analysis to be a case of vandalism motivated by anti-gay bigotry, the sanctuary of a United Church of Christ congregation in Middlebrook, Virginia, was dappled with graffiti and set on fire over the past weekend.

According to Sunday's edition of the Staunton News-Leader:

Members of St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ awoke Saturday morning to discover their church severely damaged by smoke and anti-gay graffiti painted on the side of the building.

Jerry Shultz, 53, of Middlebrook discovered the fire still smoldering when he stopped by early Saturday to cut grass.

He noticed graffiti on the side of the building and went inside to make sure everything was OK. He called down to Sue Gochenour, who was working in the basement and had come into the education building through a different entrance. She was fine.

When he opened the sanctuary door there was still a small flame.

"I think it burned itself out for the most part," Shultz said. "There was only a flicker the size of a lighter."

The vandalism contained anti-gay messages and a declaration that United Church of Christ members were sinners. The graffiti's message appeared to be a reference to the national church's decision last week to endorse gay and lesbian marriages, Shultz said.

The United Church of Christ's General Synod voted July 4 to approve a resolution that endorses gay and lesbian marriages. The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, spokesman for General Synod said he isn't aware of any other problems at United Church of Christ facilities across the country since the decision. The General Synod does not set policy for its congregations, which are autonomous.

"We, of course, are deeply saddened by the tragedy that has happened to one of our United Church of Christ congregations," Guess said. "Regardless of the cause, a church fire is perhaps a congregation's greatest challenge."

When motives are inspired by hate, "then grief is compounded with fear," Guess said.

Noting that the congregation was scheduled to celebrate its 225th anniversary yesterday, today's Richmond Times-Dispatch follows up with the reactions of the pastor, in an article by correspondent Calvin R. Trice:
A weekend fire under investigation as an anti-gay hate crime forced yesterday's homecoming service for St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ outside.

In response, the pastor, the Rev. Dorcas Lohr, changed her sermon, which she delivered to about 90 people gathered beneath tents and the shade of two pin oak trees.

Throughout the nation and the world, religious fundamentalists of all the major faiths are inflicting violence on those who don't believe exactly as they do, Lohr said.

The fire discovered in the church sanctuary Saturday morning and the anti-gay graffiti scrawled on the side of the building are the judgment and condemnation of such people, she said.

"I cannot accept that judgment. Nor do I think any member of this congregation can accept that judgment," Lohr said.

The good news is that the local community responded with compassion, despite the hatred that sears the souls of some of their neighbors. Reports the Times-Dispatch:
The Rev. John R. Deckenback, a regional United Church of Christ official, noted that all the chairs, tables and other materials at yesterday's outdoor service were donated by organizations throughout Augusta County.

"I think that the support that has been demonstrated by the community has been much more indicative of the fabric of the Shenandoah Valley than the tragedy of the fire," Deckenback said.
Virginia's non-partisan, statewide gay rights organization, Equality Virginia, reacted to news of the vandalism with a condemnation in a news release distributed today:
Equality Virginia today joined with all fair-minded people of faith in condemning an anti-gay hate crime against a UCC church in Middlebrook, Virginia.

"Our hearts go out to the people of St. John's Reformed UCC. No one should fear discrimination or hate violence because of religious beliefs or association with a particular faith," said John Humphrey, co-convener of the People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. "The First Amendment and the Virginia Constitution guarantee religious freedom and a respect for a diversity of religious viewpoints. We urge support for the church and encourage all people of faith to join in dialogue about the effects hate violence can have on any affected community."

* * *

"Hate violence is a form of domestic terrorism that leaves entire communities feeling victimized and vulnerable," said Dyana Mason, Equality Virginia Executive Director. “It is critical that law enforcement agencies use whatever tools are available to them in investigating and prosecuting this crime."

Equality Virginia has reached out to the church and UCC leadership offering support, and will be communicating with the local police department, the Attorney General and Commonwealth Attorney’s offices and the Federal Bureau of Investigation urging swift and appropriate action.

A national religious organization, the Interfaith Alliance, also condemned the violence against church property in a news release dated July 11:
Today, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance, condemned the hate crimes committed Saturday at St. John's Reformed Church (UCC) in Middlebrook, Virginia where a fire was set in the sanctuary and anti-gay graffiti was painted on the building. Despite the crimes, the United Church of Christ congregation celebrated their 225th anniversary Sunday with hope and strong community support.

"Our thoughts and encouragement are with the St. John congregation as they move forward following this malicious attack," Rev. Gaddy said. "On behalf of TIA, I would like to offer congratulations and admiration to the members of the Middlebrook community for coming together on such short notice and helping the congregation celebrate their historic legacy. We hope the community support continues and is strengthened in order to prevent such atrocities in the future."
So far there has been no published comment from the gubernatorial campaigns of Tim Kaine, Jerry Kilgore, or Russ Potts, nor from the attorney general campaigns of Creigh Deeds or Bob McDonnell. (Since McDonnell, as I recall, marketed himself as "hard on criminals," I would have expected a swift condemnation of this crime against private property and against people of religious faith. But perhaps my expectations are too high.)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Be True to Your School

The petition drive to put a measure on the ballot in Charlottesville aimed at changing the method of selecting the school board to popular election rather than appointment by the City Council is humming along.

In order to be placed on the ballot, the petitioners must collect just over 2,300 valid signatures of registered voters (10 percent of those voters registered and on the books on January 1 of this year.) So far they have collected about 1,600 valid signatures, exhibiting an astounding validity rate of 89 percent.

This validity rate is all the more remarkable because the circulators are entirely volunteers -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- collecting signatures on their own time.

Even the most proficient of professional signature-gatherers acknowledge that a 50 percent validity rate is good, and a validity rate of 60 to 65 percent is excellent. Batting .890 is a Hall of Fame performance in any league.

The school board petition needs to be completed by the first week of August in order to qualify for the November ballot. At the current rate, it looks like the team will have no trouble getting enough signatures far in advance of the deadline.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Money Song

Charlottesville-area Libertarian activist Arin Sime has developed a new web-based tool for non-profit or political fundraising.

According to the July 6 Augusta Free Press, when Sime encountered problems using PayPal (the industry standard) for accepting donations to a small local political organization, he decided to develop software that acknowledges and meets the sometimes idiosyncratic needs of groups like that.

Small, localized non-profits, Sime noted, often do not have the same kind of organizational structure that a standard business or national group has, the kind of structure that PayPal (and, for that matter, banks) will take for granted.

AFP's Chris Graham reports on Sime's new project, called Donor Town Square:

PayPal, Sime said, was designed for eBay and auctions, "and it really works great for that purpose."

"I use it," Sime said. "But for somebody who wants a simple donation, it doesn't need to be as complex as they make it out to be.

"My process is you go to the Donor Town Square Web site, and in just a couple of minutes, you can set up a donation page, and then within 24 to 48 hours, we take a look at the account, and mark it for approval or not, and then you're ready to take donations," Sime said.

Sime has set up donation pages for campaigns from all sides of the political spectrum in addition to groups including Virginians Over-Taxed On Residences and Nation's Missing Children Organization.

Donor Town Square uses a number of security precautions in setting up its donation pages - including SSL encryption, the standard for use on the 'Net, which makes it so that nobody can read the credit-card numbers that are typed in.
It's nice to see an example of the entrepreneurial spirit aimed at helping charitable, educational, and political groups.

I'm Still Here

I really must apologize for the lapse in regular posting since June 23. I haven't forgotten you, my loyal readers. I have just been preoccupied with some domestic matters -- literally.

I just refinanced my mortgage and I have been doing some home renovations, including putting a new roof on the house, finding a new homeowners' policy, paying off some bills, and preparing to completely replace the bathrooms and kitchen.

You have my promise to be back in the saddle within the next few days. I have a whole slew of articles in my head that I simply have to set on paper (or in pixels).

Thank you for your patience.