Sunday, July 22, 2007

Preliminary MUHS Reunion Report

There is far too much information to process and far too many photographs to sort through, but I thought I would post a few pictures today -- within 24 hours of the event -- to mark Marquette University High School's 150th anniversary celebration yesterday.

The Ellen Storey Johnston Memorial a.k.a. the Marquette University High School building on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, which opened in 1925.

In recent years, the main entrance of MUHS has shifted from Wisconsin Avenue to Michigan Street.

Memories: the painted signatures of the Follies '77 writing committee in the passageway below the auditorium stage. (You should be able to make out the names of Pat Sullivan, Dan Koch, John Novotny, Mike Coffey, Rick Sincere, Jim Chudy, Pat Pendergast, and Greg Otterson.)

Here is a somewhat psychedelic rendering of the Follies '77 poster, originally designed by our classmate Dan McQuillen. (The name of the show was "Blazing Seniors?".) The understage area has graffiti dating back to the early 1960s and subsequent generations of students have respected it by not painting over the older names and artwork.

This is the auditorium itself, which is in much the same as it was 30 years ago, except the orchestra seats now have padding. (The original, wooden chairs are still up in the balcony.)

Surplus debate trophies were once stored in the Webster Club room, which no longer exists. (It was expropriated by the Art Department some years ago.) Now they are kept in an English classroom upstairs.

Evidence of the MUHS 150th anniversary is everywhere.

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan (left, at ambo) offers some congratulatory remarks near the close of the 150th anniversary Mass at the Al McGuire Center on the campus of Marquette University.

Members of the MUHS Class of 1977 reunite for a photograph beneath a tent at Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin.

There is much more to come. For a real nostalgia trip, check out the videos posted at May 22, 1977.

Also, WTMJ-TV has an interview on its web site with John Cary (Class of 1969) who co-chaired the 150th anniversary celebrations with his wife, Mary. That interview includes some historic photographs of Marquette High through the years.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Front Page News

The celebration by the Marquette University High School community of the institution's 150th anniversary made the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday. Tomorrow is the "great homecoming," followed by a Mass at the Al McGuire Center and a huge party at Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin.

In the Journal Sentinel article, correspondent Alan J. Borsuk writes:

Some things do change at Marquette High. But look at all the things that haven't changed over the past 150 years - it's still in the heart of the city, still all-boys, still Jesuit, still producing a generous portion of the political, judicial, corporate and civic leaders of the city.

The school will celebrate its 150th birthday Saturday; its roots go back nearly to the founding of Milwaukee.

Borsuk continues:

Among the things that have changed at Marquette High is the student body. It remains predominantly white, but the diversity has grown to resemble the Milwaukee area as a whole - 21% of the students were minority group members this past year, including 90 Hispanic students and 70 African-Americans. There were 93 students - about 9% of the total - who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and 25 students who attended using publicly funded vouchers available to low-income families in the city.

Tuition in 2006-'07 was $8,040, and 31% of the students received financial aid, averaging $3,900 per student.

Sazama said 85% of the students were Catholic and 95% Christian.

The academics are ambitious, and only a handful of students do not go to college. And there is an institutional expectation that these students are going to be leaders of the community.

Gurda added that a downside to that is a sense of elitism among students. In his class, he said, some graduated "with a little higher opinion of themselves than might have been warranted."

But, he said, "If you look at the leadership of most Milwaukee institutions, you'll find someone from Marquette High not too far from the center of influence."

One of the leaders of note to emerge from Marquette High is Milwaukee Mayor (and former Congressman) Tom Barrett (Class of 1972). Others mentioned in a sidebar are Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke (Class of 1974) and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm (Class of 1981).

An article marking the anniversary also appeared earlier this week in In it, senior editor Drew Olson writes:

In recent weeks, asked several Marquette High graduates to list the most memorable moments from their time at the school and to talk about the impact it had on their adult lives. Almost universally, the responses touched upon friendship, the Jesuit education and the public service awareness fostered by the Shared Life program that requires students to volunteer for two weeks at 75 different schools and other agencies.

"Marquette teaches its students to be 'men for others,'" said Dan Smyczek, director of public relations for the Bucks. "When I look back to that instruction, along with the terrific example from my parents, I think it provided a solid foundation."

Jon Greenberg, president of the Admirals hockey team, agreed. "I believe that Marquette really helped me to reinforce the morals and values that my parents tried to teach me growing up," Greenberg said. "Between the Jesuit faculty and the lay teachers, it was very evident that I was learning from people of a high-moral caliber.

"My advisor, Father Don Driscoll, passed away recently and we had a memorial service for him at the high school and the amount of students from many eras of Marquette High that came to pay tribute reconfirmed to me that I learned from a special person in a building full of special people.

"Marquette has long had a history of supporting the Merrill Park neighborhood, as well as the rest of the city. The students get out and make an impact in the city in the Senior Shared Life project. Many of us have gone on to bigger things... The things we all learned at Marquette are things that help us every day in how we think and act."

Barrett called the school "a place that nurtures leadership and service as well."

"The teachers expected a lot from you," Barrett said. "I would say on a personal note, what it did for me is it gave me confidence.

"It was, I think, a really good education that allowed me to do better in college than I did in high school. I think that's an experience for a lot of students there."

Later, Olson lists some notable MUHS alumni:
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett; Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke; Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and his predecessor, E. Michael McCann; multiple municipal and circuit court judges; Peter Bonerz, actor and director on "The Bob Newhart Show" and others; Terry Brennan, University of Notre Dame running back and coach; Rick Majerus, head basketball coach at St. Louis University; Spencer Tracy, Oscar winning actor (attended but did not graduate); Harry Quadracci, founder of Quad/Graphics Inc. in Sussex; James T. Barry III, president and chief executive officer of Colliers Barry, Milwaukee; John Cary, executive director of the MACC Fund, Milwaukee; Ward and Lincoln Fowler, founders of Alterra Coffee Roasters; Bill Bertha, president of U.S. Bank's Wisconsin division; John Shiely, president and chief executive officer of Briggs & Stratton Corp.; Michael Dunn, senior vice president and dean of Medical College of Wisconsin; Jon Greenberg, president of the Admirals; Dan Meyer, publisher of Small Business Times; Pat Dunphy, attorney at Cannon & Dunphy S.C.; Dan Smyczek, public relations director for the Bucks. John Stollenwerk, chairman of Allen-Edmonds; Paul Piaskoski, news anchor for the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts for CBS 58; John Horning, executive vice president of Shorewest Realtors.
On Friday evening, I had a chance to reconnect with several old friends from the Class of 1977, who had gathered for an advance opportunity to catch up before the bigger events planned for Saturday. If last night's rush of conversation is any indication, I had better rest my voice for the next 12 hours or so -- it will be needed, and it will be used up by the time the Festa Italiana fireworks punctuate the anniversary celebration.

Update: Somehow I missed this rather interesting article in Friday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the chalice to be used at Saturday's Mass at the Al McGuire Center. The chalice is reputed to have belonged to Father Jacques Marquette, the namesake of MUHS. The provenance of the chalice is in dispute, however. Tom Heinen reports.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Thank You for Loitering"

It was something of a pilgrimage. D.C.'s Maryland suburbs are something of a mystery to me, with names like "Bladensburg" and "Hyattsville" mere words on a map, and "Kenilworth Avenue" something that radio traffic reporters talk about.

Still, a Washington Post article had alerted me to a reason to visit a commercial strip not far from the Maryland-D.C. line, and after seeing the new production of the 1938 musical comedy revue Hellzapoppin' at the American Century Theatre last Saturday, I dragged fellow blogger Tim Hulsey on what seemed (after several wrong turns and no access to Mapquest) to be a wild goose chase but which ultimately led us to our destination:

The franchise, one of two owned by former 7-Eleven manager Berhane Kebebe, was chosen by corporate executives as one of 12 to be turned into temporary Kwik-E-Marts and stocked with Simpsons products.

Motor oil, paper towels, dog food and map books will make way for Krusty O's cereal boxes, Sprinklicious doughnuts and Radioactive Man comic books.

Signs over the drink fountains will read "Buzz Cola" and a frozen drink flavor has been created for the month: WooHoo! Blue Vanilla Squishee Slurpee.

Yes, this was the only Kwik-E-Mart in the mid-Atlantic region, and I had to see it -- and photograph it.

It was just past midnight, and the store was busy. It had nothing of the sense of ennui one might expect after, for instance, seeing Eric Bogosian's play suBurbia. (Though setting a production of suBurbia in the parking lot of a Kwik-E-Mart would be surreal, to say the least.)

Customers came and went. There was a short line at the service counter. But compared to other Kwik-e-Marts around the country, this converted 7-Eleven in Bladensburg was relatively tranquil. Take a look at this report from LA Weekly:
Sterling Hayman, who is the account director of TracyLocke Advertising, the company that teamed up with 7-Eleven for the Simpsons promotion, says this Kwik-E-Mart opened July 1 and will be open all month. Hayman says they relied more on word of mouth than hype to promote The Simpsons makeover.

“The first couple of hours we were not very busy... by the end of the day you couldn’t move in the store,” Hayman says, adjusting his Kwik-E-Mart visor. “There have been lines around the block.”

The Burbank locale is one of 12 Kwik-E-Marts in North America. The most popular items have been Buzz Cola and KrustyO’s. These goodies are so in demand that this Kwik-E-Mart had to post signs limiting customers to three colas and one box of cereal at a time. It’s been difficult to keep the store stocked. “Every time a truck unloads cases and cases, within seconds the store runs out,” Hayman says, a bit distraught.
As a marketing gimmick, the transformation of these 7-Elevens is brilliant. (It got me blogging about it, after all.) According to a trade organization, the In-Store Marketing Institute:

The company transformed 11 U.S. stores (and one Canada location) into real-life Kwik-E-Marts, adopting the appearance, characters and merchandise from the convenience store depicted in the long-running Simpsons TV series. (The fictional store, a parody of the c-store concept that has exorbitant prices, out-of-date products and other stereotypical characteristics, reportedly was modeled on 7-Eleven.)

Stores were converted into Kwik-E-Marts in the Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Burbank, CA, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C. markets. According to 7-Eleven spokesperson Margaret Chabris, the company chose the locations based on market strength, accessibility to cars and news media, and the enthusiasm of store operators, adding, "11 is a favorite number of ours." (The Canadian Kwik-E-Mart is in British Columbia.)

And, indeed, my purpose in visiting the Maryland Kwik-E-Mart was envisioned by the marketing professionals:
According to Chabris, sales at converted Kwik-E-Marts doubled in the early days of the promotion. "We wanted to see the customer reaction to changing our signage and redressing our stores for a month. The demand and interest has even surpassed our estimates," she said. "Regular and new customers are coming in and trying all of the different products, patiently waiting in line to get them." Chabris added that the stores have become an ultimate photo-op for fans.
Photo-op? I took dozens of snapshots. Here are a few:

In the end, I passed up the KrustyO's and my only purchases were an energy drink, a six-pack of Buzz Cola, and -- of course -- doughnuts. (Mmmmm! Doughnuts!)

Would I go back? As Apu might say, "Thank you for loitering - please come again!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fascinating Rhythm

On this day seventy years ago, George Gershwin died at the age of 38.

I was alerted to this sad anniversary by today's entry in Joe Stollenwerk's 2006 book, Today in History: Musicals, which notes:

In addition to some thirty Broadway shows, Gershwin helped create an American sound in classical music with his "Rhapsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris." He also dabbled a bit in films, but held Hollywood in contempt, as evidenced by his parody of movie songwriting, "Blah Blah Blah." After his death, his music would be repurposed, recycled, and at times regurgitated into numerous movie and Broadway musicals.
Gershwin was part of a unique era in American songwriting, the era of Tin Pan Alley. In an interview on the NPR quiz show, "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" originally broadcast in April and repeated last weekend, Linda Ronstadt -- who was perhaps the first rock singer to record an album of standards with her collaboration with Nelson Riddle, What's New, in 1983 -- said this in explaining her transition:
I didn't like playing in arenas because they didn't seem to me to be very appropriate places for music. People go out and buy beers and mill around and light a joint and get a hot dog. It just didn't seem like it was a place that was set up for an evening of magical reality....

Everybody had to have more smoke and more lights. You can't play music in those big places, so you have to do something. It has to be a big, bold gesture because there's so much reverb in there. Things are echoing around and echoing around. You get there and the guitar solo from the band that was playing the week before is still ringing around, and no one can hear you....

I like to play for the smallest audience possible, it's just hard to get paid... I wanted a theatre that was the way the Greeks designed theatres, so that you focus your attention on the stage.... For entertainers, after we got into those big coliseums, we didn't go and see each others' music anymore. In the old days, when I used to play at the Troubadour, which is a little folk club that held 300 people in Hollywood, we all went and saw each other. I saw every single night and every show of Jackson Browne and James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and Elton John and Carole King -- whoever was through there, singing, so we could be influenced by each other....

I still do concerts, I sing with the orchestra. I have all these great Nelson Riddle charts. I have a stack of them; it's really fabulous. That was my gift to myself in 1980. I decided I wanted grown-up music. I didn't want to be on stage singing "It's So Easy," which is a perfectly reasonable song when you're young and kinda out to get it, but when you get to be 60 you're kinda not out to get it, you kind of stay home at night, and I wanted a song for that.

So I vowed to mail myself this present into the future. I called up Nelson Riddle and said, "would you do some of these arrangements for me?" I didn't know if he had ever heard of me, and it turned out he hadn't....

We had a fabulous time. I had so much fun with him. The little secret is, why all of us rocker-geezer types are coming around to standards eventually -- although I did it as a younger woman -- those songs are beautifully written and they beg to be interpreted and reinterpreted and reinterpreted. Each person gets to make them his or her own, because they are enormously flexible and they're enormously sturdy in their musical construction. They're just really little jewels of artistic expression....

I just feel I had in my little way I may have rescued some of those songs from spending the rest of their lives riding up and down in an elevator.
Like Ronstadt and her contemporaries at the Troubadour, Gershwin was able to rub shoulders other great talents in his formative and productive years. In a recent book review, Jonathan Yardley quotes Fred Astaire, in the liner notes of an album of standards that he recorded in 1952:
"It was my good fortune that Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, and others, supplied the music for these various films and stage shows. . . . Yes indeed, that was a fine lot of material to fall into one's lap."
While each of these men was talented in his own right and in his own unique way, they all learned from each other, both directly and by listening to each other's works in performance. Broadway buzzed in the 1920s and '30s, and they built what has been called, on more than one occasion, "the great American songbook."

Quoting from author Wilfrid Sheed's new book on the men and their era, The House That George Built, Yardley writes:
A good case can be made that this music, combined with its symbiotic partner, jazz, was the great American cultural achievement of the 20th century, a body of work, as Sheed says, "about the whole country, concerning which [these songs] provide maybe the most trustworthy record we have." It is music that reflects America as vividly and truly as anything the country has created, yet the irony is that it was largely produced by members of two groups of outsiders, Jews and blacks. "The standards have actually been referred to as a Jewish response to black music," Sheed writes, "but this definition is a loaded compliment that neither party has rushed to claim." He continues:

"Music is not produced by whole groups, but by one genius at a time, and it may be significant that the two families that gave us Irving Berlin and George Gershwin both fled Russia on the same great wave of czarist pogroms, only to find American black people not only singing about a similar experience, but using the Hebrew Bible as their text."

Had George Gershwin only written "Rhapsody in Blue" or "Concerto in F" or -- especially -- Porgy and Bess -- he would still be remembered as a genius today. (Not so with Of Thee I Sing, a critical and popular success that became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Seventy-five years later, that work is creaky and dated. It does not stand the test of time -- which may say something about Pulitzer judges.)

Novelist John O'Hara said: "George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."

Neither do we.

Harry Potter: Economic Dynamo

With the impending release of both the fifth movie and seventh book in the Harry Potter series, interest in the boy-turned-adolescent wizard is at new heights.

Release Me has a post of a press release from the Nielsen companies about the economic impact of Harry Potter -- books, movies, DVDs, music CDs, toys, games, and miscellany -- since 1998. Much too long to repost in its entirety here (it has many nuggets of information and various statistics), it says in part:

Here is a unique look at the Harry Potter effect.

— Book sales (Nielsen BookScan) - Since 1998, when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the United Kingdom, the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in the UK alone. In the United States, the Harry Potter titles published after 2001 have sold more than 27.7 million copies.

— Box Office sales (Nielsen EDI) - Combined, the first four Harry Potter films have grossed more than $3.5 billion worldwide. The first film, “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the fourth all-time highest grossing film worldwide.

— Advertising (Nielsen Monitor-Plus) - In the U.S., ad spend for all Harry Potter branded merchandise (including books, movies, DVDs and other promotional products) totals $269.1 million from 1998 to date. Outside of the U.S. from 2000 to date, $119.3 million was spent on total advertising for all Harry Potter branded merchandise in Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, and the U.K.

— DVD/Video sales (Nielsen VideoScan) -All three Harry Potter DVDs/Videos - Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban - debuted at #1 and remained the #1 family film for the first 3 weeks of each release.

— Internet Traffic (Nielsen//NetRatings) - The Warner Bros. “Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix” Web site drew 446,762 unique visitors in May 2007.

— Internet Buzz (Nielsen BuzzMetrics) - On blogs, the final book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” is generating more “buzz” than the latest movie installment, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

— Music sales (Nielsen SoundScan) - The four Harry Potter soundtracks combined have sold more than 1.1 million copies in the U.S. and almost 100,000 copies in Canada since the initial release back in October 2001. There have been a total of 180,000 downloads of individual songs that tied to the four Harry Potter soundtracks.

— TV ratings (Nielsen Media Research) - Since 2002, the Harry Potter movies have aired on U.S. television a total of 366 times.

— Moviegoer Profile (Nielsen Cinema) - A recent survey of moviegoers shows 51% of persons age 12+ are aware that the new book is coming out next month. Twenty-eight percent of persons 12+ in the U.S. have read one or more of the previous Harry Potter books, and 15% have read all of the Harry Potter books-to-date.

— Consumer (ACNielsen) - More than $11.8 million has been spent by U.S. consumers on Harry Potter-licensed trademark cookies, candy and gum products since June 2002.
That's a mouthful, isn't it?

Speaking of mouths full, I was intrigued by that last item, which is expanded later in Nielsen's news release:
ACNielsen data also shows that sales for Harry Potter-licensed cookies, candy and gum products peak the week a Harry Potter movie or book launches, showing almost $900,000 in sales for Harry Potter-licensed goods the week of the 11/5/02 movie premiere of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and $650,000 in sales the week of the 11/18/05 movie premiere of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”.

Candy products licensed from the Harry Potter series can be a little unconventional. Some favorites include: Cockroach Clusters, Jelly Slugs, Ice Mice, Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees, and of course Bertie Bott’s Jelly Beans, including ear wax and dirt flavors.
Mmmmm! Ear wax and dirt! "Unconventional" is the least of it.

On a related topic, Doug Mataconis deflates some of the mythology surrounding the (non-economic) impact Harry Potter has had on youth reading habits. The hope was fun while it lasted.

Cost of Government Day 2007

In his opinion in the 1904 Supreme Court case, Compania de Tabacos v. Collector, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

At the time, however, taxes constituted a small fraction of the U.S. economy and of each individual's household income. After the expiration of a special federal tax on chewing gum in 1902, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, "federal receipts fell from 1.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 1.3 percent."

The income tax was made constitutional by the 16th Amendment in 1913. The difference it made is described with surprising candor by the Treasury Department:

Prior to the enactment of the income tax, most citizens were able to pursue their private economic affairs without the direct knowledge of the government. Individuals earned their wages, businesses earned their profits, and wealth was accumulated and dispensed with little or no interaction with government entities. The income tax fundamentally changed this relationship, giving the government the right and the need to know about all manner of an individual or business' economic life. Congress recognized the inherent invasiveness of the income tax into the taxpayer's personal affairs and so in 1916 it provided citizens with some degree of protection by requiring that information from tax returns be kept confidential.
Still, in those days, income taxes were a burden shouldered by few people. Less than 1 percent of Americans were required to pay taxes or file tax returns. (The now-ubiquitous Form 1040 was introduced in the 'teens.)

Even World War I, which raised taxes so substantially that the 1917 budget was "almost equal to the total budget for all the years between 1791 and 1916," brought the portion of GDP absorbed by the federal government only to 25 percent.

The First World War era seems blissfully tax-free in comparison to today. And I mean "today."

According to Americans for Tax Reform, July 11 is the day this year that the average American can begin keeping his earnings for himself and his family rather than turn it over to the government in the form of taxation or regulatory costs. This year, July 11 is Cost of Government Day.

As explained in a report compiled by ATR's Elizabeth Karasmeighan,
Cost of Government Day (COGD) is the date of the calendar year on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by government on the federal, state and local levels.

Cost of Government Day for 2007 is July 11th. With July 11th as the COGD, working people must toil on average 192 days out of the year just to meet all the costs imposed by government. In other words, the cost of government consumes 52.6 percent of national income.
July 11 is just an average, of course. Some states impose bigger tax burdens on their hard-working citizens than others do. As it happens, Virginia's Cost of Government Day is also today. But, as Doug Bandow notes in a column in The American Spectator:
If there is any good news, it is that some states are better than others. In Alabama and Oklahoma taxpayers finished paying for government on June 22. Residents of Alaska and Mississippi quit paying on June 23. Seven more states finished in June

Unfortunately, people in sixteen states, along with the District of Columbia, will continue paying for days, or weeks, later. Connecticut sets the record: August 2. New York trails at July 28. New Jersey follows on July 22. Of Connecticut, Karasmeighan explains, the burden "is so onerous both because it has very high relative incomes, getting a big hit from the federal income tax, and because it has high state and local taxes."
Although Americans at the turn of the century did not enjoy all of the hallmarks of civilization that we do -- no "American Idol," no iPhones, no paparazzi pursuing Paris Hilton -- they could read recent novels by Mark Twain and Henry James, play ragtime on the parlor piano, see a vaudeville show, or enjoy a cold brew at a local pub.

That's not a bad bit of "civilization" for less than 2 percent of national income.

At least we have the rest of the year -- what little is left of it -- to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Point/Counterpoint on Hate Crimes Laws

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch features two articles on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. Dyana Mason of Equality Virginia writes from the "pro" side, and I write from the "con" side.

My article was submitted at the invitation of the newspaper's op-ed editor, who contacted me upon the recommendation of Barticles blogger Bart Hinkle (who is also a Times-Dispatch editorial writer).

I had written on hate-crimes laws in the past, both around the time of Matthew Shepard's murder and after the Roanoke gay bar shootings mentioned by Dyana Mason in her article. This is the first time I have addressed the issue based on the current status of hate-crimes legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Noting that there have been several earlier attempts to pass federal hate-crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation-bias in its purview, I write:

The latest iteration of this legislation is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 3 and now under consideration by the Senate.

One might oppose this bill for the wrong reasons, motivated by an animus against gay and lesbian Americans that refuses to acknowledge them in the law.

One might also oppose this bill for the right reasons, supporting the dignity of gay individuals but objecting on constitutional, legal, and philosophical grounds.
The rest of the article takes those three categories and discusses (as much as one can do within a 700-word limit, even while citing expert opinion from the Cato Institute and Reason magazine) why Congress should, once again, reject hate crimes law as a federal policy. I conclude:
Hateful thoughts may be repugnant to us, but they are not crimes in themselves. And crimes that follow hateful thoughts -- whether vandalism, assault, or murder -- are already punishable by existing statutes.

Passing this bill would also be wrong because it suggests that crimes against some people are worse than crimes against others. Hate-crime laws set up certain privileged categories of people, defined by the groups to which they belong, and offers them unequal protection under the law.

Beyond this philosophical objection, however, federal hate-crime laws – those on the books now, those proposed – are outside the scope of the authority granted Congress by the Constitution. New laws of this type should be rejected; older laws should be repealed.
This is, of course, the basic libertarian position that aims to restrict the size and scope of the federal government.

I am looking forward to seeing if the Times-Dispatch prints any letters to the editor in response to these two articles. In the meantime, gentle readers, please feel free to submit comments here.

Update: Both the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership blog and Equality Loudoun mention these two articles today, with links to the Times-Dispatch op-ed page as well as to this blog.

Additional Update: Coy Barefoot saw the two articles in Saturday's paper and invited me to appear on his WINA-AM radio show. I will be joining Coy on Monday, July 16, from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m.

Yet Another Update: The Independent Gay Forum has reprinted my article from the Times-Dispatch. It is the latest of four articles I have written that have been picked up by the iconoclastic web site.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th Report from Monticello

Today, being the Fourth of July, was marked at the home of Thomas Jefferson with Monticello's 45th annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony. Some 75 new American citizens, who came here from around the world, took the oath of citizenship from Judge James P. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

It is customary for Monticello to host a distinguished speaker at these events. Previous speakers have included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, author Frank McCourt, publisher Al Neuharth, and artists Christo and Jean-Claude. This year's speaker was an assistant district attorney from New York City -- or, more accurately, the actor who plays that attorney on TV, Oscar- and Emmy-nominee Sam Waterston, whose Scottish-born father was an immigrant to the United States.

I have pieced together some video excerpts from today's festivities. I reserve the right to replace these videos when I have a chance to do a better editing job.

In this 10-minute clip, the Charlottesville Municipal Band plays a march, John Charles Thomas reads the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, and Sam Waterston delivers some pointed remarks. (I have reduced Waterston's 22-minute speech to about 7 minutes. The full address may become available at the Monticello web site.)

The oath of citizenship was administered by Judge James P. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Certificates of citizenship were presented and new citizens were congratulated personally by Judge Jones and Mr. Waterston.

After all the new citizens had collected their naturalization certificates, Judge Jones opened the floor to comments. Two newly naturalized Americans rose to the occasion. Here is one of them, Ehonam Miheaye Agbati, an emigrant from Togo.

To close the ceremony, former Charlottesville Mayor Francis Fife, a veteran of World War II, led the new citizens and other Americans in the Pledge of Allegiance. A color guard from the Junior Air Force ROTC unit at Monticello High School in Albemarle County presented the U.S. and Virginia flags.

Happy Independence Day!

America's Elites and the Drug War

The AP and other news sources are reporting that the son of former Vice President Al Gore has been arrested on drug charges.

As posted on the Washington Post web site:

Al Gore's son was pulled over for speeding on a California freeway early Wednesday and arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana and prescription drugs, authorities said.

Al Gore III, 24, was driving a blue Toyota Prius about 100 mph south on the San Diego Freeway when he was pulled over by sheriff's deputies who said they smelled marijuana, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino.

The younger Al Gore is, of course, innocent until proven otherwise. Few pundits will argue -- on Fox News or MSNBC or the Sunday morning talk shows -- that the younger Gore should not have been arrested at all, because the War on Drugs is misdirected, constitutionally flawed, and ultimately futile. And we can certainly expect few politicians -- Al Gore the elder included -- to make arguments of these sorts.

Since today is a holiday and I have better things to do, my only comment on this case is to point to my previous article about another child of political privilege, the daughter of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was also a victim of the government's war on people who use drugs. I posted "Noelle Bush - Example of the Drug War's Failure" on January 24, 2005; it was originally published in the Bradenton Herald in September 2002. Despite the years that have gone by, the argument is still relevant and -- given the news of Al Gore III -- surprisingly fresh.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Free Speech and Irony

Only in America -- or perhaps only in New York City:

A man was arrested in New York only days before we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His alleged crime? Reciting the words of the First Amendment in a public place.

The arrested performance artist goes by the name of Reverend Billy (real name: Bill Talen) and is well-known to those who follow street theatre in the Big Apple.

According to the Associated Press,

Talen, 57, has spent years using his mock persona as a fire-and-brimstone evangelist to rail against consumer culture — what he portrays as the Disneyfication of Manhattan. He was arrested this year on misdemeanor trespassing charges for protesting at a Starbucks; that case is pending.

His latest run-in with the law began after he turned up to support people gathering in Union Square last Friday for the monthly Critical Mass bike ride asserting cyclists' rights.

The NYPD has aggressively policed the rides, arguing that they can interfere with traffic and threaten public safety. Advocates for Critical Mass have accused police of infringing on the riders' constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly.

The video shows Talen preaching the "44 beautiful words of the First Amendment" to a visibly annoyed congregation of police commanders huddled a few feet away. At one point, an officer approaches and warns him that his sermon is breaking the law.

"What's the law?" Talen asks.

"Harassment," the officer answers.

When Talen persists, another officer comes up behind him and slaps on handcuffs. When being put in a police van, the satirist shouts, "We have a right to peaceful assembly!"

Talen was held overnight before being released without bail. A criminal complaint alleges he harassed police officers by approaching them and "repeatedly shouting at such officers through a non-electric bullhorn."

It did not take long for somebody to post the video cited in the AP report to YouTube. Judge for yourself whether Reverend Billy deserved his treatment at the hands of the NYPD:

For the record, here are the words of the First Amendment the Constitution, which Reverend Billy and his co-activists were so vigorously reciting:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
If I'm not mistaken, Reverend Billy was one of the guest speakers at the Virginia Film Festival a few years ago, and I remember vocally disagreeing with his views about economics and society during one of the screenings. Whatever his misguided positions on free enterprise might be, he has my support in his colorful efforts to protect our civil liberties.

Comparing U.S. and European Buying Power

The Classically Liberal blog today has an excellent, comprehensive article comparing costs of living and purchasing power for American and European consumers.

Written by an American currently living in Europe, the blogpost includes both macroeconomic statistics and anecdotal details about buying simple consumer goods.

First, the macroeconomics:

The GDP per capita of nations is considered a standard measure of wealth. And these days most people use them adjusted for purchasing parity. That takes into account that spending a $1 in Burundi gets you more than spending $1 in London. So I checked what is the GDP per capita (PPP) for various countries. Germany is $31,900, France is $31,100, Denmark is $37,000, Austria is $34,600, Poland is $14,300, Sweden is $32,000, Spain is $27,400, Netherlands is $32,100 and the UK is $31,8000. The average for the EU is $29,476. The average for the United States is $44,190. The World Factbook has numbers that are very similar: $44,000 for the US and $29,900 for the European Union.

Now some people will compare one nation in Europe to the entire United States instead of comparing the EU average to the US average. That is cheating. For instance Delaware has a much higher per capita GDP than does Mississippi, just over twice as much. No country in Europe beats Delaware on this index. Cherry picking the specific European countries can make the stats look better than the average does as would cherry picking which states one uses for the US.

Instead we take all 50 states all the members of the EU as two groups and compare them. And that gives us the figure of $29,476 for the EU and $44,190 for the US. By the way since these are adjusted for purchasing power that also takes into account the disparities in cost of living.
Second, the tax burden on the macro-level:
The OECD surveys the tax burden in their member states, as measured by tax revenues as a percentage of GDP. The higher the percentage the higher the average tax burden per nation. Since the OECD covers the United States and most of Europe it is a helpful index to use. The five nations with the highest tax burdens were all in the EU: Sweden 50.8%; Denmark 49%; Belgium 45.8%; Finland 44.9%; France 44.2%. The United States was listed at 25.4%. The lowest EU country on the list was Ireland at 30%.
Third, the cost of living comparisons:
One popular index is the cost of living index for various major cities in the world. They use New York City as the base rate. And New York City is the most expensive American city. It is still cheaper than many European cities. London is scary when one looks at prices. For instance a tube ticket there is almost three times the rate for a subway ticket in New York. A music CD that costs € 13.22 in New York is € 19.17 in London. A burger meal that is € 4.32 in New York is € 5.74 in London.

Of the major cities in the world, as I stated already, New York is the most expensive in the United States. Yet in Europe it would be cheaper than London, Copenhagen, Geneva, Zurich, Oslo, Milan, or Paris.
Fourth, the anecdotal evidence:
If I were to purchase an ear of corn at my local store it would cost me $1.36. The store I use is connected in some way with A&P in the US (at least they stock many A&P items) so I pulled up a random store in the US in New Jersey (not one of the cheapest states either) and they had ears of corn on sale for 16¢. Recently when I was spending a few months in the UK I remember the price for an ear of corn there was about $1.00 each.

The US store sells Barbeque sauce for 79¢ and I recently paid $6.80 here but that might be excused since it was "imported". Two liter bottles of Pepsi are $1.25 each while I would pay about twice that for 1.5 liters (actually I stopped buying soft drinks due to the prices). The potatoes I buy in Europe are slightly more expensive but they are very small, potatoes and not of the quality of the Idaho baking potatoes. A store one bus ride away does stock similar potatoes but at a much higher price plus the bus trip is $3 so I rarely purchase there unless I have to be there for another reason. The food items I picked here are items I have priced or purchased within the last few days and are merely examples.
Overall, this piece debunks the myth that Europeans are better off than Americans -- at least economically speaking. It's one more reason to be glad for the separation that occurred on July 4, 1776.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Libertarian Voting Bloc

Using the generally accepted (but not fastidious) definition of "libertarian" as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative," a public opinion survey reported in Sunday's Washington Post finds -- but does not say outright -- that 16% of independents and 5% of all voters are (or ought to be considered) "libertarians."

Veteran Post political correspondent David Broder writes in Sunday's Outlook pages about the large bloc of independents, who have proven to be the swing voters in recent elections:

These are the swing voters who usually decide close elections, the ones who split their votes between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry in 2004 and swung strongly to the Democrats in the midterm elections of 2006....

While these independents swung substantially to the Democratic side in 2006, 77 percent of them say they would seriously consider voting for an independent if one were running. Doing so wouldn't be new for many of them; half of them say they already have voted for independent or third-party candidates for president or statewide office.

And there are a lot more of them now than there were back in 1992, when Ross Perot made his third-party run, let alone earlier years when John B. Anderson and George C. Wallace tried. Estimates now are that 30 percent or more of American voters consider themselves independents -- almost as many as call themselves Democrats and outnumbering the Republicans.

The survey to which Broder refers is found on the Post's front page, reported under the headline "A Political Force With Many Philosophies." Using the polling data, staff writers Dan Balz and Jon Cohen identify five main categories of independents: "Deliberators," 'Disillusioned," "Dislocated," "Disguised Partisans," and "Disengaged."

The category "Dislocated" is the one closest to what most people would tag as libertarians. In the main body of their article, Balz and Cohen write:
The ideologically Dislocated are far more likely to say that the Democrats better represent their views on social issues, while a majority asserted that the government in Washington is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. They are also the least religious of any of the five groups.
In a sidebar (one of five, with one for each identified group), they expand on this description:
These independents are overwhelmingly socially liberal and fiscally conservative, making them uncomfortable with increasingly polarized parties.

They are ideologically dislocated. But they are engaged and active.

Nearly two-thirds are male and they are the least religious of any segment. Three in 10 profess no religion, nearly half rarely or never attend services and six in 10 want religion to play a more limited role in public life.

A quarter volunteer that neither party represents their views on the budget and effective governmental management.

They are the most likely of any group to get “a lot” of their political information from the web. A third described themselves as “libertarians,” 46 percent as “progressives.”

For 2008, the dislocated are a prime Democratic target, but depending on the Republican nominee, this could be a GOP opportunity.
Although only one-third of this group self-identify as libertarian, the whole category sure sounds libertarian to me.

The bad news, of course, is that this core of libertarian voters -- at least according to this particular poll -- amounts to no more than one-twentieth of the electorate. This will have to affect how libertarian political activists -- including leaders of the Libertarian Party and the Republican Liberty Caucus, among other groups -- develop strategies to recruit candidates for public office, find and reach potential voters, and persuade people to cast their ballots for libertarian or libertarian-leaning candidates.

Not wanting to sound discouraged (or discouraging), this certainly has all the earmarks of a Sisyphean task.

Mr. Popularity

Tyler Whitney should get himself a Hollywood agent.

In the two weeks since I first blogged about the young gay conservative activist from Michigan, his name has become the single most popular search term leading people to this site. He far outpaces previous leaders Aaron Carter, Daniel Radcliffe, Jeremy Sumpter, Dave Moffatt, and Hunter Parrish. The presence of his name here boosted blog traffic in this direction by an order of hundreds of new visitors per day for more than a week.

Although a few other web sites linked to my article (a featured link on the front page of alone led to 530 hits over two days), by far the most visits were through Google or other search engines. People were actively seeking news and information about Tyler Whitney.

At one point, "The Outing of Tyler Whitney" accounted for more than 1,600 of the previous 4,000 visits here (according to SiteMeter, although Google Analytics put the number in the same ballpark). Even now Tyler's seekers number about 1,300 (out of 4,000 "current" visits), more than quadruple the number of visitors interested in the formerly overwhelming favorite "Shirtless and Circumcised" and more than six times as many the number wanting to read my review of The Witches of Eastwick at Signature Theatre.

So, my hat is off to Tyler Whitney -- who, by the way, celebrates his 19th birthday today. Be sure to send him your best wishes, and thank him for driving traffic my way.

Aujourd'hui le Canada a 140 ans

Happy birthday to our friends north of the 48th parallel!

Today marks the 140th anniversary of the British North America Act, which joined together the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada (divided into Ontario and Quebec) under the single name "Canada."

The British North America Act served as Canada's "constitution" until 1982, when the passage of the Canada Act by the British Parliament resulted in the patriation of the country's basic law, severing all legislative ties to Westminster and vesting full sovereignty in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, with Queen Elizabeth II continuing to serve as head of state. (As Queen of Canada, she gave her assent to the Constitution Act in April 1982, which ratified the earlier legislation by the British Parliament and making Canada fully autonomous.)

It is really only since the early 1980s that Canada Day has been celebrated with any vigor. (The holiday was known as "Dominion Day" for 114 years but had been marked only by sporadic observances during that time, starting to take off after the centennial commemoration in 1967.)

Technically, Canada Day this year will be celebrated on Monday, July 2, which is also the anniversary of the day the Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain in 1776. This must, however, simply be considered a coincidence.

Courtesy of our friends at YouTube, here is a rendition of the Canadian national anthem (bilingue, naturellement), from a promotional video sponsored by the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. (The video images do not signify; I just like the clear voice of the anonymous singer.)

For those who prefer a more off-beat rendering of "O Canada," here is a video that includes, in addition to street hockey and woodlands, a key role for the iconically Canadian Tim Hortons restaurant. As Homer Simpson would say, "Mmmmm, doughnuts." (In terms of the instrumental music, I think Jimi Hendrix might have done it better.)

Let me make a confession: I am Canadian by ancestry, eh. I have (regrettably), however, never visited the fatherland. Notwithstanding increased hurdles put in place by the U.S. government for cross-border trips, I hope to rectify this lacuna of my life someday soon.

For good measure, here are the official lyrics to "O Canada" in French and English:
Official (English)

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land
Glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee;
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Officielle (Français)

Ô Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits;
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
Sing out this Sunday (and Monday, for good measure) in tribute to the "True North strong and free."