Monday, March 31, 2008

Forty Years Ago Tonight

On March 31, 1968, at the end of a speech about the course of the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson surprised a nationwide television audience by announcing that he would not be a candidate for re-election that year.

Most of the speech is forgotten, but the last minute and a half or so is among the most memorable passages of all (non-oratorical) presidential speeches:

With American sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office -- the Presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President. But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong and a confident and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace; and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause, whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
The History Channel has that portion of the speech on line:

The entire speech, for those who are interested, is available in audio format on the web site of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

Last August, after attending the annual users group meeting for Hart Intercivic (the company that manufactures the voting equipment used in Charlottesville), I took some time to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Here is some video I took that afternoon, which was just a few weeks after the death of Lady Bird Johnson.

Part I of the video includes some interesting exhibits about the popular culture of the 1960s, as well as Lady Bird's recollections of the Kennedy assassination of November 22, 1963. Part II of the video begins with a creepy animatronic LBJ delivering some jokes over a barnyard fence and also includes a look at the Oval Office as it was configured during LBJ's presidency.

Part I:

Part II:

Those of you interested in these sorts of exhibits may wish to compare the video I took last July at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

Is Blogging a Sickness?

Advertising Age points to a recent article that apparently has others in the blogosphere buzzing.

The original article, an editorial in The American Journal of Psychiatry by Dr. Jerald Block, argues that "Internet addiction" should be included as a pathological condition in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Dr. Block writes:

Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage (1, 2) and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging (3). All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue (3, 4).
Most of Dr. Block's data comes from studies in Asia, with applications to the United States only suggested by those studies. Nonetheless, he concludes:

In the United States, accurate estimates of the prevalence of the disorder are lacking (11, 12). Unlike in Asia, where Internet cafés are frequently used, in the United States games and virtual sex are accessed from the home. Attempts to measure the phenomenon are clouded by shame, denial, and minimization (3). The issue is further complicated by comorbidity. About 86% of Internet addiction cases have some other DSM-IV diagnosis present. In one study, the average patient had 1.5 other diagnoses (7). In the United States, patients generally present only for the comorbid condition(s). Thus, unless the therapist is specifically looking for Internet addiction, it is unlikely to be detected (3). In Asia, however, therapists are taught to screen for it.

Despite the cultural differences, our case descriptions are remarkably similar to those of our Asian colleagues (8, 1315), and we appear to be dealing with the same issue. Unfortunately, Internet addiction is resistant to treatment, entails significant risks (16), and has high relapse rates. Moreover, it also makes comorbid disorders less responsive to therapy (3).

Responding in Advertising Age to Block's article, Simon Dumenco writes:
In other words, endlessly checking Facebook or spending hours mainlining YouTube could be a sign of an actual, specific sort of mental illness. That diagnosis was, of course, perfect fodder for bloggers, who could muse about their own craziness while continuing to engage in precisely the activity that makes them crazy -- while also implicating their readers. It was like watching a bottle of Jack Daniel's getting passed around at an AA meeting.
Dumenco notes, correctly, that the Internet has always been viewed as somewhat pathological:
Internet addiction as a media meme, of course, dates almost to the earliest days of the medium (and obviously interweaves with other media addictions -- to TV, video games, etc.).
He points to another article in The Observer, a British quality ewspaper, that first picked up on Block's argument in the mainstream press. Writing on Easter Sunday, technology correspondent David Smith noted that, even before Block made his plea in the professional press, treatment for Internet addiction had already popped up in various places:

Internet addiction clinics have sprung up around the world in an attempt to wean people off their need for a fix. Many people have turned, apparently without irony, to web discussion boards with names such as Internet Addicts Anonymous. The Centre for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, says internet addiction has become a growing legal issue in criminal, divorce and employment cases. It offers a consultation service to lawyers that includes 'assessing the role of electronic anonymity in the development of deviant, deceptive and illegal sexual online activities'.

Robert Freedman, editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry, said expressions of the addiction could be diverse. 'In Korea, it seems to be primarily gaming sites. In America, it seems to be Facebook. It's porn, it's games, it's gambling, it's chatting with friends. All these things existed before, but now they're a lot easier.'

To beat the addiction, he advised: 'A self-help group might be a place to start. Maybe replace an online group with a real one.'

Like any form of entertainment (or employment), the Internet can be enjoyed in small doses, in moderation, or in inordinately large chunks of time. Is sitting at a computer playing video games that much more addictive than sitting in a basement playing Dungeons and Dragons or Monopoly? Is reading Wikipedia inherently more addictive -- or more dangerous -- than reading volumes of Britannica (as I did as a pre-teen)?

There seems to be a modern tendency to label any behavior that is eccentric or out-of-the-normal (not necessarily abnormal) as being pathological. That is a line we should be wary to cross, and we should do so only when the evidence is incontrovertible.

In the meantime, somebody pass me the Jack Daniel's.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What Will Cuccinelli Announce?

Last weekend, as reported here through video, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37) told members of the Republican Liberty Caucus that he is leaning toward running for Attorney General in 2009. (Given other developments this week, he would -- should he win the nomination -- be the third man on a McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli ticket.)

Now comes a news release from Cuccinelli's office, alerting the press and public to a "key announcement" to be made on Monday afternoon:


Fairfax, Virginia, March 28, 2008 – Virginia State Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) today scheduled a press conference for Monday, March 31st at 12:30 pm. The press conference will occur in front of the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway; Fairfax, Virginia 22035.

Cuccinelli will address his intentions regarding the 2009 race for the Republican nomination for Virginia Attorney General: “Having had some time at home after the General Assembly session, my wife and I have made some decisions about this race that are now final enough to share.”

Cuccinelli, a partner in the law firm of Cuccinelli & Day, PLLC, was first elected to the Senate of Virginia in a 2002 special election. He serves on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and has worked closely with the Attorney General’s office on key public safety and public interest legislation.

If Cuccinelli does go ahead and make the run for Attorney General, he'll be entering a crowded field. As I mentioned previously, former Arlington County School Board member Dave Foster has expressed interest, as has Gil Davis, a Northern Virginia attorney who sought the nomination in 1997, the year that Jerry Kilgore won. So has Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) and, apparently, Bell's predecessor, former Delegate Paul Harris, according to Daily Progress political writer Bob Gibson. Gibson also mentions state Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26) of Harrisonburg as a possibility. In his remarks to the RLC, Cuccinelli noted that Obenshain is an ally of his in the Virginia Senate.

The Democratic side may not be as crowded. A Washington Post article from late January suggests Delegate Steve Shannon (D-35) and state Finance Secretary Jody Wagner may throw their hats into the ring. There had been some talk earlier on about Delegate Brian Moran (D-46), the leader of the House Democratic caucus, running for the AG post, but he seems firmly intent on running for his party's gubernatorial nomination against state Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25), who came within a hair's breadth of winning the Attorney General's race in 2005.

As a transplant to Virginia myself, I feel safe in asking, in Moran's case, whether Virginia voters are willing to elect a third non-native candidate in a row to the governor's office. And not just any outlander, but the second New Englander since 2001. One would hope that issues and character are the main criteria for a choice but really -- after the reaction Jerry Kilgore's voice got in 2005, is it possible that Moran's Boston accent will play well in Southwest and Southside Virginia?

'Glory Days' Heads to Big Stem

Glory Days, the new musical that was reviewed here a few weeks ago, is on its way to Broadway.

According to Jane Horwitz in Wednesday's Washington Post:

Signature Theatre's "Glory Days," the coming-of-age musical set on a football field, is moving to Broadway next month.

Staged by Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, the four-man show will play at the Circle in the Square Theatre, which specializes in intimately scaled musicals. "Glory Days" begins previews April 22 and opens May 6. Until recently, Circle in the Square hosted the Tony-winning "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
The Post report says that no casting decisions have been made, but I would be surprised, given how quickly that opening night is approaching, if Schaeffer does not simply transfer the original cast from Shirlington to New York (assuming all four actors are available).

This announcement is a real feather in the caps of James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, the young librettist and composer of Glory Days.

I gained a new appreciation for the score of the show once I discovered some workshop cabaret performances of a couple of the songs on YouTube.

Here's a sample:

This one is performed by James Gardiner, himself:

Horwitz notes, as I once did with reference to another Signature Theatre premiere, that few plays that begin locally in Washington make it to the Great White Way:
The transfer of a play from Washington to Broadway is an exceedingly rare occurrence. Arena Stage's award-winning "The Great White Hope" moved to Broadway in 1968, and the Signature Theatre/Rep Stage production of "Never the Sinner," based on the Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder case, was produced off-Broadway in 1998 at the John Houseman Theater.
I can only imagine the headiness of learning that one's first major work of musical theatre is going to be playing on Broadway. What a trip that must be!

There's also a special feeling for those of us who saw the show during its world-premiere run in Arlington. We'll be able to say, "I was there when ..."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Breaking News: Gibson to Head Sorensen Institute

The Charlottesville Daily Progress announced less than an hour ago that its veteran political reporter, Bob Gibson, will be succeeding Sean O'Brien as executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.

According to the report filed by McGregor McCance:

In his new role, Gibson said he will focus on "helping to find and train political and civic leaders across Virginia in the spirit of the institute's founders."

Charlottesville businessmen Leigh Middleditch and Michael Bills started the organization, originally called the Virginia Institute of Political Leadership, in 1993.

Gibson, a 1972 UVa graduate and native of Arlington County, starts the new job April 21. He succeeds Sean O'Brien, who left the institute to become executive director of a new Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier.

Barbara Fried, chairman of the institute's state advisory board, said Gibson fits the mission and character of the Sorensen Institute.

"A lot of people said he is the face of Sorensen because he stands for integrity and objectivity, and he is well known across the state and well respected," she said.
The Sorensen Institute, in addition to its regular programs, has also sponsored "Virginia Blogger Summits" that were held in 2005 and 2006.

Brian Wheeler, a Sorensen Institute alumnus and member of the Albemarle County School Board, told WINA-AM radio host Coy Barefoot that Gibson's departure "will be a huge loss for the Daily Progress," a sentiment with which I agree.

This story is developing.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Vern McKinley Addresses the RLC-Virginia

Vern McKinley is a candidate for Congress in Virginia's 10th District. Last Saturday, he came to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia to seek the group's endorsement.

In this video of McKinley's remarks, he lays out the case for why the RLC-Virginia should endorse him rather than his opponent, incumbent Representative Frank Wolf. (I have incorporated a PowerPoint presentation that McKinley brought to the meeting into the video of his speech; the PowerPoint slides all appear in Part I of the video.)

McKinley points out how Wolf's ratings with the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) have fallen precipitously over the past 13 years, and that Wolf compares unfavorably on several other ratings scales with Congressmen Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), who are often cited by RLC members as among the Members of Congress whose positions are closest to the Founders' vision of how a constitutional republic should be governed.

He also shows how Frank Wolf's record parallels that of Maryland Representive Wayne Gilchrest, who was recently defeated in a party primary that focused on many of the same issues that, McKinley believes, make Wolf vulnerable.

The entire video lasts for about 13 minutes, but I had to split it per YouTube's 10-minute-limit rule.

Part I:

Part II:

(Part II seems truncated because it is; I ran out of tape just as RLC-Virginia chairman D.J. McGuire was commenting on former state Senator John Chichester's decision to retire last year.)

For more information on Vern McKinley, check out his campaign's Facebook group; for more information on the RLC-Virginia, check out the state organization's blog.

Ken Cuccinelli Addresses the Republican Liberty Caucus

State Senator Ken Cuccinelli, who represents the 37th District in Fairfax County, was the featured speaker at last Saturday's meeting of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia. Senator Cuccinelli gave an overview of the recently completed General Assembly session, with an emphasis on budget and transportation issues.

Cuccinelli also indicated, in the last few minutes of his remarks, that he is likely to be a candidate for Attorney General in 2009, running on a platform of stripping the Virginia Code of its unnecessary and harmful elements -- in other words, he will be looking for laws that should be repealed, rather than for new laws that he would like to add to the law books.

With Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling's announcement, earlier today, that he will not be a candidate for Governor in 2009 (and will be seeking re-election, instead), this will focus more attention on the Virginia Attorney General's race. Besides Cuccinelli, several other potential candidates have been named, including Delegate Rob Bell, former Arlington School Board member Dave Foster, and 1997 AG candidate Gil Davis. No doubt other names will come to light in the months to come.

Here is the video of Senator Cuccinelli's speech to the RLC-Virginia last weekend:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

The "announcement" about the Attorney General's race comes in Part IV of the video.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Now on Video: The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

Last month, the South Texas College of Law ("Houston's oldest law school") hosted a symposium entitled "Is Gay Marriage Conservative?" It was designed by the organizers to "foster civil debate among conservatives and within conservative thought about gay marriage" and it focused "on the underlying policy question of whether gay marriage is a good idea from a conservative perspective."

Speakers included former Bush White House speech writer David Frum, author of What It Means to Be a Libertarian Charles Murray, law professor Dale Carpenter, former Bush 43 administration deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, and journalist/policy analyst Jonathan Rauch.

The presentations made by the various speakers had some provocative titles, among them: "Not Whether but How: Gay Marriage and the Revival of Burkean Conservatism;" "The Conservative Case Against Federal Regulation of Gay Marriage;" "The Libertarian Salvation of a Conservative Institution;" and "Three Bad -- and Unconservative -- Arguments for Same-sex Marriage."

The entire symposium, which took place February 15, is now available in streaming video format on the South Texas College of Law web site. Caveat: I have not yet reviewed all the speeches, so I reserve comment on the content.

Cruella De Vil Needs a Lobbyist

Just in time for the digitally remastered DVD release of Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians, Representative James P. "Fighting Jim" Moran (D-VA-8) has introduced a bill, HB 891, to "ensure that domestic dog and cat fur is prohibited from being imported, exported, manufactured, sold, or advertised in the United States and to require the labeling of all fur products under the Fur Products Labeling Act."

Moran has gathered 163 co-sponsors for the legislation, which has been referred to the subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

One has to appreciate the precision of the legislative language in Moran's bill. Witness Section 2:

      (a) Domestic Cat- Section 308(a)(1) of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1308(a)(1)) is amended by striking `Felis catus' and inserting `Felis silvestris catus (or any species commonly known as a domestic cat)'.
      (b) Domestic Dog and Raccoon Dog- Section 308(a)(5) of such Act (19 U.S.C. 1308(a)(5)) is amended by striking `Canis familiaris' and inserting the following: `Canis lupus familiaris (or any species commonly known as a domestic dog) or of any animal of the species Nyctereutes procyonoides (or any species commonly known as a raccoon dog)'.
      When coon dog pelts are outlawed, only outlaws will have coon dog pelts.

      Tuesday, March 11, 2008

      Tertium Quids Has a Blog

      The Virginia-centric public policy advocacy organization, Tertium Quids, now has a blog.

      I have written about Tertium Quids on previous occasions, most recently with regard to a news conference in Richmond on creating more transparency in the state budget. (I earlier wrote about a Tertium Quids event at which Citizens Against Government Waste released a state "piglet book," exposing pork in the Virginia budget.)

      The new Tertium Quids blog is shepherded by Norm Leahy, whose recent postings address the failed HB 3202 transportation package and its "abusive driver fees," the Free Lance-Star's pressure on Speaker Howell to support tax increases, and observations on the General Assembly's budget conference committee.

      We'll be reading the Tertium Quids blog with much interest, particularly during the legislative sessions and state and local election campaigns (which means virtually all year round).

      Friday, March 07, 2008

      George McGovern Now Makes Sense

      Those Massachusetts voters who once smugly pasted a bumper sticker on their cars saying "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McGovern" may have second thoughts once they see the former South Dakota senator's opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal.

      And conservatives may have their own second thoughts when they see that their bête noire of extreme left-liberalism is taking issue with the prevalence of paternalism in public policy today. McGovern -- hold your breath, conservatives, this may be hard to believe -- actually takes issue with the left's conventional wisdom on subprime mortgages, health insurance availability, and payday lending.

      McGovern's WSJ article, headlined "Freedom Means Responsibility," argues:

      Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.
      Here is what he says about the mortgage situation, warning that the legislative cures now under consideration may be worse than the disease:

      With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.

      There's no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market.

      The real question for policy makers is how to protect those worthy borrowers who are struggling, without throwing out a system that works fine for the majority of its users (all of whom have freely chosen to use it). If the tub is more baby than bathwater, we should think twice about dumping everything out.

      On health care, McGovern suggests that we need to liberalize -- in the sense of making markets more open -- health insurance regulations, in order to give consumers more choices and reduce the need for government intervention in the health-care market:

      Health-care paternalism creates another problem that's rarely mentioned: Many people can't afford the gold-plated health plans that are the only options available in their states.

      Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It's as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

      McGovern also points out that payday lenders -- recently the target of anti-market legislation in the Virginia General Assembly -- may, despite the high interest rates they charge, be beneficial to poor and working-class people who need a temporary loan to pay their utility bills or make their monthly rent payment before penalties kick in:

      With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee -- usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.

      Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn't perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who's familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.

      Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.

      Senator McGovern ends his article with a couple of paragraphs that could have been lifted from Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek. He sounds downright libertarian:

      Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

      The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

      Who would think that 35 years on, George McGovern, writing in the Wall Street Journal, turns out to be more of an economic liberal (in the proper, non-pejorative, unconfused sense of the term) than Richard Nixon?

      Ron Paul: The Revolution Continues

      While not withdrawing officially from the 2008 presidential race -- but still acknowledging that the goal of the nomination for Republican standard-bearer is unattainable -- Congressman Ron Paul has laid out his vision for a post-campaign strategy designed to renew America's commitment to liberty.

      Using the new media -- posting a video on YouTube -- Dr. Paul explains that elections are short-term while revolutions are long-term projects. He suggests that supporters of his campaign should continue to work together to promote the ideas brought to the fore by his campaign. Dr. Paul, it seems, knows that this effort was always bigger than one man. (Unlike Obamamania, for instance, the Paul campaign has been about ideas and not a cult of personality.)

      Dr. Paul mentions the date of June 21 as the best one for a march on Washington, in which lovers of liberty can gather in the Nation's Capital to bring their ideas to the backyards of Congress and the President, with the eyes of the media on them, as well. With good luck, hard work, and good organization, perhaps this will be a (non-violent) repeat of 1968 and the "whole world [will be] watching."

      Here is Congressman Paul's video message, which is dated March 6:

      "The revolution will be televised"? That is so 20th century.

      Thursday, March 06, 2008

      News Flash: College Students Like Sex

      Who knew? It turns out that courses with words like "sex" or "sexuality" in their titles are among the most popular classes offered on college campuses today.

      Writing in the Marquette Tribune, a student newspaper at Marquette University in Milwaukee, correspondent Sarah Milnar reports:

      Lisa Heineman, academic coordinator of the University of Iowa's Sexuality Studies program and professor of history, said sex and sexuality courses are increasing in popularity.

      "For a long time sexuality was one of those taboo topics," she said.

      But now Heineman said it's a growing field. The University of Iowa offers 35 classes with "sex" in the title this term.

      "We all need to know something about sexuality," she said. "Professors offer courses on it because we think it's a really important area of life that deserves study."

      Heineman said most sexuality teaching comes through the history department, although professors offer such courses in several other departments, from English, to religious studies to nursing.

      The sex and sexuality classes at the University of Iowa fill up quickly, Heineman said. She added that she often receives e-mails from students asking for permission to enter the classes. Professors are frustrated that they cannot offer more sexuality classes, she said.
      And to think it all started with one Indiana University professor studying wasps.

      The 35 courses on sex or sexuality taught at Iowa are only a small portion of the more than 2,000 courses taught at that university. The University of Wisconsin at Madison offers a few more than that, Milnar notes:
      This semester, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers 80 sections of various "sex"—titled courses, such as History of Sexuality and Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, according to their Web site.
      As to her own college -- a Catholic and Jesuit institution that descends from the same one-room academy as my alma mater, Marquette University High School -- Milnar writes:
      Marquette offered Sociology of Sex and Gender, SOCI 162, and Human Sexuality, PSYC 165 last term. The only sex-titled course available this term is Human Sexuality, according to CheckMarq.

      But Marquette offers other courses that are broader than sex but still connect to sexuality issues, said Michael Wierzbicki, associate professor and chair of Marquette's Psychology department. These classes include Psychology of Marriage and Family, Psychology of Gender Roles and Psychology of Prejudice, he said.

      Human Sexuality is offered at least once per academic year, he said.

      Although sex may be considered taboo, Wierzbicki said his department does not offer more sexuality courses because of a small number of faculty, who are barely able to cover required psychology classes.

      "There's no issue that the content leads us to avoid it," he said.

      Human Sexuality is an elective class, and the department must offer required and core classes first, he said.

      But Wierzbicki said the Human Sexuality course tends to fill to capacity.

      "Sex sells," Wierzbicki said. "It's a popular topic and certainly a topic that is meaningful for everybody's life."
      According to the Marquette Tribune article, Nancy Snow, an associate professor of philosophy at MU, has at least a partial explanation for the popularity of these courses on college campuses:
      "Students have an intrinsic interest in the subject matter."

      Wednesday, March 05, 2008

      Portman for Veep?

      Confused readers may infer from the headline above that Natalie Portman, a popular and comely actress best known as Princess Amidala in Episodes 1, 2, and 3 of the Star Wars movies and for her most recent role as The Other Boleyn Girl (or does she play the other Boleyn girl?), is under consideration for vice president. Not so.

      No, the Portman in the headline is former Republican Congressman Rob Portman, who has also served as U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

      Capitol Hill is buzzing with the possibility that John McCain, who sewed up his party's nomination for President yesterday with sweeping victories in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont, will choose the former Member of Congress as his running mate.

      Portman brings a lot to the table as a potential vice-presidential candidate. Born in 1955, he adds a youthful profile to a ticket that will include the oldest-ever major-party presidential nominee. He has administrative experience as the head of two large executive-branch agencies. Not only does he have direct legislative experience from his days on Capitol Hill (1993-2005), but he has worked as a legislative liaison in the administration of George H.W. Bush.

      Moreover, Portman is a popular vote-getter from the swing state of Ohio, which is a must-win for any presidential ticket. (Had Ohio swung the other way four years ago, President John Kerry would be seeking re-election today.) In each of his six elections to Congress, Portman trounced his Democratic opponents, never falling below 72 percent of the vote in those contests.

      Right now, Portman's potential as McCain's choice is under the radar, although a few mainstream publications have mentioned his name among a long list of possible running mates. (Among these mentions are Foreign Policy, the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, and the New York Times.)

      McCain has six months to choose a running mate, and his choice must be ratified by the delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in September. No doubt McCain and his advisors are going to wait to see what the outcome of the Democratic party's nomination contest before making any final decisions.

      Tuesday, March 04, 2008

      John Hager and Barnie Day Speak to Election Officials

      Last weekend, the Virginia Electoral Board Association (VEBA) held its annual meeting at the Homestead in Hot Springs. The meeting included addresses by Tom Wilkey, the executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, the nationwide professional organization for election officials. There were also break-out sessions on VERIS (the statewide voter registration system), recruiting election officials, "Electoral Board 101" (for new EB members), and an opportunity to exchange ideas with the new secretary of the State Board of Elections, Nancy Rodrigues, who took her post just weeks before last year's November elections.

      VEBA's annual meeting also provides an informal opportunity for Electoral Board members from around the state to compare notes with their counterparts, discussing problems and solutions and learning how to do their jobs better by inquiring about other election officials' experience.

      The Saturday banquet featured a panel discussion with former Virginia lieutenant governor John Hager (now chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, and a candidate for re-election to that position) and Barnie Day, a former Democratic member of the House of Delegates and author of Notes from the Sausage Factory, a book about the legislative process.

      The speakers' assignment was to discuss the question of whether having politically-appointed electoral board members is a case of "the fox guarding the hen house."

      By way of background, each county and city in Virginia has an electoral board of three members. Two members come from the party of the current governor, and one member comes from the party of the candidate who came in second in the last gubernatorial election. That means that, since 2002, each electoral board has had two Democrats and one Republican. (The State Board of Elections, or SBE, has a similar make-up.)

      Electoral board members are nominated by the chairmen of the local political party committees, and appointed by the Circuit Court judge. Technically, electoral boards are part of the judiciary, but they exercise administrative functions by themselves appointing General Registrars and supervising the activities of local Offices of Voter Registration and Elections.

      To tell the truth, Hager and Day did not directly address the question put to them, but together they made some pertinent points about Virginia election law and procedures. They also seemed to agree with each other as much as they disagreed, despite the fact that they come from different political parties.

      I had my video camera handy at the banquet and recorded the speeches and the question-and-answer session with the audience, which was moderated by VEBA communications director Robin Lind.

      Part I:

      In this first segment, VEBA president Maggi Luca (from the Fairfax County Electoral Board) introduces the speakers.

      Part II:

      John Hager took the microphone in this second segment, beginning with a listing of the various idiosyncrasies in Virginia politics and governance. Hager is a former president of VEBA, and here he tells a hilarious (and true) story about former Senator Chuck Robb, a lovely young lady, and a rendezvous one night at the Hot Springs airport.

      Part III:

      In this third segment, Hager continues his remarks, and then Barnie Day takes the microphone. Matching Hager shaggy-dog-story for shaggy-dog-story, Day amuses the audience with a memory of a family funeral, Southern-style.

      Part IV:

      Barnie Day continues his remarks in the fourth segment, emphasizing his thoughts about voter participation and whether voting should be a legal requirement. He offers some interesting trivia: "In the 1932 presidential election, Roosevelt vs. Hoover, there was one county east of the Mississippi that went for Hoover." That county turns out to have been Floyd County, Virginia.

      Part V:

      This is where the Q&A begins. Barnie Day responds to one question with a funny story about dog food. Hager talks about the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned last year's transportation package and the dangers of writing legislation "hastily." He addresses the apparent increase in voter participation this year and expresses hope that it's not a one-off phenomenon. Both Day and Hager talk about non-partisan redistricting. (They both believe that the redistricting process needs to be changed, but both are skeptical that the General Assembly will change it.)

      Part VI:

      As the Q&A continues in segment six, Barnie Day brings up the Electoral College and suggests it, too should be changed. Hager agrees with him. (I disagree with both -- though not on camera.)

      Part VII:

      In this final segment, Hager and Day continue to respond to questions from the audience, and continue a conversation about redistricting. Day suggests that there should be more of a match between state Senate and state House districts. There is a mismatch, he says, because there are 100 House districts and 40 Senate districts. It would be better to decrease the House districts to 80 or increase the Senate to 50, with two House districts contiguous with each Senate district. Because this is such a good idea, he says, "it is almost guaranteed never to happen."

      Speaking of election laws and procedures, I will be a guest on "The Schilling Show" tomorrow on WINA-AM from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., talking about voting machine security with David Swanson, who recently had articles in The Hook and C-VILLE casting doubt on the integrity of our electoral system.