Saturday, October 31, 2009

Class of 2010 Photo

Five of the candidates for the Republican nomination in the Fifth Congressional District race to select an opponent to incumbent Representative Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) appeared today at the first annual FreedomFest in Greene County. The event, with multiple sponsorships that included the Jefferson Area Tea Party and the Green County Republican Committee, attracted about 150 to 200 people and featured food, drinks, and a moon bounce for the kids.

For the first time (but probably not the last) the five candidates posed for a photograph (at my suggestion).

From left to right: Ken Boyd, Laurence Verga, Feda Morton, Michael McPadden, Robert Hurt.

Video from the event will be posted later today.

Update: More photos from the Green County FreedomFest can be found on Facebook.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Watch Your Language!

A couple of items from today's Daily Progress deserve comment because of their infelicitous use of the English language (which, as Henry Higgins put it, is the language of "Shakespeare, Milton, and the Bible").

First, a Media General News Service article on page 2A about the new U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Timothy Heaphy, refers to Heaphy as "a former federal prosecutor and most recently a white-collar criminal defense attorney in Charlottesville."

This is, as an attorney might say, facially false. The same article notes that Heaphy was sworn in on October 16, which makes him the current federal prosecutor. It would be better to say something like this:

Heaphy most recently worked as a white-collar criminal defense attorney and, before that, served as a lower-level federal prosecutor...
By the way, the article does not appear on the Daily Progress web site (or at least it cannot be easily located there), but the same report can be found on the web site of the Lynchburg News & Advance, dated October 27.

Second, in a letter to the editor aimed at discouraging votes for gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, John M. Bowman of Charlottesville uses the hamhanded and demeaning phrase, "gay and lesbian lifestyle," a formulation that betrays what might be called "soft bigotry."

I have a message for Mr. Bowman. I resent his condescension and can assure him that, as a gay man, I do not have a "lifestyle," I have a life.

Would Mr. Bowman talk about the "straight lifestyle" of opposite-sex married couples? I think not. He would, if he gave it the slightest thought, identify such a phrase as bizarre and insulting.

I frankly do not need ill-informed letter-writers deigning to speak on my behalf. If I want your "help," I'll ask for it -- but before that, take a look at a calendar. It's the 21st century now.

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One of the Best Congressional News Releases ... Ever

By sheer coincidence, I ate at an Asian restaurant last night and received a fortune in my fortune cookie that said "Leaders are readers."

Here is the entirety of a news release from the office of U.S. Representative Jeff Flake (R-Arizona):

Congressman Flake Releases Statement Regarding His Vote Against Honoring the 2560th Birthday of Confucius

Washington, D.C., Oct 28 - Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, who represents Arizona’s Sixth District, today released the following statement regarding his vote against H.Res.784, a bill “honoring the 2560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius and recognizing his invaluable contributions to philosophy and social and political thought.”

He who spends time passing trivial legislation may find himself out of time to read healthcare bill,” said Flake.
H/T: Radley Balko via Twitter

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Gay Politicos Back McDonnell

At the invitation of David Lampo of the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia, I became one of the signatories to a letter expressing support for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. The letter expressly addresses McDonnell's positions on issues of concern to members of Virginia's gay and lesbian community (or, as the language of the letter has it, "LGBT community").

Here is the text of the letter, which is being released more widely today. (Amy Gardner already has the story on the Washington Post's Virginia Politics blog.)

An Open Letter to the GLBT Community about Republican Candidate for Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell

On November 3, Virginians will choose their next governor. While no GLBT person could reasonably see Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for Governor, as a pro-GLBT candidate, we believe that it is important for members of the GLBT community to understand that this campaign and this candidate are fundamentally different from other Republican campaigns and candidates for Governor. The difference is important for us as members of the GLBT community, and, as Republicans, we hope it signals a real commitment to move the Party in the right direction – back toward its historic role as the true guardian of individual liberty.

During this campaign, and particularly during the last few months, McDonnell has repeatedly and without equivocation said that government should not discriminate in employment or services based on sexual orientation. No other Republican candidate for statewide office has ever done that, including his running mates in this election. And in no other statewide election have any two candidates for statewide office from either party sought in debates and other forums to position themselves as people who will seek to govern free from bias against GLBT Virginians.

In September, after the Washington Post released his 20-year-old thesis that included clearly homophobic language, McDonnell told the press, “Sexual orientation never enters into the equation. Government should not punish or discriminate based on anyone’s sexual orientation.”

In a more recent interview, McDonnell told Style Weekly (10/20/09) that

“… everybody ought to be treated equally under the law. I firmly believe that. When I was attorney general there were no inquiries [of employees] that were made other than this: Are you talented, are you qualified, do you care about Virginia, will you get good results? That was my policy as attorney general, it will be my policy as governor. I believe that everybody has equal civil rights in this state. That’s what I will enforce enthusiastically as governor.… Everybody’s got equal rights that need to be protected.”

Given his history and voting record as a member of the House of Delegates, we understand why many are skeptical of his recent statements, but McDonnell’s actions as Attorney General provide a reasoned basis for believing that, if elected, McDonnell will be a Governor with whom the GLBT community can work in seeking to pass laws that will provide assurance that his commitment to nondiscrimination will last beyond his administration.

As Attorney General:
• McDonnell supported early on two bills introduced by Democrat Del. David Englin (and subsequently supported by most of the Republicans in the state legislature) that established hospital visitation rights for domestic partners and set up a state registry of advanced medical directives. McDonnell’s endorsement of these bills helped galvanize Republican support, and both bills became law.

• McDonnell issued an opinion that found that the state’s so-called marriage amendment would not interfere with contracts, wills, medical directives, and other agreements in the state and “will not modify the application of Virginia’s domestic violence laws” to GLBT couples.

• McDonnell also issued an opinion that allows state employees to designate someone other than a legal spouse to qualify for gym membership benefits, a precedent-setting ruling that provides a legal foundation for extending other state benefits to domestic partners of state employees.
We are under no illusion that McDonnell is now a champion of gay rights. Nonetheless, his more recent statements and actions give us optimism that McDonnell would offer GLBT people meaningful roles in his administration and the opportunity to work with him to enact laws that will secure for GLBT people the equal rights he has said everybody in Virginia has the right to expect. That is quite different from what we had come to expect from Republican candidates for Governor in past elections, and it is something for which McDonnell should receive due credit from our community.

David Lampo, Vice President, Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia

Chris Barron, Chairman of the Board, GOProud

Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director, GOProud

Rick Sincere, At-Large Board Member, Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia

Robert G. Atkins, Treasurer, Arlington County Republican Committee

Affiliations are for identification purposes only.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Choo-Choo Chugs Along

My post on October 2 about how Charlottesville-based travelers to Washington, D.C., have been flim-flammed by promoters of a new Amtrak train to the Nation's Capital has resulted in an invitation to be on the radio.

On Wednesday, October 28, from 12:05 to 1:00 p.m., I will be a guest on The Schilling Show on WINA-AM (1070 on the dial) in Charlottesville, to discuss passenger rail. John Pfaltz will also be on the show, to offer an alternate point of view.

I explained to the show's host, Rob Schilling, that I am not an expert on transportation policy and that I do not pretend to be such. But I'm willing to make my case that, as an individual, it is less expensive for me to travel to Washington by driving my own car than it is to purchase a round-trip ticket on Amtrak, the heavily-subsidized, federally-owned and -operated passenger rail company.

I may point out how British railroads improved markedly after Tony Blair's Labour government privatized them in the 1990s.

The show invites callers to ask questions and express their own points of view. I hope readers will take the opportunity to do that. Let Rob know you heard about the show on this blog, too!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

WaPo Endorses Four GOP House Candidates

In its endorsements for about two dozen races for the House of Delegates in Northern Virginia, the Washington Post has selected just four Republicans that its editorial board believes are worthy of election. One is an incumbent; one is challenging an incumbent; and two are running in open-seat races. Two are candidates in territory familiar to me, Arlington County.

The incumbent is Thomas Rust. This is what the Post says about him and his race:

District 86: Thomas D. Rust, the incumbent, is one of the more effective lawmakers in the General Assembly, a pro-business Republican who has also gained backing for some of his initiatives from environmentalists. Mr. Rust has enacted important legislation that will ease the way for more toll roads to be built, and he's played a constructive, responsible role in securing funding for education and other priorities that many in his own party opposed. His Democratic opponent, Stevens Miller, is a capable lawyer who's served for two years on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
The GOP challenger to an incumbent is Aaron Ringel:
District 48: Robert H. Brink, the Democratic incumbent, has held this seat for a decade, and in that time he's barely faced a serious challenge. This year he has one in the form of Republican Aaron Ringel, a bright young combat veteran of the war in Iraq who works for a defense contractor. Mr. Brink is a competent legislator but he has opposed widening Interstate 66. That wins points with some homeowners who'd be directly affected but does little for the tens of thousands of commuters who suffer that road daily. Mr. Ringel takes a broader regional view of that issue.
One of the open-seat candidates is Eric Brescia, who is seeking to succeed Al Eisenberg in Arlington's 47th District. I posted a video interview with Brescia back in August. Here is what the Post says about him in Sunday's edition:
District 47: Two excellent candidates--Republican Eric Brescia and Democrat Patrick Hope -- are competing for this open seat. Mr. Hope, a health-care lobbyist, has 10 years of experience as a neighborhood activist and even longer expertise involving Medicaid and mental health issues. By contrast, Mr. Brescia, an economist who's just 24, is a relative newcomer. However, he is exactly what the Republicans need in Northern Virginia: an independent-minded thinker who has fresh and specific ideas for how to save money in health care and make government work better. A Green Party candidate, Joshua F. Ruebner, has a long record of civic engagement but has not mounted a serious campaign.
The Post endorsed Danny Smith, another open-seat candidate, on Friday:
District 38: Danny R. Smith, the Republican candidate, is a bright, independent-minded civic leader who cares about promoting affordable housing. A Realtor and corporate executive, he would bring a refreshingly bipartisan sensibility to Richmond. He's a better choice than his opponent, L. Kaye Kory, a sincere but lackluster Fairfax school board member who beat incumbent Robert Hull in a Democratic primary.
The Post's criteria may not be clear (why Brescia, for instance, but not Rich Anderson or Rafael Lopez?) but its endorsement is sure to carry weight in the near suburbs of Washington. In a race with three candidates like that in the 47th, the Post's endorsement may be enough to carry Eric Brescia over the finish line.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Welcome Company

It took me until darkness fell to pick up a paper copy of today's Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is fairly easy to do in Charlottesville. (One of our election officials mentioned to me at training tonight that he had seen and liked my article.) Once I did purchase a copy, I discovered that my op-ed on federal hate-crime laws was placed in juxtaposition to some very good and well-known writers.

My article was positioned on the upper right-hand corner of the page and its two columns extend about two-thirds down along that page. Running parallel, to the left, is a George F. Will column about economic policy. Will's piece does not appear on the Times-Dispatch web site, but, as it was published in last Sunday's Washington Post (under a different headline, "The Real Jobs Threat" instead of "Stimulating Incumbency"), it can be found there.

There is also a Robert Arian editorial cartoon showing Barack Obama at his desk with a plaque that reads "THE BUCK DROPS HERE."

Underneath those two articles, across the bottom third of the page, is an article originally published in the The Wall Street Journal on October 12. Written by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, the original headline was "George Shultz on the Drug War"; the Times-Dispatch headline was "George Shultz Weighs In on the Continuing Drug War."

Will writes:

Republicans are operatic when they pretend to take seriously, in order to wax indignant about, the Democrats' professed plan to partially pay for Sen. Max Baucus's version of reform by cutting at least $400 billion from Medicare. Supporters of the Baucus bill are guilty of many things but not, regarding such cuts, of sincerity. Congress regularly vows to make Medicare cuts, and as regularly defers them.

Today, Washington routinely speaks of trillions, as in: This year's trillion-dollar deficit. And the $9 trillion in projected deficits over 10 years. And the upwards of $1.8 trillion that Baucus's "$829 billion plan" would actually cost in the first 10 years (2014-23) in which its provisions would be fully operational. But the number from which Washington flinches is precisely 999,999,999,997 less than a trillion. It is: 3.

Many Democrats believe that rising unemployment means the nation needs a "second" stimulus -- but one they could call something other than a stimulus because it would be the third. The first was passed in February 2008, two months after the recession began. Its $168 billion tax rebate failed to stimulate because overleveraged Americans perversely saved much of it.

Admitting that the first stimulus existed would complicate the task of justifying a third one, given that the second one -- the $787 billion extravaganza that galloped through Congress in February -- has not been the success its advocates said it would be.
O'Grady wrote, with regard to the former Secretary of State's realization that the misguided war on drugs has been a failure:
Mr. Shultz recalls what happened shortly after he left government, when his view that interdiction is not the solution came up after a speech to a Stanford alumni group.

Then, as now, he believed that we need to look at the problem from an economic perspective and understand what happens when there is high demand for a prohibited substance. When his comment hit the press, he says he "was inundated with letters. Ninety-eight percent of them agreed with me and over half of those people said I'm glad you said it, but I wouldn't dare say it. The most poignant comment was from [a former member of the House of Representatives] who wrote and said I was glad to see your statement. I said that a few years ago and that's why I'm no longer a congressman!"

I asked Mr. Shultz if he thinks a more sensible approach might come from the states. He says "people can express themselves a little better at the state level." And, with respect to some liberalization of the drug-possession laws at the state level, "I regard these developments as a distinctive statement by people that the present system is not working very well and they want to change it."

It's nice to be in such pleasant, intelligent, and erudite company.

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My Hate-Crimes Op-Ed in the RTD

Tuesday morning's readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch will turn to the op-ed page, as they normally do before checking out sports or comics, and see a piece I wrote on the new federal hate-crimes law, which has been passed as part of the massive (1,158 pages) Defense Authorization bill and will soon be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The law is named for Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who died eleven years ago at the hands of violent criminals. His killers were sentenced to life in prison. They could have received the death penalty, but Shepard's family requested the more lenient punishment.

The crux of my argument in the Times-Dispatch is here:

What is particularly disturbing about the Matthew Shepard Act, however, is that this bill federalizes crimes that properly belong under state or local jurisdiction. It signifies creeping encroachment of federal law on state prerogatives and the dulling of the distinction between the central government in Washington and the various state governments.

Previous federal hate-crime statutes were written when state and local authorities often looked the other way if crimes of violence were committed against members of minority groups. These laws were narrowly focused and meant specifically to prosecute crimes against victims engaged in a federally protected civil-rights activity (such as helping to register African-Americans to vote).

The current bill says the federal government can step in to prosecute a case if "the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence." In other words, if a U.S. attorney dislikes an acquittal or the punishment of someone convicted under state law, he can re-open the case as a federal matter.

By Orwellian logic, this kind of re-prosecution does not violate the Constitution's prohibition on double jeopardy, because the same act becomes two separate crimes -- one state and one federal.
The days when crimes against victims from socially-disliked minority groups were routinely ignored by state and local law-enforcement authorities are in the past. Yes, there may still be exceptions to this welcome trend, and prosecutors who fail to do their jobs properly should be sent packing by the voters. In the majority of cases, however -- including the headline-grabbing murders of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard in the 1990s -- police and prosecutors pursue the perpetrators to the full extent the law allows.

The Matthew Shepard Act is a done deal as far as Congress and the President are concerned. That does not mean we should tolerate it or the further perforation of the lines between federal and state government that is, sadly, sure to follow it.

Update, October 21: The Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed now also appears on the Independent Gay Forum.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama Administration Gets One Right

Peter McWilliams must be looking down from heaven with a smile of satisfaction but also with a question: "What took so long?"

McWilliams was the libertarian author of the 1996 book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society, and a patient who used medical marijuana.

He died because the government arrested him and denied him access to his medicine.

The late William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote about McWilliams in June 2000, shortly after McWilliams died:

A federal judge in California (George King) would decide in a few weeks how long a sentence to hand down, and whether to send McWilliams to prison or let him serve his sentence at home.

What was his offense? He collaborated in growing marijuana plants.

What was his defense? Well, the judge wouldn't allow him to plead his defense to the jury. If given a chance, the defense would have argued that under Proposition 215, passed into California constitutional law in 1996, infirm Californians who got medical relief from marijuana were permitted to use it. The judge also forbade any mention that McWilliams suffered from AIDS and cancer, and got relief from the marijuana.

What was he doing when he died? Vomiting. The vomiting hit him while in his bathtub, and he choked to death. Was there nothing he might have done to still the impulse to vomit? Yes, he could have taken marijuana; but the judge's bail terms forbade him to do so, and he submitted to weekly urine tests to confirm that he was living up to the terms of his bail.
Today the Obama Administration struck a blow for life, liberty, and property when it announced that it will no longer be a federal law-enforcement priority to prosecute sick people who use medicinal marijuana to treat their illnesses, or the caregivers who provide them with the medicine.

Carrie Johnson reports in the Washington Post:
The Obama administration delivered new guidance on medical marijuana to federal prosecutors Monday, signaling a broad policy shift that will mean fewer crackdowns against dispensaries and the people who use them.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. instructed government lawyers that in 14 states where medical marijuana use is legal, federal prosecutors should focus only on cases involving higher level drug traffickers or people who use the state laws as a cover story.

"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," Holder said. "This balanced policy formalizes a sensible approach that the Department has been following since January: effectively focus our resources on serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws."
The Administration's decision strikes a blow for life because there are people who may die without access to medicinal marijuana.

It strikes a blow for liberty because people should be free to choose the sorts of treatments they use for their illnesses.

It strikes a blow for property because people should be able to do anything on their private property they wish, as long as they do not violate the rights of other people, without the interference of government.

Or, as Peter McWilliams put it, paraphrasing that blues anthem of the 1920s: "Ain't nobody's business if you do."

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saintly Mishegoss

On this weekend's edition of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, the humorous news quiz show on National Public Radio, the "Not My Job" guest was Susie Essman, who plays the furious, foul-mouthed Susie Greene on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Essman, a Jewish comedienne from New York, had to answer questions about a topic she was unlikely to know anything about.

The producers chose to quiz her about odd-but-true facts about three Catholic saints: St. Simeon Stylites, St. Joseph of Cupertino, and St. Clare of Assisi.

What were the odd facts? Did Essman answer correctly? Did she win a prize for a listener?

You'll have to listen for yourself:

Note: My spelling of "mishegoss" is the one approved by the late William Safire. It has alternative spellings, as well as an interesting etymology.

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Climbing to the Top? A Roundup Roundup

Yesterday in Glen Allen, Republican activists from the Seventh Congressional District (and from farther away, too -- there was a busload from Page County, as well) gathered at the Innsbrook Pavilion for the fifth annual Republican Roundup.

Not a fundraiser -- anyone who attended did so with no fee -- the Roundup is more of a pep rally timed to the homestretch of the election campaign. Yesterday marked 17 days before Virginia's statewide elections on November 3. Two of the top-of-the-ticket candidates were there, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell (who is running for governor) and state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (who is running for attorney general). Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (who is running for re-election) was unable to attend because of a family commitment.

Seventh District Congressman Eric Cantor, who serves as the House Minority Whip, also attended and spent a lot of time in conversation with his constituents. In addition, there were about two dozen past and current elected officials, including members of the House of Delegates, former Governor Jim Gilmore, and former Lieutenant Governor John Hager. RPV chairman Pat Mullins was also in attendance.

The Roundup offered live music, hot dogs and barbecue, moon bounces for the kids, and a climbing wall, in addition to the politicking.

The Seventh District committee set up a "bloggers' row" with electrical connections and tables available for Virginia bloggers. Crystal Clear Conservative was live blogging there, and so was Bearing Drift. Bearing Drift put up at least two posts on the Roundup, including an exclusive video interview with Representative Cantor. Tom White of Virginia Right and Lynn Mitchell of SWAC Girl were also there, but they don't seem to have posted anything about the Roundup (at least not yet).

As for me, I took the opportunity to videotape the speeches, which from start to finish lasted less than 35 minutes. (No Joe Bidens on that stage, that's for sure!)

First, Seventh District GOP Chairman Linwood Cobb welcomed the crowd. His remarks about respecting the property rights of the owners of the Innsbrook Pavilion (they do not permit firearms on their property) have attracted a flurry of criticism on the YouTube page where I posted the video last night. Judge Cobb's explanation for yourself:

Second, Delegate John O'Bannon delivered a prayer:

Third, a candidate for the House of Delegates in the 69th District, Ernesto Sampson, led the group in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:

Fourth, Ken Cuccinelli stimulated the crowd with a broom and chants of "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!," referring to the Republicans' chances of winning all three statewide offices on November 3, a repeat of what happened in 1997, when Jim Gilmore, John Hager, and Mark Earley were elected, respectively, Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General.

Fifth, Bob McDonnell encouraged the activists to reach out to their friends and neighbors to get them to vote, because political success is determined by who shows up:

Finally, Minority Whip Eric Cantor took the stage. He said, "We have a stellar statewide team" in McDonnell, Bolling, and Cuccinelli. "We're going to win," he said, "because this is a campaign about ideas." Check out the rest:

I have posted more photos from the Roundup on Facebook. They can be seen here, even by non-members of the world's most popular social networking site. (You know who you are!)

Update: SWAC Girl has photographs and an additional, detailed report on the Roundup.

Another Update: My most popular video on YouTube, the speech by Adnan Barqawi at the 2009 Republican Party of Virginia state convention, is about to have its 15,000th view. As of right now (7:28 p.m., October 18) it has had 14,997 views.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Video Interview with Garrett Peck

On Friday night, I was able to nab an exclusive interview with Arlington-based author Garrett Peck, who was in Charlottesville to speak about his new book, The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet, at the Barnes & Noble book store at Barracks Road Shopping Center. Earlier in the day, Peck had spoken in Lexington to a group of VMI cadets at his alma mater and to other area residents.

I first encountered Peck a few weeks ago when I was in D.C. on business. Stuck in traffic on Interstate 66 in mid-afternoon, I tuned to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM. The conversation was about alcoholic beverage regulation -- a topic that has long interested me -- but it wasn't until the end of the interview that I learned the guest's name and that he was scheduled to speak that night at the Arlington Central Library. Since the library was just a few blocks from where my car would be parked, I decided to attend the presentation.

Peck's talk was interesting and entertaining. (It was accompanied by a slide show with images of the temperance movement and drinking culture.) When he mentioned that he would soon be in Charlottesville to talk about his book, I made a note of it.

That's how I found myself in the religion section of Barnes & Noble last evening, sitting with Garrett Peck and asking him questions about alcoholic beverage regulation, the drinking age, regional differences in attitudes toward alcohol consumption (and preferences for types of beverages), and other topics touched upon in The Prohibition Hangover.

The interview is in two parts of about seven minutes each, both also available on YouTube.

The first part includes introductory material. The second part addresses the most controversial question -- should the drinking age be lowered back to 18 -- and the efforts of groups like the Amethyst Initiative.

Part I:

Part II:

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Friday, October 16, 2009

TV and Human Fertility

In an article on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to ban the sale of big-screen television sets in California (apparently he hasn't heard that Californians with cars can drive to Nevada, Oregon, or Mexico to go appliance shopping), the Daily Mail includes this paragraph:

Televisions account for about 10 per cent of residential energy use in California, the state with the highest population in the U.S., driven largely by the surge in sales of large flat screens.
So California's population growth is due to the sale of big screen TVs? What is it that people are watching there?

Does China have a two-plasma-TV-set-per-family policy?

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Libertarian Evolution

The front page of the Style section of Thursday's Washington Post had a long article on the announcement of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The article, by Jacqueline Trescott, begins:

The National Museum of Natural History announced Wednesday that it is dedicating a new hall to the story of human evolution, giving emphasis not only to how we became humans but how changes in the natural world affected human development.

The Hall of Human Origins, tracing a 6 million-year history, is scheduled to open March 17 -- 100 years to the day that the museum opened.

A news release from the Smithsonian Institution states:
The $20.7 million exhibition hall will be complemented by ongoing human origins research and education programs, which are all key components of the museum’s broader initiative, “Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” The initiative focuses on the epic story of human evolution and how the defining characteristics of the species have evolved over 6 million years as its ancestors adapted to a changing world. The museum will launch a compelling new Smithsonian Human Origins Web site and a revolutionary virtual experience hosted on the Blue Mars 2150 virtual Web site. It will include a complete reproduction of the physical exhibition plus additional features visitors can only experience on the Web....

More than 50 U.S. and international scientific research and education organizations, such as the U.S. National Academies of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Museum of Kenya and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and more than 70 distinguished scientists and educators are collaborating with the Human Origins Initiative’s research, education and outreach programs.

Visitors to the 15,000-square-foot Hall of Human Origins will be immersed in a unique, interactive museum experience illuminating the major milestones in the origin of human beings and the drama of climate change, survival and extinction that have characterized humans’ ancient past. On entering the exhibition from the Sant Ocean Hall, visitors will travel through a dramatic time tunnel depicting life and environments over the past 6 million years. Visitors will also engage with life-size forensically reconstructed faces of early human species, all designed to provide visitors with a sense of personal connection as they look into the eyes and faces of their distant ancestors.

Other key features in the exhibition include interactive snapshots in time using the actual field sites where research is being conducted, a display of more than 75 skulls (cast reproductions) and an interactive human family tree showcasing 6 million years of evolutionary evidence from around the world, a “One Species Living Worldwide” amphitheater show and a special “Changing the World” gallery, in which visitors can address pressing questions and issues surrounding climate change and humans’ impact on the Earth.
It turns out that the new exhibition is being funded, in large part, with a donation from libertarian philanthropist David Koch -- the same David Koch who was Ed Clark's running mate on the LP presidential ticket in 1980. Trescott continues:
The 15,000-square-foot space will be named for David H. Koch, a chemical engineer and executive vice president of Koch Industries who gave $15 million for the hall's construction. The other primary donor to the project is Peter Buck, a physicist and co-founder of Subway restaurants, who gave $15 million to an endowment for research and accompanying education programs.

The total cost of the hall is $20.7 million, with $3.5 million from other private sources and $2.2 million from the Smithsonian's federal funds.

In a statement, Koch saluted the Human Origins Program, saying, it "has the power to influence the way we view our identity as humans, not only today, but for generations to come." Koch, an MIT-educated engineer, has given generously to many educational, cultural and medical institutions, as well as to conservative political groups. He was the 1980 Libertarian vice presidential candidate.
The article doesn't mention that in 1995, Koch purchased the apartment that once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she lived in New York City. Koch sold the flat in 2006. (File that under "real estate trivia.")

No doubt there will be some complaints that the exhibition -- whose displays will trace back human evolution some four million years and include the recently discovered "Ardi" -- is the work of godless libertarians.

Such complaints might come from the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Those behind the Creation Museum believe -- and offer as scientific fact -- that the Earth is only about 10,000 years old, or younger, and that men and dinosaurs co-existed. Though the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum boasts that it is within a 650-mile drive for two-thirds of the U.S. population, it only attracted some 750,000 visitors in the two years after it opened in May 2007.

In contrast, the National Museum of Natural History has drawn about 6 million visitors already this year, as well as 7 million in 2008, 7.1 million in 2007, and 5.8 million in 2006.

Of course, the Natural History Museum offers more than a male porn star portraying Adam in the Garden of Eden. It also has the Hope Diamond, "Wild Ocean 3D" in on an Imax screen, and the reconstructed skeleton of a triceratops. So not everyone who wanders through the Natural History Museum's doors from the National Mall is coming for edification about evolution.

Even so, it is heartening to learn that millions more people are interested in actual science than in charlatanism.

(Illustrations credit: RPDI [Reich & Petch Design International]; courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Today is Blog Action Day '09, an annual even that this year has at least 7,262 sites participating. (You can see this blog listed on page 119 of some 303 pages categorized as "Who's Participating?" -- just after the German blog Der Tobe and just before Bobolhando of Brazil and HonestGreen of the United States.)

The topic for Blog Action Day in 2008 was "Poverty." In 2007, the topic was "the Environment."

This year the topic is "climate change," a subject I have addressed in the past. (Also here and here.) As the Blog Action Day web site explains,

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. Blog Action Day 2009 will be the largest-ever social change event on the web. One day. One issue. Thousands of voices.
As one of those "thousands of voices," let me first see what's in the news about "climate change."

Here's BBC News, asking "What happened to global warming?":
This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

....last month Mojib Latif, a member of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that we may indeed be in a period of cooling worldwide temperatures that could last another 10-20 years.
Strangely enough, yesterday Steve Shannon, a candidate for Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Virginia, circulated a video accusing his opponent, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli, of being "anti-science" because Cuccinelli said in an interview with WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. (at marker 0:33 on the video):
"The last ten years, the globe hasn't warmed."
Is it anti-science to state a scientific fact?

It's not just the BBC that has taken note of the plateau in global temperatures. Christopher Booker wrote in the Daily Telegraph last December 27:
Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century....

Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a "scientific consensus" in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world's most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that "consensus" which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.
Next Sunday will see the simultaneous premiere, at dozens of locations around the country, of a new documentary film called Not Evil Just Wrong. (The film will be shown in Charlottesville at 8:00 p.m. in room 402 of Wilson Hall on the grounds of the University of Virginia; the screening is cosponsored by the Network of Enlightened Women and the College Republicans.)

A front-page article in the Washington Times on Tuesday described the entrepreneurial efforts of the filmmakers as they try to distribute their final product without the support of major studios or a big-name distributor. Movie critic Sonny Bunch reports:
Unable to get Hollywood studio backing for their new documentary, "Not Evil Just Wrong" - an answer to Al Gore's climate-change lecture "An Inconvenient Truth" - husband-and-wife filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have taken matters into their own hands.

Hoping to tap the surge of populist anger and activism on the right, they are bypassing traditional distribution avenues and bringing their film directly to motivated audiences through "cinematic tea parties," their term for the patchwork of grass-roots screenings in living rooms, campus auditoriums and rented theaters across the country that they have scheduled for Oct. 18.

Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney are part of a new breed of guerrilla documentarians across the political spectrum. Taking advantage of cheaper, more accessible video-production technology and innovative, Internet-based direct marketing and distribution techniques, they are assembling new audiences for their films from the ground up - without the studio middlemen.
McAleer and McElhinney are also the producers of Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism.

As an indication of some of the hurdles faced by McAleer and McElhinney, John Fund reported in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week of a public appearance by former Vice President Al Gore at a gathering in Madison, Wisconsin, of the Society of Environmental Journalists, where the Nobel laureate agreed to answer questions from the audience:
Irish documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer was in the line. A former Financial Times journalist, his new film, "Not Evil, Just Wrong," is a direct refutation of Mr. Gore's thesis and warns that rushing to judgment in combating climate change would threaten the world's poor. When his turn came, Mr. McAleer asked Mr. Gore about a court case in Britain in which a parent had objected to "An Inconvenient Truth" being shown to British schoolchildren because it was largely propaganda, not science.

Mr. Gore swatted away the question by claiming the judge had found in favor of his film. He also briefly addressed one of the objections to his film by scoffing at claims that polar bears weren't an endangered species. Mr. McAleer tried to follow up by pointing out that polar bear populations were increasing, but his microphone was quickly cut off. Organizers insisted that several other people were waiting with questions and they had to move on.

In fact, Mr. Gore didn't answer Mr. McAleer's question and was wrong on the facts. The British court found that An Inconvenient Truth "is a political film" riddled with scientific errors.
ReasonTV has produced a short (less than 5 minutes long) interview with environmental scientist Bjorn Lomborg, author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming and Global Crises, Global Solutions. The interview is conducted by Charlottesville's Ronald Bailey, who is science correspondent for Reason magazine. Both Lomborg and Bailey accept the validity of anthropogenic global warming. Lomborg posits that, based on an analysis by a panel that included three Nobel-prize-winning economists, government-mandated action (such as cap-and-trade legislation or other forms of carbon taxes) is likely to be the least successful approach to ameliorating the effects of global warming. As the infobox that accompanies this video on YouTube says:
What's the best way for humanity to reduce suffering from man-made global warming? No individual has been a stronger voice for rational cost-benefit analysis on this issue than Bjorn Lomborg, the head of Copenhagen Consensus Center, and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It! On Thursday, September 3, 2009, Lomborg stopped by Reason's DC HQ to discuss the latest iteration of his ongoing project with Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center's expert panel of five top economists, including three Nobel laureates, has concluded that greater resources should be spent on research into climate engineering and green energy. They also concluded that the least cost-effective way to deal with climate change is carbon taxes. Such carbon taxes are the economic equivalent of cap-and-trade carbon rationing schemes like the Waxman-Markey bill being considered by Congress and which are being negotiated by the U.N.

The expert panel consisted of Nobel laureate economists Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith, and Finn Kydland. They were joined by University of Chicago economist Nancy Stokey and Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati. The panel considered and ranked 21 ground-breaking research proposals by top climate economists on the basis their benefits and costs in dealing with global warming.
You can watch the video for yourself:

People around the world are starting to catch on to what the costs of various government-mandated "solutions" to climate change will be. In Australia, for instance, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on October 12:
The Lowy Institute of International Policy is releasing its 2009 survey on attitudes to global affairs, which finds climate change has slipped in importance on a list of Australia's Top 10 foreign policy goals.

The survey, taken in July, showed protecting jobs was the foreign policy priority for the community.

Climate change had slipped to seven on a list of 10 goals in 2009, down from equal first in 2007.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt wants the government to heed the results.

"I think the government would be slightly shocked by these results," he told ABC Radio.

"They spend all their days talking about international negotiations and yet the message that comes through from people is we want a stable economic environment, we want to have a stable future, we want the opportunity of employment and hope and aspiration for our children and our grandchildren."
A commentary on that poll in the Wall Street Journal expands on the reasons Australians might have let climate-change concerns slip in their list of priorities:
Less than half of all Australians consider global warming a "serious and pressing problem," according to a poll released yesterday by the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank. That's 12 percentage points lower than in last year's survey. "Climate change" ranked 7th in a list of 10 "most important" foreign-policy goals—down from first only two years ago.

The poll, which surveyed 1,003 Australians by telephone in July, goes to show that fighting global warming is an expensive fad, not a moral imperative. Down under, citizens and businesses have grown more alarmed about Canberra's efforts to limit carbon emissions as the costs of doing so have become clearer. A July report by Melbourne-based research firm RepuTex estimated the cost of the bill for Australia's top 200 companies could reach as much as 2.8 billion Australian dollars ($2.5 billion) annually, costing thousands of jobs. Industry opposition was a big factor in the Senate's rejection of the government's first shot at passing the emissions-trading scheme in August.
Australians aren't the only citizens of Western industrialized democracies to have their doubts about carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes.

A Rasmussen Reports survey in early May had some surprising findings, given the large amount of coverage the legislation was getting in the news media at the time:
Given a choice of three options, just 24% of voters can correctly identify the cap-and-trade proposal as something that deals with environmental issues. A slightly higher number (29%) believe the proposal has something to do with regulating Wall Street while 17% think the term applies to health care reform. A plurality (30%) have no idea.
Another Rasmussen Reports poll, conducted in June, showed that 42 percent of Americans believe that the House-passed bill will hurt the economy. A majority of Republicans – 56 percent -- and independents – 52 percent -- said the bill would hurt the economy, while 23 percent of Democrats said the same thing. Thirty percent of Democrats said it would help.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post/ABC News poll published on June 25 showed that only 52 percent of Americans support a cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions similar to Waxman-Markey (see below). That was slightly less support than cap and trade enjoyed in a late July 2008 poll. Forty-two percent of those surveyed in June 2009 opposed such a program. That 42 percent and the 42 percent that Rasmussen found saying cap-and-trade policies would be harmful to the economy neatly match up, don't they?

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), also known as “Waxman-Markey” after its two principal sponsors in the House of Representatives (Democrats Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts), passed the House on June 26, 2009, by a close vote of 219-212. In its printed form, H.R. 2454 runs to 1,428 pages. (That number is not a typo.)

The companion bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 1733), was introduced on September 30 and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The principal sponsors are Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Barbara Boxer (D-California). In its printed form, S. 1733 only has 821 pages. S. 1733 is sort of The Fountainhead to H.R. 2454's Atlas Shrugged.

The spirit of Blog Action Day suggests that I should urge my readers to take action on the topic of climate change. So I shall.

Readers, I encourage you to call your Senators and ask them to vote "no" on S. 1733, the so-called "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act" (also known as "Kerry-Boxer"). The number for the Capitol Hill switchboard is (202) 224-3121. If you don't know the names of your Senators, you can look them up on the U.S. Senate web site or at, where you can plug in your ZIP Code and learn the names of all your elected representatives, along with their contact information.

Remember the message: Vote NO on cap-and-trade. Vote NO on Kerry-Boxer. Vote NO on S. 1733.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Cheapening the Nobel Peace Prize

Is lutefisk hallucinogenic?

That's the question that first sprang to mind when I heard on NPR this morning that the Norwegian Nobel committee had awarded its peace prize to freshman President Barack Obama of the United States, a person who has been in office for too short a time (not even 9 months) to accomplish anything of lasting significance in the pursuit of international peace.

The Bloomberg news service inadvertently expressed the same sort of incredulousness with this headline:

Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to U.S. President Obama (Correct)
The deadline for submitting nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize was February 1 -- just days after President Obama's inauguration. Did he really do so much in a fortnight that he bested other contenders with far more experience and a longer record of achievements?

The last U.S. President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was Jimmy Carter (in retirement), which will no doubt lead to more and more explicit comparisons between him and Obama -- in terms of their naivete and their mismanagement of U.S. foreign policy.

Both Obama and Carter share a Wilsonian idealism -- that is, they lack a sense of Realpolitik -- that is also appropriate, since Woodrow Wilson won his Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Versailles Treaty after World War I.

And we all know how well that turned out.

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