Thursday, January 30, 2014

Meanwhile, over on ...

The last few days have been busy ones for me in terms of posting articles as the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on

I have two articles based on reactions to President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union Address:
Virginia Republican Congressmen Respond to 2014 State of the Union Message
Gay groups comment on Obama's 2014 State of the Union address
On Monday, libertarian/anarchist activist Adam Kokesh was in Charlottesville to read excerpts from his forthcoming book and talk about his time incarcerated for civil disobedience in support of the Second Amendment. I interviewed him about some current issues and this is the result:
Podcaster Adam Kokesh talks about NSA spying, gay marriage, and Justin Bieber
Earlier, I posted three articles about Virginia political issues:
Legal ethicist Jack Marshall weighs in on Bob McDonnell 'Giftgate' scandal
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will challenge anti-gay marriage laws
Virginia political leaders react to Governor Bob McDonnell's federal indictment
Still earlier, I gathered some comments that expressed skepticism about President Obama's planned reforms of the NSA's extensive domestic spying operation:
Negative reactions to President Barack Obama's speech on NSA domestic spying
And finally, my last article of 2013 dealt with a professional interest of mine, Africa. This one was based on an interview with a libertarian Africanist -- not a phrase you're likely to hear very often.
Omidyar Network's Karol Boudreaux offers optimistic view of African economies
Keep checking back here to see when I link to new articles.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Does Justin Bieber think he's Michael Jackson? What does this odd photo say?

Earlier this afternoon, Justin Bieber broke two days of silence on Instagram -- interrupted by his arrest in Miami Beach for drag racing, DUI, and resisting arrest -- to post this photograph of himself as he left the court house:

Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson: via Instagram

It's possible that the Canadian teen heartthrob has juxtaposed his photo with that of the former King of Pop is simply that he saw aesthetic similarites. The two photographs have similar composition and framing, and they both benefit from a certain black-and-white chiaroscuro.

I think, however, it is more likely an expression of the Biebs' feeling victimized by "The Man," just as MJ was before his grisly, drug-induced death.

After all, the caption Bieber put on his photo -- which has been "liked" more than 513,000 times -- was:  "What more can they say".

I'm not sure I could have put it better myself.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Designed to eliminate confusion: New name for NFL

Rick Sincere Ripon Wisconsin National Forensics League NFL
Rick Sincere at NFL HQ in Ripon, 2012
News comes from Ripon, Wisconsin, that the venerable National Forensic League is changing its name to the National Speech & Debate Association.

The decision was made by the NFL's board last May.  One of the purposes behind the change in nomenclature was to reduce two separate but equally frustrating forms of confusion:  with the National Football League and with the term "forensics" as crime scene investigation procedures, as if the NFL were the trade association for characters played on TV by David Caruso, Ted Danson, and Gary Sinise.

To be fair, the term "forensics" derives from the courtroom rhetoric used by lawyers to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Eventually this grew to encompass all the tools used by law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys, from fingerprints to DNA analysis as well as deductive reasoning and argumentation.  Orators and debaters laid claim to the word before the maggot-studying scientists started to use it.

In an FAQ on what used to be the NFL's web site, the reason for the rebranding is explained:
As a communication organization, we need to effectively communicate who we are and what we do. There is a common misunderstanding of “NFL” or “forensics,” including confusion with the National Football League or crime scene investigation; changing our name to focus on the activity of speech and debate will appeal to more students, coaches, alumni, sponsors, and the general public. We believe rebranding the organization as the National Speech & Debate Association will help us strengthen existing relationships, build new partnerships, increase national and local support for speech and debate, and allow us to pursue our mission to the fullest potential.
I have written on previous occasions about the positive impact speech and debate have had on my life and career.  Participating in debate through Marquette University High School's Webster Club and coaching younger debaters at the Georgetown University Forensics Institute (there's that word again) for three summers gave me analytical skills that I use every day.  Writing a blog post is not so different from writing a debate brief.  There just aren't as many bodies piled up on the podium, and you don't breathlessly tell your readers to "pull that across your flow."

It's too bad that popular culture has seldom offered a realistic view of speech and debate.  (Even the well-received play, Speech & Debate by Stephen Karam, is off the mark.)  Films like Thumbsucker and Listen to Me deserve thumbs up for effort but raspberries for accuracy.

The only recognizable portrayal of competitive speech on the high school circuit I have found is in James Magruder's novel, Sugarless.  In a brief review of that book in 2010, I wrote:
I don't read much fiction, in general, but when I received a review copy of James Magruder's Sugarless late last year, I simply could not put it down.

It has been almost a year since I read the book, but I still think about it because it resonates with my personal experience so much: not in every aspect, but hitting a sufficient number of points on the matrix to make me believe it.

Sugarless is the story of Rick, a 15-year-old high school student in suburban Chicago during the mid-1970s who, almost purely by chance, ends up on the speech team and finds out he has a talent for dramatic interpretation (or dramatic interp, for those in the know).

Magruder's verisimilitude about high school forensics struck me more than anything else in the book, even the parts about the protaganist's struggle with coming out as gay in an era far less accepting of that than it is now. His descriptions of the scenes at speech tournaments are amazingly accurate, and his portrayals of coaches and competitors are eerily familiar to me.

The one detail that other readers might find difficult to believe is the choice of the protaganist's speech coach to have him do an excerpt from Mart Crowley's play, The Boys in the Band. People unfamiliar with high school forensics may think that a play about gay men would be off-limits, especially in 1976, and especially in the American Midwest.

The truth is, a cutting from The Boys in the Band was circulating at that time, and my own coach asked me to do it. For reasons unrelated to the content of the piece, I ended up doing a different selection. (If I recall correctly, it was the courtroom scene in A Man for All Seasons, a far more conventional choice.) So I can testify against the doubters that an excerpt from The Boys in the Band was, indeed, being performed on the high school forensics circuit in the mid-1970s.

Having just seen the excellent documentary about Crowley and his play, Making the Boys, at the Virginia Film Festival, my memories of reading Sugarless earlier this year and my own experience in high school rushed back to me.
I recommend Sugarless to anyone who has competed in speech and debate or to anyone who was once a gay teenager. It's an excellent book, and a compelling read -- a real achievement for a first-time novelist, even one who, like Magruder, is an accomplished playwright and translator.
I would love to see Sugarless on screen, although I doubt that's likely to happen anytime soon. Too niche; too talky; too gay -- but delicious all the same.

Having mentioned Sugarless, I should also note Mark Oppenheimer's relatable, readable memoir, Wisenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate. Oppenheimer portrays accurately the debate environment in which he competed, but that was not policy debate under the auspices of the NFL or the NCFL (National Catholic Forensic League). It was, rather, a self-contained regional circuit populated by New England prep school teams, different from the kind of debate people tend to encounter elsewhere in the country (Upper Midwest, Texas) and even in today's urban debate leagues. My review of Wisenheimer was published in December 2010.

While old-timers like myself may feel the rebranding of the National Forensic League into the National Speech & Debate Association (no approved acronym or abbreviation ) is a rejection of the organization's historical roots, at least it is an accurately descriptive moniker for the group.  It requires no more explanation than what can fit on a business card.

A final note:  it was announced earlier this month that the policy debate topic for the 2014-15 school year will be "Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth's oceans."

Ocean policy got me into college and was one-quarter of my master's degree -- but those are stories for another time, another day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Busy Snow Day: Indictments and Anti-Discrimination

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell
While most of the Mid-Atlantic and northeastern states have been pummeled by the season's biggest snowstorm -- dubbed a bombogenesis by some meteorologists -- political life goes on in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Topic A today has been the indictment by a federal grand jury of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on multiple counts of corruption-related crimes, including honest-services wire fraud, obstruction of a federal proceeding, and making false statements.

(Left-libertarian lawyer Harvey Silverglate has written about the vagueness of the federal "honest services" statute on the Volokh Conspiracy, which just today found a new home at the Washington Post.)

I wrote about reactions to the charges against the McDonnells on Among other things, the 43-page indictment has an intriguing appendix of sorts:
The indictment includes a colorfully descriptive list of items subject to forfeiture, including a Silver Rolex Watch engraved with "71st Governor of Virginia"; one baby blue striped Peter Millar golf shirt; one Heather Mackenzie water color and frame; two pairs of Foot Joy golf shoes; black Rebecca Minkoff shoes; and 30 boxes of Anatabloc®, the dietary supplement at the center of the scandal that has come to be known as “Giftgate.”

Later in the day -- on the cusp of the evening -- McDonnell made a public statement that was broadcast on NBC12 in Richmond.  He was accompanied by his wife, one of his daughters, and his son-in-law.  It's somewhat refreshing to see the wife of a politician standing by his side as he makes a proclamation of his innocence, without her seething inside about the way he's cheated on her with a high-priced prostitute or an Israeli boy toy.

In other Virginia political news, earlier this week a state Senate committee killed a bill -- SB 248, copatroned by Donald McEachin and Adam Ebbin -- that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in state employment (not private sector employment).

I wrote about this issue on Bearing Drift today, asking whether GOP lawmakers are shooting themselves in the foot when they oppose popular legislation like this.
Four years ago, when similar legislation was under consideration by the General Assembly, I spoke in favor of SB66 as a representative of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia I noted that the RLCVA had endorsed the bill “because we believe it is not the place of the government to discriminate on irrelevant characteristics in employment regarding otherwise law-abiding citizens and taxpayers.”

I added that “if this bill extended to the private sector, I would not support it, and neither would our organization but it is also important to note that the private sector is way ahead of the government in terms of non-discrimination policy. Private businesses recognize that non-discrimination is good business practice. Government is always sluggish and slow to develop ideas like this.”
I noted that this position is at odds with general public opinion, pointing to recent polls by Rasmussen Reports and TargetPoint Consulting. That latter pollster explained:
An overwhelming majority of Americans –including’Republicans – support a federal law that protects gays, lesbians and transgender Americans from discrimination in the workplace. Here – unlike other surveys on similar topics – we asked specifically about federal legislation: 68% of registered voters support federal protection, with only 21% oppose. And indeed, intensity here very much lies with the supporters, as 46% strongly favor the law while only 15% strongly oppose it. When it comes to Republicans, 56% support a federal anti-discrimination law, while only 32% oppose.
That same poll revealed that support for a federal ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) stands at 65 percent.

Read the whole thing here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

From the Archives: Virginia Enters the 20th Century -- in 2005

Nine years ago this week, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a 19th-century law that forbade cohabitation by adults who were not legally married.  The Court based its ruling, in part, on the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the Lone Star State's law against homosexual sodomy.

A few days after the Virginia Supreme Court issued its ruling in Martin v. Ziherl on January 14, 2005, I wrote about the case for The Hook, a Charlottesville weekly. (See this previous post regarding another article I wrote for The Hook on a quite different topic.)

This commentary piece was originally published on January 20, 2005, in print and on line.

Fornication 86ed: Virginia enters the Twentieth Century
By Richard E. Sincere

When the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the otherwise obscure case of Martin v. Ziherl on January 14, it belatedly brought the Commonwealth into the 20th century.

How so? The court overturned a law dating to the early 19th century, which had not been enforced since 1847, banning sexual relations between two unmarried, consenting adults. It recognized that human beings living in Virginia have a liberty interest in protecting their private relationships from governmental interference.

While the case at hand addressed "fornication" performed by a heterosexual couple, the court made clear that, should a similar case come before it, involving two persons of the same sex and the state's sodomy law (also known as the "Crimes Against Nature," or CAN, statute), it would overturn that law, too.

The Virginia court relied almost exclusively in its reasoning on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, which said a Texas law prohibiting sexual relations between persons of the same gender was unconstitutional.

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond
Referring to the earlier federal case, Virginia Justice Elizabeth Lacy, writing for the court, stated: " ... this same liberty interest is invoked in this case when two unmarried adults make the choice to engage in the intimate sexual conduct proscribed by Code [Section] 18.2-344. Thus, as in Lawrence, the Commonwealth's interests do not warrant such encroachment on personal liberty."

In so doing, the court swept away the rationale for a raft of laws that infringe on the rights of individuals– gay or straight, single or married– to engage in private, consensual, sexual conduct. (The ruling does not affect, the court said, "the Commonwealth's police power regarding regulation of public fornication, prostitution, or other such crimes.")

The General Assembly has, on numerous occasions, considered legislation that would have had the same effect– repealing archaic laws that have no place in a liberty-loving society. Each time the state legislators had an opportunity to modernize the Virginia code's sections dealing with sexual conduct, they let it pass by. Thus it was up to the state Supreme Court to act.

Lest certain ideologues accuse the court of "judicial activism" and of being out of synch with public opinion, two points are in order:

First, the Court's opinion was squarely in line with precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, it respected the principle of stare decisis. (According to Bouvier's Law Dictionary, "stare decisis" means "To abide or adhere to decided cases," adding in explanation, "It is a general maxim that when a point has been settled by decision, it forms a precedent which is not afterwards to be departed from.")

Second, the Court's ruling reflects public opinion rather than contradicts it.

In January 2001, Rasmussen Research, an independent polling organization, conducted a statewide survey of Virginia voters to determine knowledge and attitudes about Virginia's CAN statute and related issues. Among its findings were:

* When asked "Should it be against the law for an unmarried man and an unmarried woman to have sex in the state of Virginia?" 71.1 percent of respondents answered "no," including 67.4 percent of self-identified Republicans (those voters one would most expect to answer "yes").

* When asked "Should it be against the law for a married couple to have oral sex in the privacy of their own home?" 81.7 percent said "no" (including 78.9 percent of Republicans).

* When asked "Currently, according to Virginia law, it is illegal for consenting adults to have oral sex in the state of Virginia; a proposal has been made to eliminate the Virginia law; should the Virginia law be eliminated?" 65.2 percent answered "yes", including 61.4 percent of Republicans.

General Assembly members have often maintained, off-the-record, that they are wary of changing Virginia's laws regulating private sexual conduct, because they think they will have hell to pay on election day if they do so. But they have nothing to fear. The Rasmussen poll also asked how voters would cast their ballots for legislators who support repeal of such laws. Overall, 82.9 percent of Virginians said that they would either be more likely to vote for such legislators, or it would have no impact on their vote.

Now, some might argue that a four-year-old opinion survey may not accurately reflect the current attitudes of Virginia voters. That may be true. But it would be up to the naysayers to provide concrete, scientifically valid evidence that proves it wrong.

The court's decision is cause for celebration by all Virginians, as it has removed one more layer of government intrusiveness from our lives. We are freer today than we were on January 13, unencumbered by unconstitutional laws that strike at the heart of our most personal liberties. At the dawn of the 21st century, Virginia is finally reconciled to the 20th.

Charlottesville resident Richard Sincere is author of The Politics of Sentiment.

Accompanying the article was this sidebar from The Hook's editor, Hawes Spencer:
As for sodomy... In 1993, a Richmond area woman, Sharon Bottoms, lost custody of her two-year-old child due to her "felonious behavior": oral sex.

Closer to home, both the Charlottesville and Albemarle Police departments utilized the "sodomy" statute in 1998 to threaten citizens with felonies. In Charlottesville, the goal was ridding West Main Street of prostitution. In Albemarle, 14 men were charged for using a restrooms at the Ivy Creek Natural Area as their little pleasure palace. So how to purify the parks?

House Bill 1054 from Dave Albo (R-Springfield) would convert an old anti-fornication, anti-cohabitation statute into a ban on sex in public places.– editor
I had earlier discussed the Bottoms case in the Free Lance-Star in 2001 and in a press release from Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty in 1996.

The issue is not dead. State Senator Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg) has introduced a bill this year that would revivify the unconstitutional "Crimes Against Nature" statute in the Virginia Code, which was invalidated by Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, by amending the notorious § 18.2-361.

Garrett's bill passed the Courts of Justice Committee in the form of a substitute (the patron apparently tried to address some of the criticisms that had been leveled at his bill) and is now before the Committee on Finance for further consideration.

The comments on this bill found on Richmond Sunlight are enlightening.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Does political affiliation affect our views of product and service brands?

How does political affiliation affect our perceptions of various brand-name products and services? Does ideology change the way we view brands? Or does it make no difference at all?

This is one of the questions explored by the market research firm YouGov in its annual Brand Index for 2013, which surveys consumers about their attitudes toward a wide range of brand names from Aflac and to V8 and Victoria's Secret.

Explaining the overall rankings, Lucia Moses wrote in Adweek:

Buoyed by strong sales of its e-readers and expansion of its free-shipping service, Amazon topped the list of best-perceived brands of 2013, as measured by YouGov's BrandIndex. Rounding out the top 5 were Ford, Subway, History Channel and Lowe's. Last year also was a good one for financial institutions, which began to earn consumers' forgiveness for their role in the economic meltdown: Four of the five best-improved brands in 2013 were banks.
In addition to its overall rankings, YouGov provides a breakdown of results by industry (e.g., airlines, hotels, and insurance) and by several demographic groups (LGBT, parents, Millennials, minorities).

YouGov explains its methodology like this:
These brands were rated using YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score which asks respondents, "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?"

The Buzz Rankings chart shows the brands with the highest average Buzz scores between January and December 2013. Scores are representative of this segment.

All Buzz scores listed have been rounded to a single decimal place, however, we have used additional precision to assign ranks.
In answering that primary question, for instance, the top brand for LGBT survey respondents was YouTube -- perhaps unduly weighted by followers of Tyler Oakley and  Davey Wavey.  For both African-Americans and Hispanic respondents, the top brand was Walgreen's. Parents' top brand was the same as the country as a whole,, while for Millennials the top choice was Google.

YouGov's Brand Index divides Americans up into three political affiliation categories: Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Intriguingly, the three groups only have one brand in common among their top five rankings: Subway, which was the 2012 overall winner in consumer perceptions.

Here are the top five for each of the three political categories:

It's noteworthy that the Republicans' scoring of Fox News at 42.1 blows away any competitors in any categories. (Top-ranked had an overall score of 30.6.)  At the same time, Fox News doesn't even show up in the top five of the "networks" category, where the History Channel tops out the category at 26.4. (Neither CNN nor MSNBC shows up in the national top five, for what it's worth.)  Republicans and independents also like the History Channel, at 31.9 and 27.8, respectively, although that network is not included in the Democrats' top five.

Republicans also like Chick-Fil-A, giving it a score of 31.8 and a rank of 5.  The same quick service restaurant (QSR) is ranked fifth overall in that category, but with a nationwide score of only 11.9,

Democrats and independents both like, ranking it first, but the online retailer does not turn up in the Republicans' top five.

Similarly, Republicans and independents like Ford, both ranking it second, but the car manufacturer fails to show up in the Democrats' top five.

There is no separate breakdown for Libertarians' top brands.  Perhaps the sample size was too small.  It would be interesting to learn whether libertarian views of providers of products and services differs from those of conservatives and liberals.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Brush with Greatness: Edward Teller (1908-2003)

Today would have been the 106th birthday of nuclear physicist Edward Teller, who has often been called the "father of the hydrogen bomb."  Teller was also an advocate against government secrecy who probably would have relished the opportunity to engage in the debate about the NSA that has resulted from the revelations of Edward Snowden.  He was also a principal advocate for the development of what came to be known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars."

When Teller died in 2003, I wrote an article for a local Charlottesville newspaper, The Hook, which at the time had been running a series called "My Brush with Greatness."  My piece appeared as a back-of-the-book commentary piece.

For some reason, I have not previously rescued this piece for re-publication in this space, although it has been available on The Hook's archives.  (Sadly, The Hook ceased publication late last year, so how long and how available its archives will be remains an open question. The photo of Teller and me, reproduced below, that accompanied the article is already missing from the paper's web site.)

This article appeared in the print edition of The Hook on September 18, 2003.

Edward Teller: My brush with greatness

While the entertainment world reels from the loss of Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, and John Ritter, the world stage will long remember the controversial cold warrior bomb-builder Edward Teller, whose September 9 death got lost in the shuffle. One local remembers the man who built the horrifying "super." –editor


It would be a lie for me to say that Edward Teller and I were friends. It would even be a stretch to call us acquaintances, although we were colleagues on one side of a vital public debate at the height of the Cold War.

Edward Teller and Rick Sincere, c. 1983
The best I can say is that Edward Teller and I crossed paths on about a dozen occasions in the 1980s, participating in conferences together, and engaging in short but substantive conversations on nuclear weapons policy, U.S.-Soviet relations, and international politics.

Teller, who died on September 9 at his home in California at the age of 95, was known as the "father of the hydrogen bomb." He participated in the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb, and for many years was head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which pursued fundamental research in nuclear physics and applied sciences.

My most memorable encounter with Teller was not the first one, in 1981. Rather, it was one of the last meetings we had, on November 16, 1988, at the Washington Hilton Hotel in the nation's capital.

On that occasion, Edward Teller, the American "father of the hydrogen bomb," met for the first time Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet "father of the hydrogen bomb." Sakharov, who as a dissident and human rights activist was forced by the Soviet regime to live in internal exile for many years, was in Washington on his first trip to the United States. (This was in the era of glasnost and perestroika-­ openness and reform-­ ushered in by former Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev.)

The meeting between the two famous physicists was arranged by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think-tank for which I worked at the time. On that night, Teller was to receive the Shelby Cullom Davis Award for "integrity and courage in public life" at a dinner attended by some 750 people in government, business, the academy, and journalism. A few days before the dinner, we learned that Sakharov would be in town and that he had a desire to meet Teller.

As the crowd mingled at the cocktail reception several floors below, the president of the Center, Ernest Lefever, and I waited anxiously for Teller and Sakharov to arrive. Teller came first, accompanied by the massive walking stick he always carried with him. The three of us made some small talk when there was a knock at the door: Sakharov, accompanied by a Russian-English interpreter.

Andrei Sakharov and Edward Teller
They greeted each other like old friends, although the two had never met before. They sat together on a sofa and chatted amiably about the issues that motivated them: international stability, human rights, and, above all, nuclear physics. They spoke in soft tones, and we left them alone. What passed between them that night, in private, was known only to Teller and Sakharov.

Teller's career was a storied one, and he earned both scorn and accolades in his long life. Never one to mince words, he criticized government officials regardless of political party or ideology when he thought they were on the wrong path. He led a lonely but articulate crusade against U.S. government secrecy, arguing that it was pointless to classify, for example, reports on nuclear weapons research, because the Soviets were able to obtain these reports by stealth and espionage anyway.

The only people left in the dark were American voters, who were then unable to make sensible, fully informed decisions about public policy.

This approach was consonant with Teller's lifelong trust in democracy. In 1950 he wrote: "It is not the scientist's job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used. This responsibility rests with the American people and with their chosen representatives."

Teller earned the enmity of "peaceniks," appeasers, nuclear freezers, left-wing ideologues, and Communist fellow travelers. In the 1980s, he was hounded by operatives of Lyndon LaRouche's political cult, who heckled him at public speaking events and tried to embarrass him for his support of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the anti-missile project known derisively as "Star Wars."

It was said that the only human casualty of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 was Edward Teller: So exhausted by traveling around the country, speaking out calmly against the Chicken Littles who declared Three Mile Island a disaster, Teller suffered a heart attack and was incapacitated for several weeks.

Teller, of course, had his admirers, too-­ not least among them those who felt that a strong defense posture was necessary in the face of Soviet expansionism, and especially those who felt that true defensive strategies (including civil defense programs and anti-missile programs like SDI) were morally, strategically, and politically imperative.

On that November night in 1988, President Ronald Reagan said that Teller was "a sterling example of what scientific knowledge, enlightened by moral sense and a dedication to the principles of freedom and justice, can do to help all mankind." The President added that Teller was "one of the giants of American science, and one of the bulwarks of American freedom."

Richard Sincere is co-editor of Promise or Peril: The Strategic Defense Initiative, and author of Civil Defense: A Moral, Political, and Strategic Approach, both published in 1986 by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, as well as of other books.
It wasn't until I decided to write this blog post that I discovered how Edward Teller shared a birthday with my own father and also with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Same day, different years in all three cases, however.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is Bob Marshall trying to undermine his own same-sex marriage amendment?

In 2006, Virginia voters approved an addition to the state's constitution intended to prohibit same-sex marriage and anything similar to it within the Commonwealth, including marriages that were legally contracted in other states or foreign countries.

Known as the "Marshall-Newman Amendment" after its two principal patrons, Delegate Bob Marshall and state Senator Steve Newman, the ballot measure became Article I, Section 15-A of the Virginia Constitution, reading:
That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.
(Section 15 is entitled, "Qualities necessary to preservation of free government."  If you're puzzled as to how a ban on gay marriage fits into that category, you're not alone.)

One of the big issues under consideration by the General Assembly in its 2014 session is ethics reform, sparked by last year's revelations about questionable and large gifts made to former Governor Bob McDonnell and his family by former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

It happens that Delegate Bob Marshall -- the same Bob Marshall who sponsored the anti-marriage provision of the Virginia Constitution -- has introduced a bill that expands the categories of familial relationships that should be affected by ethics rules.  Basically, if a person falls within one of these categories, that person is subject to limits on gifts based upon the individual's relationship to an officeholder.

In HB 15, Marshall proposes this new clause amending § 2.2-3117, § 30-111, of the Code of Virginia:
For purposes of reporting gifts pursuant to Item 5 and Schedule E, "immediate family" also includes (a) the officer's or employee's or his spouse's parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, and sister and (b) any person with whom the officer or employee has been habitually cohabiting in a relationship analogous to a marriage.
The Marshall-Newman Amendment, now part of the Virginia Constitution, states clearly that the Commonwealth "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage."

Rick Sincere (left) and Bob Marshall, April 2012
Yet Marshall wants to extend ethics law to cover people "in a relationship analogous to a marriage."

Relationships "analogous to a marriage" have no standing under Virginia law, in large part because Bob Marshall wanted them to have no such standing.

Now Bob Marshall wants to give such relationships legal status for purpose of ethics legislation.

Does Marshall want to have it both ways?  Either relationships "analogous to a marriage" exist under Virginia law, or they don't.

If individuals are subject to equal treatment under the law in one case -- that is, limiting their ability to accept gifts because they are in a relationship with a public servant -- shouldn't they also be treated equally in all cases?

If Delegate Marshall is trying to set a precedent that will upend his own amendment to the Constitution, we should welcome it.  If he wants to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships among gay couples, he should say so clearly and persuade the General Assembly to change the laws restricting such relationships across the board.

Of course, it could be that Delegate Marshall is oblivious to how HB 15 contravenes Article I, Section 15-A of the Virginia Constitution, though I doubt it.  He's far too intelligent and clever for that to be the case.

Here's a reminder of Marshall's stance on gay marriage, when he was running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2012, answering a question about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) along with George Allen, E.W. Jackson, and Jamie Radtke:

So here's the question:  Has Bob Marshall had a change of heart?  Is he now open to gay relationships being recognized under the law but too shy to say so?

What do you think?  Leave comments below or tweet your thoughts to me at @rick_sincere.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Preparing for the Coming Viral Apocalypse (Please Retweet!)

More than 30 years ago, I was involved in the preparation of an anthology called The Apocalyptic Premise, which was edited by Ernest W. Lefever and E. Stephen Hunt and published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  The book gathered 31 essays about the then-current nuclear arms debate.

In an introduction, Lefever and Hunt define what they mean by the anthology's intriguing title, noting that, in public policy debates, "some ideas obscure desirable ends and confuse the means for reaching them."  They go on to say that

One such influential idea is "the apocalyptic premise," which has always flourished in times of trouble and uncertainty.  Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have vivid apocalyptic passages portraying how the world will end for both the righteous and the unrighteous....

But in current secular usage, an apocalyptic event is one that spells doom for a nation,  a civilization, or the human race itself...  In the nuclear era some secular apocalyptic prophets proclaim that the world will be destroyed by fire and brimstone unless their particular prescriptions for avoiding catastrophe are adopted.
In the context of the early 1980s, apocalypticism -- if I might coin a word (or not) -- dealt almost exclusively with fears of an imminently (immanently?) impending nuclear holocaust.  (See, for instance, my commentary on the ABC-TV movie, The Day After, which was broadcast the same year as The Apocalyptic Premise was published.)

End-times hysteria is nothing new.  It spread across Europe like hellfire in the years before the turn of the first millennium (around 1000 A.D.).

More recent years have seen a slew of end-times prophecies that have come and gone.  In 2011, for instance, radio preacher Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would take place on May 21 and then, when it didn't happen, said his calculations were off and the end of the world as we know it would instead take place in October.  Disappointed that the world did not end as he prophesied, Camping withdrew from public life and died a few weeks ago.

On January 9, Gon Ben Ari wrote about some recent apocalyptic predictions for The Jewish Daily Forward:
This may seem odd, but a surprisingly large chunk of the Western World believed we wouldn’t get to see 2013, purely because that’s what the Mayans thought. Most of these people never did anything else that Mayans did — never ate human flesh, for example, or at least never offered to pay for it. So why did they rush to embrace that specific bit of Mayan faith? Eschatology proves to be a human urge, just like hunger, sleep or love. We need to know that there’s at least a hint of a chance that the world is in danger, perhaps because it is too hard to care for anything that isn’t, or because it is easier to believe in a disaster that is inflicted on the planet from above than to admit to the one we cause daily. Secular media is fueled by eschatology — the Y2K bug, meteor scares, terrorist threats — with Hollywood blockbusters competing for the chance to feed it each summer. Who by fire? By water? By zombies?

If there is one thing in common among all the conflicting beliefs in the world, it is the belief that the world will come to an end. Hindus count down to the completion of Kali Yuga; Muslims await the arrival of Mahdi; Christians fear the Day of Wrath. Jewish participation in “hisuvei kitzim” — “end calculations” — is as harshly forbidden as it is widely practiced. Every great rabbi has an end date: The Vilna Gaon, Rashi, Maimonides. In 1927, Rabbi Avraham Yalin published a book in which he claimed that Zionism would be the end of the world and that it would reach its goal in 1948. He died in 1934 and never got to see which part came true. The Gemara itself claims that the world will get to be only 6,000 (Jewish) years old. In Gregorian Calendar time, this means 2,240.
Ben Ari went on to note that a prominent 18th-19th century rabbi prophesied that the end of the world would come in the Hebrew calendar's year 5775, which begins in September 2014.

In other dire warnings, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church last year said that permitting gay people to marry will either (depending on your interpretation of his remarks) be a sign of the apocalypse or will hasten the world's end.

Patriarch Kirill stated in a cathedral sermon:
This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction.”
To take a current example that expresses our contemporary apocalyptic premise in a single word, Lou Dobbs, a popular and sometimes controversial TV host on Fox News, has written a new book published this week and called Upheaval, in which he argues that
the chief threats to the stability of our social order and economic well-being, indeed the very essence of our American way of life, go well beyond leagues of nation-states and ideologues who mean us harm.  The greatest threat of upheaval is a combination of those nation-states, ideological extremists, religious zealots, and the confluence of internal forces that are weakening our notion of who we are, diminishing our confidence in the American dream itself, and leaving many of our citizens and many of our leaders questioning American exceptionalism, our way of life, and our relationship to one another and to the world itself. The very idea of America is under great stress, from within and without.  The prospect of a great upheaval rises with each passing day that we decline to examine the consequences of the choices  we are making as a people and as a nation.  And these forces are allied, not in conspiracy, but in their contemporaneous array against us, our ideals, our values, and our nation's future.
Amidst this climate of dread and apprehension, even a possible shortage of Velveeta processed cheese within weeks of Super Bowl Sunday is being called a "cheesepocalypse," either mocking or reflecting the eschatological mood of the country.

The obsession with the apocalypse and the foreboding end of the world as we know it came to the attention of a Charlottesville financial advisor, David John Marotta, who described in last Sunday's Daily Progress how an off-hand remark on one of his blog posts ended up being distorted in a game of Internet telephone and, because of this distortion, ended up with a link to his post on the Drudge Report, bringing him a cascade of traffic and new visitors to his web site.

Marotta's December 11 blog post about preparing for possible emergencies is what stirred this apocalyptic pot. As he explains it,
Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner picked up the story first in his Dec. 26 Washington Secrets column titled, "Be prepared: Wall Street advisor recommends guns, ammo for protection in collapse."

Three parts of the headline are misleading.

I am not a Wall Street advisor; I am in Charlottesville. My only connection to Wall Street is having my photo taken at the Bull and eating at the Deli. The article does mildly clarify, describing me as a "Wall Street expert" — true if that means investment advisor. However, future articles referencing Bedard's article were misled by this description.

Furthermore, I did not exactly recommend guns and ammo. I suggested that two-dozen items on the list are more important. This is mentioned in the article when Bedard quotes me as saying, "Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list."

I did not suggest there would be a collapse. I had written in the first of the series, "There is the possibility of a precipitous decline, although a long and drawn out malaise is much more likely."

Bedard was accurate in stating, "Marotta said that many clients fear an end-of-the-world scenario. He doesn't agree with that outcome, but does with much of what has people worried."

The very popular Drudge Report picked up the story next and featured it above its banner: "Wall Street advisor recommend guns, ammo for protection in collapse." The original Washington Examiner article was also copied on multiple sites without comment. Over three days, we had a record 30,946 unique visitors to our two sites.
After suggesting that the viral nature of his otherwise non-descript blog post may reveal something about the changing mood of the country and a reversal of traditional left/right political roles, Marotta said the solution to this apocalyptic thinking may simply be to reduce the size and scope of government. This, he asserts, will have a calming effect on political tempers:
Moving in a more libertarian direction blends the concerns of the right and the left on the abuses of governmental involvement in everything from marriage to spying. A smaller government could focus on what we all agree is its rightful purpose.
Journal of Civil Defense - April 1981
The lesson I take from Marotta's experience isn't that I should emphasize libertarian ideas more. After all, I've been doing that for years, especially since the launch of this blog in December 2004.

Instead, I think I should draw more on my years in the civil defense movement -- years in which I rubbed shoulders with fallout shelter-builders, survivalists, nuclear physicists, and even TV's Ben Cartwright himself, actor Lorne Greene -- and write more about how to prepare for the coming apocalypse.  If I could do it in the 1980s, why not do it today?

Scary headlines that say "Grab your guns and gold and run for the hills!" may stimulate the kind of blog traffic that Marotta experienced, and -- one would hope -- a corresponding increase in advertising revenue (and maybe a few cray-cray comments to enhance our entertainment value).

The end of the world as we know it is more than just a song title. It's a way of life.

So -- grab your gas masks, stock up on Bitcoin, and bunker down in the nearest mountain. Rediscover your inner Boy Scout ("Be prepared!"). The eschaton is imminent and it begs for your enthusiastic participation.

And please don't forget to leave a tip for your blogger and share this article on social media.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

That WSJ Article on Gay Boy Scouts

After reviewing my post on Monday about gay Boy Scouts, it occurred to me that it may be difficult for people to find my August 1999 article from the Wall Street Journal about the BSA's anti-gay membership policies then in place.

Boy Scout camp Wisconsin 1970s
The article is not easily searchable on Google.  It may turn up in a database search on something like Lexis-Nexis, but few people have access to those archives.

The one place I was able to find it was in the archives of the Independent Gay Forum, where it appeared under a headline ("Leave the Boy Scouts Alone") different than the one the Journal used.

The funny thing is, when I started this blog almost 10 years ago, one of its original purposes was to be a one-stop-shop for my previously published articles.  Somehow this one never got posted on its own.

So, considering the reforms taking place within the Boy Scouts today and the fact that the piece's 15th anniversary will come up this year, here it is.  It originally appeared on August 11, 1999, in the Wall Street Journal under the title "New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling on Boy Scouts Threatens Freedom for All - Including Gays."

IN A 30,000-PLUS-WORD DECISION, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the Boy Scouts may not exclude gay members from participation in the organization. Because the New Jersey court's ruling conflicts with others (including one made in March 1998 by the California Supreme Court), this issue almost certainly will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. For this reason, the New Jersey decision deserves scrutiny as well as criticism.

Three points deserve comment. First, this decision erodes freedom of association. Second, it further expands the definition of "public" at the expense of what is "private." And third, while the Court's written opinion offers a strong argument for why the Boy Scouts should voluntarily change their policy, it fails to demonstrate why the government should force them to do so.

One of the things I learned about as a Boy Scout in the early 1970s was the importance of freedom, as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Boy Scouts asserted that, were the organization forced to change its membership (and hiring) criteria, its First Amendment rights to free speech, religious liberty, and association would be violated. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled, incredibly, that "application of the [state's] Law Against Discrimination to Boy Scouts of America does not infringe on its First Amendment rights." Of course it infringes on those rights -- the question is whether such infringement is justified. The Garden State's Supreme Court argues that it is, and that the state's non-discrimination law trumps the First Amendment.

Freedom of association is one of our most precious rights. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruling threatens all of us who want to set standards for our organizations -- including gay men and lesbians.

The court's decision -- now limited to New Jersey, but with foreseeable national ramifications --undermines the right of gay men and lesbians to seek and maintain "queer-safe space" such as social clubs, fraternities and sororities, and social service organizations like Washington, D.C.'s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL). If the Boy Scouts are not free to set their own membership standards -- however "vague" they might be (a key point in the New Jersey court's criticism) -- shouldn't these gay and lesbian organizations also lose their freedom to do so? Very few gay teenagers are likely to attend Saturday afternoon rap groups to discuss personal problems with their peers if they know that they might be forced to share this private space with heterosexual teens as well.

Diluting freedom of association makes it harder to combat government-based anti-gay discrimination. Respect for freedom of association, on the other hand, is the linchpin in persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, which gave state governments the authority to regulate our most intimate associations, sexual relationships. At the same time, the right to associate with whom we wish, when we wish, where we wish, will be an important factor in overturning the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and various state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

My colleague, Odell Huff, suggests that the New Jersey court's expansive definition of "public" will have detrimental effects on all citizens. "We should be protecting the private against the intrusion of the 'public,'" said Huff, vice president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL). He adds: "Of course, we should be wary of any organization, which relies heavily on taxpayers' money to subsidize its activities, asserting a right to discriminate. But the Boy Scouts' reliance on government varies widely from place to place, and in most cases it provides predominantly 'private' space." Moreover, if taxpayers object to the Boy Scouts' use of their money in a "discriminatory" manner, the better course would be to withdraw their money, rather than to circumscribe the Scouts' freedoms of association, expression, and religion.

British scholar Nigel Ashford, writing in the Independent Gay Forum, argues a similar point, noting that Britain and the United States both face the same problem. "The distinction between private and state (usually expressed as 'public') is extremely important in a free society. Unfortunately the definition of the private has become narrowed to include only the person's home, and sometimes not even that. The distinction between private and public should be ownership, not who goes there. 'Public' should mean government owned, not open to the public, as in a bar or club." Ashford goes on to say that "a wide definition of private and a narrow definition of public (state) is the best protection for gays. The alternative is that government can legislate and interfere in areas open to the public," such as bars that cater to a gay clientele, erotic video stores, or even social clubs that meet in private homes. He concludes: "Those who control the power of the state will use it for their own purposes and preferences." A minimization of the private that expands the "public" hurts all of us, gay or straight.

That said, one should not conclude that the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gay boys and men from their ranks deserves our approval. It does not. The New Jersey Supreme Court documents quite extensively how the Scouts' policy is contradictory and may, in fact, be harmful to the organization itself, as well as to the young men it aims to serve. The policy is archaic and bigoted and should be changed.

Still, a self-contradictory and wrong-headed policy does not require (nor deserve) the action of the state to correct it. Many commentators have noted that the Girl Scouts have chosen to practice non-discrimination in regard to sexual orientation. Lesbians are free to participate in Girl Scout programs. Yet no government action compelled this change in policy. The Girl Scouts' leadership acted on its own.

That is why we should encourage the efforts of those individuals and groups, such as gay former Scouts, who are trying to persuade the BSA to change its membership requirements voluntarily. Their attempts at moral suasion deserve commendation and support.

While on the surface it may appear that gay citizens have won something at the New Jersey Supreme Court, since the rights of all Americans are threatened, gay people have the most to lose.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Who Are the Top 10 Charlottesville News Media Personalities on Twitter?

Taking a cue from FishbowlDC, which this week ranked the top ten Washington, D.C.-based anchors for national news shows based on their number of Twitter followers, I became curious about how Twitter is used by broadcast personalities in the Charlottesville media market.

Looking at the on-air talent listed on the web sites for WVIR-TV NBC29, the Charlottesville Newsplex (CBS19, WAHU-TV27, WVAW-TV16), WINA-AM, and WCHV-AM&FM, and then looking for Twitter handles for each of those listed, I made a few surprising discoveries.

First, the vast majority of broadcast media reporters and anchors have very few Twitter followers. Only a relative handful have more than 300 and most have fewer than 200 followers -- and some are in the single digits.

Second, the Newsplex seems to be making the greatest effort to leverage social media -- or at least Twitter -- by making it easy for someone looking at the Newsplex web site to locate and follow talent on Twitter. Every nember of the Newsplex's on-air maintains a personal Twitter account, although Bradley Ussery's is designated as @CBS19Weather. With 2,418 followers, this is the top Twitter account among those I found, but since it is not a personal account, I do not include it in the top ten.

Third, WINA-AM seems to make virtually no effort at promoting itself and its programs on Twitter. I could not find accounts for WINA Morning News hosts Jane Foy and Rick Daniels, and noontime host Rob Schilling and afternoon host Les Sinclair have only 173 and 243 followers, respectively.

Fourth, although NBC29 seems not to be making as concerted an effort at Twitter engagement as its rival the Newsplex, its individual talent are not doing so badly under the circumstances. Reporter Henry Graff is ranked second while his colleague Matt Talhelm just missed the cut, coming in 12th according to my research.

Only one radio personality, Coy Barefoot of WCHV-FM, made the top ten list, but he also has a Sunday morning TV program on CBS19, which could possibly boost his following.

I did not include print media in this study, which now would include just The Daily Progress and C-VILLE, so the available sample of Twitter accounts may not be satisfying.

Here is the list of Charlottesville's top ten broadcast media personalities on Twitter:

1) Travis Koshko (Newsplex) / @TravisKoshko / 2,186 followers

2) Henry Graff (NBC29) / @HenryGraff / 1,529

3) Dan Schutte (Newsplex) / @schuttedan / 1,410

4) Coy Barefoot (WCHV-FM/CBS19) / @coybarefoot  / 1,289

5) Chris Stover (Newsplex) / @ChrisStover / 1,198

6) Michelle Rupp (Newsplex) /@MichelleRupp /1,000

7) Bo Sykes (Newsplex) / @bosykes / 972

8) Ed Sykes (NBC29) / @EdSykes29 / 963

9) Mary Dunleavy (NBC29) / @MaryDunleavy29 / 809

10) Evanne Armour (Newsplex) / @EvanneArmour / 802 

 I don't make any judgments about the quality of these broadcast journalists' work, other than to suggest that these ten are making a greater effort -- some with corporate support, some without -- to engage their audience through one social media platform, Twitter.

I would welcome any comments from the people listed about how they use Twitter, whether they are satisfied with the results of their experience, and whether they prefer Twitter over other social media platforms (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, for example) or vice versa.  What are your goals in using Twitter?

I would also be interested in hearing from those who follow these ten (or any other local media personalities).  What do you gain from following them on Twitter?  What suggestions do you have for improving their engagement with you as an audience member?  How can Twitter be better integrated with the broadcast experience? 

Leave your comments below, or Tweet them to me at @rick_sincere.