P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

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Saturday, January 11, 2003
Cool Stuff

Worldometers. Link via Songbird. Songbird is a book indexer. If you need something indexed, visit her page.

Federal budget simulator. Devra balanced the budget. Can you?

Friday, January 10, 2003

Anyone interested in the Autism/thimerosal/Lilly/Homeland Security issue go read Wampum right now.

Hot Links

Kip of Long Story, Short Pier has an excellent article concerning poverty and the perceptions of poverty. Link via Blue Streak.

Dominion of A Skeptical Blog conducts a history class for Republicans regarding the separation of Church and State.

The Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelly favors military action in Iraq but is becoming more and more discouraged with the direction of the administration’s Iraq policy.

Max suggests that the President’s tax plans will increase the national debt not by the $684 billion announced but by something closer to $1.5 trillion.

Nathan Newman discusses courage and Judge Pickering.

Read them all. They are worth your time.

George And The Wolf

Once upon a time there was a boy named George. George’s job was to protect the people from wolves. George thought that Iraq was a wolf and he wanted all the people to support him in attacking Iraq. Some people, however, did not think that George was justified in attacking Iraq without showing that Iraq was a wolf.

George pondered that for a moment and then said, “Iraq must be a wolf because Iraq aided the September 11 terrorists.” For evidence, George pointed to a meeting between terrorist leader Muhammad Atta and members of the Iraqi intelligence community. That meeting allegedly took place in Prague.

“Okay,” said the people. “If Iraq helped the terrorists, it is a wolf and we will help you attack it.” Then the people noticed that the evidence showed that no meeting between Atta and Iraq’s intelligence agents occurred.

George thought for a while. “I know Iraq is a wolf because they were behind the anthrax attacks.” “Okay,” said the people, “that is a good reason for an attack.” But then, it turned out that the anthrax was likely from a domestic source.

Again, George thought for a while. “Well, even if Iraq did not help the terrorists before 9/11, they harbored them afterward. There is bullet proof evidence that Iraq has been harboring Al Qaeda." The people were aghast at Iraq’s brazen conduct. Iraq must really be a wolf if they harbored Al Qaeda. Then the people discovered that the “bullet proof” evidence had more holes than Swiss cheese.

George thought some more. “Iraq must be attacked because they are just months from developing nuclear weapons,” said George. “The International Institute for Strategic Studies report says so.” “Okay” the people said, “that is a good reason to invade Iraq.” Then the IISS report tuned out to say no such thing.

Again George considered. “Iraq purchased aluminum tubes. The tubes are only useful for enriching uranium,” said George. “Iraq is trying to develop nuclear weapons.” The people rallied to George’s side. Then it turned out that the aluminum tubes were not suited to enrich uranium. (Link via Atrios).

Once again, George thought for a moment. “Iraq is a wolf. They may attack us with drone aircraft,” he said. It then appeared that the drone aircraft had nowhere near the range to reach the United States.

George paused only briefly. “Iraq really is a wolf,” he said. “I can prove it. They are stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Send in inspectors and that will prove it,” said George. “All right,” said the people. Inspectors were sent in. The inspectors are still there but they have not yet found Iraq to be a wolf.

But, George said, “I know that Iraq is a wolf. I have evidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. I just do not want to show you the evidence.” Then one person, Will Selaten of Slate, says that George should produce the evidence if he wants to be believed. (link via Atrios).

Iraq may be a wolf. Even if Iraq is not a wolf, there are other wolves in the forest. If George does see a real wolf and nobody believes him, he will have no one but himself to blame.

Sweet Irony

Digby points us to this Los Angeles Times article which discusses the cuts in domestic spending that the GOP must make to pay for the goodies provided to the $400,000 a year crowd in the so called stimulus package.

The Times notes that trade offs will have to be made:
Among the potential trade-offs: Should the National Institutes of Health get a big boost at the expense of education programs?

In the past, whenever such a choice had to be made one of the losers was autism research. In the late 1990s, Trent Lott wanted to made sure that ships the Navy did not want or need were built in Pascagoula, Mississippi. To find the money, he cut a number of programs including funding increases for the National Institute of Health. Among the NIH funding increases that had to be foregone were proposed increases in autism research. Shipbuilder jobs in his hometown were more important to Trent Lott than autistic kids.

The political fall out from Dick Armey, Bill Frist and the White House slipping the Lilly Protection Act into the Homeland Security bill may change that dynamic. We hope that the political embarassment of the Lilly chicanery may insulate funding for autism research from cuts. If so, Republican efforts to assist a major campaign contributor at the expense of autistic kids could result in priority for autism research funding.

That would be sweet irony.

The Incidence of Autism -- The CDC Study

This post is about a new study by the CDC concerning the incidence of autism. A number of people have emailed us to complain that our writing about autism is boring and to request that we limit or eliminate such posts. Those readers may be excused from reading this post. There are a number of good writers listed on the left of this journal and we suggest that you try for more interesting material there. Please return on another day.

For both of our readers who remain, Derek Lowe, Hesiod and the Bloviator have all written thoughtful posts about the new CDC study. The CDC study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Derek has posted this link to the study but we were unable to get to the article from there. We got a copy by email and do not know where it may be found for free online. Thanks M.B..

JAMA also included an editorial concerning the study. The editorial may be found here.

The study has raised two separate issues that need to be addressed. The first question is what is the prevalence of autism? In other words, what is the likelihood that a child will be autistic?

The second question is more complex. Has the incidence of autism increased over time?

The Prevalence of Autism
The CDC study set out to determine the incidence of autism in five metropolitan Atlanta counties in 1996. The CDC collected information about children ages 3-10 during 1996 from various education, social service and health related organizations. From that data they identified children on the autism spectrum. The classification of each child was also subjected to review by a panel of experts.

The study looked at the entire autism spectrum. The study included any child with autism disorder (which is the classic form of autism) along with Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified.

The study located 987 children on the autism spectrum within the five counties out of a total population within the age range of approximately 298,000. Thus, the incidence of children on the autism spectrum was 3.4 in 1,000 or, stated differently, 1 child in every 294. The study suggests that its findings are consistent with other studies that peg the incidence of autism at approximately 60 per 10,000 or 1 in 166.

By comparison, Downs Syndrome occurs in approximately one in every 800 to 1,000 births. Autism is, therefore, more than three times as prevalent as Downs Syndrome.

Juvenile onset diabetes occurs in one in every 7,000 children. Autism is more than an order of magnitude more common than juvenile onset diabetes.

Asthma, on the other hand, occurs in approximately 7-10% of children making it far more prevalent than autism.

The CDC study establishes a floor but not a ceiling for the number of children on the autism spectrum. The study was well designed but it may have missed a number of children on the spectrum.

First, the CDC study notes that the mean age of diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder was 3.9 years. Since some autistic children in the lower age range for the study had not yet been diagnosed and were not receiving educational or medical services, they would not be included in the study. The study, therefore, underreports those children.

Indeed, the study found the prevalence autism in three year olds to be 1.9 per 1,000 while the reported prevalence in eight year olds was 4.7 per 1,000. We suspect that the difference is in the methodology and not in the actual prevalence.

Second, the study takes a snapshot of the population in 1996. At that time, some of the counties included in the study had educational programs for autistic children that were little more than warehouse programs. Treating autistic children in a manner more appropriate for a box of machine parts is likely to cause families of autistic children to move. For instance, the study found that the prevalence among eight year olds to be 4.7 per 1,000 while the prevalence for 10 year olds was 2.0 per 1,000. That could be a statistical anomaly or it could reflect migration patterns.

We live in Dekalb County, Georgia, (one of the counties included in the study) and have an autistic son being educated in the public school system there. The school board here has worked hard to develop and maintain a good program for autistic children. That has not always been the case for all of the counties included in the study.

Some autistic children may have moved to locations with better programs and the CDC study did not control for such migration. The migration issue cuts both ways, of course. As the metro Atlanta school systems improve their programs to the point that such programs are superior to those in other areas, families of autistic children are likely to migrate to metro Atlanta. In the long run, studies of the incidence of autism must find a way to control for changes due to migration.

Third, some children on the spectrum, particularly high functioning children may have not been identified for the study. As the study itself acknowledges:
Our multiple-source ascertainment method is likely to underestimate the number of children with PDD-NOS, high functioning autism, and Asperger disorder, since many children with these conditions may not receive special education classes, may attend regular education or private schools, may be home-schooled, or may not have come to the attention of a professional in early childhood.

The CDC study’s methodology of using multiple data sources combined with expert review is unlikely to include many children who are not on the spectrum. The methodology, however, is subject to undercounting children on the spectrum. Thus, the conclusion of the study is best understood to be that in 1996, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in five metro Atlanta counties for children aged 3-10 was at least 3.4 in 1,000 but may be higher.

The authors suggest that the CDC data is consistent with more recent studies showing autism rates in the range of 6 per 1,000. That range would suggest that 1 in 166 children are on the autism spectrum. That is a depressingly high figure and underscores the need to fund research into possible causes and cures.

An Increase in Incidence?
The second question raised by the CDC study is whether or not the incidence of autism is increasing. That is a very complex question. Incidence is hard to measure in any event and the question can not be answered in the absence of good data on the prior incidence of autism.

The CDC study itself notes that the number of autistic children it found represents a ten-fold increase when compared to studies of the 1980s. When we first became interested in autism about five years ago, the literature commonly reported that the incidence of autism was 4 or 5 in 10,000. The CDC study now establishes a floor of 34 per 10,000.

A closer examination, however, shows that a ten-fold increase in the actual incidence of autism is unlikely. The editorial by Dr. Eric Fombonne in the Journal of the American Medical Association discusses the prevalence of autism in the context of the CDC study. He identifies several reasons why the reported ten-fold increase in prevalence is unlikely to be attributable to an actual increase in incidence.

First, Dr. Fombonne notes that the while the CDC studied the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder, the older studies looked at the more classic form of autism known as autism disorder. Autism disorder is a subset of autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder includes Asperger’s syndrome as well as pervasive development disorder — not otherwise specified. Thus, the comparison of the CDC study to older studies of prevalence is comparing apples to oranges.

Fombonne, however, also notes that the rates of classic autism (autism disporder) in a number of recent studies have consistently been greater than 1 in 1000 while earlier studies showed the incidence of classic autism at less than half those rates. Those studies suggest that the rate of classic autism has doubled unless the reported increase can be attributed to some other factor.

Secondly, the definition of autism has expanded over the years. That expansion has occurred at the higher functioning end of the spectrum. Thus, once again, comparisons of the incidence of autism over time must take care not to compare apples to oranges. The increase in definition, however, would not have great affect the reported increase in classic autism.

Third, the methodologies used by the researchers can have a significant impact on the reported incidence. The CDC study used multiple sources for identifying autistic kids. School records, medical sources and social services agencies were all scoured to identify the population of autistic children. Older studies typically had only one source for identifying the population. Thus, it would not be surprising if using multiple sources resulted in discovering a higher percentage of the autistic population than simply relying on one source.

Finally, shifting diagnosis may account for some of the perceived increase. Some kids may have previously been classified as mentally retarded may now be classified as autistic. If those children are now classified as autistic, the reported incidence of autism would rise as the reported incidence of mental retardation not related to autism fell. See this abstract.

The substitution effect may have been accelerated by the fact that public policy mandated early intervention for autistic children but not for mental retardation unassociated with autism.

The University of California at Davis study, about which we wrote about here, suggests that an actual increase has occurred. That study controlled for migration as well as for expanded definition and used the same referral sources for its baseline and for its later study. It found an increase in autism cases of 273% over an eleven-year period. The abstract referred to above (and we have been unable to access the full study) suggests that some or all of that increase may have been the result of the substitution effect.

In essence, Dr. Fombonne argues that we do not know whether or not the incidence of autism is increasing. The cause of that uncertainty is that many of the older studies simply were not very good. Total NIH funding for autism research was a paltry $5 million per year as recently as a few years ago. It is little wonder that with very scarce resources, the previous studies left much to be desired.

Like so many things about autism, the question as to whether or not the incidence has increased or is increasing is not yet answerable. As always, more and better studies are needed.

The most that can be said on that issue is that either the incidence of autism is increasing or we were vastly underestimating the autistic population until very recently.

In either case, the CDC study is important. Whether or not the prevalence of autism increasing, it is affecting a large number of kids. The best research now concludes that 1 in 166 kids are on the autism spectrum. More than 1 in 1000 have classic autism.

The costs of autism to kids, families and society are huge. The financial costs to federal, state and local governments are staggering running $2 to $3 million per child. Those costs, however, pale in comparison to the devastation autism causes in terms of lost potential and the suffering of children and their families.

All of the studies lead to the conclusion that additional research is needed to find causes, treatments and cures for autism. Derek writes that:
But if autism really is on the increase - and I'm still on the fence about that - then finding the real cause would be the most important research priority in the whole field.

We disagree. Regardless of whether or not the incidence of autism is increasing, finding the cause is the most important research priority in the field. We will not discover treatments or cures until we understand the cause. We have tried to make that point on a number of occasions. We intend to keep making it until we are heard.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

During the Clinton years, the US economy experienced an unprecedented boom. The economy added millions of jobs. Unemployment shrank while inflation was tame. The budget deficit disappeared and surpluses materialized. Poverty decreased and earnings rose. Interest rates dropped and the stock market rose. All in all, the US economy did very well.

The fact that the economy did well under Clinton’s policies drove conservatives crazy. It simply could not be that the good fortune that the country experienced under Clinton was actually caused by the policies enacted under Clinton. The good things must be attributed to something, anything else.

The conservative spin was not long in coming. Clinton had nothing to do with the operation of the economy. Conservatives attributed the economic growth during the Clinton years to the hard work and industriousness of the American people and to Alan Greenspan. Never was Bill Clinton to be given any credit for the economy whatsoever. Only a liberal Democrat would believe that government has any role in creating jobs or growing the economy.

In his first debate with Vice President Gore, then Governor Bush had the lines down pat:
GOV. BUSH: [T]here is a difference, though, as to what the economy has meant. I think the economy has meant more for the Gore and Clinton folks than the Gore and Clinton folks have meant for the economy. I think most of the economic growth that has taken place is the result of ingenuity and hard work and entrepreneurship…

President Bush announced his alleged economic stimulus package today. At the very end of the Washington Post article on the announcement we noticed the following:
Overall, Bush's Council of Economic Advisers said the president's plan would create 2.1 million jobs over three years, the White House said.

What? Government policy and not the hard working entrepreneurs create jobs? Now surely the right wing pundits will not allow that claim to stand. The Wall Street Journal editorial page will denounce such blasphemy in the strongest possible terms. Rush will explain how the Bush administration does not understand basic economics. The Fox News All Stars will opine that it just goes to show that the Bush administration is delusional and will do anything to win. Howard Fineman will note that the apostasy is explained by the fact that Bush was wearing a red tie and a dark suit when the statement was issued.

We are just sure of it.

Update: The Post story noted above reports that the first year cost of the plan is $102 billion. It also notes that the White House contends that the plan will create 2.1 million jobs over three years. If the estimated jobs are created at an even rate over the three years, the the first year of the plan will spend $102 billion to create 700,000 jobs. That works out to about $146,000 per job.

Energy Policy and Soy Biodiesel

Mark Kleinman notes that incoming Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman proposes to focus our energy policy on developing alternative renewable sources of energy. Specifically, Coleman is advocating a form of energy known as “soy biodiesel.” That is a fuel made from soybeans. Kleiman is not impressed:
Using grain (grown with petroleum-derived fertilizer) as a source of motor vehicle fuel may not be the stupidest idea anyone will ever invent -- surely someone, someday will propose dealing with California's water shortage by growing more orange trees in the desert and then distilling the water out of the orange juice -- but it has to be close. That current version of that scam is called "ethanol." The updated version is called "soy biodiesel.

We recall a conversation we once had with a congressional candidate by the name of Comer Yates (he lost in the primary to Cynthia McKinney). We were discussing the use of ethanol as an additive to gasoline. Yates remarked that the process of making ethanol was really quite simple. First take Iowa corn, add lots of federal dollars, mix liberally and out comes a fuel that is more expensive than gasoline.

The ethanol program has been nothing but political pork from the beginning. One researcher found:
Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion to ethanol, 131,000 Btu are needed to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 Btu. "Put another way," Pimentel said, "about 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in ethanol. Every time you make 1 gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 Btu."

We do not need to go down the same dead end road with biodiesel.

We do, however, need an energy policy that reduces our reliance on foreign oil. Conservatives want to increase oil production by drilling in ANWAR and off the coasts (except for the coast of Florida where Republicans were more concerned about damage to Jeb Bush's reelection chances than damage to the environment). Many conservatives oppose increasing CAFÉ standards.

Liberals wish to conserve energy by increasing CAFÉ standards but oppose exploration on the ground that it will harm the environment.

We suspect that it is not beyond our technological capabilities to learn to drill for oil in ANWAR and off the coasts (including Florida) without ruining the environment. We also suspect that a SUV with 170 horsepower would do the job of transporting kids to soccer practice as well as one with 270 horsepower and with significantly increased fuel efficiency.

Instead of proposing crackpot ideas like biodiesel, why do we not just increase supply while curbing demand?

Increase the CAFÉ standards by 50% over a period of years while permitting environmentally friendly development of reserves in ANWAR and off the coasts. The conservatives will get the increased production they want but will have to put up with environmental rules concerning the manner of such exploration.

Liberals will bemoan the damage done to wilderness areas but the environmental benefit of the increase in Café standards will offset any environmental harm.

Is that not a win-win solution?

Monday, January 06, 2003
American Heroes

We like to read history. The recent Trent Lott episode shocked us out of a multi-year review of colonial America and redirected our interests back to the history of mid-twentieth century America.

Easing our way back towards the present, we picked up a copy of an old friend, Taylor Branch’s definitive work on the civil rights movement entitled Parting the Waters, America In The King Years 1954-63. It is a magnificent work being comprehensive, insightful and very readable. In re-reading it, we came across a story of courage and heroism that bears retelling.

In 1960, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Boynton v. Virginia. In Boynton, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional and that the prohibition applied not only to seating on the bus itself but also to waiting rooms, restrooms, lunch counters and other facilities in interstate bus terminals.

The Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) decided to test the impact of Boynton by traveling by bus through the South and insisting on integrated busses and facilities.

Thirteen volunteers came forward to integrate the interstate bus terminals of the South. They ranged in age from early twenties to over sixty. It was a racially mixed group, of course, with seven black males, three white women and three white men. Those volunteers became known as the Freedom Riders. Among the Freedom Riders was current Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

The Freedom Riders were given training in non-violence as advocated by Dr. King. On May 4, 1961, they set out to integrate public transportation facilities in the South. A map of the route taken by the Freedom Riders is here.

It took a great deal of courage to volunteer to be a Freedom Rider. Violations of the social codes of the Deep South tended to be swiftly and violently punished. The Freedom Riders were well aware of that fact but chose to participate anyway. They were willing to risk their own safety in the hopes of vindicating the principle of the supremacy of law and justice.

The Freedom Riders divided into two groups, one on Trailways and one on Greyhound. That sat in various parts of the bus, sometimes with whites in the back and sometimes with blacks in the front. Sometimes blacks and whites would sit together. All of those arrangements, of course, violated the rigorously enforced social custom of the Jim Crow South.

The first trouble came when a bus reached the terminal in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Taylor Branch’s description:
John Lewis made an effort to rotate into the position of first tester. As he made his way from the bus towards the whites’ waiting room, the usual tensions seemed to coil rather than abate. …

The first two stepped in front of Lewis to block the entrance. One of them said, “Other side," jerking his thumb toward the Colored entrance.

Lewis drew himself up for the standard speech. “I have a right to go in here on the grounds of the Supreme Court decision in the Boynton case,” he said.

There was a pause, followed by a reply of “Shit on that” and a shoving of Lewis back and forth in the doorway. One of the attackers threw a punch that caught Lewis in the mouth, making the first loud pop of fist against flesh on the Freedom Ride. Lewis sank to the ground. More whites surged toward the primitive sounds of violence. Albert Bigelow, next in line behind Lewis, stepped forward to put his body between Lewis and those kicking him. Bigelow’s erect posture and determined passivity -- such an alien sight in a fistfight—did not keep the attackers from darting in to strike him on the head and body. Three or four thudding blows dropped Bigelow to one knee, and as one of the attackers lunged toward Bigelow he knocked Genevieve Hughes, the third Freedom Rider in line, sprawling to the floor.

Several Rock Hill policemen shouted the fracas down to a sullen lull, and the police captain waded in to extricate Lewis and Bigelow, who were bruised and bleeding but fully conscious.

Despite the violence in Rock Hill, the Freedom Riders pressed on across South Carolina and Georgia and into Alabama. The Freedom Riders knew that the trip would get harder not easier.

Dr. King remarked to a reporter traveling with the Freedom Riders that he had just come from Alabama where the public mood was “ugly” and where publicity had made it known that the Freedom Riders were on the way. “You will never make it through Alabama,” King whispered. Despite that warning, the Freedom Riders chose to press on.

The Greyhound bus was in the lead and would be the first to arrive in Anniston, Alabama. Taylor Branch again:
After the Tallapoosa and Heflin stops, the Greyhound driver confided to group leader Perkins that drivers from busses headed east were warning of a mob up ahead in Anniston, where CORE scouts ... had predicted certain trouble…

(They were met by a) large crowd of men, bearing clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knifes. The nine Freedom Riders and five regular passengers sat frozen to their seats as the mob shouted for the Freedom Riders to come out. Some tried to force open the door. This brought the two Alabama state investigators out from under cover – they ran to the front of the bus and braced themselves against the pull lever, holding the door shut. Enraged, the mob began pounding on the bus with pipes and slashing tires.

The Greyhound driver took off out of Anniston. The mob was not content to have driven the Freedom Riders away from the bus terminal. They set out in pursuit of the bus in a convoy of cars. The tires of the bus had been slashed by the mob and flats forced the bus to the side of the road. The driver got out and ran as the convoy arrived.
This time the mob used bricks and a heavy axe to smash the bus windows one by one … while a group of men tried to force open the door. Finally, someone threw a firebomb through the gaping hole in the back window. As flames ran across the floor, some of the seats caught fire and he bus began to fill with acrid black smoke. When the choking passengers realized that the fire could not be contained, they gave way to panic… The mob was no longer trying to force entry but was barricading the door to seal them in the fire. Desperate and weak from the smoke, (state investigator) Cowling brandished his revolver and the attackers fell back.

When he managed to get the door open, Albert Bigelow and others herded the passengers to the exit. The mob, frenzied by the sight of them but made panicky by the sight of Cowling’s gun, danced around the perimeter of the smoke billowing through the door, taking swings at those escaping. Henry Thomas … staggered into the clear and was felled by a blow to the head. The others tumbled out behind him, and the attacks continued until arriving Alabama state troopers fired warning shots into the air. The mob retreated to their cars and the troopers eventually ferried the passengers to Anniston Hospital.

The condition of the bus may be seen here, here and here.

The second bus, the Trailways, arrived in Anniston an hour after the Greyhound. The Freedom Riders were permitted to enter the terminal through the “white entrance” to purchase sandwiches. After returning to the bus with food, two Freedom Riders, Herbert Harris and Charles Person, sat down in the front of the bus. The driver stepped out to speak to a group of eight tough looking men. Apparently, the driver decided that the way to avoid the fate of the Greyhound was to force the Freedom Riders to sit in locations acceptable in the South. Taylor Branch continues:
Eight of them jumped on the bus just ahead of the driver and stood in the aisle as he flipped on the tour-guide microphone. “We have received word that a bus just ahead has been burned to the ground and passengers are being carried to the hospital by carloads. A mob is waiting for our bus and will do the same to us unless we get these niggers off the front seats.”

Informed that the other bus had been “burned to the ground” and that their friends had been taken to the hospital, the Freedom Riders could be excused if they had chosen personal safety over the establishment of principle. Branch again:
One of the Freedom Riders broke the fearful pause with the dutiful reply that they were all interstate passengers with the legal right to sit anywhere on the bus, but the sentence was not yet completed when one of the whites standing over the front seat crashed his fist into Person’s face. Another reached over to hit Herbert Harris. The whites yanked the two students into the aisle, kicking and slugging them from both ends of the confined space. As they did, group leader Peck and Walter Bergman, the retired professor from Michigan, jumped out of their seats at the back and ran forward, horrified, to protest. They did not get very far.

One of the white men turned from the two students and hit Peck with a blow that knocked him backwards over two seatbacks. Another fist dropped Bergman to the floor. Suddenly, the fury of the mob turned on the two downed white Freedom Riders. Some lifted Peck from the seat to rain blows on his bloodied face, while others stomped on the chest of the prostrate Bergman.

“Don’t beat him anymore!” cried Mrs. Bergman. “He’s my husband!” Some members of the mob responded by snarling at Mrs. Bergman as a “nigger lover,” while others warned their friends not to kill Bergman, who lay unconscious on the floor. They soon stopped pounding long enough to drag Person and Harris back through the aisle, over Bergman, and to toss them across the backseat, on top of the other passengers. They threw Peck on top of the two students, dragged Bergman to the back, and then grisly work done, sat down in the middle seats to make sure that no Negroes moved up front for the ride.

The social code of the South had been enforced. The bus left for Birmingham. Things would not get easier for the Freedom Riders. The KKK was waiting for the Freedom Riders in Birmingham.

The Klan had reached an agreement with Police Chief Bull Connor. The agreement allowed the Klan 15 minutes in which to deal with the Freedom Riders before the Police would step in. Branch describes what happened when the Trailways bus arrived in Birmingham:
Charles Person and Jim Peck, the latter’s face and shirt caked with blood, stepped first from the bus to the landing. As the designated testers for Birmingham, they stood quietly for a moment, surveying the avenues of escape that appeared little more promising than the terminal itself. Peck… glanced at his partner for a sign of intent. “Lets go,” Person said simply, heading slowly for the white waiting room as planned. Peck fell in behind him. Walter Bergman and some of the others followed…

On their approach, a confused Klansman muttered that they should kill the Negro, Person, because he must have hurt the obviously wounded white man, Peck, but as they came forward Peck said they should not hurt Person. This gesture of cross-racial friendship ignited the crowd’s rage, and the Klansman roughly shoved Person back toward the Negro waiting room. When he turned and tried to walk through them once more, a Klansman shoved him sideways against a concrete wall. Others came up behind him. “Hit him,” someone shouted, and a Klansman obliged with a fist to Person’s face. Person rose with a bloodied mouth, only to be hit again. This time he fell back into the arms of a Klansman, who held him to receive a third blow, after which he fell to his knees. Peck moved to help him up and was flattened by a rain of five or six punches. Then about a dozen Klansmen surrounded the two men and pummeled them with kicks, pipes, and object that looked … like heavy key rings.

After the expiration of the allotted fifteen minutes, the Birmingham Police moved in to stop the violence. Some of the Freedom Riders were taken to the hospital for their wounds. Jim Peck suffered broken teeth and at least six head wounds that required fifty-two stitches to repair. A photograph of Peck at the hospital appears here.

Jim Peck was a middle aged white man. He was the heir to the Peck & Peck clothing fortune. He had attended Harvard University. He had nothing to gain, personally, from the integration of Southern bus terminals. He chose to be a Freedom Rider out of pure principle.

While at the hospital, a reporter asked Jim Peck about his future plans and whether the Freedom Rides had been worth the cost. In an act of almost unfathomable courage, Jim Peck replied:
The going is getting rougher, but I’ll be on that bus tomorrow headed for Montgomery.

That statement exemplifies the courage and valor of the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders had been attacked in South Carolina. Dr. King had warned them that they would not make it through Alabama. Jim Peck and his friends had been beaten with fists, pipes, metal rings and kicks. Walter Bergman, a retired professor, had been stomped unconscious in front of his wife. Peck’s head, face and mouth were bloody and broken. His friends had been attacked and a bus had been burned to the ground. The Freedom Riders had proved their courage but had not completed their journey. Jim Peck, regardless of his injuries or the risk was prepared to face the mobs the next day in the pursuit of freedom and justice for others. That is nothing short of heroic.

Jim Peck was not on that bus. CORE recalled that group of Freedom Riders and shortly thereafter replaced them with a different group. The Freedom Riders did make it through Alabama and into Mississippi where they were arrested and jailed. The story of the completion of the Freedom Rides across Alabama and Mississippi as told by David Frankhouser, may be found here.

After forty years, the honor, courage, and dedication of the Freedom Riders still inspires the human spirit. They are American heroes. Please get a copy of Taylor Branch’s opus and see for yourself.

Some Questions

We have a number of questions. If you have the answers, please leave a comment or send us an email.

1) Will the Total Information Awareness program include records of Clarence Thomas’ video rentals?

2) The current administration is proposing a “stimulus package” that cost about $600 billion over ten years. If the stimulus package will get the economy back to solid growth this year, why do we need to stimulate the economy for an entire decade thereby increasing the deficit and the natonal debt?

3) Why does the administration think that the National Cancer Center should have less than the best available scientific information on breast cancer posted on its web site?

4) If tort reform is needed because juries make terrible decisions in civil liability cases, why do conservatives think that death penalty juries are infallible?

5) Why does the administration believe that historians do not need access to presidential papers?

6) How do Bill Clinton’s approval ratings during impeachment compare with George Bush’s approval ratings today?

7) Why does the administration think that economists do not need information about mass layoffs?

8) Why is having a segregationist as Senate Majority leader unacceptable but having a segregationist as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee all right?

9) If there is “very compelling evidence” that the 9/11 terrorists received financial and other support from a “sovereign foreign government,” why will the administration not declassify such information so that the American people can know who their enemies are?

10) If drug tests are needed before a high school student can participate in extracurricular activities such as playing the tuba in a school band, should we require a drug test before permitting the purchase of a gun?

11) Why did the White House prevent the EPA from warning millions of homeowners that the insulation in their attic may contain a lethal type of asbestos?

12) The government is conducting a manhunt for five alleged terrorists who may have entered into the US illegally. Wouldn’t be easier to catch them if the wanted posters had pictures of the right people on them?

13) Incoming Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist recently stopped to help care for the injured victims of a car wreck in Florida. In 1995, Frist revived a man who had collapsed in a Senate Office building. In 1998, Frist assisted victims of a Capital Hill gunman. In 2001, he aided Senator Strom Thurmond who had collapsed on the Senate Floor. Dr. Frist may be a hero but is he in danger of becoming known as the Angela Landsbury of the Senate?

Update: Emma of Late Night Thoughts has the correct answer to Number 3 above.