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Saturday, June 07, 2003
Happy Fifty-Seventh Anniversary

Happy fifty-seventh wedding anniversary to my Mom and Dad. They were married on June 5, 1946. Fifty-seven years is a long time for a marriage to grow, flourish and last. There have been many changes in the time they have been married.

They were married at a time when television was a rare form of entertainment with very few broadcasts and very few TVs in American homes. In 1946, the first televised musical variety show aired in three cities (New York, Philadelphia and Schenectady). Today, information and entertainment travels instantly by cable, sattelite and internet to all corners of the globe. In 1946, few even dreamed of the wonders of computers, CDs, or DVDs.

When my parents were married, swing was king and rock and roll was not even a gleam in Mr. Presley's eye. In 1946 The Best Years of Our Life beat out It's a Wonderful Life for the Oscar for Best Picture. Movies are a bit different today.

On June 5, 1946, powered flight was only 43 years old, no human artifact had even been placed in orbit and space flight was the province of science fiction writers. Today, people have walked on the moon, a human habitat orbits the earth and, last week, an unmanned craft set out to discover signs of life on Mars.

When Mom and Dad got married, Jackie Robinson had not broken the major league color barrier, Martin Luther King was a teenager and Plessy v. Ferguson's separate but equal doctrine was still the law of the land. Today, de jure discrimination has been eliminated and we have made substantial (albeit greatly incomplete) progress towards eliminating de facto discrimination.

In 1946, the double helix of DNA had not been discovered, antibiotics were new and Leo Kanner had identified a condition he called autism only three years before. Today, modern surgical procedures permit such miracles as the reattachment of a severed limb (first performed in 1965 by a team of surgeons led by my Dad) and organ transplants (also pioneered by my Dad).

In 1946, the Dow Industrial Average closed at 177. Today, it is above 9,000. Of the 30 stocks comprising the Dow index in 1946, only seven (AT&T, Du Pont, Eastman Kodak, General Electric, General Foods, General Motors and Procter & Gamble) remain in the index.

For a marriage to last 57 years requires large amounts of love, commitment, understanding, cooperation, forgiveness, flexibility, selflessness and a whole lot of hard work. It also requires wisdom.

About the time of my marriage (eighteen years ago this month) my Dad shared three pieces of advice on how to make a marriage work. That advice has stood me in good stead (on the occasions I have shown the wisdom and discipline to follow it). To celebrate Mom and Dad's anniversary, I thought that I would pass that advice along:
1) Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. It is a 60-40 proposition. Both ways.

2) If, during an argument with your wife, you become certain you are right, apologize immediately. Being right makes it worse.

3) After a long day, rub her feet. She will love you forever.

My Dad is very wise. My Mom is more direct. On the occasion of my wedding, she calmly told my bride that "in this family, we do not believe in divorce. Murder may be acceptable but never divorce."

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. All of us here love you both very much. Your example gives meaning to the vow to "Love, Honor and Cherish."

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
The Blogger and The Beauty Queen

I located this NY Times article about the prior restraint by a court of a blogger.

There are very few circumstances in which it is appropriate for a court to issue an order prospectively prohibiting publication of accurate information. In the Pentagon Papers case, The New York Times and the Washington Post began publishing a series of documents about U.S. policy in Viet Nam.

The Nixon administration brought suit seeking to prevent the publication arguing that national security would be harmed if publication proceeded. A unanimous Supreme Court rejected the administration’s position finding that there had been and inadequate showing that national security would be harmed by publication.

The Court found that:
Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity." The Government "thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint." (Citation omitted).

The rejection of the administration’s effort to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers was a historic moment for the Court. Hugo Black, one of the great First Amendment literalists wrote:
I believe that every moment's continuance of the injunctions against these newspapers amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment….

Madison and the other Framers of the First Amendment, able men that they were, wrote in language they earnestly believed could never be misunderstood: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom .. . of the press (and speech). . . ." Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints. (parenthetical added).

I have always liked Justice Black's straightforward statement of First Amendment priciples. That is a long way around to get back to the story of the blogger and the beauty queen.

Tucker Max is a self-described “asshole.” A visit to his web site (and I refuse to provide a link) reveals him to be crude, rude, boorish and completely contemptible. In his bio, Tucker Max lists under occupation that “My mom told me when I grew up I could be anything I wanted. So I became an asshole.” His life goals are “To be a celebrity that gets paid to get drunk, act like an asshole, and get drunk some more.” I am ashamed to admit that, according to his bio, Tucker Max and I both attended the Duke Law School.

On his web site, Max sells his book entitled “The Definitive Book of Pick up Lines.” Perhaps to demonstrate his qualifications as the author of such a book, Max recounts some his experiences with women.

One such experience described on the site involves Max’s version of the conduct of one Katy Johnson. According to the Times, Max’s post portrayed Ms. Johnson “as vapid, promiscuous and an unlikely candidate for membership in the Sobriety Society.”

Ms. Johnson is a beauty queen having been selected as Miss Vermont in both 1999 and 2001. She, too, has a web site. The Times describes her site as including the promotion of:
what she calls her "platform of character education.” “She is founder of Say Nay Today and the Sobriety Society," the site says, "and her article `ABC's of Abstinence' was featured in Teen magazine."

Given Ms. Johnson public persona, Max’s post had the potential to cause her great embarrassment and, perhaps, even harm her budding career as a sort of national Ms. Goody Two Shoes (on the other hand, Max’s post could help her career. Charles Colson’s experience as a felon who found Jesus certainly helped his prison ministry. In addition, it is not farfetched to think that a weekend of drunken debauchery with the boorish Mr. Max would drive any rational woman to advocate abstinence and temperance).

Ms. Johnson sued Max alleging, according to the Times, “that Mr. Max had invaded her privacy by publishing accurate information about her and had used her name and picture for commercial purposes.”

As vile as Mr. Max appears to be and as hypocritical as Ms. Johnson may or may not be, it is at this point that we meet the true villain of the tale, Judge Dana Lewis of the Circuit Court of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Ms. Johnson’s case was assigned to Judge Lewis. Judge Lewis apparently does not share my admiration for the Pentagon Papers decision or for Justice Black’s statement of First Amendment principles.

On May 6, Judge Lewis entered an order in the case. That order, if accurately described by the Times, is the most outrageous judicial action I have seen since at least Bush v. Gore.

The order “forbids Mr. Max to write about Ms. Johnson.” The order also instructs:
Mr. Max that he could not use "Katy" on his site. Nor could he use Ms. Johnson's last name, full name or the words "Miss Vermont." The judge also prohibited Mr. Max from "disclosing any stories, facts or information, notwithstanding its truth, about any intimate or sexual acts engaged in by" Ms. Johnson. That prohibition is not limited to his Web site. Finally, Judge Lewis ordered Mr. Max to sever the virtual remains of his relationship with Ms. Johnson. He is no longer allowed to link to her Web site. (emphasis added).

Thus, Judge Lewis issued a prior restraint on the speech in which Mr. Max could engage. The government, in the form of Judge Lewis, took it upon itself to decide what truthful things Mr. Max is permitted to say.

The Supreme Court noted that a prior restraint has a “heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.” On what basis did Judge Lewis override that “heavy presumption?” None whatsoever. The Times reports that she issued the order prohibiting Mr. Max’s truthful speech before Mr. Max even received notice of the suit and without any evidentiary hearing whatsoever.

Judge Lewis’ order is in flagrant violation of Mr. Max’s First Amendment rights. It is no answer that Mr. Max used his right to free speech in a boorish manner. The First Amendment protects the most boorish of speech right along with great literature.

It is no answer to say that the publication of vile material on Mr. Max’s blog would embarrass Ms. Johnson. Would anybody argue that a court could issue a prior restraint against Kathleen Wiley and 60 Minutes preventing the interview that caused Mr. Clinton embarrassment? Would anyone argue that Bill Bennett should have been able to stroll into court and prevent the Washington Monthly and Newsweek from reporting that he is a compulsive gambler just because such a revelation would cause him embarrassment?

It is no answer to say that the Pentagon Papers case involved important issues and large media outlets while Johnson v. Max involves only a weblog and some personal embarrassment.

As to the contents of the prohibited speech, it not only prohibits Mr. Max from talking about Ms. Johnson, it also has the effect of preventing his from discussing his own life experiences.

The dispute between Max and Johnson is not important in itself. When the government, in the form of a Florida court, interferes and orders prohibitions on the utterance of true statements without notice or a hearing with the penalty of imprisonment if the order is not obeyed, it becomes important to us all.

If the government can tell Mr. Max that he can not speak truths the government finds unimportant, what protects our right to decide what is and is not important?

To suggest that prior restraint of media speech is important but that prior restraint of the speech of an individual is unimportant is a very dangerous step. That line of argument leads to the notion that First Amendment rights are based on the size of the audience. People with unpopular ideas and therefore small audiences would have lesser First Amendment rights than those with popular ideas and therefore larger audiences. One core principle of the First Amendment is that the loneliest voice in the wilderness has the right to mount the soapbox and participate in the market of ideas.

I think that Max’s speech is vile. It is also legally protected. Judge Lewis needs to rethink the order. If evidence presented in the due course of a legal proceeding demonstrates that Max made untrue statements about Ms. Johnson, then an award of damages is appropriate. At that point, an injunction requiring that all false statements be taken off Max’s web page with an appropriate retraction would also be appropriate.

A prospective prohibition on Mr. Max’s speech would never be appropriate except, perhaps, under the most extraordinary circumstances. Revealing Ms. Johnson to be other than the image she presents on her web page certainly does not qualify.

For the government to prohibit Max from making true statements under penalty of imprisonment, without notice or a hearing, is not tolerable in a free society.

Update: This post has been edited to remove the name of the blogger from whom I located the story. That was done for purposes of taste.

Monday, June 02, 2003
The Silliest Column of the Year -- A Nomination

I nominate Rich Tucker for having written the silliest column of the year. Tucker is a columnist at Town Hall and the manager of professional training in the Center For Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Tucker’s nomination is for his latest effort entitled Mocking the Majority. His thesis is that elites in the media, politics and the entertainment industry mock the majority of the country. In particular, Tucker seems to think that Christians are subject to being insulted by the elites. It is not the thesis itself that is so silly but the "evidence" he marshals to “support” it.

The silliness begins with the opening line of the column:
Our country was supposed to be based on a simple principle: Majority rules. That idea has worked well for more that 200 years, but occasionally comes under fire, as it is today.

Is that true? Was our country based on the principle of “majority rule”? Of course it was not. The very idea of a Constitution that can not be overridden by a simple majority disproves Mr. Tucker’s point. The Bill of Rights specifically limits the power of the majority to impose its will on the minority. Unaware of his own silliness, Tucker proceeds to prove my point and disprove his in the very column in question:
Probably the greatest gift the Founding Fathers gave us was the First Amendment. It has ensured the minority would never suffer religious persecution at the hands of the majority.

How can the founding principle of the nation be majority rule when the greatest gift of the founders is to limit the power of the majority over minorities? When a columnist disproves his topic sentence by the end of the column, you know you have a candidate for the silliest column.

Mr. Tucker's examples chosen to support his thesis are equally odd. First, he invokes Senate Democrats filibuster of the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit:
In Washington, a minority of Senators are filibustering two of President Bush’s judicial nominees -- judges who enjoy the support of a majority of the Senate.

The invocation of the Estrada filibuster as an example of the minority mocking the majority is particularly ironic. Mr. Estrada was nominated by George W. Bush. Mr. Bush did not win a majority (or even a plurality) of the votes in the 2000 election. Why is Mr. Tucker not listing the nomination of Mr. Estrada (instead of the filibuster) as an example of the minority mocking the majority?

Mr. Tucker notes that a majority of Senators support the Estrada nomination. One reason that is true is that Wyoming’s 500,000 or so people get the same two Senate votes as California’s 35,000,000 people. Is that not a perfect example of the minority mocking the majority?

Mr. Tucker’s examples get worse when he moves from the political to the cultural:
At least in politics, though, there’s still some benefit to being in the majority, most of the time. In entertainment, the mantra is “minority rules.”

Consider the new Jim Carrey movie, “Bruce Almighty.” In a film that’s supposed to be a comedy, “God” gives his powers to Carrey’s character, a failed reporter. “God” then steps out, allowing Carrey to wreak havoc on earth.

Imagine, the very idea of an omnipotent God going on vacation. Of God allowing his power to be used by a human for vengeful purposes. Only in Hollywood would that be considered funny. For most of us, it’s merely insulting.

And that’s the problem. Even though the vast majority of Americans come from a Judeo-Christian background, Hollywood considers it A-OK to insult our beliefs. When was the last time you saw a movie that insulted Hindu beliefs? Islamic beliefs? Wiccan beliefs? Never, because they all have the advantage of being in the minority.

I have not seen Bruce Almighty and will not (I do not usually watch Jim Carrey movies). I understand it to be a comedy. Is Mr. Tucker so humorless and sensitive that even a Jim Carrey comedy must present Tucker's exact religious beliefs or he takes offense?

Tucker is substantively wrong as well. Are non-Christian religious beliefs ever mocked in the entertainment industry? I seem to recall an Indiana Jones movie that portrayed one eastern religion as using child slave labor and having rituals in which the Priest would rip the beating heart out of a live human.

Witches have not always been provided sympathetic treatment by Hollywood as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz attests.

Are Muslim’s sympathetically portrayed by Hollywood? This site argues otherwise pointing out that Muslims are portrayed as terrorists in True Lies, Executive Decision and The Siege, to name a few.

Next, do “most of us” find Bruce Almighty to be insulting? The fact that it has grossed more than $135 million in its first two weeks suggests that “most of us” were not insulted. Mr. Tucker and like minded individuals are free to go see The Matrix Reloaded or Finding Nemo and avoid Bruce Almighty. That would prevent him having to suffer any offense as it is hard to be offended by a movie one did not see.

I am part of Mr. Tucker’s Judeo-Christian majority and I can easily imagine being insulted by a Jim Carrey movie. I suspect, however, that it would be my intelligence and not my religion that would be insulted.

If Mr. Tucker’s best example of the entertainment industry mocking Christians is a Jim Carrey comedy, then perhaps the problem is not the entertainment industry but rather Mr. Tucker’s thin skin.

Having failed to show that his political and cultural examples support his thesis, Mr. Tucker turns to the media. His prime example is a Bill Keller column in the Times (we linked to another source as the Keller column is now behind the Times $ archive wall).

In the column, Mr. Keller attempts to answer a question Keller has heard other people ask:
Is President Bush a religious zealot, or does he just pander to that crowd?

Tucker then writes:
In attempting to answer his question, Keller writes, “I've been talking to people who think seriously about religion, including some who know Mr. Bush.” That’s a backhanded insult to tens of millions of people, because it implies most Christians don’t “think seriously about religion.” Well, I know many Christians, some conservative, some liberal. Some literalist, and some interpretive. But all have thought -- and continue to think -- seriously about their faith.

Mr. Tucker takes grave offense at the fact that Keller presupposes that some people think more seriously about religion than others. Mr. Tucker says that Keller’s statement “implies that most Christians don’t think seriously about religion.” Keller’s statement implies no such thing. It simply states the obvious, namely that some people think more seriously about religion than others. Mr. Tucker is seeking to be offended with the zeal of a Labrador chasing a Frisbee.

Does Mr. Tucker really think that Keller insulted tens of millions of people by supposing that a theologian has thought more seriously about religion than a “Christmas and Easter” Christian? I, for one, am sure that I have not thought as seriously about religion as many, if not all, theologians. I do not take offense at that fact. I suspect that I have thought more seriously about law and autism than most theologians.

The fact that some people have thought more seriously about religion than others in no way implies that the majority of Christians have not thought seriously about their faith.

Conservatives often accuse liberals of being humorless enforcers of political correctness who take offense at the slightest cause and wallow in victim status. Mr. Tucker appears to qualify for that description on all grounds.

Given the quality of the evidence Tucker has put forth in support of his thesis, we can conclude either that the thesis is wrong or that Mr. Tucker has not done his homework. In either case, Tucker’s column is easily the silliest I have read in some time.

Today’s Tour

Ross at the Bloviator is the go to guy for all issues related public health. When Ross says that an article is “The most important health policy news you’ll read this year," it is best to pay attention. Read the article and read Ross’ post.

Dr. Manhattan has a great baseball post about the success of the Oakland A’s under general manager Billy Beane. For any fan of Bill James and his statistical methods, it is must reading. For those of us who for years wondered when someone would gain a competitive advantage by using James’ methods to build a club, it is nice to feel vindicated.

There are any number of reasons to oppose George Bush’s reelection efforts. Those reasons include the deep dishonesty of the administration, the promotion of political advantage over national interest, the lack of any coherent or serious economic policy and many, many others. To oppose George W. Bush because he is promoting the “homosexual agenda” would not have occurred to me. It has occurred to certain segments of the conservative movement who are threatening to oppose Mr. Bush because of his alleged liberality on gay issues. Link via Mathew Yglesias:
But the emergence of gays as a more vocal presence in Republican politics is angering some leaders of conservative groups. In recent weeks, those groups have been sending pointed messages to the White House warning that President Bush's re-election is in jeopardy if he continues to court what they call the "homosexual lobby."

Sunday, June 01, 2003
Restaurant Rules

Please Welcome AutismWatch to blogtopia and to our blogroll. Please take the time to stop by for the latest news about autism.

Autism Watch points us to a story out of Salisbury, Maryland about a restaurant that refused to serve a family because their five-year old autistic boy was making noises. The family then organized a fifty person rally for autism awareness at the Pasteria:
Collin Passon was surrounded by 50 of his supporters Saturday during a rally behind Zia's Pasteria -- the restaurant that reportedly refused to serve the 5-year-old autistic boy.

Richard and Leigh Ann Passon, Collin's parents, and members of the Autism Chapter of the Eastern Shore organized the protest near the Route 13 restaurant across from The Centre at Salisbury to promote autism awareness.

In a letter published May 10 in The Daily Times, Richard Passon wrote that he, his wife and their three children were asked to leave Zia's because Collin was making noises.

Zia's officials repeatedly have declined to comment about the incident…

Though she did not know the Passons before the Zia's incident, Gretchen Nichols, who has an autistic child, said she felt she had to come out anyway.

"We're here to support the Passon family," she said.

Ernest Nichols, Gretchen's husband, said he also was upset by the incident.

"It's just ignorant," he said.

While we have never been refused service as a result of our son’s autistic behaviors, we have often felt animosity directed towards us in public places including restaurants. On several occasions, I was pretty sure that the restaurant management had snapped our picture and placed it by the cash register next to the pictures of folks who wrote hot checks. “Do not seat these people,” was the imagined caption.

My attitude about autistic behaviors in public places depends, in part, on the nature of the public places. In truly public places, like parks, school playgrounds, sidewalks, etc. my attitude is that those facilities are for the public, we are part of the public and others simply have to deal with Bobby’s autistic behaviors that fall short of posing a danger to others.

I am sorry if others are put off by having to watch the behaviors we live with 24/7 but that is just too bad. We have the right to be there. If our son’s behavior makes others uncomfortable, they are free to leave. After all, their behavior makes my son uncomfortable and if Bobby simply cannot tolerate it, we are the ones who leave. We ask no more of them.

The situation in quasi public places like grocery stores, the mall and restaurants is more complicated because there are competing interests. The restaurant is in the business of making money. To the extent that the presence of an autistic child makes the dining experience for other patrons unpleasant, they will lose money.

The other patrons are paying good money for what they hope and expect will be a pleasant dining experience. If Bobby’s behavior ruins their outing, they have not gotten what they paid for.

We have interests as well. It is important that our family be able to eat out once in a while. It is part of maintaining a semblance of a normal family life. We are paying good money for a pleasant dining experience just like the other patrons. Our experience is diminished if we have to be constantly on guard lest we offend.

In addition, we work very hard to teach appropriate public behavior. We are concerned not just about one meal but about Bobby’s ability to live a relatively normal life for the next 70 years. Each trip to the mall or to a restaurant is part of the training. Bobby will never be able to act appropriately in a restaurant or a mall if he never experiences those settings. The more often he experiences those environments, the better he reacts. If we do not have some bad experiences, there will be no good experiences.

We try to follow some simple rules to make the restaurant experience bearable for us, Bobby, the other patrons and the restaurant. Those rules are as follows:
1) Choose the restaurant carefully. White table cloths are out. Restaurants with busy decors provide far too many things to touch, grab and break. Noise is a factor. Bobby is far more likely to succeed in a quiet restaurant than in a noisy one. The flip side is that in a noisy restaurant filled with unruly kids, Bobby’s behavior is less likely to stand out and less likely to offend. The best choice is a restaurant on the verge of bankruptcy. They are happy to have the business and are less likely to complain and there are usually fewer other patrons to offend. The downside is that the food is generally lousy.

2) Choose the time carefully. Seven-thirty on a Friday night is not the right time. First, we might have to stand in line. Waiting his turn is not Bobby's strong suit. Secondly, it is the peak time for the restaurant to make money and they do not need the hassle right then. Third, Friday night is date night. Couples with children are the most sympathetic to unruly children. Single folks on a date hoping for romance are the least sympathetic. Hygiene-free table manners tend to ruin the mood. It is also true that if their romance blossoms, they could be sitting in our seats in a few years. That thought sort of takes the bloom off the rose.

A Tuesday or Thursday about 5:15 works well. There will be few or no other diners to offend. A table far from others will be available. The lack of noise, hustle and bustle will help the autistic child deal with a different environment and the management was not expecting to make any money at that time anyway.

3) Talk to the management about the problem before being seated. Explain that you want a table or booth far from other patrons. Even if the waiter has to walk a few extra steps, the additional space promotes everyone’s interest. Explain that you chose the restaurant because of its stellar reputation for kindness to children. That is in the nature of a preemptive strike. Ask that the management remove all salt, pepper, sugar, condiments, candles and other items that can be thrown, spilled, broken or harmed. Promise to be out of there before the dinner traffic gets heavy.

4) In the inevitable event that you end up being seated next to other people and their dining experience is disrupted, talk to them. Explain that the child is autistic and that it is not a matter of parental discipline. Explain that dining out is part of the training experience to help the child get better. Ask for their sympathy and understanding. Apologize profusely. Order a round of drinks or a dessert for the other table (in extreme cases, buy their dinner. I have had to do that only once but given the events of that evening, it was the least I could do).

5) Have comforting, familiar items to attract the child’s attention. For us, it is a portable CD player with a treasured disc and a set of earphones.

6) Do not order coffee after the meal. As noted above, waiting is not our strong suit.

7) Bring food you know will be eaten. Bobby does not actually eat restaurant food. We bring something we know he likes (“and for his entree, we brought Oreos”). He can eat something vaguely nutritious before or after. The point is not for Bobby to enjoy the food, it is for all concerned to survive the experience and hope for better ones later. Even though he will not be eating the restaurant food, order something (cheap and un-spillable) anyway. The management will appreciate it.

8) Spread your business around. A restaurant will be more accommodating if you eat there once every few months than if it is a weekly thing. If you have a bad experience, do not return for six months or so. If you have a good experience, you will be welcomed back.

9) Tip lavishly. The server is likely to have earned it. We like to think of it as a “sweeping fee.”

10) Remember that restaurants fail at a prodigious rate. In a couple of months, there will be a new restaurant in that space and they will not know you. Yet.

11) If all else fails, use the Blues Brothers gambit. “If you hassle us, we will bring our kids back here three times a day until we are your only customers. If you let us finish our meal in (relative) peace, when we walk out the door, you will never see us again.”

12) Leave before the cops arrive.

It is important for families with autistic children to be able to go out into public. Try to plan the outing so as to maximize the chance for success. Parents of autistics need to be sympathetic to the concerns of the management and other patrons but that sympathy should not stop you from having family outings. It will get better with practice and it is important to keep some semblance of a normal life.

To the other patrons and the management, try to see it from our point of view. We are trying as hard as we can. It was just your bad luck that we were in the mood for Chinese. We will be gone and out of your life in 45 minutes or so. We will take our autistic behaviors with us when we go.

Follow those simple rules and you too can have a loud, messy, rushed, stressful, hygiene-free dinner out with your family. It may not be perfect, but it beats the alternatives.