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Monday, December 19, 2005  

A holiday wish: Don't forget New Orleans

I think we need to take some time away from preparing for whatever holiday we may celebrate to reconsider the greatest American tragedy in a century, the displacement of thousands of people from the wonderful, historic city of New Orleans. Though less than four months have passed since the devastating impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the catastrophe is already moving away from the front pages of newspapers and out of our thoughts. Yes, there is breaking news that deserves our attention. The Bush administration's domestic spying on American citizens without court approval is the issue of the moment, and a very serious one. But, we must be able to consider more than one important issue at a time to understand the complex world we live in.

The editorial board of the New York Times recently said what needs to be said about rebuilding New Orleans.

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

Losing an American city. We are told to believe the risk of losing an American city is so great that the U.S. must engage in torture of innocent people whisked off to foreign soil, and, illegal spying on its own citizens, to prevent the loss from occurring. But, at the same time, an American city can be lost to a natural disaster and disinterest. Cognitive dissonance is nothing new in American politics. However, this situation is worse than most because a clock is ticking. If the former residents of New Orleans are not provided with a viable plan for rebuilding their home city soon, they will have no reason to return. Currently, thousands of them remain housed in hotels throughout the country at government expense. Most of these people had both employment and houses they owned before being forced to flee. All along, the better option for them has been to return to where they have roots, not to be scattered to the winds.

As the editorial board of at the NYT said, now is the time for Congress to act, but it is continuing to drag its heels. The most meaningful gift many of us can give this year is an email or letter to our Congressmen and Congresswomen saying we believe the reconstruction of New Orleans to be the highest national priority. At most, giving that gift will cost you fifteen minutes and a postage stamp. Please do it.

What's the art?

The fleur de lys has long been considered a symbol of New Orleans.

8:45 PM

Tuesday, December 06, 2005  

News: 'Gay chat mayor' Jim West recalled

It will not be official until the election results are certified, but Jim West of Spokane lost the title of mayor today. He gained notoriety in May as a resolutely Right Wing politician who trolled the Internet for barely legal male sexual partners. The scandal culminated in the recall election that ended at 8 p.m. Throughout the saga, West claimed that he had done nothing to warrant losing his job and that he was being pilloried for behavior that was purely personal.

The Spokesman-Review has the story.

Spokane voters ousted Mayor Jim West today.

Preliminary results in the all-mail special election have 65 percent of the ballots marked in favor of the recall, and 35 percent against.

The 59,501 ballots counted represent 54 percent of the 110,589 sent to voters nearly three weeks ago. Ballots will continue to arrive at the elections office for the next several days, but the margin of support for the recall makes it mathematically unlikely that West can reverse the results.

The charge on the ballot, based on reports in The Spokesman-Review, said West should be removed for using "his office for personal benefit." In his ballot response, West denied using his office for personal gain, said he had helped move the city forward by solving long-standing problems and better management practices, and apologized for "errors in my private life."

Under state law, West will officially be removed from office on Dec. 16, the day the election results are certified. Council President Dennis Hession will become the mayor pro tem until the council selects a replacement to serve the remaining two years of West's term.

West's problems with sexual misconduct may have begun decades ago, but the momentum for a recall election began when The Spokesman-Review published a long article reporting allegations that he may have molested boys while serving as a deputy sheriff, solicited teenagers for sex and offered city positions to young men as part of seduction attempts. Controversy arose over the newspaper's use of a computer technician posing as a high school senior at Gay.com, an Internet site where homosexual men socialize, to confirm West's identity and behavior. The computer technician mimicked the conduct of a teen who reported meeting West there, being courted, and ultimately having sex with the mayor in his car.

Both the public and some journalists questioned the ethics of the The Spokesman-Review using a hired hand to elicit information from West. The ruse ended after West appeared at a designated place for a sexual rendevous with the person he believed to be a high school senior.

I have never accepted West's claim that his behavior was solely personal. There are too many indicia connecting his secret personal life and his public life as a powerful politician. He used his position as mayor to impress would-be conquests. His city-owned computer was sometimes used for visiting Gay.com and similar sites. Some of those visits occurred during working hours. West downloaded thousands of pictures of men, some of them nude, others engaged in sex acts, to the computer. In addition, he is alleged to have offered a human resources position to a young man he was trying to date. Another young man says he was appointed to the city's human rights commission after West made bumbling attempts to attract his sexual interest on line. The unwanted advances continued until the he resigned his position and ended contact with West. There is additional evidence, but I think this information sufficient to establish that West's private and public lives had merged, with his apparent obsession with seeking out young males for sex getting the upper hand.

Some people are particularly offended by West's opposition to gay rights legislation as a state legislator, majority leader and mayor. They say that his role of closeted gay nemesis of homosexuals was particularly reprehensible. There is irony in that. But, I don't believe that West's homosexuality, which he denied until the scandal, is the key to the situation. A heterosexual politician who sought out girls and young women for sex, using city resources, and offering them paid or unpaid positions in the city bureaucracy, would be just as much in the wrong.

Citizens of Spokane have appeared reluctant to confront a politician with a reputation for playing hard ball until now. The recall campaign was led by a couple of people with no political experience or financial clout. It was underfunded, and, poorly publicized except for newspaper coverage. Though they gradually withdrew tacit support for him, business and most political leaders did not directly admonish West. Religious leaders were silent. The big picture that emerged was of a city in which people are reluctant to challenge the powerful. The secrecy of the ballot process seems to have given the city its voice. That voice has said 'No' to Jim West.

10:30 PM

Friday, December 02, 2005  

Internet: What's wrong with Wikipedia

Pajamas Media recently published comments from several bloggers about the Internet's foremost free, 'independent' encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a collection of material, some quite good, some godawful, contributed by volunteers. Unfortunately, the inability to distinguish fact from opinion is rampant, particularly on the Internet. Facts are, of course, provable, or, at least, the information closest to being confirmable. Opinion is whatever someone thinks, whether he has a rational basis for those thoughts or not. A roll-your-own encyclopedia encourages the distribution of opinion masquerading as fact.

My most recent bout with Wikipedia occurred after fact-based information emerged about New Orleans during the tragic first week following Hurricane Katrina. By the time that information became available there were already entries about the situation at Wikipedia. They embraced the sensationalist claim that thousands of people were rioting and looting, and that numerous assaults, rapes and murders had occurred. It was said that prisoners had been released from penal facilities and were running amok. As you know, only a handful of violent crimes occurred among the estimated 30,000 people who were stranded in the Superdome and civic center for as many as five days. Claims of looting were also exaggerated and there weren't any riots. Prisoners were either moved to higher levels of facilities or transported out of the area. They were not released.

I edited a couple of Wikipedia entries to replace the conjecture and wild speculation with the newly established factual information. For example, once the coroner confirmed the number of deaths in the Superdome and civic center, I posted those figures. Each time, for about a month, the editing I had done was replaced by people who took the entry back to the scenario of violent blacks rampaging. One would not have guessed that there was actually nominal violence or that there were issues of significant economic, social and political substance involved. After all, we are talking about the greatest natural disaster in the history of the country leading to the largest migration of American citizens ever. Eventually, I stopped editing the entries, allowing them to revert to 'the savages ransacked New Orleans.' The tenacity with which that viewpoint was being pushed confirmed that on an 'independent' encyclopedia opinion will often silence fact.

Letting anyone contribute to the site guarantees that result. Consider an excerpt from a Wikipedia entry about the League of the South, a hate group that promotes white supremacy.

The League of the South is a nationalist and secessionist organization headquartered in the Southern United States with chapters and members in a majority of states nationwide. Its leader is Michael Hill. It advocates for the South and Southern heritage in the realms of political and social discourse and over time the League hopes to achieve greater autonomy for the South either within a revived constitutional federalism in the United States or as an independent nation. Secession is openly discussed as leverage in order to secure many of the same rights Quebec has won through its own secession movement in the federation of Canada.

Politically, the League of the South defies normal definitions of Left and Right, being further right than Edmund Burke and further left than Karl Marx. Despite this paradox, it may be best characterized as Southern traditionalist, advocating both for greater political and cultural autonomy for the South against the dual onslaught of centralized government and global capitalism. The League proposes to build a new society on a foundation of government centered in communities, accountable to the people, and with an economy of self-sufficient farms and small businesses.

Read the rest of the entry and you will discover it continues in the same vein. An uninformed reader might think that the LOS is a group seeking a bucolic, agrarian future. There are only hints that the LOS seeks to divorce the South from the rest of America so that a white, Christian theocracy can be established. In that new nation women, nonwhites, and non-Christians would be deprived of civil and political rights. Considering that the League is one of the largest hate groups in the country, one would expect a more objective description. Instead, Wikipedia readers are treated to an entry written by Michael Hill, the president of the League of the South.

Wikipedia can be considered an acceptable source for basic information. I would trust it to tell me the difference between Fahrenheit and centigrade or to explain the metric system. But, a reader would be foolish to take a source with no safeguards to prevent bias seriously in regard to complex topics. Nor is the quality of much of the writing at Wikipedia equal to even the eigth-grade education standard of most newspapers. Reasonably priced encyclopedia software is available for both Windows and Macintosh computers. Encyclopedias also offer some access online, as do most mainstream newspapers and magazines. If you care about the accuracy of the information you disseminate, those fact-checked, usually reliable sources should be first among non-equals.

Reasonably related

This entry is not an endorsement of Pajamas Media. I believe it is intended to be another source for disseminating Right Wing opinion on the Internet.

3:30 PM

Wednesday, November 23, 2005  

Commentary: Bordens sought sameness

I have driven through Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. It is a semi-rural, sometimes sylvan area of dairy farms and modest businesses. The Amish provide local color. Lititz is best known for its chocolate factory, Wilbur Chocolate Company, as is Hershey. There are also some mock Bavarian buildings that draw attention. It took centuries for the population of Lititz to grow to its current 9,000 or so. Michael and Cathryn Borden, the couple apparently slain by their young daughter Kara's boyfriend, David Ludwig, last Sunday, relocated from South Carolina to Lititz seven to ten years ago. (Accounts differ.) Why would people move there? Most people wouldn't. Jobs are relatively scarce and often involve commutes to cities 30 minutes to an hour away. There's little in the way of cultural attractions. Still, there are reasons for a certain type of people to want to live in Lititz. What type? People who seek sameness. Census data explain.

As of the of 2000, there are 9,029 people, 3,732 households, and 2,407 families residing in the borough. The population density is 1,502.6/km² (3,884.0/mi²). There are 3,827 housing units at an average density of 636.9/km² (1,646.2/mi²). The racial makeup of the borough is 97.23% White, 0.44% African American, 0.09% Native American, 0.87% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.50% from other races, and 0.83% from two or more races. 1.52% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

The median income for a household in the borough is $40,417, and the median income for a family is $52,028. Males have a median income of $36,126 versus $25,997 for females. The per capita income for the borough is $20,601. 4.1% of the population and 2.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 3.9% of those under the age of 18 and 8.7% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

People who want everyone in their environment to look like them would probably find a town like Lititz reassuring. Philadelphia is only 60 miles away, but it might as well be on Mars for families who have opted out of the diversity of urban America. If you read between the lines, the data on gender and income is also telling. Women who work in Lititz earn only two-thirds of the income men do.

There is another reason why a couple like the Bordens would seek out Lititz. It is a haven for white fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, many of whom homeschool. And estimated one in ten children in Lancaster County is schooled at home.

A network of homeschool organizations has sprung up to provide support to the families in the form of tutoring, field trips for children and social gatherings. Most exclude non-Christian home schoolers. Some groups require that people sign agreements supporting their specific religious beliefs in order to participate. The groups are an alternative to allowing homeschooled children to mingle with those who participate in the public school system, which many Christian homeschoolers view with skepticism, if not contempt. A new state law that will allow homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities with public school pupils has met with ambivalence.

Parent Suzanne Ritchey is “torn.”

Ritchey lives just outside Neffsville and homeschools her four children.

On one hand, her family pays taxes, and her boys might want to play baseball for Manheim Township School District when they outgrow the recreation commission.

On the other hand, “Our family believes it’s best to rely solely on God and not usurp authority to the public school system,” Ritchey said.

The Bordens, members of a small reactionary sect known as the Plymouth Brethren, would have been particularly susceptible to such rigidity. The sect, founded in Ireland and England, is focused on strict adherence to 19th century tenets of Christianity and has an apocalyptic outlook. It does not recognize clergy, treating middle-aged and older men as leaders. Women are discouraged from playing an active role in worship and from working outside of the home.

Coverage of the Borden murders and ensuing investigation are rife with locals who declare the Bordens and Ludwig's the 'right kind of children'-- conservative and Christian.

"They were good kids and they were brought up very well. What I see is, they just made some bad choices," said Vera Zimmerman, 50, who has known the Bordens for seven years and is acquainted with Ludwig's mother.

Kara has been described by neighbors and friends as a bubbly, outgoing girl who occasionally baby-sat younger children in her neighborhood and liked to play soccer. She regularly attended youth group meetings and got along well with her sister, said Kevin Eshleman, executive pastor of Ephrata Community Church.

"In my mind, that generally indicates that things are going OK at home," Eshleman said.

Of course, the details emerging contradict the claim that all is well among the Christian homeschooling community there. At least one young teen who apparently stayed out all night with a man. A cache of 54 weapons in the Ludwig home. Video of another planned home invasion. Rumors that Kara Borden is at least the second girl that Ludwig has run off with. A conspiracy among homeschooled teens to keep information about the relationship between Kara Borden and Ludwig secret from adults.

The Bordens achieved their goal of living in a place where most people looked like them and thought like them. A large minority joined them in eschewing public and private education for their children, considering homeschooling superior because of its insular nature. But, they were not saved by sameness. Victims of violent crime usually know the offender -- a family member, friend or acquaintance. However, for some reason, perhaps cognitive dissonance, many people believe that trouble usually comes from outsiders. Cleave to sameness and shut out the Other, and you will be safe, they think. In Lititz, trouble has come from deep within.

What's the art?

A picture of Lititz Springs Park and Visitors Center.

9:40 PM

Friday, November 18, 2005  

News: David Ludwig reveals dark side of homeschooling

The homeschooling movement usually gets good press. That's partly because of demographics and organization. Homeschool parents are usually white, middle-class and articulate. The teaching parent, most often a stay at home mother, will present herself and her well-scrubbed brood as a slice of the supposedly idylic American past, circa 1950 or so. The fact that many homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christians helps, too. The fundamentalist and evangelistic sects are the strongest they've been in decades, deciding elections and influencing public policy. But, occasionally, a crack appears in the scrupulously maintained homeschooling facade. That has occurred this week with the flight to avoid prosecution, capture and charging of David Ludwig of picturesque Lititz, Pennsylvania. The homeschooled youth appears to have murdered his girlfriend's parents when they objected to an adult dating a child who would have been in junior high -- if she attended school. Yesterday, the revelations became even more disturbing. We learned investigators had discovered an arsenal in Ludwig's home.

CNN has the story.

LITITZ, Pa. (Nov. 17) - Police seized 54 guns from the home of an 18-year-old man charged with killing his girlfriend's parents and fleeing the state with her, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Warwick Township police removed the weapons, which included an array of rifles, shotguns, handguns and ammunition, on Sunday afternoon from the home where suspect David Ludwig lived with his parents. The search occurred as police were still trying to find him and 14-year-old Kara Beth Borden.

David Ludwig is being held without bail on murder and kidnapping charges after being flown back to Lancaster County on Tuesday from Indiana, where police captured him following a chase.

Police allege Ludwig shot Michael and Cathryn Borden shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday at their home in Lititz following an argument over his relationship with Kara. The two had been dating, apparently secretly, friends and witnesses said.

Ludwig is reportedly a hunter, but that does not explain the possession of such a large collection of weapons. (It may explain why the Bordens were killed with single, clean shots to the head. But, let's not rush to judgment. The suspect is innocent until proven guilty.)

The house full of guns was yesterday's news. Today's news is just as frightening. The Associated Press reports.

LITITZ, Pa. (AP) - An 18-year-old man accused of killing his girlfriend's parents and kidnapping her was videotaped discussing plans to conduct an armed raid on another family's home and kill people inside, according to court documents released Friday.

Police said another teen in the 18-minute video told them that the aborted break-in was among several such ``late night armed 'plans of forcible entry''' that he and David Ludwig conducted.

Ludwig and Samuel P. Lohr, 19, are shown in the video taking guns from Ludwig's house to a home and discussing using them to ``shoot and kill family members inside of the residence,'' according to a search warrant issued Thursday to Warwick Township police.

It's not known whose house was targeted, but it was not the home of Michael and Cathryn Borden, who were gunned down Sunday, investigators said.

The excuse that would have been offered -- that David Ludwig is a lone loon -- has been undermined before the home schooling movement could present it. The problems in Lititz are not about one or two home schoolees. As the investigation expands, other children and young adults who were aware of Ludwig's activities are likely to be implicated.

The arsenal and alleged plots offer clues to the dark side of the homeschooling movement. Though many home schooling parents may be merely separatists when it comes to allowing their children to interact with people who do not share their views, some are something worse than that. A deep strain of far Right beliefs runs through the homeschooling movement. Those beliefs include apocalyptic views based in religion, survivalist inclinations including caching weapons and ammunition, and patriarchal dispositions regarding the treatment of women. Homeschooling is common among adherents to the 'patriot movement', Christian Identity and white supremacist groups.

I have no objection to educational aspect of homeschooling. If a parent is qualified to teach a child better than the public or private schools, fine. After all, many parents tutor their schooled children. My qualms arise because of two non-educational aspects of the homeschooling movement: elitism and segregation. The message many homeschoolers are sending, usually politely, is: My children are better than yours. Expand that. They're saying their children are too good to be exposed to most of their peers. As a result of that attitude, homeschooled children are segregated from the norm. Not only do they not attend school, they are encouraged to associate only with other home schoolees. The result is a very heterogeneous, cult-like environment that doesn't prepare children for the heterogeneity of contemporary American life. It is a fecund environment for extremist views to take root. We are getting a glimpse into a homeschool community because of the Borden murders. Much of what we are seeing is evidence of what is wrong with the homeschooling movement.

Reasonably related

The Washington Post says David Ludwig's lawyer is trying to portray him sympathetically. The remarks were made before the news of the arsenal and alleged plans to commit home invasions were released.

3:30 PM

Wednesday, November 16, 2005  

Media: Ted Koppel leaving with lament

Ted Koppel definitely has a place on my list of most admired people. He is one of the newsmen and women who inspired me to become a journalist. One of the things I learned after achieving that goal is that most reporters are run-of-the-mill, seat warmers seeking a sinecure. Still, both broadcast news and print media sometimes exceed our expectations in providing insight into the issues and events of our times. Koppel is one of the minority of well-known journalists who make that happen. True to form, Koppel is taking the opportunity of his retirement from Nightline to take journalism to task for not doing enough.

The Washington Post recently discussed his semi-retirement with him.

Television executives, Koppel says, "live under the misapprehension that Americans don't care about foreign news. They don't care about boring news. If you present it in a boring fashion, then they don't care about foreign news. What really dictates here is the cost of foreign news. At a time that we really have to worry about what's going on in the rest of the world, what people in other countries think of us, we are less well informed by television news than we have been in many years.

"If the only time you cover foreign news is when you send someone, every foreign story is going to cost you a lot of money when you do it and likely to be less well informed than in the days when you had people who lived in the country for two, three, five, 10 years and understand the culture."

When I was in college, one of the words aspiring journalists learned was "Afghanistanism." The word meant a reference to a place so distant, and so irrelevant, that no one cared about it. Now, years later, we've learned that even Afghanistan is not the backwater we thought it was, that, indeed, it can be among the most newsworthy places on Earth. Though the word "Afghanistanism" has fallen into disuse, the attitudes of Westerners, including broadcast and print media executives, are still stuck in the past to an extent. It is doubtful that many of them will respond to Koppel's challenge that they spend more time and money on international news.

Fishbowl D.C. has also been giving some thought to Ted Koppel's departure.

Beginning the first of what we assume will be many a piece celebrating the end of the Ted Koppel's quarter century on the only late-night news show, Howard Kurtz looks at the legacy of the Nightline host as he prepares to step down later this month to pursue his own documentary projects:

Telling a story about Koppel's feelings on the war on Iraq, Kurtz opines, "It is classic Koppel: tough-minded, eloquent, focused on world affairs and sometimes, it seems, conducting his own foreign policy. As he prepares to relinquish the helm of the ABC program he launched 26 years ago, when his focus was entirely on Iran and the Americans held hostage there, it is hard to avoid the end-of-an-era language that followed the departures of Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and the death of Peter Jennings."

Koppel's last show (just before Thanksgiving) will focus on Morrie Schwarz and the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, which Koppel told Washingtonian was his favorite interview from a career with many possibilities.

Koppel's Nightline would be a hard act for anyone to follow. It is disheartening that the ensemble that will be taking over the show includes a person known for melodramatic entertainment interviews, Martin Bashir. We can only hope that the name of one of the finest broadcast news shows ever will not be tarnished.

11:45 PM

Thursday, November 10, 2005  

Politics: Roy Moore will run for Ala. gov

The Montgomery Advertiser has state news of national consequence. A matter that should elicit yawns by now -- the separation of church and state -- can still be used to roil the waters and rile the masses. An Alabaman has decided to use fundamentalist fervor in much the same way another leader there used segregation de jure to his political advantage.

It's official.

Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is running for governor in 2006.

Moore, on Monday, announced his candidacy for the state's highest executive office. Montgomery resident Frank Hardy, a long-time Moore supporter and Republican, praised the former jurist for throwing his hat into the election ring.

"This country was founded on Christian principles, and I haven't seen anyone yet who will do the work that (former) Judge Moore will do," Hardy said. "I believe that he is the man for the job."

Local resident Jon Broadway had a different reaction.

"Oh, dear!" he said immediately after hearing about the announcement. "I can say safely that it would be the most tragic thing I can see for the state, to have him represent this state. It would make (former Gov.) George Wallace look like a distinguished gentlemen."

Moore likely will face incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, who is expected to announce whether he will run this weekend in the Republican primary next June.

The most irritating aspect is that Moore, a real life version of Sinclair Lewis' charismatic religious demagogue in the novel Elmer Gantry, has a real chance of winning. Not only have evangelical Christians urged him to seek higher office, some, including nationally recognized names such as Alan Keyes, have suggested a bid for the presidency. From Moore's perspective, the governorship of his state may appear to be small potatoes.

So, how did it happen? Some people would say that the current situation is based on Moore's imposition of a 5,000 pound granite monument on the Alabama judicial building after he was elected chief justice. That publicity stunt resulted in his being removed from office for violating the federal constitution in 2003. However, the roots of the evangelical fervor that leads some people to believe the country should be a Christian theocracy run deeper than that. The movement achieved significant strength in the 1920s. A consequence was passage of laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in about half the states. Such statutes were not deemed unconstitutional until 1968, when the Supreme Court of the United States heard Epperson v. Arkansas. The state supreme court had sidestepped the issue when a ruling allowing the teaching of evolution in public schools was appealed to it.

. . .Upon the principal issue, that of constitutionality, the court holds that Initiated Measure No. 1 of 1928, Ark.Stat.Ann. s 80-1627 and s 80--1628 (Repl. 1960), is a valid exercise of the state's power to specify the curriculum in its public schools. The court expresses no opinion on the question whether the Act prohibits any explanation of the theory of evolution or merely prohibits teaching that the theory is true; the answer not being necessary to a decision in the case, and the issue not having been raised.

SCOTUS reversed, rejecting the statutes because of their religious basis. It ruled that Arkansas was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of noreligion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.

. . .In the present case, there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man. No suggestion has been made that Arkansas' law may be justified by considerations of state policy other than the religious views of some of its citizens. It is clear that fundamentalist sectarian conviction was and is the law's reason for existence.

Its antecedent, Tennessee's 'monkey law,' candidly stated its purpose: to make it unlawful 'to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.' Perhaps the sensational publicity attendant upon the Scopes trial induced Arkansas to adopt less explicit language. It eliminated Tennessee's reference to 'the story of the Divine Creation of man' as taught in the Bible, but there is no doubt that the motivation for the law was the same: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, 'denied' the divine creation of man.

Arkansas' law cannot be defended as an act of religious neutrality. Arkansas did not seek to excise from the curricula of its schools and universities all discussion of the origin of man. The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.

After being removed from the court, Moore made a career of lecturing and touring with the Ten Commandments monument, called "Roy's Rock." He set up a political apparatus for himself that has resulted in incredible popularity throughout the South. His patronage also was a determining factor in his former aide, Tom Potter, being elected to the Supreme Court he had been ejected from.

If Moore is successful in achieving gubernatorial office in Alabama, the nation will be treated to historical deja vu. The situation that the Scopes trial was supposedly the death knell to, and that Epperson made officially verboten, will have reoccurred. There will be a state government that seeks to use religion as the foundation for its laws. Moore's popularity, and, the possibility that he can achieve this goal, reminds us that, for many Americans, an evolution in thinking about the roles of science and religion has not occurred.

6:15 PM