Archive for the ‘privacy’ Category

Right Turn Only?

August 25, 2010

Most Constitution-watchers agree that a successful call for a constitutional convention is unlikely in the foreseeable future, since it would require a super-duper majority of Congress to agree on something. If that happened, our elected representatives would probably be too enthralled with the sight of all those flying pigs out the window to pay much attention to business anyway.

Most progressive legal scholars think that’s just as well. A constitutional convention, they believe, would be a jurisprudential disaster. The Bill of Rights would be up for grabs. The essential function of a constitution–restraining the power of the majority and its elected representatives–could easily be thrown out the window by a bloodless majoritarian coup. The only serious proposals for a Constitutional Convention are being made by the Far Right, and include such unnverving suggestions as the abolition of the income tax, the restoration of a property qualification for voting, the establishment of Protestant Christianity as the national religion, the elimination of the “natural born citizen” requirement for the presidency, the Right to Life Amendment, the Defense of Marriage Amendment, and the elimination of birthright citizenship.

So the progressive response to calls for a constitutional convention has been a simple and oft-repeated “no.” While not unreasonable, that leaves the Left with nothing intelligent to say in the admittedly unlikely event that a constitutional convention actually happens.

Progressives need an agenda for a constitutional convention, for two reasons. The first is the reality of any negotiating situation: the party that begins with the status quo as a negotiating position is


to end up with less. The only way to have even a chance at maintaining the Bill of Rights in its present shape, if a Constitutional Convention actually happens, is to demand something that will be perceived by the other side as even more radical.

And the second is that the Constitution in its current form really could use some changes.

First, of course, is the Equal Rights Amendment, which needs no introduction and very little comment. Illinois and several other states have such amendments in their constitutions and have used them quite successfully to combat sex discrimination through state litigation.

Next is the power to initiate military action and international alliances. Currently, the President has the power to commit troops to military action, but only Congress can declare war or vote funds for it. The technology of both communications and warmaking has far outstripped this anomalous political mechanism, set up when the speed of the horse and the sail was the limiting factor for both. The War Powers Act, enacted to resolve this dilemma, may itself be dubiously constitutional. Similarly, no treaty is valid unless ratified by Congress, but the President can accomplish by executive order virtually everything the treaty-making power can achieve.

And these awkward dilemmas are merely a special case of the greater conundrum bequeathed us by the Framers–when does the system of “checks and balances” among the three branches of government encroach on the “separation of powers”? This is no mere academic debate; it was crucial to the Watergate proceedings, for instance. What did the federal courts have the right to order the President to do? Could the executive branch resist the power of the judicial branch to demand evidence? And so on.

Next is the equally awkward dilemma woven into the fabric of the First Amendment, between “free exercise” of religion and “no establishment.” As a practical matter, the Supreme Court has dealt with it so far by importing into the public realm as “secular” observances, piece by piece, one ritual or artefact of mainstream Protestantism after another, under the “free exercise” rationale, while barring similar concessions to other religions under the “no establishment” clause. It’s okay to require businesses to close on Sunday, because Sunday isn’t a religious day of rest any more, it’s a secular observance. It’s okay to make Christmas a national holiday, for the same reason. It’s even okay to display statues of the Virgin Mary, the infant Jesus, and miscellaneous angels and shepherds, on public property, so long as they are, as constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz says, “flanked by two plaster animals in sufficiently bad taste.” (He calls this the Pink Flamingo Rule.) But it’s


okay for a federal contractor to provide that all its Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventist employees automatically get Saturdays off, when its other employees have no such “privilege.” That’s discrimination against the others on religious grounds.

Then there is the Second Amendment, dealing with the right to keep and bear arms. Much of the current dispute about its meaning (from the point of view of an ex-English teacher) results from the fact that the nominative absolute (“…a well-regulated militia being necessary…”) has dropped out of use. So the Second Amendment needs to be rewritten in modern grammar. Some gun control advocates find such a prospect terrifying, but it is difficult to conceive of any way the Amendment could be redrafted that would be any


than the way the NRA and the Supreme Court interpret the current version. (Well, okay, incorporating into the Second Amendment the Kennesaw, Georgia ordinance requiring every citizen to own a firearm could be worse…)

Additionally, there are the affirmative rights not clearly protected by the Constitution, at least as read by the current Supreme Court. Most crucial would be an unambiguous enactment of a right to privacy as such–a limitation on the right of state and local government to intrude into people’s personal lives. The Warren Court found this concept obvious, and used it to protect the right of married and unmarried people to procure and use contraception; the Rehnquist Court eroded it by holding that a state government can forbid consenting adults to engage in “sodomy” in the privacy of their own bedrooms. The Roberts Court seems a bit squishy on privacy too.

    Education has never been held to be a fundamental right.

A state or local government which is unwilling to provide equal school facilities to all races and nationalities can stop providing any schools at all (as a couple of states and several localities did in the ten years following the Brown v. Board of Education decision.) And there is no constitutional ban on governmental discrimination against the poor as such, so that public school systems which (like banks) provide adequate resources only for those who don’t need them, are under no constitutional mandate to do otherwise.

Even more startling from the point of view of classical political theory, the Supreme Court has stated in DeShaney vs. Winnebago County (1982) that state and federal governments have no constitutional duty to protect the citizen against private violence. (But, presumably, any protection it does provide must be equally distributed among racial, religious, and ethnic groups.)

Beyond these specific shortcomings, there is a basic flaw in the Fourteenth Amendment and the legislation implementing it, which forbid violations of individual rights only where they involve inequality and discrimination against specifically defined groups. Thus, the rationale for banning sexual exploitation on the job is that the boss who requires sexual favors from one gender but not the other as a condition of advancement is discriminating against people of the former gender. This rationale would leave the exploited employee with no recourse against sexual extortion from a bisexual boss.

Similarly, state-run colleges and universities that are not permitted to discriminate by reason of race, religion, sex, or handicap, can quite freely discriminate on the basis of income and socioeconomic class. There is no right to be free from sexual extortion on the job; there is no right to education as such. There is only the right not to be extorted or barred from school by reason of race, religion, etc.

In short, we need to re-examine, from the ground up, the whole notion of “fundamental rights.” The “equal protection” model, at best, sets up a lowest common denominator which, on occasion, can quite legally be set at zero. And, by defining a limited number of unacceptable bases for distinguishing between applicants for a particular benefit, it sets up an inevitable conflict between the groups specifically protected from discrimination and other, often equally disadvantaged, groups with no such protection. The result is the unedifying spectacle of a whining contest, to determine who has suffered the most discrimination most recently and is therefore most entitled to redress.

For instance, the federal courts have held that an otherwise perfectly qualified person can be denied admission to professional school or a professional license because of being fat, having a “sloppy personal appearance,” or having an “abrasive personality.” The only bases for legal attacks on such policies have all had to do with sex discrimination, and were available at all only because so far, the only victims have been female. The courts have, not unreasonably, responded that they were offered no evidence that a fat, sloppy, or abrasive male would have been treated any differently. Absent proof of ethnic or sex discrimination, they were powerless to act. More recently, efforts have been made to give obesity the legal status of a disability, thereby placing fat people in a group with at least some official protections. Such jerry-built rationales should not be necessary. Once the bona fide occupational qualifications for a particular license or position are established, anyone who is denied access for any other reason (other than “we’re not hiring right now” or “we already hired somebody else”) should have a legally cognizable claim. That is, people should have a fundamental right not to be denied employment except for bona fide occupational or economic reasons.

A clearly defined system of fundamental rights to which all citizens and residents of the U.S. are equally entitled, would obviate many of these problems. Likewise, a clear delineation of the ways in which government may and may not forbid violations of individual rights by other individuals and private organizations is crucial to the continued viability of our polity.

All of these omissions could be remedied by a good job of redrafting. An even better result might be achieved by taking seriously the Preamble to the current constitution, which mandates the government, not merely to “provide for the common defense” and “insure domestic tranquility” but also to “promote the general welfare.”

These suggestions are not intended to be exhaustive. On the contrary, they should be a beginning of discussion. What matters from our point of view is that there should be some progressive agenda for a constitutional convention, to which serious study and thought has been devoted. There may be spinoffs and fringe benefits to the proces of debate and research setting up such an agenda. Much of it, for instance, could also be a basis for a legislative agenda, or for rewriting or amending state constitutions. We have nothing to lose and much to gain by doing it, even if no constitutional convention is ever called. And if, against all expectations, such a convention is convoked, we will not be caught with our progressive pants down, and may even achieve some of our own goals.

Red Emma

A Small Variety of Super-Power

August 14, 2010

My radio is playing an NPR piece on super-heroes and super-powers, and it sends my mind in odd directions. Physically, I am a lot less super than I used to be. I can’t run, or do even the half-lotus I used to be able to manage, never mind a full lotus. Valiantly putting off the inevitable hip replacement is perhaps an acceptable substitute for those abilities. But I have just, in the last month, become accustomed to doing something I had once thought I could never do, which maybe makes up for all my forfeits to time. I can change an adult diaper.

Long story, elided here for the sake of various people’s privacy….I had hoped that, by the time the patient came home, continence would be restored. The last night in the convalescent facility, it became obvious that there would be no such restoration. [I hate these abstract constructions; as an English teacher. I would give them a D at best, but they are mandated by the requirements of privacy.] So I asked the night nurse who came in to do the last change of the evening, to teach me how to do it. I had a moment of panic, not quite an attack, just “what happens if I really can’t do this? I can’t do this! Now what?” Then the nurse, bless her heart [I never learned her name—I was too rattled to ask at the time, but she is in my prayers regularly, whoever she is] walked me through the whole business, telling me as she went along that the first time she had ever had to do this was for her mother. At first, she told me, she didn’t think she could ever do it. Maybe that is how everybody reacts at first. But it was her mother, and it was an act of love, and she learned, not only to do it competently, but to do it ungrudgingly and lovingly. In the course of explaining this, she taught me to do the same.

The panic subsided quickly. The competence engaged immediately, like the gearshift on a good car. My other worry had been that, even if I could do it, the patient might not be able to accept my doing it. I turned out to be wrong about that, too. We have developed a routine, involving good humor and occasional references to Ann Landers, and as much self-help as the patient can provide.

Other changes have amused and startled me. I no longer wince at getting my groceries in multiple plastic bags. I welcome it, the more the better, because they are an essential tool for the process. I do have occasional ecological (and even economic) qualms at my profuse use of paper and plastic. No doubt I could use cloth if I really had to, but I no longer sneer at new mothers who just won’t. We all do the best we can.

Invisibility? Useful for the dishonest. Flight? A great saving for the frequent traveler. Perfect pitch? I know, no super-hero has it, but if I had my druthers, it’s the one I’d ask for—naah. I have the super-power I need right now.

Jane Grey

By Any Other Name

March 9, 2010

Back in the year 2000, Preston King returned to the United States. Sorry, that’s Mr. Preston King. Actually, it’s certainly Professor King, who is head of the Political Science Department of Lancaster University in England. It’s probably Doctor King, which is usually how a person gets to be “professor.” And how he got to be Professor King of Lancaster University in England (rather than Professor King of some other university in his native land, the United States) was by insisting on being called “Mr.” by his draft board in Albany, Georgia, in the late 1950s. The draft board felt that “Preston” would do just fine, thank you, for a draft registrant of the “Negro” persuasion (they had called him “Mr. King” for a while under the mistaken impression that he was white.). King was unwilling to comply with any orders issued by an administrative agency which could not be bothered to address him as it would address a white registrant in the same situation. So he refused to comply with his induction order, and was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Instead, he headed for England, and established his career, his life, and his family there (where his daughter is now a Member of Parliament.)

King came back because President Clinton pardoned him in time for him to be able to attend the funeral of his brother. His family simultaneously mourned his brother and rejoiced over his pardon. Even the judge who originally sentenced him supported the pardon.

Many people under 45 may be just barely aware that there was ever a draft, or that people ever refused to comply with it. Some really erudite types may know that people resisted the draft during the Vietnam War. But Preston King’s act of resistance happened before Vietnam was a twinkle in Robert McNamara’s eye, and it was resistance, not to war, but to a particular form of racist rudeness. Some years later, another African-American, a woman from Alabama named Mary Hamilton, was cited for contempt of court and sentenced to jail for refusing to give testimony in a criminal proceeding unless the prosecutor addressed her as “Miss Hamilton.” The Supreme Court reversed her conviction within a couple of years*–a lot faster than Preston King got his pardon.

Both these stories may seem downright quaint to younger people today, even young African-Americans. So far as I can tell, nobody under 45, regardless of race or national origin, is willing, under ordinary circumstances, to admit to having a last name, much less insist on being called by it. I had occasion, some months ago, to deal with the corporate bureaucracy of some company who had warrantied a consumer gadget that was giving me trouble. I dealt most of the time with a young woman who gave her name as “Sue.” I made the mistake of calling outside the outfit’s business hours once, and got a voice mail that offered to connect me to the directory. The directory began by telling me, “If you know your party’s last name….” and I realized that “Sue” had never entrusted me with that information. Then I realized that, probably, the only people who did know her last name were her fellow workers, her personal friends, and her family. That was a shocking revelation, for one raised on Emily Post–the last name has now replaced the first name as the index of intimacy. I fleetingly entertained the fantasy of the lovestruck swain going down on his knees and telling his inamorata, “Mary, I love you. May I call you Miss Jones?”

Since that incident, I have made a practice of asking for last names when dealing with telephone voices and live functionaries. Most of them reply that their employer has a policy forbidding them to give their last names to customers. Which makes sense, sort of, because it is obviously against their religion to use the customer’s last name more than is absolutely necessary (i.e., the first time they call, to make sure they don’t have a wrong number.) The only way to tell the difference between legitimate callers and telemarketers is that the latter not only call you by your first name, they use it as often as can be grammatically justified, as a way to forge fake intimacy with a possible customer.

A closely related counter-phenomenon has turned up in the law governing the enforcement of child support laws. A woman claiming government assistance either in collecting child support from the father of her child or in getting any of the mingier substitutes for what was formerly known as “welfare” in the absence of such support, is expected to supply the appropriate government agency with not only the first and last name of the alleged father, but his Social Security number and date of birth. It is hard to imagine any of that information being part of the sweet nothings people whisper in each other’s ears in intimate moments. But apparently we expect the ardent male to provide it to the object of his momentary passion, even when we no longer believe he has any obligation to give his last name to the person to whom he is trying to sell aluminum siding. Last names are intimate. Social Security numbers and dates of birth are even more intimate. First names are for strangers.

Apparently this indiscriminate use of first names is viewed, by those who indulge in it, as “friendly.” Fine. I like my friends to call me by my first name. But strangers are not my friends. Not yet, anyway. By definition. The way a stranger stops being a stranger (without necessarily becoming a friend yet, as opposed to an acquaintance) is by introducing himself or herself to me, by both names. Depending on the situation, this may be the time to say, “But you can call me First-name, if you like.” Or I may introduce myself first, by both names, and possibly invite first-naming.

Most of the telephone voices and live functionaries I deal with either don’t introduce themselves at all, or introduce themselves only by first name. Either way they still insist on first-naming me repeatedly without ever being invited to do so. Even my bank’s ATMs call me by my first name. This behavior does not impress me as friendly. It impresses me as rude and presumptuous, and gives me great fellow-feeling for Mr. Preston King and Miss Mary Hamilton. Would I be willing, like them, to give up my native land or my freedom rather than suffer rudeness gladly? So far, I have not even been offered the choice.

So here’s a revolutionary suggestion to those whose business brings them into regular contact with the public, especially that part of the public whose members are over 50 or were reared in some other culture: don’t call people by their first names unless you are invited to do so. When making contact, introduce yourself by first and last names, and wait to be told how the other person wishes to be addressed. Dealing with the public is difficult enough without raising unnecessary hostilities at the outset. Remember that some of the people you deal with may still be willing to suffer exile or jail rather than put up with rudeness.

* 376 U.S. 650 (1964)

Jane Grey(that’s Ms. Grey to you)

Winning on Abortion: the First Thing or the Only Thing?

February 28, 2010

I believe in the right of a woman to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. I am not sure it should be the centerpiece of the women’s movement.

There are certain things that are basic to the ability of women to function as free citizens of a free society. One of them is the right to control one’s own reproductive life. Another is freedom from violence. A third is the right to make a living by one’s labor. A fourth is the right to join with other women to pursue these goals. I hesitate to put any one of these ahead of the others. Choosing between them would be like choosing between breathing in and breathing out.

And the organized women’s movement, in its most-publicized manifestations, is beginning to look as if it has chosen one of these goals–abortion rights–at the expense of the others. The women’s movement and the abortion rights movement are not, and should not be, co-extensive, much less synonymous.

There are a number of good reasons for being cautious about identifying the women’s movement with abortion rights. One is that abortion rights is too narrow an approach even to reproductive rights. The right to terminate a pregnancy isn’t nearly as useful to most women as the right not to start one in the first place–the right, that is, to safe, reliable, reversible, accessible contraception. At present, while we may be free to “choose” abortion, our only choice in the area of contraception is between safe contraception that is not reliable, reliable contraception that is not safe, and safe, reliable contraception that is not reversible.

Most sex education programs directed to high school girls in these neighborhoods pound in the lesson that if you have sex, you’re going to have babies. That isn’t what they need. They already know that. What they don’t know is that it’s possible to have sex and not have babies. A large proportion of poor women don’t believe in contraception–not in the sense in which good teetotallers don’t believe in drinking, but in the sense in which most teenagers don’t believe in Santa Claus. They don’t believe contraception is there for them, and mostly they’re right. They don’t trust the pill–which is in fact dangerous for any population as subject to hypertension as Black women–and they can’t persuade their men to use condoms or wait for them to insert diaphragms or foams. Hispanic women use sterilization if they use anything. This is probably related to a mostly-Catholic culture in which it makes more sense to commit one mortal sin–having the operation–and getting it over with, than to commit a new mortal sin every time one takes the pill or puts in a diaphragm. It is also undoubtedly related to medical practice in Puerto Rico, where women have been routinely sterilized without their knowledge or consent, or under heavy pressure from medical personnel in violation of all medical ethics. Sterilization is similar to abortion, in that both make it possible for a woman to choose not to have a particular child, or any more children, but neither really gives her control over the decision to have a child. This isn’t freedom, it’s a stopgap.

Nor are reproductive rights the only freedom a woman needs. Today, homicide is the leading cause of work-related deaths among women, and of deaths among pregnant women. More women die every year from violence at the hands of husbands, lovers, and other family members than ever died from back-alley abortions, even when abortion was illegal and those were the only kind of abortions that were available. Indeed, Erin Pizzey points out that in working-class English neighborhoods, domestic violence against pregnant women is considered “the poor man’s [sic] method of birth control.” Pregnancy increases the risk of domestic violence in any society, probably for the same reasons. The question is, should we be reducing violence against pregnant women by reducing pregnancy, or by reducing violence, even against women who happen not to be pregnant at the moment?

From a purely political point of view, I can see what the abortion rights activists are trying to accomplish–united, effective action against what started out looking like a conservative landslide against a right of women. It is a way, not only of preserving that right, but also of making sure the conservatives know we have the power to do it. That is definitely worth doing. And it makes sense to fight on that front rather than, say, in areas like pay equity where we have no gains yet to be threatened with reversal, or decisions like Frontierro v. Richardson, (the basic sex-discrimination Supreme Court case), where we have made a gain but it has not (unlike Roe v. Wade) been threatened with reversal.

But there are political drawhacks to the Roe fight, too. One is that even though the majority of Americans are in favor of the right to abortion, not very many are actually in favor of abortion. They view it as a necessary evil. Making it the centerpiece of the women’s movement is like making vivisection the main drawing card for medical research. Even those who agree that it is necessary for some other valid purpose don’t consider it a valid end in itself. Most Americans would be a lot more comfortable with a movement that worked at making abortion less necessary, both by improving contraceptive options and access, and by reducing the penalties imposed on motherhood.

Currently, there is an increasing trend toward casting mother and child as adversaries, especially but not exclusively before birth. The abortion rights movement is only one example of that trend, but it is the most blatant. In fact, until our technology improves to the point where the womb becomes as obsolete as we like to think the breast is, the unborn child’s welfare depends on that of the mother. Even after birth, we have not yet developed child care facilities that can reliably replace the natural mother in more than a minuscule fraction of cases. One of the main reasons children are so disproportionately likely to be poor, undernourished, badly-housed, abused, and neglected is that most of them come attached to women, who lack the power and resources to protect themselves, much less their children, from these conditions.

It follows that, if we really want to improve the lives, and life-chances, of children, the best way to do it is to empower women and enable them to improve their own lives. Reproductive freedom is only one aspect of this improvement. The studies indicate clearly that a wanted child is less likely to be abused, neglected, or poor than one whose mother views its conception as an accident and its birth as a disaster. But they also indicate that the best way to motivate women to demand and exert control over their own reproduction is to offer them improved educational and vocational opportunities. This works even in the Third World; but it has not even been tried in the Fourth World of American inner cities. This is the fight the women’s movement should be waging in this country–one which puts women and their children on the same side, and can put American public opinion unreservedly behind them both.

Red Emma

In the Absence of a Village

December 25, 2009

Sometimes you need experts. Then again…

I think I’m squarely in the middle of this one. Our friend DSL, who apparently never met a hundred-word sentence he didn’t like, (Faulkner, thou shouldst be living at this hour…) has treated us to an amazingly unbroken and lengthy quote from Kenneth Anderson as a way of showing his Christmas spirit toward Hillary Clinton. Both DSL and Anderson might be surprised to find out that, having worked for 30-odd years in various parts of the child welfare system, I’m not much keener than they are about some of its accomplishments.

Admittedly, the child welfare system in Cook County, Illinois, may not be a fair sample of the species. It’s understaffed, underfunded, overworked, and mostly kept in line by some excellent reporting in the Chicago Tribune. The only people who have succeeded in getting rid of egregiously bad judges in Cook County juvenile court were both newspaper columnists. One of them is now dead, and the other retired from the profession for reasons that seemed to me at the time insufficient. And, worst of all (at least from my order-craving point of view), the system has no reliable bias. Sometimes they return a child to a home in which s/he is in obvious peril, and sometimes they remove a child from a fairly benign environment.

But on the other hand…

For better or worse, from either Hillary’s standpoint or that of That Other Blogger, there are no longer many villages around to undertake the raising of our children. That is to be expected when most middle class parents and many working class parents now send their children away from home to college or the military during the years in which they are most likely to meet their life partners. As a result, more and more of our newly-formed families settle in Portland, and have one end in, say, Austin, and the other in New Rochelle. Until the elders retire, usually one set in Phoenix and the other in Boca Raton. So we form our villages on the fly, among people who are at roughly the same stage of life as ourselves.

That’s a crucial characteristic of such villages. It means that most of the people in them don’t know any more than any of the others about whatever life problems they are currently dealing with. My neighbors don’t know any more about breastfeeding, or raising teenagers, or planning a Bar Mitzvah, than I do, and we are all, simultaneously, trying to learn. They will not, obviously, learn from me, nor I from them. They can call “home” to Mom or Dad, and get some useful tips. Or draw on things Mom or Dad said years ago that didn’t seem that important at the time, if they can still remember, and if those memories are accurate. Some of them may even feel that Mom and Dad didn’t do such a good job, and their advice might not be worth taking.

Another alternative is to rely on one’s own instincts and common sense. Dr. Spock was a forceful advocate of this approach. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The fatherly instincts of a man who was barely old enough to talk when his father abandoned the family are likely to be exiguous and erratic. The motherly instincts of a woman whose mother kept more vodka than cleansers in the cabinet under the kitchen sink are going to be unusual at best.

Some high schools take on the task of teaching “life skills,” as do some programs for people with mental disabilities. The teachers, of course, at least present themselves as the “experts” so despised by DSL and Mr. Anderson. Their “expertise” may come from some kind of professional training, or from their own life experiences, or just from a mess of never-challenged habits and prejudices. But they are at least willing to stand up and tell a bunch of teenagers that this is how you diaper a baby, or balance a checkbook, or boil an egg. “In a place where there are no menschen,” says Hillel, “Strive to be a mensch.”

Regardless of the source of parental “knowledge,” some of it is strange, or at least varied. I represented one mother in juvenile court who had been taught that you don’t feed a child solid food until it (the child, not the food) is at least a year old. Actually, I knew personally an extremely well-educated woman who had learned that you don’t feed a child anything but breast milk for the first six months, to protect the child from allergies. And yet another, for the baby’s first six months, put baby food into a baby bottle with an oversized nipple and gave it to her baby to suck.

Similarly, some parents let the kid cry himself to sleep from the very beginning, while others have an hour-long bedtime ritual that suffices to knock the kid out. Sleeping practices in general are a major source of conflict in the child welfare system. Google “family bed” to find out about something that drives social workers and judges absolutely nuts. One of my clients lost custody of her six-year-old son because he still shared her bed. Where she was from, in Malta, that was perfectly acceptable.

Some parents insist on cloth diapers, but most go with disposables and to hell with the environment. Some parents never allow their children to play shoot-‘em-up, while others buy them toy guns that resemble the real thing to varying degrees, and BB guns as soon as they turn 12. A friend of mine wouldn’t let her son point a banana at another child and say “bang bang.”

Discipline, of course, is a major source of juvenile court cases. In Cook County, hitting a child with anything other than an open hand, or hard enough to leave marks, or hitting a child under three at all, can get you charged with physical abuse. But the only way most parents find this out is by getting hauled into court. Maternity wards do not hand out “Rules of the Road” booklets. (Actually, I think some of them do provide handouts that cover basic care-and-feeding and car-seat issues, but only stuff that pertains directly to newborns, which discipline presumably doesn’t.) Most of the parents I encountered in court had been spanked routinely by their own parents, and had no reason to think there was anything wrong with it. In some subcultures, the use of belts and extension cords for disciplinary purposes is perfectly acceptable among otherwise nice people.

I figured out, after a few years hanging out in juvie, that there are two kinds of genuinely abusive parents. One is the total psychopath who beats up on anybody who crosses his path and isn’t bigger than he is, and who will never be any frakkin’ good no matter what and probably in a simpler society would be taken out and shot. Or at least (since I’m opposed to capital punishment) put somewhere as far away as possible from anybody smaller than himself.

The other, far more tragic, is the father (or sometimes mother) who is so desperately afraid of the chaotic, violent, destructive world outside the home that s/he has to discipline everyone in the family onto the strictest straightest path, for lack of any other way to protect them.

There are caseworkers who understand the difference, and those who don’t. Most of them are only a generation removed from their client population, in much the same relationship as police officers and criminals. Given another generation to think about it, cops and caseworkers both are likely to send their children to law school.

Anyway, even the most thoughtful of the “experts” can be wrong. B.F. Skinner had his daughter raised in a controlled-environment “box” (I roomed with her best friend for a summer in college.) Freud believed, and taught even his own daughter (who was one of his students) that women are morally inferior to men. The “experts” of the 1930s opposed “too much” maternal affection. The British “experts” believed children should, to the extent possible, be raised by people other than their natural parents, to keep them from being “spoiled.” There have been “experts” who endorsed breast feeding and others who opposed it. Same for early toilet training (indeed, some “experts” oppose any toilet training.) The “experts” in 18th-century France endorsed, or at least accepted, farming out one’s children to “wet nurses” in the country, where a huge proportion of those children died. Rumania’s president Ceausescu constituted himself an “expert” whose system of child-rearing began with an economy in which raising one’s own children was prohibitively expensive relative to available resources, and then prohibited birth control and abortion, so that the children ended up in “orphanages” where they died by the thousands from neglect and disease.

Let’s face it, deciding how to raise our children is one of the most important decisions any of us has ever made. And for most of us, it wasn’t a conscious decision at all. It’s a decision that embodies our highest values and our basest prejudices (I’ve seen one parent sue for custody of a child because the other parent has him/her in a school where another student is HIV-positive. Custody contests sometimes arise when the custodial parent changes religions, or gets remarried to a person of another race.) It’s a decision that maybe nobody is really “qualified” to make—not the parents in the private sanctity of the home, nor their families, nor the “village” they live in, nor the “experts” in the “helping professions.” Original sin, if there is such a thing, consists of being born with parents and raised as children. Only Adam and Eve avoided it. The best any of us can do is avoid the really deadly patterns, and try to learn something new about how children grow and develop.

Jane Grey*

*You may want to Google the original Jane Grey to see how she was raised.

Child-Rearing in Public

July 29, 2009

One of the commenters on That Other Blog has problems with other people’s over-indulged kids acting up in public, and their parents standing ineffectually by.  I guess I’ve seen that once or twice in my life.  It may reflect the kinds of neighborhood I frequent that I see abusive parents and their kids in public places a lot more often.  It annoys me just as much, and in addition sometimes puts me in a moral quandary.

I was brought up in Florida, which was still pretty Southern at the time. That may account for the fact that it wasn’t until I moved up North for college that I first heard a parent tell her child, “I’m going to kill you.”  I heard it fairly often after that.  These were white, more or less blue-collar parents in New England.  When I moved out to Chicago, I saw a somewhat different pattern: African-American parents telling their kids, “Sit down and shut up, stop crying, sit still!!”  And sometimes reinforcing words with slaps.  The kids, in all the instances I saw, were doing nothing worse than crying. Most of them weren’t even doing that. They were just squirming or waving their arms or trying to get up and walk around. The thing that bothered me most was that most of these parents (in fairness, some of them were undoubtedly grandparents) seemed to take absolutely no joy from their children. No, this is not a function of poverty, as nearly as I can tell.  Hispanic and Asian parents in what appears to be the same income bracket generally look really happy with their kids, even when the kids are acting up.

The more middle-class parents I see usually don’t pick on their kids by yelling at them and slapping them. They are more subtle and more annoying about it.  The ones who tell their kids, “If you don’t stop [whatever], I’m going to call the policeman and he’ll put you in jail” (how on earth are the kids supposed to know that the policeman is who you go to for help?) The ones who tell the kid to stop [whatever] because “you’re bothering that lady”, meaning me.  (I am not the least bit bothered, except by being used as a club to beat up on a helpless child.)

Obviously I’m not the only person who sees this kind of thing. People write to advice columnists all the time about it.  The columnists, who are probably nicer people than I am, generally say that the way to respond to these situations is to offer sympathy or even help to the abusive parent, who is probably just really overwhelmed.  Maybe so, but on the rare occasions when I have tried to talk to a mother in this situation, I generally get told to mind my own business.

Which I can sort of understand, from the other side.  From the first instant a woman starts to look pregnant, until the last day she appears in public with anybody too young to vote, her parenting skills and the conduct of the said young person are fair game for the entire world of total strangers to comment on and advise.  It may or may not take a village to raise a child, but the village certainly feels entitled to kibitz on the process whenever they get the chance.  Unless I see abuse rising to a level that would interest the official child welfare establishment (which so far I haven’t, and having worked in the Juvenile Court system for many years I’m quite familiar with the standards), I figure everybody is better off if I keep my mouth shut.  I do give occasional “know-your-law” talks in the community, which gives me the chance to talk about the official standards for child abuse and neglect to people who are actually interested in listening or they wouldn’t be there.

But these issues seem to make a lot of parents feel that their children simply don’t belong in the public realm at all until they’re old enough to go to the mall by themselves.  Of course, keeping kids at home in front of the television until they are teenagers who can be dropped off at the mall means that they will probably behave really obnoxiously at the mall, since they have so far had no chance to practice proper public behavior.  This is not a solution.

The solution, I think, lies in all of us—parents, non-parents, ex-parents, future parents—accepting our obligation toward the next generation, who will after all be paying the Social Security and maintaining the economy of childless people in this generation.  They need us, and ultimately we will need them.  So in the meantime, parents need to be willing to bring their children out in public without feeling either embarrassed or belligerent about how the kids behave, and willing to accept kibitzing from strangers, and non-parents need to be willing to tolerate and even encourage small people who are not yet very good at sitting still and shutting up.  Any society that is not willing to share in accommodating the next generation doesn’t deserve to have one.


The Technology of Exposure

July 1, 2009

Does Privacy Require Anonymity?

More and more transactions are requiring picture identification documents.  An airline ticket used to be a negotiable bearer document–if you had it, you could use it, or you could give it to somebody else, or sell it.  Now it must be purchased by the person who intends to use it.  If s/he turns out not to be able to use it, s/he must turn it in for a refund, which the airline may or may not choose to provide.

This seems to be the wave of the future for intercity railroad and bus tickets as well.  Even paying in cash does not free the would-be traveler of this obligation.  (However, city and metropolitan public transportation tickets can still be purchased anonymously for cash.)

Driving a car, of course, requires a driver’s license.  Now, increasingly, buying a car does too.  And that car can be tracked by various street-corner videos and tollway security cameras, though so far not with any easy way to confirm who is actually driving.

Merely walking in and out of public buildings or on public streets and sidewalks can involve getting your picture taken, in still or video, with varying degrees of readability.  Using an ATM will almost certainly get your picture taken, but since you have to use a personally keyed card in such a transaction anyway, it matters only if you are not the person properly attached to the card.

Banks are now required, under various federal statutes against “money-laundering,” to report cash transactions involving $10,000.00 or more. And a person who carefully breaks down such transactions into three transactions of $3333 apiece can be prosecuted for evading such statutes.  Carrying large sums of cash can be a ground for suspicion of all kinds of offenses.  Your credit card, of course, enables any government agency to track your purchases by date, time, and place.

ID of some sort is usually required to rent a post office box.  If you make a phone call, the person on the other end will probably be able to ascertain who you are from a “caller I.D.” facility.

The only countervailing forces are new technologies which enable you to purchase a cell phone or a credit card and put money into its account in cash over the counter.  Never having done this, I have no idea what kind of I.D. is required for the transaction.  Nor am I willing to hazard a guess about how long law enforcement will take to require production of a picture ID for such transactions.

The purpose of all of these new strictures is to make us safer from money-laundering, drugs, and terrorism.  Have they made us any safer?  They haven’t been around long enough to tell.  My personal guess is that the larger quantity of information now available on the comings, goings, and financial transactions of each of us cuts both ways.  More can be known about us, but most of the agencies capable of accessing that knowledge lack the resources to read and use that knowledge effectively.  And the more information there is, the harder it is for the appropriate agencies to use it.  We found that out before September 11, 2001.  It turned out we already had lots of information on most of the hijackers.  But we were so badly backlogged in reading it that we didn’t know what we had until weeks or months later, when it was long since too late.  (One of the techies commenting on this problem in the months immediately after 9/11 pointed out, “You don’t get any better at finding needles in haystacks by adding more hay.”)

My guess is that, no matter how much information we gather on the lives of our ordinary citizens and residents, we will prioritize it for review based on what we think we already know about its subjects.  So we will continue to suspect “the usual suspects,” and let the moles and sleepers go their way because they are smart enough not to look like the usual suspects.

Does that mean that these new strictures do not impinge on our freedom?  Alas, no.  Certainly they impinge on the freedom of “the usual suspects,” about whom more can be known, and more limits placed on their lives, than ever before.   What this probably does is enable governmental and corporate authorities to protect their own power from dissidents and activists, and people with darker skins and flatter wallets than their own. Which may drive some of the usual suspects into the ranks of the terrorists, but will certainly not make us any safer from the real Bad Guys.

It’s scary to know how much information about us there is out there.  It is both more and less scary to know how much of that information is inaccurate.  For instance, I regularly get spam in my e-mail based on the assumption that I am a single Christian male with bad credit, erectile dysfunction, and a dog.  All but one of those assumptions is dead wrong.  My husband somehow got onto the mailing list of a psychic hot line that spells his name wrong!  He also regularly gets mail from the Hispanic Bar Association, despite the fact that he is neither Hispanic nor an attorney.  (Obviously all this stuff was meant for me, since I’m both, but this tells you a lot about organizational sexism in the Hispanic community.) We both get lots of attempts at contact from people who sell aluminum siding and other goods and services appropriate only for the owners of single-family detached houses, even though for 40-plus years we have lived in a multi-family building.

And those of us who read and write speculative fiction, as well as the political loonies at both ends of the spectrum, may also worry that, if governmental and corporate power is seized by the Bad Guys (or is already in their possession, depending which conspiracy theory you buy) we and the other Good Guys are already in their gunsights and no longer have any way to protect ourselves by “silence, exile, and cunning.”

On the other hand….

I do not share the idea of the self-proclaimed guardians of our privacy, such as the ACLU, that caller ID infringes the privacy of the caller.  When you make a phone call, you don’t have any privacy.  You are stepping outside of the zone of your privacy. You have no more right to conceal your phone number from the person you call than to knock on his door while wearing a mask.

Similarly, I believe that video cameras in public places do not violate the privacy of the people who frequent those places.  IF YOU WANT PRIVACY, STAY HOME!  In the public realm, your face is visible to all. All a camera does is make that visibility more durable in time. (No, I won’t get into recent burqah litigation, thank you.)

I am also not opposed to the idea of a universal ID.  On the contrary, I think we would be better off having it.  Places of public accommodation would no longer be able to discriminate against those they do not wish to serve, by claiming that their ID isn’t “good enough.”  We would know exactly which ID is good enough.  I think a universal ID would be a lot better than our current use of the driver’s license for that purpose.  People who are too old, too young, too disabled, or too poor to drive would no longer be reduced to second-class citizenship.  And the driver’s license could be returned to its original purpose of ensuring that people who drive are competent to do so, regardless of their immigration status.

That takes care of the present, and the technologies now available to pierce the veil of anonymity.  What about technologies that now exist but are not yet in wide use? For instance, what about medical information chips?  We already have them for our pets.  Cats, dogs, and horses get “chipped” for identification and to insure proper and prompt treatment for medical problems.  So far, only upscale animal owners bother with this, because it’s expensive.  But the price will come down fairly quickly, and at that point we may start to wonder why sauce for the cat cannot also be sauce for the cat’s person.  Are the chips a violation of privacy?  Do they improve our chances of getting the right emergency care when we are in no shape to demand it?  In theory, the answer to both questions is yes.  In fact, I suspect that medical chips will get used the way Medic-Alert tags get used now–when and as it’s convenient for emergency responders.  Most of us know of people who wear Medic-Alert bracelets, who have been picked up by paramedics who don’t bother to read the bracelets (sometimes with disastrous results.)  No technology is any better than the people who use it.  But what is absolutely certain is that the chips will be used first, not by medical professionals, but by insurance companies.  The insurers will devise some way to make sure that the people they insure get “chipped” with a complete record of all diagnoses and treatments, in order to avoid insuring anybody whose medical past they don’t like.  This will, of course, provide the patient with less medical care, not more.

In the meantime, we all carry “smart cards,” such as credit/debit cards, bus passes, and library cards.  Most of those, at least theoretically, enable Them to track Our movements anywhere within reach of a card reader, which is most towns, cities, and businesses.  Should I leave my smart cards home?

And what about the technologies we can imagine, or are even in the process of implementing, for the future?  That really is the realm of speculative fiction, and the gee-whiz crime investigation TV shows that recklessly tread the border between what we can already do and what we can imagine doing (or could do if our governmental agencies had the money.) We could use public video to identify every person who crosses a particular intersection, or all intersections.  We could run that information through real-time information processing that would set off an alarm every time a camera sights a person wanted for a crime, and direct the police to his current location to arrest him.  Because we generally prefer paying for gadgetry to paying for the people who use it, we probably will never have enough cops to actually respond to every such alarm.  Or the resources in the criminal justice system to prosecute and lock up all the offenders caught this way.  So we will concentrate on information emanating from the places we consider most important, either because of their proximity to the people and places we are willing to take the trouble to protect, or because of their likelihood of turning up large numbers of the usual suspects with minimal effort.

In short, if we merely use advanced technologies to do more, faster, of what we are already doing now, we will merely get more of what we are getting now, faster.  Only if we would be satisfied with that as a goal should we bother pursuing it.  Or, as Mr. Wired explained early in the days of the computer, what we learn from computer technology is that it is possible to get a reputation for being extremely smart simply by doing one or two stupid things very quickly and very often.

Red Emma

The Sexual Revolution Keeps Going Around

May 15, 2009

That Other Blog keeps harping on the evils of the Sexual Revolution and why Our Culture will wither up and die if we don’t reverse it. I guess it’s time for a review of the facts, at least from the point of view of a history major-turned-lawyer who has spent a lot of time in divorce court and juvenile court:

v The Sexual Revolution didn’t start in the 1960s. In fact, it wasn’t a one-time only event at all, except to the extent that technology played a role. The Romans had one, which Augustus Caesar deplored big-time, while of course, like almost every other opponent of his era’s sexual revolution, playing a major role in it. The French had several, one in the Middle Ages, one during the Second Empire, and one in the late 19th century. The Brits had at least one per century beginning in the late 1500s. And the good old USA had one in the early 1800s and one that began in the 1920s and is arguably still going on.

v As is obvious from the previous paragraph, no Sexual Revolution is irreversible.

v The current Sexual Revolution may be different from its predecessors because of the contribution of contraceptive technology. But even that doesn’t make it irreversible, since even in societies where contraception is readily available, not every sexually active person chooses to use it, or even considers it a matter of choice at all.

v The Good Old 1950s weren’t all that good. There was at least as much teenage sex as there is today, and somewhat more teenage pregnancies per capita. That phenomenon was cloaked by frequent resort to Shotgun Marriage.

v These days, even our most upstanding citizens (Bristol Palin, for instance) consider that an undesirable compromise. In fact, the Catholic Church ordinarily will not perform a marriage while the prospective bride is pregnant. Obviously they consider unwed motherhood preferable. Some personal anecdotal stats: in the year before I was due to start high school, half the girls in the graduating class of the public high school I would ordinarily have attended were pregnant. Including my cousin. Which undoubtedly had something to do with my spending the next four years at a convent boarding school. So far as I know, all of the young women in question got married well before their due date.

v But I suspect that the Sexual Revolution is responsible for the decrease in math skills of our younger generations. My classmates and I, all the way through high school and college, got to exercise those skills quite regularly calculating just how premarital our friends’ sexual activity was, by subtracting 9 months from the birth of the baby, and then subtracting that date from the wedding date. Probably none of the current younger generation could work that out even with a calculator.

v Not to mention, of course, the fact that today’s youth are a seriously lost generation, at least in terms of geography, since most of them can’t even find their own state on a map. Before Playboy, young men had no place to look at nekkid wimmen except National Geographic. Yes, we can blame that on the Sexual Revolution too.


v Back in the Good Old Days, when a young woman was found dead of non-natural causes, the first thing the coroner checked for was pregnancy. Because pregnancy was an equally plausible motive for either suicide or homicide.

v Those shotgun marriages ended in divorce far more often than marriages contracted under less precipitous circumstances.

v Even current data tells us that such marriages are more likely to involve abuse.

v That doesn’t even begin to deal with the issue of homosexuality as a cause of blackmail, homicide, and suicide (and divorce and infidelity.) Yes, that still happens today, but not nearly as much as back in the Good Old Days.

Yes, there are things I don’t like about post-1960 attitudes toward sex:

v The fact that young girls get pressured into it to please other people (boyfriends or girlfriends or occasionally even parents) and often get absolutely no pleasure or reward from it.

v The fact that most of those young girls cannot imagine using contraception, and in fact consider pregnancy a highly desirable outcome, at least in comparison to ordinary high school life.

v The dangerous intersect between drugs and sex (although not much different from the link between alcohol and sex in the Good Old Days.)

v The fact that the major cause of death among pregnant women these days is homicide (probably an unintended consequence of our more stringent enforcement of child support laws.)

v The child support laws themselves, which seem to expect happy young couples to include in their repertoire of pillow talk an inquiry into the male’s date of birth and Social Security Number.

v The declining prestige of marriage, except among lesbians and gay men. (It enjoyed a brief boom among Catholic priests and nuns, but that population has now aged beyond marriageability and dwindled almost beyond recovery.)

So the Sexual Revolution was neither an unmixed blessing nor a universal curse. Like many other social phenomena, it is both cause and effect of our culture as a whole. It has affected some people much more than others. And we still haven’t figured out all of those effects, or how to modulate them. We certainly haven’t figured out how to repeal it. I don’t dream of trying.

Red Emma

Marriage–A Mother & Father for Every Child

March 26, 2009

Last Monday, 200 same-sex marriage opponents showed up on the law of the Vermont State House with buttons proclaiming, “Marriage—A Mother and Father for Every Child.” This perturbs me a bit. The main cause of children not having both a mother and a father in the home isn’t gay marriage, it’s runaway men. Occasionally it’s runaway women. But what is the Religious Right doing, or even saying, about the all-too-frequently exercised right of fathers to walk away from their children? Not a whole lot. In most states, the statutes criminalizing desertion and nonsupport of home and family are either unenforced or have long since been repealed. I don’t know of anybody trying to get them back on the books.

And so far, medical science has not devised a way to prove a particular man is the father of a particular child without a DNA sample from both. I would support a Nobel Prize in medicine for any solution to this problem, or perhaps even a Peace Prize, given the social significance involved. Actually, in the interests of gender equity, what I’d really like to see is something that would cause every man who impregnates a woman to develop a facial rash and some other highly visible, bothersome but not dangerous symptoms that would last at least 9 months.

But obviously, if we can’t find runaway fathers, we can’t persecute them. As long as homosexuals were closeted, they had the same protection. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a basic moral principle in our culture. Which suggests very strongly that what most anti-same-sex-marriage advocates really object to isn’t what gay people do in the bedroom, but the fact that they have the nerve to talk about it in the public forum. Marriage is only the most public way to make homosexuality public. If they’d stop holding parades, and publishing books and periodicals and blogs, and forming organizations and support groups, they could **** and *********** to their hearts’ content.

Which is a constitutional issue. We don’t object to gay sex. We object to gay speech. Speech is protected by the First Amendment. Maybe that’s because the Framers knew how much people want to limit public speech, given half a chance. Sex—well, it depends which Supreme Court opinion you read and when and by whom it was written. A lot of the folks on the Warren Court seemed to consider sex protected by the First Amendment, but these days that argument doesn’t fly, even with the current court “liberals.” But it wouldn’t really have to fly, if people would just shut up about it. Even the most restrictive of conservative judges has never advocated setting up an entire corps of jackbooted thugs to randomly police bedrooms, because we would really rather not know what goes on in them.

Which, I suspect, is only a special case of a much larger issue. We Americans don’t want to hear about people who are different from ourselves. We particularly don’t want to hear about how oppressed they are, or how badly we behave toward them. We will allow each oppressed group, as part of the “liberal bargain,” a few days a year to air their grievances all over the mainstream media, coast to coast, in glorious Technicolor and stereophonic sound, while we tune out, turn off, and watch football. Our willingness to grant them that much proves what nice people we are. After the few properly licensed days of exposure, the issue, whatever it may be and regardless of what, if anything, has actually been done about it, becomes “dead,”. As in dead horse, comma, beating.

Indeed, the Religious Right seems to value most the right of its members not to be thought of as bigots for being mean to various oppressed minorities. Being called a bigot is apparently an existential threat to many conservatives. It is often the reason given for opposing not only same-sex marriage, but even public advocacy of same-sex marriage. “If we let you talk about it, you’ll call us bigots for not letting you do it.”

Enough already. I favor same-sex marriage because, as a divorce lawyer, I see so little of fidelity and mutuality and sharing in this world that I refuse to be picky about who practices them. I also favor it because any excuse for a good party is a significant contribution to the quality of life. Also, it’s good for the economy. Caterers, wedding planners, dressmakers and haberdashers, and the manufacturers of small appliances all need all the help they can get. If you don’t like same-sex weddings, don’t have one.

Red Emma

Eyes on the Street

April 9, 2008



These days, video cameras are everywhere. They no longer even depend on the whim of individuals fooling around with their toys, like the guy who accidentally taped Rodney King being beaten up.  Cameras are permanently set up all over the place.  ATMs, building entrances, lobbies, banks, intersections, virtually anyplace capable of supporting the negligible weight of today’s video cameras.


Some people, lamenting the loss of privacy, find this unsettling.  I yield to no one in my fervor for civil liberties. But I like the omnipresence of video cameras.  Whose privacy do they violate?  If you leave the four walls of your own home, place of worship, meeting room, or romantic tryst site, you have no expectation of privacy.  If you want privacy, stay home.  Or at least pay cash.  I think I might feel differently if the cameras also recorded audio. Fortunately, given the ambient noise level of the great urban outdoors, that would be wasted effort anyway.  So if, in the course of a conversation with a friend as we walk down the street, or sit in a restaurant, or ride a bus, I malign the president or the war, I don’t expect to be electronically overheard.


But if somebody zooms through a red light and gets caught on camera, three cheers!  If somebody robs me at an ATM, his face is preserved for posterity, and that’s just fine.  If I have to walk through a questionable neighborhood on the way to my car, I’m comforted by the knowledge that somebody somewhere is monitoring my progress and my safety.


Yes, I have been somewhat spooked by police taking pictures at anti-war demonstrations.  The proper response, which seems to have been picked up quickly, is to take pictures of the cops in return.  Both can be useful in court later, especially as proof of what didn’t happen.  I’ve already gotten one client acquitted on 6 felony charges, based on such a video.


The down side of the ever-present security cameras isn’t that they erode privacy. The real down side is that they are a symbol of the end of visual community, what Jane Jacobs used to call “eyes on the street.”  By which she meant, not electronic doohickeys, but real live people with the time to watch what went on around them and the inclination to respond appropriately to it or testify about it as necessary.  Jacobs located such people on front porches and similar semi-public places.  Front porches are mostly unoccupied these days.  The people who used to hang out there are much more likely to be at work, if they are able-bodied enough to be useful as witnesses.   Or, in really dangerous neighborhoods, they are inside, with the shades down, unwilling to be seen, and especially unwilling to be seen seeing any illegal act.  So, on one hand, it is sad that we need an electronic replacement for such human vigilance. On the other hand, it is good that we have one.


Jane Grey