by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
September 30, 2010
REPUBLICANS PLEDGE A RETURN TO PARTISAN GRIDLOCK
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- A dozen or so years ago I wrote an article called "The Handwriting on the Wall," and in it I mentioned how I had laughed years earlier when a woman objected to anyone smoking in an elevator and took her case to court.
That was around 1974, in California, and she won. Slowly, but eventually, smoking bans were in place in all restaurants and bars across the country, first with smoking sections, finally within their doors.
I carried my examples of the handwriting being on the wall to "pooper scoopers" and the law that insists a dog owner carries plastic bags to clean up after their dog's call of nature. No more just "Curb your Dog" signs.
A dog walker never knows when the "Poop Police" will follow behind you to issue a citation. Where I live, the dogs exercise by running all over the beach. Plastic bags are provided and they have a scooper edge. Gone are the days of kicking sand over the "evidence."
Those are just two examples of the power of one to change laws because the person making the claim was breathing in smoke or stepping in a dog's leavings. There is another, among many, that came about because one person, a father, an atheist, did not want his little girl having to listen to "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance each morning before class. He was not the custodial parent and the mother didn't care. [He lost because of custodial issues.]
In an article on this subject in 2002, I wrote: No one was left unscathed by 9/11 - whether being part of it, or witnessing it through pictures taken with a bird's eye view. We exposed our patriotic core, inspired by the heroism we witnessed and the heroic sacrifices of the victims and families.
We rose in protest when "Under God" was being removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. I learned it before that insertion, it doesn't matter to me. I know the nation is under God, the words were only inserted to announce it to the Communist world. As a nation, we don't have to profess it out loud. We know who we are and what we're made of ... and 9/11 sent that message, not only around the world, but home. The key word in the pledge is "indivisible." We rose to protect freedom: "liberty and justice ... for all."
What brings me to this today is an article by Anemona Hartocollis in The New York Times, reporting that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, known as Mike to his constituents, proposed a law prohibiting smoking in all 1700 parks, beaches, pedestrian malls and plazas. By the way, New York has 14 miles of city beaches and this edict will also include Central Park.
I was once a smoker, a longtime, heavy smoker until 1976. I would not have liked this law then. But from my side of the argument today, knowing how great I feel, I'd think that it would be a way for me to cut down if I had no place to smoke. In this case, Mayor Bloomberg is the one voice and he's the one with the pen who'll write "No Smoking" on every wall ibn New York.
The lady in California a few decades ago made sounds that continue to reverberate.The only place left in New York with few smoking restrictions is the United Nations Building. Why try to enforce a ban on smoking when we can't enforce No Parking zones due to diplomatic immunity.
And now something new is on the agenda, racing into our popular culture. Nine months ago I would have argued it was impossible. It will never happen, I saidf to myself. I am a book lover. We have floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and our books are treated with care. To suggest that bookstores and libraries are obsolete would make me argue loudly. People always need a good read. "Unthinkable!" I would say.
And then my daughter rekindled the flame.
Wonder of wonders, my daughter gave me a large-sized Kindle last Christmas, and I haven't stopped reading on it since. Libraries, those wonderful bastions of comfort, quiet and solitude, where childhood visits and the wonder of it all brought us to our searches for knowledge and history and stories for every age, now offer screenings of newly released films, Internet access, museum-quality pieces on display, and all the service of a regional library system.
I would be content if that was all I ever had, but the Kindle genie is out of the bottle. At the risk of sounding like a commercial, let me say it has afforded me more pleasure than any present ever, ever, ever. The market must be growing exponentially. Wendy paid $500 at Christmas and now they're $139.
My frequent visits to libraries and bookstores were usually to gather information, records or historical facts; it's just the place for quiet, uninterrupted research.
But now, I'm not alone in discovering that I don't have to leave this easy chair at home for all of that. Something had to give and it happened to be the very the place I once revered as the place to get whatever I wanted to read.
I see the handwriting on the wall. I will one day tell my great grandchildren I used to walk three miles for Library Story Hour when I was little. And I'd tell them the sidewalks back then were littered with cigarettes, and on beaches you'd watch your step because dogs pooped in the sand. Now they walk on pristine beaches since the ordinance went through.
What happened? Someone spoke up. I'll tell them I applauded the American Library Association's plan to read the Qu'ran on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 this year to thwart the efforts of the Florida eveangelist who'd planned a grand Qu'ran-burning in protest of that tragedy.
Please, please, don't get me wrong. Libraries are needed. They are a wonderful part of our culture. But the building holding them, where the smell of leather and paper, the shelves of maps and thick, flaking out-of-print tomes, will not be a draw for the citizens coming-of-age who can and do hold all that in the palm of their hands. Their whizzing fingers bringing to the screen exactly what they want to know. They don't need shelf space; they can call their preferred reading up to the screen at will.
I will not apologize for loving my Kindle so much. Hundreds of books are free on it, and I've read many I wouldn't have picked up: the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes, for instance. I will mourn the loss of part of my life. But I see the future coming and I have to do embrace it.
I'm ready for that.
You can read Constance Daley's earlier article, The Handwriting on the Wall," at her Website.