Heston Question

Regarding Charlton Heston: I truly enjoyed Bill Kauffman's interview with this great actor (April). I wished, though, Mr. Kauffman would have probed deeper into Mr. Heston's mind. At least two items deserve clarification: (1) Early in the interview Mr. Heston talks about the pernicious growth of government and the failure of even Ronald Reagan to stop this growth. (2) Then he moves on to talk about regulations concerning alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, drugs, etc., and gives, as an example of this government involvement, that Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Doesn't Mr. Heston see the connection between the growth of government and its interference in the private affairs of individuals?

Nevertheless, his most profound statement is at the very end: "I guess the sum of my opinion in that area is that I believe profoundly and absolutely in the capacities of the individual man, the extraordinary man—but I'm skeptical of mankind." If this is what Mr. Heston believes, shouldn't he also believe that individuals have the right to run their own lives? The government is a true representation of mankind. At its worst, in the name of doing good, the people working for it do (very) well in the process of enslaving us all. To Mr. Heston I say this, please check your premises and resolve your contradictions.

Jorge O. Svoboda
San Clemente, CA

In general, I like the direction REASON has taken in recent years. But I have come to expect that the subjects of your interviews will be individuals whose words or actions contribute, in some important (if not consistent) way, to the advancement of "free minds and free markets." William Buckley (March 1983) and Christie Hefner (June 1986) fit this category, even though neither would be likely to receive the imprimatur of a Murray Rothbard [author of For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto].

But Charlton Heston? Heston's acting accomplishments may be grand. But in a magazine of ideas, well, ideas are what I want to see. Among the few concrete ideas I can discern in the Heston interview are:

• Government subsidies to the arts are okay.

• Not only should marijuana remain criminalized, but the government has a "responsibility" to take "draconian measures" to stop drugs.

• "We" may have to close our borders through martial law to deal with the population explosion.

Amazingly, Heston claims to believe that "that government is best which governs least." Where does funneling tax money into the arts bureaucracy, closing borders, declaring martial law, or taking police-state measures against drugs fit into that principle?

More to the point, what did this interview offer that I couldn't have had from Conservative Digest, on the one hand, or a movie fanzine on the other?

Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Steve Smith
Birmingham, AL

Please, no more of the half-baked wisdoms of the likes of Charlton Heston.

Gebhard Sommer
Lexington, SC

I very much enjoyed the interview with Charlton Heston. As always, he is intelligent, remarkably lacking in self-importance, and worth listening to. I do feel that one clarification is in order, however.

In regard to First Amendment rights, Heston observed, "For instance, you could not make a movie graphically depicting the torture and murder and sexual abuse of a five-year-old girl. You simply would not be allowed to market such a thing. " Heston is correct, but he misses the point.

In every state, the acts described are felonies, and any film record of such acts would be rightfully seized as evidence. The film would not be distributed, but for reasons unrelated to the First Amendment.

Censors always attempt to ban ideas that they don't agree with by claiming that they do not warrant First Amendment protection. The Meese Commission on Pornography used this very tactic by raising the specter of child pornography in an attempt to ban the interchange of sexual ideas. Again, the very act of producing child pornography, which even the Meese Commission grudgingly admitted is a very underground and tiny "industry," is almost universally considered child abuse—a felony—and is punishable as such.

The First Amendment does and should protect depictions of legal, consensual sexual activity as rigorously as it protects the publication of Mein Kampf. As always, the measure of our freedom is not how well we protect what we like but how well we protect what we despise.

M.D. McDaniel
Gillette, WY

"Mmmmm, If You Want to Satisfy My Soul…"

Leo N. Miletich is to be congratulated for writing the wonderful article "Rock Me with a Steady Roll" (March). It is making the rounds among music fans of diverse tastes in two offices which I frequent.

The photographs of the Satanic songster and his frog familiar and of the equine epitome of evil were highly appropriate and instructive.

I must, however, point out a minor error: the tune of our national anthem is not that of a "rowdy beer-drinking song" but of a jaunty wine-drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," in which Anacreon promises his emulators: "And besides, I'll instruct you like me to entwine/The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine"!

Jeffry D. Mueller
Finksburg, MD

The March issue brought the usual helping of simple-minded lunacy that characterizes the libertarian—which has nothing to do with liberty. REASON says liberty when it means freedom. There's a difference. To be free is to be without restraint—always a despicable state. Even if you restrain yourself you are not free. Liberty is the possession and exercise of the right of self-government. Can you picture collective self-government of a country without a high degree of individual self-government?

Your never-ending contention that each has the right to do as he pleases short of harming another is the "if it feels good do it doctrine" in another guise. Is there nothing too degraded, disgusting, or despicable to do or say in public, though no one is harmed physically? Is insult not injury?

If everyone does as he pleases with no reference to societal norms, there the nation disappears, replaced by a mob—which is rapidly happening in the United States. Look around and note the rising tide of barbarism. As freedom rises, liberty dies, and America hits the skids on libertarian grease.

Charles L. Murphy
Tarzana, CA

Leo Miletich's article put rock censorship in perfect perspective, as the absurd, medieval moralizing that it is. But under that silly surface lies a very serious business—evangelical fundraising. These are prophets driven by the profit motive, and they're not giving up their crusade easily. We will have more trouble from these modern-day carpetbaggers. I wish they were really as ridiculous as they seem.

Bob Guccione, Jr.
Editor and Publisher,
New York, NY

From Rock to Roots

The concentration of cultural and historical commentary in the March issue is something this long-time reader would like to see more of in REASON.

You were particularly fortunate to capture Robert Nisbet ("America as Utopia") addressing a subject he respects and knows well—the American political tradition—as there is in his writings on socioeconomic issues a bothersome anticommerical attitude. I found his REASON article graceful and deeply rooted in the historical material.

William D. Burt
Binghamton, NY

Black-Eyed Bureau

I share Lucy Braun's distress over the great difficulty she experienced in getting a simple question answered ("Calling All Bureaucrats," Upfront, March), and I apologize for what appears to have been a classical case of the bureaucratic shuffle—the kind that gives any organization a black eye.

I assure you that her exasperating experience reinforces one thing for me: As public servants, we must take special care to see that anyone calling government receives a courteous and swift response to an inquiry. I will reiterate this to my top staff and ask that, in turn, they engender the same spirit in their colleagues, who, after all, are paid to serve the American public.

William E. Brock
Secretary of Labor
Washington, DC

With Freedom, Anything Is Possible

Illustrating the review of Playing God with Yellowstone is a scene from Yosemite National Park. Apparently your own faith in playing deity is quite adequate to move Half Dome across the entire Rocky Mountain range!

Charles Liddell
Burleson, TX

This is a letter of support to let you know it's okay—all of us get Yellowstone and Yosemite mixed up. And anyhow, that's a beautiful picture.

Jack Sanders
San Diego, CA

What's Really in the Bill of Rights?

In "Making This Liberty Stuff Come Alive" (Feb.), Nat Hentoff laments that the Bill of Rights has such meager support today. He then proceeds to show us by example why so few people would support it.

Article 1 of the Bill of Rights says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

To illustrate the attack on freedom of the press, he cites a case in which "a group calling itself Concerned Citizens, intent on purifying school libraries, had removed 33 books." But where in the Bill of Rights does it say that taxpayers must be coerced to pay for books they don't like? Mr. Hentoff's copy of the Bill of Rights must include this amendment: "No one may interfere with a school librarian's right to choose what school children will read, and to require taxpayers to finance the librarian's choice."

For his next example, he cites "an order by the president of Northeastern University, where I was editor of the school paper, to cease and desist from troublemaking journalism or leave the paper." Apparently, Mr. Hentoff's Bill of Rights also includes an amendment: "No newspaper owner shall interfere with his employee's right to publish anything the employee wants at the owner's expense."

His third example is similar: High-school editors "had been summarily suspended for printing stories that were not obscene or defamatory or likely to disrupt the school." This must be covered by the amendment I just cited.

He then fires away at "the growing FBI use of undercover crooks in stings and scams," which he implies violate the Fourth Amendment. My copy of the Fourth reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.…" But Mr. Hentoff apparently has a new, revised version which reads: "The FBI shall not take advantage of anyone's willingness to commit a crime."

Then we come to the "freedom of speech" example, in which a representative of the South African government is prevented from speaking by a mob of students. A look at the First Amendment reveals nothing concerning an altercation between a speaker and his enemies—since the Bill of Rights deals only with limitations upon government.

Mr. Hentoff's final example deals with the parade of a Communist splinter group that led to violence. I assume this was meant to illustrate "the right of people peaceably to assemble." Apparently, that means anyone can tie up streets and cities with marches or protests.

The First Amendment says very simply and unambiguously that Congress can't stop anyone from publishing because of the content of what he publishes, cannot prevent people from practicing their own religions, can't stop people from meeting together or punish people for speaking out against the government. There is nothing in the First Amendment that says anyone is entitled to a free printing press, a free library, or a free church or that anyone must underwrite other people's protests or activities. Nor does it say that everyone must like, endorse, and pay for other people's publications, religions, and meetings. Mr. Hentoff has managed to praise the Bill of Rights by citing six cases—all of which are irrelevant to the Bill of Rights.

I can understand his own preferences for libraries that stock diverse viewpoints on their shelves, for student newspapers that are lively and even controversial, for South Africans to be heard along with Boer-bashers, for Communists to have the same legal rights as non-Communists. I wouldn't argue with him on any of these points.

But I also can understand that parents are fed up with paying for viewpoints that are opposite to their religious beliefs, that college endowers are sick of paying for campus newspapers that oppose their political beliefs, that ordinary citizens are tired of having city streets and schools and other public areas immobilized by political protests. And when you tell them (falsely) that the Bill of Rights forces them to put up with these things—needless to say, they no longer support the Bill of Rights.

Harry Browne
Austin, TX

Scanners of the World, Unite

Do my eyes deceive me, or do you actually hail the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("Milestones," Trends, Feb.) as if it were an advance for freedom? This law, which criminalizes the act of innocently scanning the radio spectrum, effectively ends the freedom that U.S. citizens have enjoyed for decades to monitor any signal in the radio spectrum (although not to disclose to unauthorized persons the content of private messages received). The United States was one of the few countries in the world to grant such freedom to its citizens. We now join the statist nations of Europe, who have long prohibited unfettered monitoring, and REASON hails it as a good trend!

This is not a law protecting privacy. It is a boondoggle to benefit the cellular phones industry, which wants to convince customers that their conversations are "private" (which in fact they aren't), without having to provide expensive encryption equipment. In actuality, anyone with an 800 Mhz scanner can easily listen in (these may now be illegal to manufacture; long live Big Brother!), as can anyone with an old TV which receives UHF channels 80 through 83. What they mean is: any unauthorized person who listens to nonbroadcast transmissions can be arrested!

How bad is this law? So bad that to get it passed, they had to tack it onto the "drug enforcement legislation package," which even REASON recognized as an abomination!

Robert Sheaffer
Monte Sereno, CA

If Switzerland Has Three, Can't We at Least Have One?

REASON wrongly ascribes to xenophobia ("Election Roundup," Trends, Feb.) the initiative making English California's official language. The real motivation was the desire to spare this country the frightful social, political, and economic costs paid by most countries that do not have a single official language. You are surely aware that squabbles of linguistic groups have recently brought down the Belgian government, threatened the continued existence of Canada, and caused bloodshed in India.

The more quickly immigrants learn English, the more quickly they fit into our society and economy. That is good for them and us. Let us teach foreign languages, certainly, but let us make clear to all that English is the language of the United States.

Howard Brandon
Madison, GA

I was shocked that REASON would call California's Proposition 63 "xenophobia-inspired." This proposition was initiated to counter the movement toward government-mandated bilingualism and biculturalism.

Government-enforced bilingualism is being pushed by the same fuzzy-headed do-gooders who want free lunches in our schools. The costs of forced bilingualism will weaken our education system.

I would also like to point out that the "xenophobic" French have an official language (French), the xenophobic Russians (Russian), the xenophobic Swedes (Swedish), etc. Xenophobia seems to be widespread. I do have one question for your writers. Is Switzerland with three official languages three times as xenophobic as California or less xenophobic?

Thomas J. Golab
Beltsville, MD