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Oh, Brother

How can lawmakers find cameras too intrusive?

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And this is small potatoes compared to the personal information we must provide to the commonwealth if, heaven forbid, one of our children should gain admittance to a state university — having done so by beating out some marauding SAT-monster from New Jersey whose parents are willing to pay twice what you and I might pay to keep their progeny out of a state university in New Jersey.

A financial aid form to send a student to a university practically requires you to document how much money you and every member of your family spends on chewing gum, fishing lures and dental floss.

Be prepared to calculate the 10-year amortized value of your lawn mower and defend the wattage of the bulbs that burn above your bathroom vanity.

In Richmond, none of this is considered intrusive. The state will license any factotum to sniff through your wallet, checkbook, bank statement, sock drawer and the lint beneath your cushions to see if you might have an illicit nickel hidden there.

So why is it that self-anointed constitutional scholars of the General Assembly — a body where constitutional scholarship can be validated on no more credentials than a realty license or a chiropractor's card — are certain that it is "unconstitutional" to use a camera to censure any cretin who will happily plunge a 2-ton truck through a red light at 50 mph while wielding a cell phone in one hand and a McChicken sandwich in the other?

Why, that's "Big Brother" at work, they exclaim. Can't have that. Naw-w-w-sirreee. Not here in Ol' Virginny.

Wanna carry a howitzer on your hip? That's constitutional. Wanna take a photo of a hell-bound drunk who can't read a traffic signal on a public highway? That's unconstitutional.

That is how the constitutional stew is bubbling on Richmond's burners according to the Virginian-Pilot. There, my able colleague Christina Nuckols reported that it might prove tough sledding this winter to get continued funding for red-light cameras at some of Virginia Beach's most dangerous intersections.

This "Big Brother" argument comes from noble scholars who probably remember "1984" as the year the Redskins got chain-sawed at the Super Bowl, and think that George Orwell probably was playing linebacker for the Los Angeles Raiders.

A camera aimed at a public intersection is unconstitutional?

Then why do we tolerate burglar alarms, theft-protection tags or video cameras aimed at the countertops of state-chartered banks? After all, each is nothing more than an inert electronic device that is designed to record the actions of a criminal.

And anybody who would willingly rip through an intersection on a red light is a criminal. They damage property. They steal lives. They're willing to steal your life, or your loved one's life, or their own life, just to save themselves a precious 90 seconds in their busy, busy day.

"Goodness! I'm late for my Pilates class! Outta my way, morons!"

I don't care if they take their own lives. Maybe it's their constitutional right. I just wish they'd do it in a way that leaves you and me alone. (I hear gas is pleasant. Go stick your head in the oven if you're in a hurry to die. But leave the rest of us out of it.)

In a recent story in the Virginian-Pilot, at least one Republican lawmaker got it right. Sen. Frank W. Wagner has said, "I have a hard time seeing the difference between that and a camera in a 7-Eleven catching a robber. You're using technology to catch lawbreakers."

Delegate John J. Welch III said he thinks the cameras are unconstitutional. "We have a right in America to face our accuser," he said.

He's correct. But that right would be preserved and protected upon meeting one's accuser — the commonwealth of Virginia — in a court of law, in the company of legal representation.

Delegate Welch is not a lawyer. He's a chiropractor.

And that's just fine, nothing wrong with that.

But I do not care to have a chiropractor interpret the United States Constitution in my behalf for the same reason that I would not care to have federal Judge Robert G. Doumar attempt to straighten my spine with a chrome-plated crowbar.

(Doumar actually has done this, in the interest of constitutional rights, to a couple of Justice Department lawyers. You shoulda heard 'em yowl.)

You do not have to be a constitutional scholar, heaven knows, to serve honorably in the Virginia General Assembly.

But it would help if the honorables we sent there could exhibit the mental acuity necessary, constitutionally speaking, to reason their way out of a wet paper sack. S



Dave Addis is a columnist who writes for the Virginian-Pilot.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly. Contact Dave at 757-446-2726 or by e-mail at dave.addis@cox.net.


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