20 things to leave in the 20th century, Part 2 

Sorting the Century

9. Brats

Hey you, with the kid throwing a tantrum in the toy aisle ... or the restaurant ... or the grocery store. Here's a thought: Grow a spine. Tell your child "No." Mean it. If she doesn't listen, take her out of here. Maybe you don't mind it, but her whining and crying is not exactly music to my ears.

Let me guess. You were only allowed one cookie on alternate Thursdays and that's why your child gets anything she wants, any time of day. You feel guilty for working and since you only speak 40 words a week to your child, you don't want any of them to be "no." You were made to feel worthless when you were young, and you're determined that your child never think she has done something wrong.

Whatever your sad story is, wake up and smell the Pablum: You are raising a brat. Children are secure when adults protect them from eating 25 cookies before dinner. Children are proud when they learn to behave respectably.

Children have self-worth when they live up to rules and expectations.

Go ahead, try it. It won't be easy. But you'll feel much better when you have a child you actually like. And so will everybody around you.

10. The Big Idea

[image-1]In the early '80s, about the time the 6th Street Marketplace was being hatched, city Pooh-Bahs and planners were scratching their heads and asking, "What will the 'it' project be?" With a so-called festival marketplace by legendary developer James Rouse underway, what spectacular attraction would bring people back to the modest downtown mall?

Baltimore had its Inner Harbor and aquarium. Boston cashed in on Fanieul Hall and the quaint North End. New York's South Street Seaport had a historic waterfront. Richmond had barren acres of surface parking lots with a Coliseum plopped in the middle. When no "it" was forthcoming and the great department stores closed, the Pooh-Bahs and planners were unhappy.

Richmond had initiated "it" projects before. In the late 1950s, the Civic Center, north of Broad, was designed to reinvent downtown with a modernist bent — a kind of Brasilia-on-the-James. But we didn't have an original form-giver like Richard Neutra. The Federal Building, City Hall and a host of other brutal atrocities were built. Another "it" project was Valentine Riverside, working a social cultural agenda conducive to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but hardly in step with what vacationing Midwesterners en route to Virginia Beach wanted to see. C'mon, did anyone really think that second- and third-generations from Cleveland, Chicago and Akron needed to come to Richmond to be lectured about American industrialism and subsequent Rust Belts?

But we learn. This year, the forces behind the reconfigured canal restoration subdued the hype of our latest "it" project. Never promising the moon, they carefully explained that the linear park development was the beginning of an evolving idea.

But alas, their good intentions were blindsided by the continuing ability of Robert E. Lee to stir Southern souls— for better or ill. Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin's charge against the Lee mural was akin to the damper the evil fairy placed on Sleeping Beauty's christening. A glorious, celebratory moment was marred.

And now the expanded downtown convention center is being touted as the next "it." Numerous blocks of Jackson Ward, a national historic district, have been destroyed to make way for the envisioned panacea. Precious old nearby retail landmarks are threatened. Like the ill-conceived civic center project of 40 years ago, evidently the patient (the traditional downtown retail district) must be killed to successfully complete the operation.

Enough already. In the coming decades, the "it" projects need not be multimillion dollar Band-Aids. They don't work because they are isolated endeavors and do nothing to reweave the delicate urban fabric.

What is needed is infrastructure — the underlying pilings on which the community can build. Public education, regional transit systems and spaces where small businesses can begin to grow top the list.

One of Richmond's pleasures is ease of getting around. We're not sprawling Northern Virginia, Atlanta or Los Angeles. Yet. Richmond's ticket to a successful future will be based on its ability to create a comprehensive transportation plan that learns from, and avoids, the daily turmoil and waste of time and resources these places endure.

Richmond will not grow as long as the middle class flees its public schools. And emerging businesses cannot take their baby steps in high-rent suburban and downtown office parks.

Regionalism is key. Let's face it: Whenever the community really wants something — the things it deems important — it takes a regional approach — the Chamber of Commerce's economic development efforts, the baseball stadium, the downtown expressway system, the expanded convention center and governor's schools in Richmond and Petersburg come to mind.

In the coming decades, comprehensive planning for transit and schools should be tackled regionally. There are no quick fixes. Sexy "it" projects should be laid to rest.

11. Bumper stickers and personalized licensed plates

Why do people feel the need to sum up their existence in seven letters and sticky strips of dime-store wisdom? Things people would never say in public they feel emboldened to display on the backs of their pick-ups. We stopped thinking it was funny years ago that your "ex-wife is in trunk," or that your kid can beat up our honor students. You are most certainly not 2HT2HDL or FOXXXY so why do you try to create a persona for yourself that exists only on the bumper of your car? Scrape off the slogans, get a respectable license plate like QR6-83H and find a way to express yourself outside of your car.

12. Whiny transplants, provincial RichmondersTransplants move here, presumably, to complain about what's lacking in Richmond — decent restaurants, big-city shopping, late-night action, friendly people.

As if those things really matter. We have history, and a lot of Colonial houses, and school systems that shut down when the first flakes of snow hit the asphalt. We have Civil War sites, and azaleas, and six or seven generations of well-entrenched, very-Richmond society. So what if everyone you meet does a mother's-maiden-name background check before you've gotten your coat off? What's wrong with a third-degree grilling from the preternaturally blonde matron in a holiday-theme sweater who'd no sooner invite you to tea than remember your name in the cereal aisle at Ukrop's? Part of the charm of moving somewhere desirable is hoping no one else follows, and with all of your transplant-whining, it's likely no one will. So, put a sock in it (preferably a fine wool, dark green duck-print) and accept the obvious: Richmonders take a certain puffed-up pride in their provincial attitudes and would rather not be ridiculed — particularly by the likes of you, dear.

13. Catch Phrases

[image-2]Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer have done more damage to the culture than you even think. Thanks to them, people all over the country are suddenly talking to the hand. They've been there, done that. And they certainly don't go there. Let's go there, shall we? — to a new millennium where we have been nowhere and done nothing, where we talk to each other's faces, not hands, and where the only thing we kick to the curb is the trash bag.

Or maybe you like using these grating catch phrases. Well ... whatever.

14. The Death Penalty
by Stephen M. Colecchi

[image-3]Photo by Jeffrey BlandI believe most people oppose and support the death penalty for the same reason. They want to protect human life. As we cross the threshold to a new millennium, we need to ask ourselves: Does the death penalty protect (or undermine) human life and public safety? It is difficult to have a reasonable discussion of capital punishment. Feelings run high on both sides of the question. But if our moral "bottom line" is the same — protecting human lives — then perhaps we can look at this controversial issue in a new way as we enter a new century.

It is fitting to begin this reassessment of the death penalty with the words of a family member of a murdered victim. "The old way called for an 'eye for an eye.' But our faith gave us the courage to embrace what is new: to celebrate the sanctity of all life, our son's and the person's responsible for his death." This father of a murdered son captured the moral argument against the death penalty in these two sentences. Human life is sacred.

The experience of other countries suggests that there are better ways to promote public safety and protect human life. The United States stands virtually alone among industrialized nations in its use of the death penalty. Ironically, despite our increasingly frequent use of the death penalty, we have the highest murder rate by far. In 1999, Virginia will set a record for the number of executions since the reinstatement of capital punishment. Are these the kinds of records that we want to set in the new millennium?

Two classic moral arguments are made to support capital punishment: retribution and deterrence.

Retribution is a requirement of justice. We exact "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Today, this simple scale of justice is unbalanced. Exacting "life for life" assumes that we can balance the scales of justice with impartiality. Many studies show conclusively that in America racism and economic inequality tip the scales of justice against racial minorities and poor persons. Tragically, a person's skin color and financial ability to hire a good attorney are the best indicators of whether or not a death sentence will be imposed.

Deterrence offers another justification for capital punishment. The imposition of the death penalty certainly means that a murderer will not kill again; many people believe it also deters others from committing murder. Deterrence is a reasonable, but misinformed, argument.

A sentence of life in prison would protect public safety without taking a life, particularly now that parole has been abolished. In polls, most Virginians favor this option over capital punishment, especially when the convicted person is required to make restitution to the victim's family. These polls show the moral sense of our citizens. They know intuitively that it is better to protect lives without taking lives.

Deterrence has another moral inadequacy. The evidence simply does not support the "common sense" perception that capital punishment deters murders. Numerous nations without the death penalty have dramatically lower murder rates. Most murders occur in stressful situations or in moments of passion in which individuals are not weighing the long-term consequences of their actions.

The murder rate is driven by many social factors that contribute to violent crime, including the easy availability of firearms and our immoral glorification of violence as a solution to problems. As a society we need to remember that "an eye for an eye" was intended to limit revenge, not to encourage it.

Imposition of the death penalty fails many moral tests. Its use is discriminatory. Its ability to protect human life through deterrence is void. Its message that violence is the solution, not the problem, is a fallacy.

Ultimately, the debate over the death penalty is a question of what kind of society we want for our children and our children's children in the new millennium. Do we want to build a society that respects human life and rejects violence?

Abolition of the death penalty would send a powerful moral message. Together with efforts to address the root causes of violence and to require restitution from criminals, it would help break the cycle of violence and protect human life — a moral "bottom line" worthy of a truly new century.

Stephen M. Colecchi, D.Min., is the special assistant to Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace.

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