Alvy Singer and the American flag

October 7, 2010 12:42:02 PM PDT
There's a great scene in the movie "Annie Hall" - and aren't there so many! - when Alvy Singer, the Woody Allen character, acts out his anti-authority phobia by getting flummoxed when a cop pulls him over on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.

His flustered response to his admission to the officer that he's not good handling authority and being told what to do is to ram his car into the cars surrounding him.

When the movie came out - 1977 - I so related to that scene because I've always hated being told what to do. Ask? Of course, and I'll gladly do it. But for some reason - and maybe I need one of Alvy Singer's shrinks to figure out why - I've reacted terribly to taking orders.

I wasn't much aware of the social ramifications of all this until junior high school. One morning in 8th grade homeroom, we 13-year-olds were messing around during the pledge of allegiance. The teacher was more than miffed, and so she assigned us a paper to write, along the lines of "Why We Shouldn't Talk During the Pledge of Allegiance."

My first response was goofy - and I thought of writing that the topic was nonsense, since one talks while reciting the pledge.

Typical 13-year-old.

But then I got to thinking about the pledge of allegiance and, in a way that surprised me, found myself questioning why we would pledge our allegiance to a flag. To a piece of cloth. Wouldn't it be more worthwhile, I wrote, to pledge our allegiance to people? To the real justice and liberty for all? Not just a flag?

This was during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, and I was not immune to the contradictions around me.

So I wrote my paper, and I remember feeling rather proud that I had questioned, respectfully, something viewed as a sacred cow. It was the type of questioning my parents had fostered, and I figured they'd be proud of me.

They were.

But the school? Not so much. The principal called me and my parents into the office a few days later, my paper in hand, and said that this was dangerous writing. I was exhibiting communist tendencies, the principal told us. I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded like something I wasn't supposed to aspire to.

All this came rushing back to me - the "Annie Hall" moment and my junior high McCarthy moment - when a loyal Eyewitness News viewer, the attorney Martin W. Schwartz, sent me a wire story about a lawyer from Mississippi who was jailed for contempt for standing but not reciting the pledge of allegiance as ordered to by a judge before court began.

The lawyer spent several hours in jail.

His case has now become a cause of sorts. The lawyer, Danny Lampley, told a newspaper that he wasn't going to back down, taking the stance that he would refuse the judge's order to "purge himself" of contempt by standing and repeating the pledge in court.

"I don't have to say it, because I'm an American," Lampley said. "I'm just not going to back off on this."

There is no law that requires Americans to stand or recite the pledge of allegiance, according to the ACLU.

Taking hard lines, with no room for tolerance, is a big issue these days. As it should be. We've been reporting a lot on the fallout from the suicide of the Rutgers University freshman, whose sexual encounter with another young man was streamed live on the Internet by his roommate, in an apparent disregard for tolerance and dignity. And tonight, another meeting to deal with bullying and tolerance - this time in the hometown of Tyler Clementi, the freshman who killed himself - Ridgewood, New Jersey.

We'll be there, for our 11 p.m. newscast.

We're also in New Jersey for what is a huge story about a major transportation project. Gov. Chris Christie today cancelling the already-underway tunnel under the Hudson to connect North Bergen to Penn Station. More than 6,000 construction jobs and 40,000 permanent jobs would have been created in a project that would have cost about $10 billion. $600 million has already been spent ? half of which cash-strapped New Jersey will likely have to repay to the feds, plus interest. Gov. Christie says the state simply can't afford the project. But not everyone agrees. We'll have reaction at 11.

And with Facebook today introducing its plan to make its social network more user friendly and more secure, our Michelle Charlesworth takes a look at a growing trend on Facebook: De-friending.

And she's found the five biggest reasons people get de-friended. I'm dying to write them here, but I'm told by my producers that it's best if I don't, so as not to blow the surprise of revealing them in the 11 p.m. newscast.

Sorry.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports, including highlights from Game Two of the Yankees playoff series in Minnesota. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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