Not every outrage stems from the evildoers. Some of the most bizarre deeds emerge from good people trying to do the right thing:
* In Reston and Herndon, Fairfax County police, perhaps inspired by "Minority Report," the futuristic flick in which cops stop crimes before they happen, served up a holiday season surprise: Officers went into bars and restaurants to question, test and arrest patrons who imbibed too much -- even if they caused no disturbance and had no intention of driving.
Bar managers report police pulling customers outside for sobriety tests and arresting them for public drunkenness if they flunked. The cops say they do this all the time, what's the fuss? But bar managers say they've never seen this before, and patrons say police didn't distinguish between those who planned to drive and those who intended to take a taxi home.
A trade organization representing bars terms this an "anti-alcohol jihad." Oh, please. Talk to police officers who've had to respond to wrecks caused by people who insist on driving loaded, and it's easy to see where this crackdown came from. But raids on people out for a pleasant evening are no answer.
Catch drunks before they kill, but not before they're served their burger.
* The parents of David Shick, the Georgetown University student who died in 2000 in a fight with fellow students in a campus parking lot, have finally learned how the school punished the student who punched Shick in the face, causing his fatal fall: Although the D.C. medical examiner called the death a homicide, the university sentenced the student to write a 10-page paper reflecting on his deed and to attend alcohol counseling. The student appealed and got a one-semester suspension cut to a warning; he graduated with his class.
Oh, the school did one more thing: It built a memorial pond graced with Shick's name and the words, "Be kind."
As Georgetown's student newspaper, The Hoya, first reported, the Shick family was appalled by the university's handling of their son's death. Yes, David Shick was drunk that night, and yes, prosecutors decided not to press charges, saying they weren't likely to win a conviction because Shick took part in the fight.
But can you imagine being told that your dead son's assailant had to write a 10-page paper? It took the Shicks this long to find out what happened because Georgetown would release the information only if the parents promised not to tell anyone about the pathetic punishment. The Shicks refused and later got the details as part of the settlement of their suit against the student.
Universities love to hide their dirty laundry behind privacy rules. The student-faculty discipline board forthrightly blamed the other students for Shick's death. Sadly, the university backed down on appeal. Having students adjudicate their peers is a valuable part of an education. It's the school's zeal to cover up its ugly episodes that's so galling.
* The National Capital Planning Commission is likely to vote today to approve another gash in the Mall, a tunnel to lead visitors to the Washington Monument through a super-secure underground passage.
The National Park Service has been trying to dig a tunnel for decades; the post-Sept. 11 security hysteria is their wish come true.
Anyone who has seen the Jersey barriers that have surrounded the monument since 1998 knows they must go. And an elegant plan to replace the barriers with terraced landscaping and a low, granite-faced wall at the bottom of the hill to block truck bombers makes a lot of sense.
But once again, the good motive of providing security for an essential American icon has resulted in wild excess -- a 335-foot tunnel designed to let police screen visitors near 15th Street and then control their approach to the monument. This would involve building an addition to the stone lodge now at the base of the hill -- an addition that would be more than twice the size of the lodge.
Washington's comprehensive plan says that "the Mall should be considered complete." Yet planners seem intent on cluttering the city's core with symbols of fear and defeat. Reasonable security measures make sense; assuring 100 percent safety is neither possible nor remotely in keeping with the American spirit.
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