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Interview: Pacific Legal Foundation’s Paul Beard on Property Rights

Paul BeardPaul Beard II is a principal attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), where he focuses on property rights, especially in litigation against government agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission, that violate private property rights.

Last year, Beard argued and won a landmark property rights case (Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District) before the United States Supreme Court. The case establishes that land-use permit exactions of money are subject to heightened scrutiny under the United States Constitution. Beard also practices other areas of constitutional law, including free speech, equal protection, environmental, and Commerce Clause law. He currently is the lead attorney in PLF’s lawsuit, on behalf of Iowan artist Matt Sissel, challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare under the Commerce and Origination Clauses.

Beard is admitted to the bars of California, numerous federal district and appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court. He received a B.A. from University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and a J.D. from Cornell Law School. He is also a former classmate of mine in the Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) in Irvine, California. This is an edited transcript.

Scott Holleran: What is the primary challenge of being a lawyer for a non-profit organization that defends individual rights?

Paul Beard: Educating and trying to convince the courts, particularly in California, of the importance of private property rights and individual liberty. Finding cases is easy because we don’t charge for cases and it’s easy to set the case up for litigation. But it’s a much different question with this constitutionally originalist idea of what rights are and why they should be protected.

Scott Holleran: How can activists in the grass-roots movement for individual rights improve?

Paul Beard: Ultimately, the bottom line is doing a better job of educating voters—those who make a difference at the ballot box. Even local and state elections are important because the people we elect have control over the makeup of our judiciary. If we’re going to do a better job [advancing property rights protection] one component is educating the average voter—they do not understand the importance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and therefore don’t have the knowledge to vote for the right people that will be intervene in protecting individual rights. I say this as a lawyer. Of course, there are other ways, such as cultural, to influence and affect change.

Scott Holleran: What can those who want to support Pacific Legal Foundation do?

Paul Beard: Go to PLF’s Web site and donate—we take no funds from the government—plug into our social media and make sure that our work is getting distributed as far and wide as possible. Visit PLF not just for making donations but also for educating people. Help us find new clients and new cases.

Scott Holleran: Do you agree with Ayn Rand that property rights are paramount to individual rights?

Paul Beard: Absolutely. Without property rights, it’s PLF’s position and my personal view, all other rights fall. [Without property rights] [y]ou don’t have your own home publishing materials, computer, printer or copier. You need private property for freedom. So to the extent government regulates or overregulates, without property rights, we’re not really free. Government regulation that eliminates force from transactions is necessary and proper, both constitutionally and from a moral perspective. By overregulation, I mean regulation that goes beyond that fundamental purpose of eliminating force. It identifies regulation that itself causes or authorizes the initiation of force against individuals.

Scott Holleran: You recently argued before the United States Supreme Court in favor of property rights, giving PLF its seventh consecutive victory in the Supreme Court. Is anything about arguing before the Supreme Court easier than you anticipate?

Paul Beard: The argument was difficult not just because it was the Supreme Court but because of the issues involved. The easiest part from my perspective is always to respond to what my opponent has already said. If you’re the first to present the case, as I was, it’s harder. It is easiest to respond in that sense. But there’s really no such thing as easy when arguing before the Supreme Court. I came away thinking we may have lost the case. I can’t think of a moment when I was at ease.

Scott Holleran: Let’s talk about your case before the high court, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. What is an exaction?

Paul Beard: In the land use permitting context, it means a concession that is demanded by government as the condition of approving a permit that gives you the right to use and enjoy your private property. Exactions have been around since zoning laws were enacted in the early 1900s. Their use grew dramatically in the post-World War 2 era, with the creation of new suburban subdivisions. The whole land use permitting scheme should be unconstitutional, not just because of the exaction. The government has no business telling a property owner before he makes any use of his property what he can do so. The whole permitting process should not be allowed. Obviously that ship has sailed.

Scott Holleran: What is the essential argument against the California Coastal Commission and why doesn’t the PLF challenge its existence?

Paul Beard: As to the first question, the basic legal philosophical argument against the Coastal Commission is that the Coastal Act, the state statute which gives rise to the California Coastal Commission and all its powers, in essence socializes all of the private property in the coastal zone. Under the Coastal Act, since its passage in the early 1970s, coastal private property owners really just own title to the property, they don’t own the property as they see fit. Most jurisdictions in the country are like that, with Houston as an exception, and have [certain] government agencies that issue permits. Magnify that to the entire state—a land use body that purports to tell everyone within the coastal zone whether they can use their property and, if they can, the extent to which they can use their property. And, if they can, what values the property owner must give up to the state in exchange for the property owner exercising his property rights. As to the second part of the question, with regard to the state of California and the U.S. as a whole, the way the Constitution has been interpreted, it’s near impossible to make a credible argument in a court of law that the government does not have the authority to regulate land use. Maybe one day, when the culture has significantly changed, we can get back to [a legal recognition of] property rights. But right now the law is unequivocally clear that the government can use and dictate use of your private property. Their power is limited—our cases prove that—but they can regulate land use. To what extent is where the battles are at. [The] Kelo [decision by the Supreme Court] was a disaster but we saw some success because the burden shifted to states to fix the eminent domain problem [and some did]. In Kelo, we saw that the government can take property from property owner A and give it to property owner B. That’s insane. Eminent domain had previously been used to build roads and schools and now it’s being used for cronyism. California Gov. [Edmund “Jerry”] Brown did do one good thing when he agreed to defund redevelopment agencies.

Scott Holleran: Is the right to property properly understood?

Paul Beard: It’s the biggest issue and it’s an issue of cognitive dissonance. People tend to get the concept of private property rights in regard to themselves but not with regard to someone else’s private property rights and pursuit of individual rights. When it’s a company or others, not themselves, people tend to say we should restrict property rights—ban so-called big box stores, go to the public hearing [to protest]—that is the biggest problem or hurdle. I think most folks can get on board with the homeowner or small business owner and [recognizing] their rights but, as soon as the example gets bigger—especially if it’s a large business like Walmart—then it’s a question of wealth, status and size and it becomes ‘property rights for us, no property rights for them’. There is class warfare-ism. Fundamentally, what they see as an issue of ‘I’m building a home on my lot—who am I injuring? No one.’ But if Walmart is [perceived as potentially] putting a small business out of business or creating low-wage jobs or increasing traffic congestion, all these so-called injuries to the public justify the regulation.

PLFMcNameeScott Holleran: Why did you lose the McNamee case, in which the property owners (George and Sharlee McNamee, pictured with their attorney, Paul Beard) asserted their right to have amenities, such as a picnic table and shed, on beach property they own?

Paul Beard: I was probably a lot more optimistic about the California court system than I am today. The courts, particularly in California, have come up with these doctrines [hostile to property rights]. One of them says [in effect] ‘who is the court to second guess what the government [agency or bureaucracy] has decided?’ The California Coastal Commission, for example, hears permits for land use every day and they may decide whether—whether!—private property is an aesthetic harm to the community. [The judicial doctrine of deference is:] Who are three judges on the court of appeals to say what is good for this neighborhood? Were the McNamees’ picnic amenities consistent with other uses of that stretch of beach and the state’s own use of that beach? We were questioning the aesthetic judgment of the Commission. The court just wasn’t willing to second guess the California Coastal Commission. Because the legislature so broadly defines what the Coastal Commission can regulate, it has near-limitless power.

Scott Holleran: This gets back to your point about voting –

Paul Beard: Absolutely. There could be an amendment in the California legislature tomorrow to rectify the Coastal Act. Someone tried to build in an exception to the Coastal Act for allowing fireworks on the Fourth of July and the bill didn’t pass because there weren’t enough votes.

Scott Holleran: In legal terms, is a government commission for the environment consistent with the law?

Paul Beard: It isn’t. [Pauses] I want to be as precise as possible. I want to talk about the Bill of Rights. Any government agency that preemptively restricts your right to your property—your private property—is inherently unconstitutional. You look through the Constitution and nowhere does it say that [government may unreasonably restrict the right to private property]. Under the 5th and 14th amendments, the Bill of Rights protects every individual’s fundamental rights to use, develop and enjoy their property without unnecessary and improper regulation. This gets back to what we were talking about earlier. If the government acts to protect a tree or a bug or enhance aesthetics, that is a violation of property rights.

Scott Holleran: What is the most important case for property rights in American history?

Paul Beard: The most damaging case is a case called Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company in 1926. It was a landmark Supreme Court case that upheld zoning. It’s certainly proper and necessary for the state to prevent people from exercising rights in a way that harms others. Along comes this case in which the first zoning law is challenged in court. The law attempted to plan the way in which property was used for purposes of aesthetics and all types of non-injurious factors. The Supreme Court upheld that under the 14th amendment [and it constitutionalized zoning and the idea that the state can dictate land use including private property]. There’s also a case PLF litigated, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, and I don’t mean for that to sound self-serving. Exactions began to creep up after 1926 [following the Euclid decision]. Zoning really took off in the 1960s because of the ecology movement—with conservation and easement cases—and the government was doing this routinely over the years. The California Coastal Commission said that whenever anyone along the coast comes to us for a permit to do something we are going to require a public access easement across their property with one contiguous public access easement. The California Coastal Commission used the permitting process to get these permits for free. The Nollan family wanted to replace a bungalow with a single family residence—they wanted to upgrade their own home—on their beach property, so the Nollans sued and it went to the 1987 Supreme Court. The court struck down the decision and the new rule is that whenever the government demands any interest in real property as a condition of a permit, it must first show that the impact of the proposed project necessitates that interest.

Scott Holleran: Does PLF, which takes cases pro bono like Institute for Justice, favor individuals that are poor, old and under some sort of supposed minority status and what is PLF’s criteria for taking a case?

Paul Beard: We have IRS restrictions. In order to maintain our 501(c)3 status, we provide free services to those who can’t otherwise afford it. A case has to be against the government with a legal issue that we think if taken up in the court system will provide a precedent that will broadly benefit a large number of private property owners. A third criteria involves the type of client. Either the client can’t afford legal representation or, given the cost benefit analysis, he wouldn’t otherwise sue.

Obama-Obamacare-SignatureScott Holleran: You are also the lead attorney on the case of Matt Sissel against ObamaCare. What is Mr. Sissel’s claim and what is the status of his case against the dictate?

Paul Beard: That the so-called Affordable Care Act has as its central provision a tax penalty on those who refuse or otherwise decline to obtain the minimum coverage that the federal government has prescribed—and if he doesn’t get that, he pays a penalty and that penalty is a tax according to the Supreme Court. If this penalty is a tax, it fails the origination clause of the Constitution because the ObamaCare with all its taxes originated in the United States Senate but the Constitution requires that all revenue raising bills to originate in the House of Representatives. It plainly in its entirety violates the Constitution and should be struck down. We just lost before a panel of the [District of Columbia] Circuit Court of Appeals and we are now going to seek a rehearing from the entire DC Court of Appeals, which has 11 active judges. If we fail to obtain a successful ruling, then we will seek the Supreme Court’s review, which is very rare. But we think we have a better chance because all it takes is for four of the nine [Supreme Court] Justices to say they want to hear a case for it to get accepted. We think we may have four Justices who dissented from the [National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB)] decision on Constitutional grounds. We are also actively investigating a challenge to the capital gains tax—an important revenue-raising aspect of ObamaCare.

Scott Holleran: In legal terms, is health care a right?

Paul Beard: Absolutely not. Health care, like any other service or product, is not a right—you have a right to pursue the purchase of the product or service but you certainly don’t have the right to others’ work and to get it for free. The ban on the pre-existing conditions is based on the same false premise.

Scott Holleran: Does PLF defend whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden who speak out against the state?

Paul Beard: No, we don’t. Our legal objectives are very specific in environmental law and property rights.

Scott Holleran: Is America a nation of laws or of men?

Paul Beard: Increasingly of men—with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, ObamaCare and executive actions.

Scott Holleran: Most of those laws were enacted by Republicans and with conservatives’ support. Who in your view poses the biggest threat to individual liberty: conservatives or leftists?

Paul Beard: Statists are the greatest threat, whatever the ideology. We have done a lot of work with Tea Party groups and I do see a softening and return to basic Constitutionalism and the idea that the primary purpose of government is to protect individual rights.

Scott Holleran: Is it true that you speak five languages?

Paul Beard: Yes. I’m fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and English. I also speak Portuguese.

Scott Holleran: Do you have a philosophy and, if so, what is it and why do you think you need it?

Paul Beard: Yes, I do. I think the most persuasive philosophy is what Ayn Rand articulated, particularly her views on morality and politics, when she created Objectivism. She has revolutionized the way I make every decision in my own life and the way I view religion and the way I approach my work. More than anyone, she has influenced my life.

Scott Holleran: Are you optimistic about the future?

Paul Beard: I am. If I weren’t I’d probably resign today. With the work the grass-roots, Tea Party activists and other groups are doing in the long term, [I think] we will get to the point where everyone values individual rights and demands a government that protects those rights.

Interview: Dr. Amesh Adalja on Ebola Virus

AAmeshAdaljamesh A. Adalja, MD, is a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. He is board certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine, infectious diseases, and critical care medicine.

Dr. Adalja is a member of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s (IDSA) Public Health Committee, the American College of Emergency Physicians Pennsylvania Chapter’s EMS & Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness Committee, the Allegheny County Medical Reserve Corps, and the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System Disaster Medical Assistance Team (PA-1), with which he was deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. He has also served on U.S. government panels tasked with developing guidelines for treatment of botulism and anthrax in mass casualty settings as well as a FEMA working group on nuclear disaster recovery. He is associate editor of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, contributing author for the Handbook of Bioterrorism and Disaster Medicine, and he has published in the Journal of Infectious DiseasesEmerging Infectious Diseases, and Annals of Emergency Medicine. He also writes a blog about his work.

Dr. Adalja is a member of various medical societies, including the American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medical Association. Prior to joining the Center, Dr. Adalja completed two fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh—one in infectious diseases, for which he served as Chief Fellow, and one in critical care medicine. He completed a combined residency in internal medicine and emergency medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he served as Chief Resident and as a member of the infection control committee.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Adalja over 20 years ago when he was a pre-med student and I was editor for a health policy and patient advocacy group in Orange County, California. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Scott Holleran: Is there 100 percent certainty among scientists that the Ebola virus is not airborne?

Amesh Adalja: When you talk about Ebola there are different species. What the evidence has shown in multiple experiences and multiple outcomes is that the Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan strains cause infection in humans that lead to symptoms. The virus Zaire is most deadly. There are also the Sudan, Bundibugyo and Tai Forest strains—these four species of Ebola cause infections which lead to symptoms. There is a fifth strain, Ebola Reston, which is addressed in The Hot Zone, which is different and those infected [with it] didn’t have symptoms. There is some concern that that strain may have had the potential to spread airborne. With regard to this current outbreak, there is no evidence that the strain has natural airborne properties. You may read about airborne lab model infection and that is not the same thing as how people come into contact with Ebola in a natural setting. The primary means Ebola spreads between humans is through blood and body fluids—for example, through contact with vomit, blood or fecal matter.

Scott Holleran: What concerns if any do you have about the potential for an Ebola outbreak in the West?

Amesh Adalja: I have very little concern that Ebola will be able to spread in a modern, industrial country like the U.S. chiefly because of the way it spreads. You really have to work to become infected—it’s not like measles—and you have to be in very close contact while not wearing personal, protective equipment like gowns, gloves and masks. In a U.S. setting, a patient with Ebola would be placed under protection and we wouldn’t expect it to spread. We’ve had eight importations of lassa fever, another viral hemorraghic fever spread in the same manner as Ebola, and the Marburg [virus] is in the same family as Ebola—and we’ve had no secondary spread when it was imported.

Scott Holleran: You’ve said that a best case scenario is that an Ebola treatment may be available in one year. Do scientists know most of what they need to know in order to develop a vaccine or cure?

Amesh Adalja: Yes, I do think we have the answers for how to control Ebola. Right now, in terms of vaccines, we have a product that was used in a lab in Germany which is being developed by the Canadian government, which, when tried in monkeys, was 100 percent effective. In fact, it works so well in non-human primates, which is the closest you can come to humans, that it leads me to believe that this will be the vaccine that will hopefully lead to the means to control future Ebola outbreaks. Vaccines don’t cure disease. However, it’s very early. It really has to be tested. With regard to cures, I would think about ZMapp, which was administered to [recently infected and admitted U.S. Christian missionaries] Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol. I wouldn’t call it miraculous, though, because, for instance, Dr. Brantly also received a blood transfusion and there were other factors, such as the best medical treatment by doctors. There is a third product made by a Canadian company—a drug which shows strong results against [the] Marburg [virus].

Scott Holleran: Recently, an Ebola outbreak has been reported in the Congo. Briefly explain who is being infected with the Ebola virus.

Amesh Adalja: What usually happens with Ebola outbreak in remote regions of Africa—in countries like the Congo, Sudan and Uganda—is that you have an individual who may have been in the forest hunting animals, such as antelopes, gorillas or chimps or bats, and that person gets sick and goes to the local health care facility in their village and the symptoms may mimic other conditions such as malaria or typhoid and may be misdiagnosed. Then, there’s an outbreak because people [caring for the infected patient] don’t realize that the person is infected with Ebola and [they treat the patient in a way that actually accelerates the spread of the virus]. For example, we’re hearing that people are using the same thermometers for patients in Liberia [where Ebola is spreading]. When that person dies, the outbreak is magnified.

Scott Holleran: Do experts know how the two infected Americans, who were working as Christian missionaries in Africa, were contaminated and, if so, how do experts know what they know?

Amesh Adalja: I haven’t seen any definitive answer to how they were contaminated. We do know that they were working there with personal protective equipment, which is very difficult to wear in those settings. Due to heat and humidity, some people may not be fully compliant [with necessary guidelines and use of equipment]. It’s always important to wash hands, especially for missionaries, who aren’t there to respond to [an] Ebola [outbreak] and they may have been there for treating some other condition. My understanding is that they were there [for some other purpose] and Dr. Brantly is not an infectious disease specialist. He’s a family medicine doctor. Doctors who work with Doctors Without Borders are very meticulous and compliant. Not everyone else is.

Scott Holleran: What criteria does the government hold if any for admitting or re-admitting those infected with a communicable disease?

Amesh Adalja: It’s largely going to depend [upon the context] and be handled on a case by case basis. For example, there are diseases that are quarantinable. Recently, there was an arrest warrant for someone with tuberculosis. The number one priority for the government, in this context, is to protect people from contracting a contagious infectious disease. Really, the criterion is to avoid putting someone at undue risk at becoming infected with a contagious pathogen. Typhoid Mary and individuals with tuberculosis are much more contagious than those with Ebola virus.

Scott Holleran: When the infected Americans were re-admitted into the United States, what medical treatment was administered at Emory University?

Amesh Adalja: When these two patients came to Emory [University in Atlanta] they would have received standard supportive care and treatment, such as supplemental oxygen, intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever and medicine to control nausea and vomiting, electrolyte repletion, and possibly blood products were administered they also received doses of ZMapp. The special blood transfusion was administrated in Africa.

Scott Holleran: Do infected individuals pose a risk to society?

Amesh Adalja: I do not believe the infected individuals pose a risk because of the nature of how Ebola is transmitted.

Scott Holleran: As a doctor who writes about ethics in health care, does the U.S. have a moral obligation to re-admit any infected individual American—or groups of infected Americans—under any circumstances?

Amesh Adalja: I believe that in the case of these Ebola patients—because they pose no risk of infection or contagion to Americans—this isn’t an issue, so there would have been no justification to prohibit their re-entry into the United States. However, I don’t believe that this fact is self-evident. Ebola has captured the minds of writers and the ordinary person is very fearful against Ebola. But it’s not like the virus has never been in the U.S.-it’s been in U.S. labs since the 1970s.

Scott Holleran: Government corruption has recently been discovered in nearly every branch including government-controlled science and medicine and military and national security intelligence. Is any degree of skepticism toward government on the Ebola virus or infectious disease in general warranted in your judgment?

Amesh Adalja: Just prior to the Ebola outbreak, there had been reports of laboratory mishaps where certain pathogens were handled in a manner which wasn’t what biosafety guidelines would recommend. There were incidents and mishaps at the CDC, though no one had been infected. I think it’s important that Americans question what safeguards are in place and what protections and protocols are being taken. I do think they will be reassured that there are a lot of safeguards in place.

Scott Holleran: You’re an expert in bioterrorism and you work within government agencies to protect against an attack. Is a terrorist attack using biological or nuclear weapons likely to be detected by the U.S. government in advance?

Amesh Adalja: There’s been a lot of preparation after 2001, when five individuals were killed by an attack using anthrax. Biological weapons leave no signature—they’re natural pathogens. The fact that the former Soviet Union had a biological weapons program in violation of a treaty [banning such weapons] is a reminder of the danger. In Japan, they tried to weaponize botulism and Ebola. We know that Al Qaeda tried to do the same thing. So, these are real threats. This is a core function of government to protect against these threats. The Soviet Union proved how extensive a program can be created. Since the George W. Bush administration funded these programs and created these agencies, we’ve come a long way. But there are still a lot of gaps. [Anthrax infected newspaper editor] Robert Stephens initially thought he contracted anthrax from going into the wilderness and [it became apparent that] he got it from a letter in Florida. In 1984, in the state of Washington, a religious cult that wanted to influence a local election through voter turnout ordered salmonella and went to a salad bar and poured salmonella on the salad bar and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] came in and investigated, thought it was poor food preparation and fined the business—but the salad bar had been poisoned by religious terrorists.

Scott Holleran: What is the single worst bioterrorist threat to the United States?

Amesh Adalja: Anthrax—because it’s been proven to be effective.

Scott Holleran: Is there a single source, such as a book or movie, that contains reliable information for a general audience on infectious disease—its facts, history and the risks and dangers—such as The Hot Zone or the movie Outbreak?

Amesh Adalja: I read The Hot Zone and I think it’s a fascinating book and it does get people to think about Ebola. It does provide very good information on the Reston, Virginia [strain of] Ebola out in an animal facility. In terms of movies, the movie Contagion is probably the best, though it dramatically accelerates how quickly a real-life vaccine can be developed.

Scott Holleran: What is the most encouraging news on the topic of infectious disease?

Amesh Adalja: I think the infectious disease in the future is going to harness the ability to use genome sequencing to create targeted therapies at just the pathogen to avoid collateral damage to other microbes or bacteria that may live in your body.

Jonas-SalkJonas-SalkStarzlScott Holleran: Dr. Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine in Pittsburgh, where you work with Pitt to study, treat, cure and prevent infectious disease. Is Pittsburgh still a center for innovation in science and medicine?

Amesh Adalja: Absolutely. Not only do we have Pitt, CMU [Carnegie Mellon University] is here as well. People think of Pittsburgh’s past with the Industrial Revolution and great industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and they’re really idolized—and they’re idolized by me, too—but there are heroes such as [Thomas] Starzl [pictured], a pioneering transplant surgeon, and Dr. Salk, who have also been true to the [enterprising] spirit that built this city with steel and heavy industrial technology and transportation. Pittsburgh is still part of the Industrial Revolution. But now it’s a biotechnological revolution. ZMapp and all the anti-viral medicines were created as a result of the aftermath of 9/11. The threat of Ebola being used as a potential biological weapon has created an incentive [to counter with protective medicine] – so it’s important to remember that, as scary as Ebola can be, it’s been a market incentive, too.

Leonard Maltin on Movies (2014)

Maltin2015MovieGuidefinalLeonard Maltin, whom I interviewed here in 2011, recently announced that his annual paperback volume Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which has been produced in some form for 45 years, will cease publication. He explains in the new introduction to the final edition, on sale next week, that today’s market precludes a profitable production.

I interviewed Leonard Maltin almost three years ago to the day and, though I am saddened to lose the rich and treasured Movie Guide, I look forward to reading this one, last edition, the new, forthcoming edition of his Classic Movie Guide, his Web site, and whatever he creates in the future. I know I’ll see Leonard Maltin soon at the movies. Until then, I am glad to know that one of the world’s most serious and knowledgeable film scholars is here in Hollywood where he belongs.

This is an edited transcript. To purchase the book, click on the cover image.

Scott Holleran: Would the story of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide make a good movie?

Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so. The real story of the guide—of how I came to be hired at 17—would make an amusing sequence but not a movie. The story of actually producing the guide day to day, from year to year, is the story of doing drudge-like research, confirming spelling, facts, and it’s not the stuff of great drama.

Scott Holleran: You write that it was created to offer “terse, telegraphic-style reviews” yet each entry also captures a movie’s essential facts—year of release, cast, director, plot, characters—too. Which does the reader seek more: facts or analysis?

Leonard Maltin: I’ve been told both. People ignore the opinion and focus on facts and I’ve heard the opposite, too.

Scott Holleran: Is it possible to be objective about film?

Leonard Maltin: Oh, no. It’s not objective at all—it’s completely subjective. As I remind people who rant [about a review] it’s just an opinion. Movies matter to me a great deal, but an opinion on a movie is just an opinion. We try very hard [in the Movie Guide] to convey the essence of each movie. There are critics who are much smarter, more articulate and more analytical than me. I think of myself as a kind of middle-brow person and critic. I hope I’m a good communicator.

Scott Holleran: Are there plans to release your out of print books on iBooks?

Leonard Maltin: I’m not at liberty to say [yet] but we’re working on [Amazon’s] Kindle versions of [previously released books by Maltin such as] Selected Short Subjects, The Real Stars and The Great Movie Comedians.

Scott Holleran: Among your peers of movie critics, pundits and scholars of our time—Ebert, Siskel, Pete Hammond, James Lipton, Robert Osborne, Rex Reed, Vincent Canby, Gene Shalit—who is your favorite and why?

Leonard Maltin: I’m a huge admirer of Todd McCarthy who was at Variety for 35 years and is now at the Hollywood Reporter. I think he’s brilliant and incisive. He has a tremendous film knowledge and he’s a great communicator. I also love reading Roger Ebert’s old reviews online because I never got to read him. I’ve really come to appreciate him as a writer. He’s really an essayist. Now I can access his vast library of reviews online.

Scott Holleran: Given the culture’s current state, what sort of movie—if you think that movies will exist—do you think will dominate in the future?

Leonard Maltin: The evidence seems to point to the blockbuster continuing to dominate the world movie scene except at awards time when more intelligent, challenging and daring movies come to the fore which may be the best thing about awards season—to throw a spotlight on movies that need the notoriety that awards hype gives them. People are finding new business models for film all the time and that’s very encouraging. In a year that contains Boyhood and Captain America: The Winter Soldier—one of the best in the comic book series I’ve ever seen—there’s a reason for optimism.

Scott Holleran: Please discuss your approach to reviews. How do you track what happens in the plot—do you take notes during a film? Does your wife Alice assist? Do you call the studio or rely on press notes?

Leonard Maltin: Press notes are always useful but more for background information. But I don’t write lengthy reviews, so I don’t have to worry about outlining and recapitulation and I’ve fallen out of the habit of taking notes [during the film]. My wife Alice and I love watching and discussing film and she’s very perceptive, so she often opens my eyes. But we do disagree.

Scott Holleran: Do you read other reviews before you write your own?

Leonard Maltin: No.

Scott Holleran: Do you subscribe to Netflix?

Leonard Maltin: The household does, though I haven’t really taken advantage of it.

Scott Holleran: Is the press—including the movie press—too close to those in power?

Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so. I’m more concerned that during awards season here in L.A. both the trades and the L.A. Times have to generate so much copy to just sell the [awards] ads they want to sell.

Scott Holleran: A movie was initially and wrongly blamed by the U.S. government for the Islamic terrorist attack at Benghazi. Do you see any danger of censorship in the near future?

Leonard Maltin: I don’t think so.

Scott Holleran: Let’s do a lightning round of your thoughts on movies as we did last time. Snowpiercer with Chris Evans.

Leonard Maltin: I missed it.

Scott Holleran: Jersey Boys.

Leonard Maltin: Pretty good, but I’m not yet convinced that the story is the stuff of great drama.

Scott Holleran: Lovelace.

Leonard Maltin: What an interesting story; I don’t know why the film wasn’t better received.

Scott Holleran: Frozen.

Leonard Maltin: I enjoyed it but didn’t fall in love with it as other people have.

Scott Holleran: Admission with Tina Fey.

Leonard Maltin: Disappointing.

Scott Holleran: The Company Men with Ben Affleck.

Leonard Maltin: Good and it got a bum wrap.

Scott Holleran: Dinesh D’Souza’s America.

Leonard Maltin: Didn’t see it. I can’t see every movie.

Scott Holleran: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Leonard Maltin: Great first half, disappointing clichéd finale.

Scott Holleran: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Leonard Maltin: Terrifically well made but didn’t win me over completely.

Scott Holleran: Lincoln.

Leonard Maltin: Excellent.

Scott Holleran: Ida.

Leonard Maltin: Intriguing.

Scott Holleran: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Leonard Maltin: Pleasant. I was hoping for something more.

Scott Holleran: The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Leonard Maltin: A little too bland for my tastes, though people I meet seem to love it.

Scott Holleran: Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Leonard Maltin: One of the best comic book superhero movies ever made—proof that such a film can be intelligent and compelling without being pretentious.

Scott Holleran: Amazing Spider-Man.

Leonard Maltin: Pointless.

Scott Holleran: Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Leonard Maltin: Didn’t see it.

Scott Holleran: 12 Years a Slave.

Leonard Maltin: Arresting.

Scott Holleran: Gravity.

Leonard Maltin: Phenomenal in every way.

Scott Holleran: Mud.

Leonard Maltin: My favorite film of 2013. Matthew McConaughey’s best performance, deeply felt by writer and director Jeff Nichols, who I think is one of our brightest young talents.

Scott Holleran: Philomena.

Leonard Maltin: Awfully good.

Scott Hollerann: Dallas Buyers Club.

Leonard Maltin: Terrific.

Scott Holleran: Nebraska.

Leonard Maltin: I liked it even better the second time—because it’s a rich and resonant film.

Scott Holleran: Her.

Leonard Maltin: I loved the first hour. Then, it petered out.

Scott Holleran: Emperor, the movie about Douglas MacArthur in Japan.

Leonard Maltin: Misfire.

Scott Holleran: 42.

Leonard Maltin: Well meaning and it’s an important story to tell. I wish it were a better movie.

Scott Holleran: Prisoners.

Leonard Maltin: Well done but too dark for my taste.

Scott Holleran: Man of Steel.

Leonard Maltin: Frustrating because the first half works so well. If only they’d quit while they were ahead; you lose sight of the characters and it became a slugfest.

Scott Holleran: Let’s talk about actors. Charles Durning?

Leonard Maltin: Great presence.

Scott Holleran: James Garner.

Leonard Maltin: Irresistible.

Scott Holleran: Robin Williams.

Leonard Maltin: Unique and wonderful.

Scott Holleran: Richard Attenborough.

Leonard Maltin: What a fantastic career—on both sides of the camera.

Scott Holleran: Lauren Bacall.

Leonard Maltin: Great with Bogart but really came into her own as a character actress in such movies as Birth, The Mirror Has Two Faces, even Dogville.

Scott Holleran: Doris Day.

Leonard Maltin: Can I say irresistible again? She makes me smile.

Scott Holleran: John Wayne.

Leonard Maltin: One of a kind. Still underrated.

Scott Holleran: Barbara Stanwyck.

Leonard Maltin: Always compelling.

Scott Holleran: Bob Hope.

Leonard Maltin: Underappreciated as a film comedian.

Scott Holleran: Katharine Hepburn.

Leonard Maltin: Indomitable.

Scott Holleran: Thelma Ritter.

Leonard Maltin: She elevates every film she’s in.

Scott Holleran: Eli Wallach.

Leonard Maltin: Versatile and reliable.

Scott Holleran: Mickey Rooney.

Leonard Maltin: One and only—a career like no other and still somewhat unappreciated for his versatility and dramatic skill. I think of him in Drive a Crooked Road (1954) a little film out on DVD, a very minor film noir but he’s so convincing in it—you believe that he really is that car mechanic.

Scott Holleran: Shirley Temple.

Leonard Maltin: Still adorable.

Scott Holleran: In the introduction to your Classic Movie Guide, why do you write that “old movies are better than ever”?

Leonard Maltin: They give me a kind of satisfaction and joy that few contemporary movies do. A great old movie can lift my spirits and make me feel better. What higher achievement can there be for any work of art?

Scott Holleran: What movie are you most looking forward to?

Leonard Maltin: The whole fall lineup looks good—Mr. Turner, Birdman, Foxcatcher.

Scott Holleran: What book would you like to see adapted as a movie?

Leonard Maltin: If I love a book, I don’t want to see the movie. Richard Attenborough learned in trying to adapt A Chorus Line that it was meant to be a theater piece, though there are great exceptions. If I read a book and love it, I don’t want to have that experience recreated or altered in any way. I’m completely satisfied with it.

Summer Update

This summer, I’m writing stories, preparing for an adult education course on social media, giving workshops in midtown L.A., helping businesses produce, compete and communicate and finishing studies in an advanced writing course. For some time, though, I’ve wanted to interview experts with whom I’ve been acquainted for many years, so look for new interviews about law, medicine and art on the blog. If you enrolled in my blogging class this week, or you’re reading the post after class, this is an example of teasing the reader with the promise of new material to come. In the near future, I plan to post three new and exclusive interviews about movies, a deadly infectious disease and man’s rights under the law. For me, the interviews are nostalgic because to varying degrees I’ve known, admired or studied with these men through changing, often challenging, times. For the reader, the interviews are intended to inform, enlighten and activate the mind through three distinct voices of clarity and reason. The blog is as always an informal forum for my thoughts but it is for a general adult audience, not a private or semi-private group of chosen friends or followers as on social media. To this end, I hope you like what is coming soon.

New Articles on New Trier’s Experiment

“You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” — O’Brien, 1984 by George Orwell

1984It is with irony that this quote from Orwell’s classic novel comes to mind. I recently wrote for a suburban Chicago publication about what was for me a painful, if mercifully brief, modern education experience during my youth. It was a high school within a high school called the Center for Self-Directed Learning, part of a New Left educational movement that sprouted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Center, as it was known, occupied New Trier’s room 101.

The former study hall had been converted in 1972 into the place where 600 students, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R, IL) and actress Virginia Madsen, would enter and exit during the course of their high school studies. The Center existed for 10 years without grades, teaching or classes. I recently interviewed the school’s co-founder, Arline Paul (read the interview here), the only New Trier faculty member to serve during the Center’s entire existence. Mrs. Paul, who had taught me political science in the traditional high school, was assigned as my “facilitator”, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview for the local newspaper. I asked tough questions and she answered them. It is interesting to go back and revisit high school as a journalist covering this radical experiment. I also reviewed the book of faculty and student memoirs she co-edited (read the review here). I wanted to provide a clear, factual account of this example of modern education.

My overall experience in government-sponsored education was atrocious. It was so bad that the quote from Orwell’s 1984 – which, ironically, I read while enrolled as a student in the Center – strikes me as an apt prelude for these articles about the Center. I’ve already heard from one reader who defends the whim-based approach to education. I have also heard from another reader. He tells me that he is young and that he, too, experienced the ravages of today’s modern, anti-conceptual education. He wrote to tell me that, after reading what I reported about the widely acclaimed New Trier, he thinks that his experience was worse. This is what I hope to counter. This is why I wrote these pieces, which I intend as an honest report and review of the facts of modern education.