Guilty pleasures might be worthy of a good fight

This editorial appeared in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times:

Only time, or leaks from a federal investigation, will tell what erotic refinements New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was seeking when he allegedly paid "Kristen," an employee of the Emperors Club VIP escort service, more than $2,000 on Valentine's eve. But governors have been getting caught with prostitutes for about as long as there have been governors, and Spitzer's alleged lapses are notable mainly as evidence of a nationwide recrudescence of personal vices that resist all efforts at eradication.

In Minnesota, a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants has given rise to a creative act of bad-for-you defiance. Citing a clause that allows theater actors to smoke as part of their performances, bars across the state have taken to holding "Before the Ban" theater nights, in which patrons are encouraged to come in costume, project their conversations at stage volume and pretend to be playing themselves. Health officials have panned the performances, threatening to impose hefty fines and revoke the liquor licenses of participating bars.

In Alabama, microbrewers and fancy-beer fans are flouting state bans on home brewing and beer with more than 6 percent alcohol content. They're also joining booze advocates in other states seeking to overturn laws against sangria, vodka and supermarket sales of strong wine.

This may not be what Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he talked about civil disobedience. But the drinking and smoking refuseniks are part of a long tradition of Americans who have fought the law not out of nobility or high principle but out of their belief in the freedom of consenting adults to participate in shameful, unpopular or harmful activities. And unlike Spitzer, who vigorously and self-righteously prosecuted prostitutes along with Wall Street bankers during his days as New York's attorney general, they're willing to go public with their tastes.

We don't mean to imply support for prostitution, smoking or excessive drinking. There is, however, something encouraging in seeing even a self-destructive maverick spirit live on despite the best intentions of public scolds. Perhaps we should give the last word to "Kristen," who in the federal government's complaint dismisses concerns for her well-being: "I'm here for a purpose. I know what my purpose is. I am not a ... moron, you know what I mean."


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