In the midst of war and worry, I want to pause and point out a little bit of encouraging news: The City Council of Colorado Springs has voted to ban new billboards and to dramatically shrink those that already exist.
My hope is that this will kick off a new national movement championing a neglected civil right: freedom from visual pollution.Rights are evolving concepts. There was a time when no one questioned the power of rulers to tax their subjects. But our founding fathers shed blood to establish the idea that people had a right not to be taxed without their consent.
Years ago, it never occurred to me that I'd see the day when a reporter couldn't light a cigarette in a newsroom. But I've come to accept the notion that non-smokers have a right not to be forced to inhale fumes produced by others.
Billboards should be right up there at the top of the list along with unfair taxes and noxious smoke.
Let me make clear that I oppose all billboards equally, regardless of the message conveyed.
In and around Denver, we have billboards attacking Saddam Hussein, lamenting apathy about AIDS, protesting nuclear power and promoting everything from beer to chiropractors to Shotgun Willie's famous dancing girls.
I say take them down, take them all down.
A billboard is a form of litter that you can't pick up and throw away. A billboard is to the eyes what a boom box, blasting at full volume, is to the ears: an intrusion upon the privacy of strangers.
Right about now, you can bet, some red-faced flack for the billboard business is warming up to argue that the billboard is a form of free expression, protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Sorry, fella. The right to express yourself can not be separated from the right of others to ignore you.
Don't like this column? Turn the page. Don't care for Dan Rather? Change the channel.
Billboards are different because you and I can't move them, see through them or close our eyes while driving past them.
The right to put up a big sign is like the right to swing a fist: It ends when it reaches somebody else's nose.
Now here's the nice thing about this particular problem. You can't do much about Saddam Hussein, the savings & loan crisis or the demise of the humpback whale. But you can do something about the public nuisance that billboards represent.
You can write companies that advertise on billboards and tell them that as long as they're degrading your vistas, their products won't be gracing your home.
Or you can cut out this column, photocopy it, and send copies along to the CEOs of the offending firms. They'll get the idea.
You might also send copies to your local representatives. That will help them understand how you regard those who accept campaign contributions from people who earn their living through the uglification of our countryside.