LIFE AND LIBERTIES
The New York Civil Liberties Union honored Harvard-trained attorney William J. Butler, playwright Tony Kushner, performance artist and playwright Sarah Jones, and the American Library Association at the Lasker/Callaway Awards. In the crowd were author Kurt Vonnegut and photojournalist Jill Krementz, whose 2005 calendar "The Writer's Faith" is available at Barnes & Noble.
Over the course of his distinguished legal career, Mr. Butler twice argued and won civil liberties cases before the Supreme Court. One was Engel v. Vitale (1962), known the as "the school prayer case." In it, the court held that a prayer by any definition - even something as seemingly innocuous as non-denominational, state-sponsored prayer - violates the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
Mr. Butler told a humorous anecdote about having invited his mother, a devout Catholic from Boston, to the Supreme Court to hear him argue that case. She arrived with white gloves and a veil. His mother was introduced to Justice William Brennan's wife, who invited her to sit in an area reserved for wives of the justices.
"Afterwards, I asked my mother what she thought. 'Well, William,' she replied, 'I think you're a fairly good lawyer and you might even win your case. But I hope nobody from Boston will ever hear about it.'"
Thomas Szasz, best known for his influential book "The Myth of Mental Illness," was present at a reception in Greenwich Village hosted by Howard and Andrea Millen Rich.
The evening featured the presentation of the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Cause of Civil Liberties to a Rutgers University professor of sociology and political science, Irving Louis Horowitz, and a senior editor at Reason magazine, Jacob Sullum.
Mr. Szasz is arguably America's foremost critic of psychiatry and its practice. "Any time we can celebrate Szasz is a great occasion," said Mr. Horowitz. He said that he first met Mr. Szasz through author Ernest Becker, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Denial of Death."
"It's an honor to have his name even for one evening." Mr. Horowitz added. He spoke of the human dimension of Mr. Szasz's work, as well as the consequences of Mr. Szasz's efforts in helping to overturn a 100-year tradition of involuntary commitment.
Previous winners of the award present included journalist James Bovard and Jeffrey Schaler, assistant professor in the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University. Mr. Schaler worked on 20 interview programs directed by the late Warren Steibel, who was a longtime producer of "Firing Line." Mr. Schaler has edited "Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics"(Open Court).
Among the company of many libertarians, Mr. Schaler told the Knickerbocker that it has been said, "a libertarian is an anarchist with a credit card."
Those in attendance included the president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Richard Ebeling; a professor at the City University of New York Medical School, Dr. John Morgan, who has been researching Jake Walk; an associate professor at Fordham School of Law, Aaron Saiger; Andrew Stuttaford of the National Review; Mary Chamberlain of Oxford Brookes University, who is researching the history of Barbados, and Richard Kostelanetz.
"It's in many ways a business book and as well it will really find its readers among working people," said the editorial director of Basic Books, Jo Ann Miller.
Ms. Miller was at Tonic on Manhattan's Lower East Side, feting Liza Featherstone's book "Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart" (Basic).
Discussion echoed around giant old wine casks in the candle-lit basement lounge.
When asked where Ms. Featherstone purchased her long black dress, she replied, "Not at Wal-Mart." She said of her book, "I hope it will start a conversation about corporate power in this country."
Elizabeth Riley of W.W. Norton talked with Lisa Levy, who is writing a book on the history of biography to be published by Farrar Straus and Giroux.
Seen were Dave Enders, whose forthcoming book on Baghdad will be published in April; author Daniel Lazare; the editor of City Limits, Alyssa Katz; Stephen Duncombe, who coauthored an article in the Los Angeles-based "Journal of Aesthetics and Protest" about what the Left can learn from Las Vegas, and Elayne Tobin, who is working on a profile of an anti-folk singer.
Also among the guests gathered were Jennifer Glaser; Norman Kelly, who wrote "The Head Negro in Charge Syndrome: The Dead End of Black Politics" (Nation Books), and is now preparing a documentary about the subject; Jennifer Baumgardner, coauthor of "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future," and Johnny Temple, the editor of Akashic Books. Akashic's motto reads "reverse gentrification of the literary world."
LIBERAL DOSE OF HUMOR
A comedy night entitled "Laughs from the Left: A Liberal Dose of Political Humor" benefited the New York Society for Ethical Culture.
Comedian Barry Weintraub, who writes a daily political humor e-mail called "Headline Schmooze," told the following joke: He said that people forget how President Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate. Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Cheney to head a search committee for the vice presidency.
After an exhaustive search, Mr. Cheney came back and said, "Dick Cheney!" Bush looked him and the eye and said, "Can we get him?"
FORETOLD IN THE STARS
At the Salute to Democracy Dinner, benefiting the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and economist John Kenneth Galbraith were honored. William J. vanden Heuvel presided; those offering remarks included Senator McGovern, Henry Kissinger, Theodore Sorensen, Bill Moyers, Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley, and others - including Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mr. Schlesinger, in his remarks, said he shared a birthday with Mr. Galbraith, who was unable to attend, but sent video greetings. Of their common birthday, Mr. Schlesinger mused, "It's the only argument I know in favor of astrology."