Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Rediculous notions about 9-11 attacks

Angry and grieving American patriots need look no further in assigning blame for Sept. 11’s devastating terrorist attacks upon the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the World Trade Center in New York.

It’s all my fault.

I don’t actually remember ordering teams of armed hijackers to take over four planes and turn them into guided bombs. I don’t remember ordering that one plane smash into the Pentagon and that two more take out the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

Nevertheless, it’s my fault, and the fault of people like me. Religious extremists and would-be prophets Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson say so.

During Thursday’s broadcast of “The 700 Club,” Mr. Falwell blamed the terrorist attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals, the American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the American Way. If Mr. Falwell is right, then as a member of at least two, and possibly even three, of these scapegoated groups, I have no choice but to accept responsibility for what has happened.

It doesn’t matter that I’ve tried to be as good a person as possible, that I’ve tried to behave morally and ethically, and tried to treat other people fairly and with respect. Apparently I’ve helped to “secularize” the United States. As a result, “God Almighty is lifting His protection from us,” as Mr. Robertson said in a four-page statement issued Thursday.

Of course, if you seriously believe Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson -- and there are people in this country who do -- then I encourage you to follow their arguments to their logical conclusions.

If the events of Sept. 11, 2001 were indeed God’s Will, then there can be no retaliation against the terrorists who caused the deaths of what could be thousands of innocent civilians. Instead we must honor these heroic martyrs as the agents of God’s Divine Retribution.

By planning retaliation, President Bush is jeopardizing his immortal soul, as are the members of the U.S. Congress who have endorsed his actions. By supporting our government in seeking justice we, as a nation, are also flouting God’s Will.

I’m hoping that when thought out completely, the rhetoric spouted by Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson will seem a lot less plausible. About as plausible, in fact, as harboring suspicion toward community members of Middle Eastern origin.

I’d love to report that such suspicion isn’t happening here, but I’ve seen evidence to the contrary. On Thursday, an irate caller told a newsroom staffer, “All foreigners have 30 days to leave the country.”

“Is that a presidential order, or your opinion?” she responded.

The FBI has identified 19 men as suspects in the hijack attacks and the U.S. government has apparently decided that exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden was also involved. But of all the people of Middle Eastern descent who are living in the United States, the possibility that someone in our community is connected to one of those suspects -- or even to bin Laden himself -- is so remote that to seriously entertain such a notion would be ridiculous.

America’s citizens, of whatever ethnicity, will have a hard enough time coping with the aftermath of Sept. 11’s tragedy. If ever there was a time to look past individual differences, this is surely that time. I can’t help but feel that by encouraging divisiveness and pointing a finger of blame at convenient scapegoats, people like Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson are committing a grave injustice in the name of the God they claim to speak for.

Published Sept. 18, 2001 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Thursday, August 30, 2001

‘Generation X’ has come into its own

Looking at where we are today (and by “we,” I mean those of us born between 1961 and 1981), sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that only a few years ago, the term “Generation X” was used interchangeably with “slackers.”

Personally, I always thought the name “Generation X” was kind of cool-sounding, edgy and Gothic -- qualities that I prized and emulated during my junior college days. But I always thought “slacker” was grossly undeserved.

I felt keenly aware, and resentful, of my “outsider” status when people in positions of authority made sweeping statements about my entire generation. Take something as personally significant as musical preference, for example: The suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was supposed to be our equivalent of the Kennedy Assassination.

This pronouncement, on a Santa Rosa Press Democrat opinion page, was accompanied by a caricature of the former Nirvana front-man -- tattered, dirty clothing, disheveled hair and vacant expression complete with “squeans” (in cartoonists’ lingo, those little bubbles over characters’ heads that indicate a chemically-altered state of consciousness). The message of the overall package was clear: the hero that we had “chosen” was grossly inferior to the heroes belonging to the previous generation.

Only problem was, Cobain wasn’t my hero, and I wasn’t willing to have him or an accompanying value judgment “assigned” to me. Attention paid to Nirvana may have brought the Seattle music scene into the national spotlight, but my favorite artists were The Chieftains, Talking Heads and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Music was just a very specific tip of the proverbial iceberg. Again and again, a variety of sources portrayed Generation X as a group of lazy underachievers who were politically apathetic. In a word, “slackers.”

Let’s face it, though -- there’s no way my generation is homogeneous enough for anyone to have successfully assigned it a “hero or values system. No stereotyped group ever is.

And now we’re the ones who hold positions of authority. The terms “Generation X” and “slackers” no longer appear together in the media or in the national consciousness. At the same time, we are the media. We’re also the peace officers, the civil servants, the elected officials, the parents and teachers.

My husband and I are “sir’d” and “ma’am’d” when we go to the grocery store and the music we listened to in school is endlessly being hawked in “Best of” compilations. Silver hairs have appeared on my head, and my husband just got his first pair of prescription reading glasses.

I find that some things stay with me, however. It’s hard not to have learned something from having been on the receiving end of gross overgeneralizations.

From time to time, I notice myself or someone else making an assumption about members of a particular group, and I remind myself that people are individuals, first and foremost. Their individuality is much more significant than their membership in a group, however that group is defined.

To try to categorize a broad group of individuals with the traits of an isolated few would be ludicrous. For that reason, I consider myself fortunate to have been a member of a stereotyped group because not only do I know it’s morally wrong, I also know it’s just plain wrong.

Stereotyping is an insidious cancer that, along with bigotry, eats away at understanding. Hopefully my generation has learned something from being its victims. Like the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Published circa Aug. 30, 2001 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Sunday, August 19, 2001

‘Paradise, Piece by Piece’ by Molly Peacock

Encountering an uncorrected proof of this book at a local Friends of the Library book sale, the selling point for me was the author's statement that she began writing this book because she wanted to tell the story of why she decided not to have children.

Saturday, August 4, 2001

‘Jezebel feminist’ supports First Amendment

Honestly, what’s a feminist to do?

Yes, it’s true – I consider myself a feminist. I could go on at length, and often do, with my opinion on the Equal Rights Amendment and other “women’s” issues.

So when confronted with such a blatantly misogynistic viewpoint as expressed by Mr. Darrell Watkins in the July 31 Record-Bee, I couldn’t help but get angry. Really angry.

After using various expletives and obscenities to express what I thought of his attitude, I could only conclude that the man has a deep-rooted and misplaced hostility toward women.

“Right on, Shirleen!” I exulted, as I read the first few paragraphs of Lakeport City Councilwoman Shirleen De Rezendes’ rebuttal in the Aug. 2 Record-Bee. I found myself nodding in agreement – until I got to her last three paragraphs.

“This is why I believe that the Lake County Record-Bee might take more care and diligence when deciding what articles/letters to publish,” Ms. De Rezendes wrote. “If such an attacking and derogatory article is allowed to be published we still have a long way to go.”

Immediately, my agreement with Ms. De Rezendes evaporated, as the enormity of what she was proposing – nothing less than censorship – sank in.

Nor was she alone. A short time later, another writer, Sissa Nelson Harris, also questioned the Record-Bee’s wisdom in giving Mr. Watson’s latest epistle a public forum.

Therein my dilemma: I don’t agree with Mr. Watkins. I find his attitude entirely repugnant but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take his side in this argument. My belief in his freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is much stronger than my opinion of what he wrote in a letter to the editor.

As a writer, and an avid reader, I can’t afford to be neutral about the First Amendment. I am a wholehearted proponent. In fact, I’m a fan! In my opinion, the First Amendment rocks!

So I can’t help but feel that, for an average citizen to propose abridging the right to free speech, is disturbing. For an elected official to do so, is dangerous.

To be fair, Ms. De Rezendes is not the only elected official proposing a restriction on free speech. At the federal level, Congress is considering – and by now, may even have voted on – a modification to the Bill of Rights that would ban “desecration” of the U.S. flag.

Don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of respect for the flag. It holds a place of honor on a bracket outside my home. I have a brother in the armed forces, and I don’t take his contributions lightly. But I have even more respect for the Bill of Rights. Polite, inoffensive speech doesn’t need protection – obnoxious speech, like Mr. Watkins’ letter or the burning of a U.S. flag in protest, does.

And honestly, I feel that some things are better off out in the open, rather than being allowed to fester in secret. Mr. Watkins might learn something from the eloquent writers who responded to his letter. Then again, he might not. In any case, the opportunity for dialogue is there.

Ms. De Rezendes said we still have a long way to go if opinions like Mr. Watkins’ are allowed publication – and I agree. And it’s a road we don’t have to travel. Public speech needs less restrictions, not more.

If attitudes like Mr. Watkins’ are confronted openly, then maybe Ms. De Rezendes’ vision of a society with “an ability to appreciate and accept the differences amongst all of the different groups of men and women and races within our society” will become reality.

Published Aug. 4, 2001 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Friday, June 15, 2001

Review: ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser

A colleague recommended this book to me, upon hearing about my ambition to be a syndicated newspaper columnist. After reading it, I can see why.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser belongs on the bookshelf of every serious non-fiction writer. This is a book I plan to read again and again.

People who write for a living (newspaper reporters and columnists, for example) will find this book to be of value, but it also has much to offer for people in any vocation that requires effective communication.

If you think clearly, you can write clearly, argues Mr. Zinsser, and then explains, step-by-step, how to do so.

Mr. Zinsser writes with a very engaging and approachable style. With the book now in its sixth edition, he has had considerable time to improve his delivery. The end result is a book that is very entertaining, as well as a valuable resource.

I have only one disagreement with Mr. Zinsser, and that is when he states, "Unlike medicine or the other sciences, writing has no new discoveries to spring on us. We're in no danger of reading in our morning newspaper that a breakthrough has been made in how to write a clear English sentence."

In my opinion, the English language is constantly evolving. Maybe sentence structure will remain the same, but our vocabulary will continually change as new words enter the language as slang and later become accepted terms.

Could anyone have imagined that "granny flat" would become part of our language? Or how about the examples that Mr. Zinsser cites in recounting his experiences upon the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary --"rambunctious," "trigger," "rile," "shambles," "tycoon," "trek" and "escalate."

Evolution of the English language remains unfinished. With the pronoun "he" being problematic for avoiding perceptions of sexism, use of a gender-neutral pronoun may someday become widespread. Maybe the next writer who reads Mr. Zinsser's book will apply its teachings to ger own writing. Gen will then go on to win a Pullitzer Prize.

Posted June 15, 2001 to amazon.com

Saturday, January 27, 2001

Lake County Record-Bee sold to California Newspapers Partnership

Big news in this morning’s paper: at work yesterday, Times Publishing CEO Michael Mead announced the sale of the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, Willits News and Penny Slaver to California Newspapers Partnership. The conglomerate it’s part of, MediaNews Group, is the fifth largest in the country.

CNP’s Northern Division alone includes: Eureka Times-Standard, Tri-City Weekly, Ukiah Daily Journal, Hometown Shopper, Mendocino Beacon, Fort Bragg Advocate News, Oakland Times-Herald, Marin Independent Journal, The Oakland Tribune, Pacifica Tribune, San Mateo County Times, The Daily Review in Hayward, The Argus in Fremont, Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton, The Milpitas Post, Daily News in Red Bluff, Chico Enterprise-Record, Mercury Register in Oroville and The Daily Democrat in Woodland.