On the offensive

One of the things not well understood about my job is that of what I believe. There’s a reason for that: As far as the Voices page goes, my beliefs don’t matter.

You can clean up my opinion of your opinion in the hallway.

You can clean up my opinion of your opinion in the hallway.

I’ve often said that if I printed only those things that square with my point of view there would be very little on the page. Because it is a letters page, I necessarily must print as wide a variety of opinion available as I can. This means that often (very often) there are letters and columns I wholeheartedly disagree with that make it onto the page.

Just because an opinion is offensive to some people (within the bounds of what is appropriate for a family publication) does not mean that that opinion should not be printed. We’d be poor examples of a free press if we printed only those things that back up our beliefs, which in a newsroom are more varied than you might think. Then again, anyone even slightly to the left or right of certain people is “too extreme.”

Even so, there are some letters that cross the line because of things such as profanity, incitement to violence and threats. With those, no quarter (or space) will be given. A print publication, especially one read by everyone from children to the very elderly, must exercise caution in what it prints.

On the Internet, though, it’s the Wild Wild West. Want to be offensive? Have at it!

It's hard to believe what some people will post. Image from bullyproofsecrets.com.

It’s hard to believe what some people will post.
Image from bullyproofsecrets.com.

I’ve spoken before about bullying, and how it applies to the expression of opinion. It’s an exceedingly thin line I must trod here, and sometimes people may think I cross the line in allowing any criticism of others’ opinions on the Voices page.

Apparently there is none of that in the real world … wait, but there is … all the time. As soon as you’ve put your opinion out in the world, the world will respond (or not, depending on its mood; the world can be awfully fickle sometimes). Congratulations: You’ve made yourself a target.

Not printing any of that criticism would defeat the purpose of the Voices page, quite frankly, but what won’t be printed are threats and name-calling. And no, name-calling doesn’t include saying someone must have been living under a rock, or has drunk the Kool-Aid.

What you never saw in the Kool-Aid commercials. Someone has to fix that wall, ya know. Image found on image-ination.ifthisistaken.com.

What you never saw in the Kool-Aid commercials. Someone has to fix that wall, ya know.
Image found on image-ination.ifthisistaken.com.

If the best someone can do is to use tattered old tropes such as those, let ’em, as it weakens their argument. As does poorly implemented sarcasm—c’mon, have more faith in the intelligence of others. Do you really think thinking people won’t see through your charade?

In reading the comment boards of just about any newspaper, you’ll find a lot of these types of arguments. I tend to skip comments such as that, or that include such gems as “typical (proglib/GOP) response” or “you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about,” especially in response to posts using actual evidence to back up arguments.

So, basically, most of them.

In selecting letters for the page, I often find myself wanting to save people from themselves, especially those who are more earnest in their words, as it seems such earnestness is like blood in the water. But when those people defend themselves, especially without insulting their attackers, I have to admit I cheer.

Some people can look at the president and not see the devil. Imagine that! Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Some people can look at the president and not see the devil. Imagine that!
Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Eleanor Foster’s first letter was one I stewed about printing because I was worried that some would attack her optimism and faith in Barack Obama, and a few did. Sweet little Eleanor is a feisty one, though, and defended herself well—and politely—in a letter appearing in Wednesday’s edition:

No Kool-Aid drinking

I have to let W.R. Corley know that I was not under the influence of Kool-Aid of any color when I wrote my letter in praise of President Barack Obama.

Sandy Williams thought I was from another planet, but no, I have been here on dear old Mother Earth for quite a number of years—92, to be exact.

Sandy wrote that her husband has all the good qualities that I named for our president, but he does not have what it takes to be president. She went on to say that Barack Obama doesn’t either.

I am happy for Sandy that she has such a good husband, but I have to tell her I believe she was wrong about Barack Obama. He is very qualified! He is a lawyer. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and was elected president of the Harvard Law Review. He also went to Columbia University. He and his wife have two college degrees apiece. She too is a lawyer.

I believe there are people who are working very hard to completely destroy this lovely man, but I believe they will not succeed because he has God on his side. He is a Christian. It is a fact that he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior about 25 years ago.

I thank Sandy for asking God to bless me. I think he has already blessed America by giving us President Obama.



I think Eleanor proves that you shouldn’t mess with little old ladies.

At the risk of repeating myself yet again, attack the argument, not the person, if you really want to win the debate. Even I, who pretty much tanked in debate in high school (I’m not great speaking off the cuff unless I’m acting), have won many arguments simply by relying on the facts.

I’d also remind you that August is National Win with Civility Month—though that really should be a year-round goal.

If you still really want to insult people, try reading some Shakespeare. At least he was creative about it. But play nice, people.

Found on commandollar.tumblr.com.

Found on commandollar.tumblr.com.

Quite often, I find myself giggling when I read, not because of any humor in whatever I’m reading, but because the writer (professional and otherwise) has inadvertently—at least I hope—used the wrong word (often one that sounds similar) or used the right one in the wrong way. Which is one of the reasons we edit—we’d rather everyone else not laugh at those errors.

It happens to all of us at one time or another—it happens to me many more times than I’d like to admit.

On the bright side, at least "incontinent" is spelled correctly.  Image found on oxbridgeediting.co.uk.

On the bright side, at least “incontinent” is spelled correctly.
Image found on oxbridgeediting.co.uk.

Sometimes, it’s just a simple slip of the tongue (or fingers). Sometimes, though, it happens because the writer was unsure about how the word is to be used, or because he doesn’t believe in evolution (of words).

Which brings us to words with multiple meanings, which—let’s face it—are probably the majority of words in the English language.

Pity the poor people learning English as a second language—the idioms alone can drive some up the padded wall. Add homonyms, homophones and homographs and … hoo boy …

Still others cling to a single meaning, discounting all others, no matter that other definitions are equally fitting, or maybe even more so, depending on the circumstances.

This looks familiar. I don't miss it at all. Image from University of St. Thomas Libraries.

This looks familiar. I don’t miss it at all.
Image from University of St. Thomas Libraries.

Take the word “citation,” for example. According to the dictionary, it could be an award, a summons to appear in court, a ticket, reference to a legal precedent, a quotation, or an explicit short reference (chapter and verse, book title and page number, etc.) to the source of the quote.

Anyone who’s done a research paper in high school or college is well aware of that last definition, and has probably had nightmares about footnotes and bibliographies. And it is to that definition that I (and others) refer when I say “cite your sources.” I would venture to say that and the ticket/summons usage are likely the most widely used definitions.

Isn’t English fun?

Arkansas hasn’t really been at the center of the national political scene since the end of the Clinton administration, but thanks to a mostly Koch-fueled battle for a U.S. Senate seat, we’re back.

Gosh, thanks, Tom Cotton.

The contenders in Arkansas' U.S. Senate race. Image by Danny Johnston, Associated Press.

The contenders in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race. Image by Danny Johnston, Associated Press.

The race between freshman Rep. Tom Cotton and incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor has resulted in a lot of mud thrown (perhaps an endorsement deal with Tide or Cheer could be worked out after the election), much of it less than intellectually honest.

Cotton has behind him a plethora of dark-money groups founded and/or backed with Koch money; the dirty politics on the Pryor side are played, it seems, mostly by Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC. The fact-checkers have dinged both sides for their liberties with the truth. National media outlets have remarked on Pryor’s legacy handed down from his father and his comment (usually devoid of context) that Cotton seems to have a sense of entitlement to the Senate seat because of his military service. They’ve also fawned over Cotton and debated GOP worries that the kid’s just too far from becoming a real boy.

Just the other day,  Molly Ball of The Atlantic took a look at the race and Arkansas’ role in the Democratic strategy to keep control of the Senate. That’s just one of several pieces recently, which include an analysis from a former colleague, Andrew DeMillo, as well as a piece on a Washington Post blog.

Gosh, with all this attention, you’d almost think the fate of the world is on our shoulders.

It’s not, is it?


6 thoughts on “On the offensive

  1. Can’t tell you how often I give thanks that I was born here and didn’t have to learn English as a second language. It’s tough enough staying on top of things as it is.

    Yes, the Koch Brothers have been hard at work here in Colorado too, with the Gardner-Udall Senate race. I try to stay calm, but it infuriates me to have so much out-of-state money coming in trying to influence Colorado elections. Of course, the candidates don’t really represent us anymore anyway. They are beholden to the Kochs, the energy lobbies, the telecoms, etc.


    • Me too! British English is hard enough, but there are so many idioms and shifting meanings in American English that it would be a complete nightmare to have to learn like that.

      What I always “love” is when the Tea Partiers say, “But the Kochs don’t contribute that much!” Sure, if you look ONLY under their names and Koch Industries on OpenSecrets. If you look for the more than a dozen organizations they bankroll, on the other hand (I think the Post did a piece with OpenSecrets’ parent on this) … Sorry, guys, George Soros has nothing on these people.

      Sheesh …


      • Yes, I got a response once where somebody said, “But that’s not the Koch Brothers, it’s XYZ corp.,” when you can read anyplace that XYZ corp was founded by the Kochs and they are its primary source of income. Are people that stupid or do they hope I am?


      • They really hope we’re stupid (and I kinda think the other part is true if they really believe we’re all gullible idiots). So many of them try the slick linguistic maneuvers politicians use to day something that is at least partially broadly true (but false in specifics), but most utterly fail. I had one complain about one of our columnists always talking about “Koch Industries” and its propping up of Tom Cotton, and noted that Koch Industries only donated about $2 million to political candidates according to OpenSecrets. True, but most of the Koch money goes through groups like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, which love candidates like Cotton.

        Research, guys: You’re doing it wrong.


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