Thursday, April 12, 2007

Loss, Indignation, and Wonder

When I read yesterday that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away, I felt the loss of another individual who shaped part of my life in some meaningful way. I have read most of Vonnegut's early books, which really isn't a grand achievement for someone who was a teenager in the 70's. They were seemingly everywhere to someone like me whose idea of summertime fun was curling up with a good book, or holing up in my room and talking on the CB until the wee hours of the morning. This is, of course, before I discovered girls.

Like many I thoroughly enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five, in part because it deals a lot with Vonnegut's own experience as a survivor of the bombing of Dresden as a POW in World War II.
I felt an honesty to his writing that was uncharacteristic in relationship to other books I had read at the time. The writing was simple, direct, and unemotional.

Vonnegut appeared in one of a famous series of ads for International Paper Company in the 70's called The Power of the Printed Word. His contribution, titled How to Write with Style, provided me with advice that I try to remember when ever I sit down to write; "
If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."

There is an excellent remembrance of Vonnegut in recent years on Borders' website. So it goes.

The controversy over Don Imus this week is becoming the latest weapon of mass distraction, but it has disturbing undertones associated with it. Many in the blogosphere seem to see it as a continued symptom of the media's fascination with things that are not news. Yesterday morning I was watching CNN's Your World Today, which had in-depth coverage of the bombing of a bridge in Baghdad along with the successful breach of security by a suicide bomber at the Iraqi parliament. I quickly flipped to MSNBC and Fox; Imus was still the topic at hand.

What worries me is the potential for increased scrutiny of what would otherwise be protected speech in this country. Imus did a stupid thing, but I'm more concerned with the ripple effect on broadcasters and others in either being or feeling restricted from expressing their views, especially in a reasoned way. As both a citizen and the producer of a radio program, this concerns me greatly.

Harsh words like Imus chooses to use do not promote the effective exchange of ideas, but as Media Matters demonstrated yesterday, he's hardly the exception to the rule. What's next for other polarizing media types that use language and words similar to Imus? Do we insist on their firing as well?

Coincidentally, the ACLU sent out a press release yesterday concerning legislation that would increase the federal capability to prosecute hate crimes when local and/or state authorities do not. At first blush, it appears to be a balanced approach to the problem. I wonder if Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson will weigh in on it. It would certainly seem to be a more productive use of their time than the Imus debacle.

I don't know enough about the issue to go any further with this, but
yesterday I saw a local example of Sharpton-esque indignation that was, at least for me, pretty comical.

The Junction Daily Blog of April 10 was a small blurb about the recent expansion of Channel 12's capabilities, with a fairly critical approach. Someone chose to send back an informed, reasoned, and anonymous comment about it, which Ralph D'Andrea posted in yesterday's edition, along with the information that the comment had originated from Mesa County's Internet server.

Not to be outdone by other Rutgers alumni, Ralph has taken the approach that the comment is, in his opinion as a taxpayer, inappropriate in relationship to the duties of a county employee. I'm not so sure about that, given that Ralph took the time to criticize a county operation in a way that appeared to want to generate feedback of some kind, or at least a little controversy.

From the viewpoint of a private citizen and a public servant, I disagree with Ralph's assertions.
First, Channel 12 is an excellent community resource that is operated in a fiscally responsible way. I know this because while they do a great job, they're not perfect. Any programming produced by Channel 12, including the live broadcast of public meetings, must be accessible to the hearing impaired, per Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This has yet to happen, and when it does it will be a little costly. My wife was the main reason I got involved with this, but I will continue with these efforts for the benefit of others.

Second, while the comment may have been sent anonymously from a government computer, it was spot on with relevant, enlightening, non-sensitive information that would otherwise not be readily available unless someone took the time to ask. The author's first sentence seemed to set Ralph off a bit, perhaps extending the tax-induced agita that he complained of in his original post.

I've learned my lesson more than once to take a few deep breaths before clicking "Send" or "Post", and I need to be reminded at times. Sounds to me like Ralph got such a reminder and is none too happy about it. I'm hopeful he will get over it.

I found another video, this time of a song that reminds me a lot of Jan. I'm off shortly to the mortuary and the church to finalize plans for her memorial, so this seems like a fitting way to conclude. Enough said for now.

Have a good weekend.

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