TERRE HAUTE — This may sound odd coming from a newspaper columnist, but I’m beginning to tire of Opinion USA.
In fact, I keep thinking opinions these days are like German Marks during the Weimar Republic: Billions upon billions are in circulation, but they’re worth next-to-nothing. And, yes, I include mine in the count.
When is the last time someone’s opinion changed your mind?
How often do you hear or read an opinion that is the opposite of yours and spend a few minutes considering its merits?
How often, instead, do you see the headline of a column or letter to the editor, or note the identifying label beneath a TV talking head, and either think, “Right on!” or call that person a nasty name?
Have you ever read or heard an opinion that, after you’ve considered it, you concluded: “I don’t agree with that, but it’s a heck of a well-argued point”?
No, most of us are too busy shouting at each other and impugning one another’s character based on political affiliation, preferred economic system or church of choice. In a time of unprecedented communication capabilities, we seem as a nation to be employing the sort of societal thought processes that made the Salem witch trials such a bright chapter in American history.
I think the tipping point for me was a story I read recently about a self-proclaimed “conservative” organization that has issued a nationwide call for people to send packages of actual garbage to the Fox News pundit, Glenn Beck.
In the words of their leader, a Californian named Mark Dice, “Glenn Beck repeatedly attacks 9/11 Truthers (people who believe the government is covering up evidence surrounding the September 11th attacks or allowed the attacks to happen on purpose as a pretext for war).” The parenthesis are Dice’s.
Now, for anyone who does not know my particular place on the political spectrum, make no mistake, I am no Beckian. His assumptions and pronouncements on many topics, not just 9/11 Truthers, are often so far out, they seem to be coming to him from deep space via tin foil helmet.
In an e-mailed news release, Dice said Beck “repeatedly slandered 9/11 Truthers by saying that the holocaust museum shooter was a hero to us when we despise violence, he has said that we’re the kind of group a Timothy McVeigh would come from … he hates 9/11 victims families and wanted them to shut up when they wanted an investigation.”
Yes, well, imagine how the president felt when Beck declared that Barack Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
But a call for American citizens to send garbage to another citizen through the U.S. mail? That is about as conservative as it is sophisticated.
“We’re sending Glenn Beck some symbols of what he is,” said Dice’s e-mail, adding that the mailed garbage can be thought of as “‘decorations’ for Glenn’s office.”
Oh, my. People who think of themselves as conservatives are attacking a self-proclaimed conservative who makes his living attacking people who think of themselves as liberals, moderates and (to him) deficient conservatives, all of whom — by the rules of the opinion game — perpetually counter-attack him.
Talk about your circular firing squad.
Here’s another metaphor: Opinion USA, whether professional or amateur, has become a crowded, but really bad piano bar.
The guy at the keyboard — i.e., traditional institutions of civilization, including government, organized religion and mass media — has either lost control of the proceedings or just doesn’t care anymore. Meanwhile, the customer-singers — we opinionated, but not necessarily educated citizens — have turned into divas and divos, interested in nobody’s turn at the microphone but our own.
A great piano bar does not require a lot of elements, but those that are necessary must be top quality.
Number One is the perfect host, a piano player who knows and loves a wide variety of music, is skilled enough to transpose keys to accommodate singers of diverse range and talent, and who genuinely cares about the community he or she creates and nurtures around that fun, funky, musical bar.
The second crucial element is an open, supportive clientele, people who also know and love music, like to perform a song outside the shower stall, but totally buy into the concept of a stage shared with strangers or slight acquaintances.
If only one of these singers is a non-team-playing prima donna — someone who dismisses other singers’ musical choices or abilities and despises the efforts of the Dolly Parton clone or the Tony Bennett wannabe — those selfish, judgmental vibes can bring down the whole room.
At a great piano bar, one person can belt out “The Music of the Night,” another can channel Al Green for “Let’s Stay Together,” another can twang through “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and everyone else can think, “I would never sing that,” but each song always ends with a hearty — and heartfelt — round of applause.
You came, you sang, you deserve a hand from people who actually listened to your song.
With that kind of model, Opinion USA might one day again be a place worth frequenting. At least no one would show up there with a package of garbage for mailing.
By the way, that’ll be 3 million Marks.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or email@example.com
TERRE HAUTE — This may sound odd coming from a newspaper columnist, but I’m beginning to tire of Opinion USA.
- Stephanie Salter
STEPHANIE SALTER: The more things change, the more they … change
What the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates slugger knew, so knew the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, the Buddha and Andy Warhol.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Making room for the least among us — and their kin
Christmas. Quiet time. Down time. Not exactly the kind of day most folks tend to contemplate their fellow Americans behind bars. And yet, the United States leads the world in percentage of population in jail or prison, far ahead of second-place Russia. About 2.3 million people — nearly one in 100 adults — are incarcerated in this country.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Carols for the worn, weary and wigged out
For those who are agog and aglow with “the season” — you who start bouncing and humming in Toys R Us at the intro guitar notes of “Jingle Bell Rock” — better search elsewhere for a soul mate.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Times change. Things disappear. Toilet paper here to stay
You may have seen an email going around with “Nine Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime.”
STEPHANIE SALTER: What I learned on election day
When I identified myself as a volunteer for the non-incumbent mayoral candidate, the woman on the other end of the line cut me off. “Save your breath, dear,” she said.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Of politics, protests, coupons and e-wishes
It’s roundup time again, that periodic hunting down and herding together of items that have but one thing in common: They grabbed me.
STEPHANIE SALTER: ‘Understandable’ not the same as ‘wise’
Because I’m not running for office and don’t plan to, I figure I am free to publicly question the designation of some 30 stretches of city streets as “memorial ways” for police and firefighters killed on the job.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Where have all the protest songs gone?
A telling moment came during the annual Eugene V. Debs award banquet late last month, when the career protest singer and songwriter, Anne Feeney, implored a huge Hulman Center audience to join her for the refrain of “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
STEPHANIE SALTER: It’s business as usual, but what does it cost to stay angry?
As painful and profoundly sad as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has been, I found the actual day a balm.
STEPHANIE SALTER: The unfortunate bottom line … St. Ann’s will close
Ever since word came down that St. Ann Church and Parish have less than a year to live, there’s been much invoking of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief.
STEPHANIE SALTER: The Economy: One complex, thorny, bedeviling issue
No matter how much time and energy I spend trying to understand the Hydra we blithely call “The Economy,” I often worry that its mystery will forever elude me.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Thinking, now and then, about now and then
I am lying, poolside, in a plastic chaise lounge, listening to pop music and watching water droplets dry on my skin.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Thousands of things she would have missed
For several years, until she received an official information packet in the mail, my mother planned to donate her body to medical research.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Marriage? There’s an app for that ... but it’s tricky
As I watched all the happy people celebrating passage of New York’s same-sex marriage law, I couldn’t help but project to a time when Indiana adopts a similar statute.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Back in the saddle — with the usual burr under it
I really didn’t expect to be gone nearly six months, but then, that’s par for the course these days: What I expect to happen and what actually occurs are often about 180 degrees apart.
STEPHANIE SALTER: On the other hand … we’ll have a lot fewer leaves to rake
Editor’s Note: Former Tribune-Star Assistant Editor Stephanie Salter’s column resumes today in freelance form and will appear on this page every other Sunday.
TERRE HAUTE — My neighbor, Andy, had just lowered the bamboo blinds on his front porch when we heard a mournful sound.
This was about as much fun as a doubleheader split could get for Rose-Hulman’s baseball team.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Another batch of my status-quo-defending misinformation on schools
The day after state schools chief Tony Bennett responded to my three-column education series, a longtime friend and veteran teacher called.
“I just read the superintendent’s rebuttal in the Tribune-Star,” my friend said. “All I can conclude from it is that you are a dumbass. Welcome to the club. Anybody who doesn’t buy into his vision of education reform is considered a dumbass.”
Stephanie Salter: One person’s roundup of significant folks lost in 2010
Every late December, as I comb through lists of notable deaths, I swear I will never repeat the process. It takes days of Internet research, mostly because I get distracted by looking up people about whom I know nothing.
Stephanie Salter: I've got some really good news for some of you guys
Of all the sentences I’ve imagined writing in my long, moss-covered newspaper career, this is not one of them: I am quitting my job to get married.
Stephanie Salter: A little history of mandated intermingling among U.S. troops
Back in July 1948, when President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, predictions for its effect on the U.S. military were dire. Sen. Richard Brevard Russell Jr. of Georgia echoed the sentiments of millions of Americans in an address from the Senate floor.
Stephanie Salter: Another wronged woman becomes the nation’s paper doll
A few hours after the death of Elizabeth Edwards last week, the creepy, contemporary American ritual of vicarious grieving began in cyberspace.
“You are with your son now. Rest in peace.”
Stephanie Salter: You’ve heard from me — now, listen to the teachers
As e-mail from Indiana teachers and principals continues to pour into my box, the portrait of this beleaguered group grows more poignant each day.
STEPHANIE SALTER: Have you heard Indiana’s schools are failing? It’s a lie
In Gov. Mitch Daniels’ recent state budget PowerPoint, he put up a comparison chart: The percentage of Indiana public school students who’ve attained an advanced level of math achievement versus “the world.” Hoosiers lag behind the national average, trailing such states as Massachusetts, Oregon and New York, and such nations as Poland and Latvia.
Stephanie Salter: Bashing teachers in the name of education reform
As I read the Tribune-Star’s recent Page 1 news packages about the governor’s push for education reform, I kept seeing faces.
Stephanie Salter: After the turkey and before the pie, a round of giving thanks
As my colleague Alicia Morgan wrote last week, there is no downside to taking time out now and then to list and truly appreciate our blessings.
STEPHANIE SALTER: A story of just one corporate lobby ‘investing in advocacy’
For those of you who know in your marrow that the president’s attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system proves his socialist agenda, take the day off. What reporter Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg News shared this past week will be of no interest to you.
Stephanie Salter: Inside today’s grab bag …: Stamps, bands and GOP $$$
It’s time for another roundup of items, little ideas that can’t grow big enough for a whole column, but just won’t go away from my field of focus.
Stephanie Salter: Can’t make a decision? Consult strangers on the ’Net
A day after I heard screenwriter and director Nora Ephron talking on NPR about that moment in the aging process when you realize you are no longer cut out to be au courant, that moment arrived for me.
Stephanie Salter: The years may pass, but a friend will always ride shotgun
I should have known there would be a first-aid kit. Susan provided for every contingency.
How like her to have tucked a 106-piece, American Medical Association-approved kit under the passenger seat of her Honda Accord. How like me not to have discovered it until I was deep cleaning the car to get it ready to sell.
- More Stephanie Salter Headlines
- STEPHANIE SALTER: The more things change, the more they … change