Saturday, February 28, 2009

Professor Anderson Makes Me Scared And Uncomfortable. Investigate Her!

As a woman who never outgrew her annoying childhood habit of being one of the smallest people in the room, I take a dim view of anyone who opposes the Constitutional right to self-defense (read the Second Amendment if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I’d even go so far as to say such people make me “scared and uncomfortable.” Seriously: there’s something disturbing about anyone who believes “If a violent thug wants to rape or kill me, I should NOT have a legal means of defending myself.”

Scary thought. Yet being scared is not the same as being a coward. To understand the difference, consider a professor from the university campus in New Britain, Connecticut (one town over from me) who sicced campus police on a student who gave an in-class presentation about the Second Amendment right to bear arms. *

The Recorder, newspaper of Central Connecticut State University, has the story:
On October 3, 2008, [John] Wahlberg and two other classmates prepared to give an oral presentation for a Communication 140 class that was required to discuss a “relevant issue in the media”. Wahlberg and his group chose to discuss school violence due to recent events such as the Virginia Tech shootings that occurred in 2007.

Shortly after his professor, Paula Anderson, filed a complaint with the CCSU Police against her student. During the presentation Wahlberg made the point that if students were permitted to conceal carry guns on campus, the violence could have been stopped earlier in many of these cases. He also touched on the controversial idea of free gun zones on college campuses.

That night at work, Wahlberg received a message stating that the campus police “requested his presence”. Upon entering the police station, the officers began to list off firearms that were registered under his name, and questioned him about where he kept them.

They told Wahlberg that they had received a complaint from his professor that his presentation was making students feel “scared and uncomfortable”.
You know what else makes students feel scared and uncomfortable? A professor who calls the cops on them for expressing opinions she doesn’t like. It also makes taxpayers like me scared and uncomfortable, to think our tax dollars pay the salaries of professors who teach such freedom-squelching, authoritarian ideas to the Leaders of Tomorrow.

On the other hand, we don’t know what exactly Wahlberg said to frighten Professor Anderson so. The Recorder did not provide transcripts of the chat. Perhaps his exact words were “I think we should dismantle gun-free zones because I hate you all and want to be the agent of your destruction ha ha HA,” in which case I can’t really blame Professor Paula Anderson for thinking “Hmm, this is a scary and uncomfortable statement the police should maybe investigate.” If that’s what Wahlberg said, I owe Professor Anderson an apology for thinking she cannot be trusted with authority over college students, or any life form more advanced than bathroom mold.

I wrote about on-campus gun possession in a column last December, which started as follows:
You know those amusement-park shooting galleries where you use an air rifle to knock down multiple rows of moving mechanical ducks? The way they work is, you shoot at the targets all you want, and none of the targets can shoot back.

Most schools and workplaces operate on the same principle.
Since this column never ran in the Recorder, the CCSU campus police never had reason to investigate me. But when John Wahlberg suggested letting college students – a.k.a. Our Precious Children – be something more than shooting-gallery targets, he did face a police investigation, because the thought of shooting-gallery targets having a chance at survival makes Professor Paula Anderson scared and uncomfortable.

*Scroll your cursor over the link, and look at the full web address in your browser. It ends with the letters W-T-F. Speaking of WTF, CCSU is the same school whose president two years ago said that the first amendment does not apply to speech that is offensive. I’m scared and uncomfortable knowing my local public university teaches that your right to free speech takes a backseat to everyone else’s right to never have their feelings hurt. Perhaps the police should investigate this.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Zombie Stimuli

Rather than explain why I'm a day late in posting a link to my column from yesterday, I will simply reproduce the text of a certain e-mail I sent my editor late last night:
FROM: Jennifer
TO: Boss Guy
SUBJECT: hee hee hee

Should I be concerned about the fact that my column was posted under "Obituaries?" I know the photo has a certain corpse-like appearance, but still.
The column can now be found in its proper location here. The print-only version still has "Obituaries" at the top of the page, which I find extremely funny, especially in light of the electrocution jokes in the column itself:
Interesting times ahead, now that President Barack Obama has signed the stimulus bill. I personally couldn’t feel more stimulated if I wore a wet bathing suit and threw myself against an electrified fence.
Anyway, my buddy the photographer is coming by this weekend, so hopefully this will be the last time the scary-Goth-zombie picture makes an appearance.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In addition to low pay, weird hours and a propensity toward cynicism, journalists like me suffer from a probability-induced occupational hazard: Once your number of readers passes a certain point, you have 1:1 odds at least one will be categorically insane.

Case in point: last week Judy (mother of Matthew) Shepard spoke at a local university. I attended her talk and wrote about it. Any reporter, except perhaps a hyperconservative at a gay-hating publication, would’ve written the same basic story I did: Here’s who she is, here’s what she talked about, quotes from people in the audience, the end.

The story ran Saturday. I came in Monday and found a four-and-a-half-minute (I timed it) voicemail rant from a woman who declined to leave her name or any contact info, but told me I was a horrible journalist and listed various reasons why:
THINGS MENTIONED IN THE STORY: A video before the speech showed images of bigotry, including a Klan rally and a Nazi concentration camp.

COMMENTARY BY THE CRITIC: The Klan and the Nazis were bad, but why didn’t you say anything about the Roman Catholic priests murdered in Guadalajara in the early 1900s? What about the genocide in Sudan, huh? And the people who live in poverty and can’t get out of it? Speech impediments! Why didn’t you say anything about the problems faced by people with speech impediments? (This is all paraphrased and condensed for space, but I’m not making any of it up.)

THINGS MENTIONED IN THE STORY: Judy Shepard does not like California’s Proposition 8, and spoke of this at length.

COMMENTARY BY THE CRITIC: Proposition 8 is a political matter. Politics do not belong in a story. Not unless you tell the other side. Telling only one side of the story is very irresponsible of you. Why didn't you report the other side?

THINGS MENTIONED IN THE STORY: Judy Shepard reminisced about her son, before and after the attack.

COMMENTARY BY THE CRITIC: Gays are only one percent of the population, and it was wrong for people to make fun of (exact quote) Matthew Shepard, but gays are only one percent of the population and there are a lot of other oppressed people in the world and you should’ve mentioned them. A good journalist brings balance to a story. You don’t have any balance.

THINGS MENTIONED IN THE STORY: Nothing – not a single solitary freakin’ word – about abortion or divorce.

COMMENTARY BY THE CRITIC: And many religions think marriage is holy and divorce is a sin, especially when there are children. It can put a real strain on a marriage when there’s children from a previous one, and abortion isn’t an option for everybody because many people have strong religious objections to abortion, and divorce, and why didn’t you say anything about that? There are valid religious reasons to oppose divorce, abortion and Proposition 8, and you should have said something about them and all the people suffering with speech impediments. I have a background in journalism and you are a very bad, irresponsible and unbalanced journalist.
I offered to forward this communiqué to my boss. He told – nay, ordered – me not to.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mission Creep, Part MMMCCVII

People of America, rejoice! I passed my Homeland Security check with flying colors, which means you can safely read my articles without worrying that you’re endangering the security of the homeland or anything.

I’m serious. When I started working for this paper full-time, I expected the HR lady to hand me a thick pile of forms to fill out. And she did.

I did not expect one of the forms to feature the words “Department of Homeland Security” written prominently atop it. Yet it did.

Why, you might wonder, is the identity of the arts and entertainment reporter for a couple of central Connecticut dailies considered a homeland security matter?
The answer to that is in my column this week. But I will mention the relevant part here in case you’re too lazy to click on the frickin’ link:
. . . that Homeland Security document is the standard citizenship form everyone in America must fill out to take a job.

It probably makes sense for Homeland Security to keep track of such folks as nuclear-plant operators and secret-weapon manufacturers. The wrong person in a job such as that could cause serious damage. But art reporters? Retail workers? Every single job in America? How does Homeland Security find time to root out actual terrorist threats when they’re keeping files on every teenage Taco Bell employee in the country?

I can’t answer that question; I’m still struggling to figure out why three ounces of shampoo in a flier’s carry-on luggage is fine, while four ounces is a terrorist threat worthy of confiscation. But I have a theory. Maybe “national security” is just a catch-all excuse to justify government involvement in even the most minute aspects of ordinary American lives.
The column also contains a long-winded rant against my new boss. Check it out!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Catching Up

Yeah, I know, if this blog were a child I’d be facing charges of criminal neglect. And I’d deserve it, too. In my defense, I’ll point out that it’s always time-consuming for a reporter to start a new beat in a town where she doesn’t know anybody and has no grasp of what’s going on. But it’s been two weeks now and I’m starting to get a handle on things.

I’m covering the arts scene in a city that used to be a stupendously rich manufacturing powerhouse, but whose fortunes have declined along with the decline of American manufacturing. Since a manufacturing revival won’t happen outside the borders of China, the city is now trying to reinvent itself as an artists’ mecca. Thus far it seems on a good track to do just that; as the above-linked article (half-written by yours truly) indicates, the art scene here is surprisingly large for a city of only 70,000 people.

Initially I worried I’d have a hard time finding stories, what with the whole “I don’t know a soul in this town” thing, but that hasn’t been the case; instead, I’m getting so many leads I couldn’t possibly do full-fledged stories about them all unless I had three or four full-time assistants on staff. So for every bylined article I research and write, I’ve been doing several non-bylined blurbs that simply tell people “X art event is happening at Y place on Z date and time.” (Whaddaya know? My junior-high-school algebra teacher was right; I am using some of what I learned in my adult life!)

Also, once the damned snow melts and I can go outside without putting on five layers of winter clothes and a pair of 20-pound snow boots, I’ll really like working in a downtown where I’m in easy walking distance of most of the stories I cover. (Meanwhile, I remind myself that walking through this crap still beats driving in it.)

In other news, I have a new column photo, and have realized two things: one, picking what looks like a good picture on a one-inch digital camera screen won’t necessarily translate to a good picture in the larger-screened world; and two, when I’m an old lady I’ll be the creepy ex-Goth one who scares the hell out of the neighborhood children. I plan to enhance this effect with lawn gargoyles, and will make certain to retire somewhere that zoning codes permit them. Better yet, work harder to achieve a libertopia where sumptuary zoning codes don’t exist at all.

Oh, yeah, and there’s a column attached, too. Something about economic troubles and The Wizard of Oz and a proposed marijuana decriminalization bill in Connecticut. Hey, Michael Phelps and Barack Obama both smoked pot and turned out fine:
If you think marijuana should remain illegal, then repeat after me: “America should take more than 40 percent of its adults, and 50 percent of its high school students by the time they reach graduation, and put them in prison. They all deserve criminal records.”

Seriously, that’s a conservative statistic of how many Americans have violated marijuana laws. Generally via smoking it. Often more than once. Most of us turned out fine.

If full enforcement of a law requires arresting and prosecuting nearly half of a country’s 300 million people, does this suggest something inherently wrong with the law? Or does it instead argue for the selective enforcement we have now, where poor and dark-skinned offenders become “drug felons” while their paler and wealthier cousins largely escape police notice?
P.S. As I write this early Sunday afternoon, I notice that despite the scary picture, the column is topping today’s “Most read” list with over 6,800 hits. I'd guess few of those readers are libertarians, either.
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