Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

Once I was a straight reporter. Then my husband became a politician. That made me a political spouse with bad habits, some of which are exposed here. Others are located at www.VIKIVOLK.com

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Location: St. George Island, Maryland

Visit www.VIKIVOLK.com for all you could ever want to know about me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Freddie Krueger and the Slaughterhouse Next Door

I attended a free-form citizen zoning meeting the other night. Yawning yet? Some newspaper editors claim the word "zoning" in a headline forces readers to turn the page. It’s a given, then, that the headline about this meeting would include the word "Slaughterhouse." If zoning procedures were horror shows, slaughterhouses would be Freddy Krueger.

The compensation for a zoning reporter failing to entice broad readership is the intense and protracted readership a really juicy zoning procedure creates. When zoning procedures are in your back yard it isn't a yawn, it's a replay of the War of the Worlds when radio listeners believed the nation was under siege from Mars. Zoning proceedings, for those wrapped inside them, feel like a siege from Mars. And it goes on for years.

For about 80 folks this was their first zoning proceedings meeting about the Martians targeting their neighborhood for a landing. They were scared and frenzied which adds up to angry and mean. Zoning procedures are cathartic but safe, vigilante-ism without the danger of guns. Money is the primary weapon. Because the proceedings are in zoning-ese (Martian by any other name) Money is called Property Rights.

Another dozen folks at the meeting were elected, appointed and hired government officials. This was not their first Freddy Krueger zoning proceeding. They expected and received a routine exercise in participatory democracy where a single misspoken word could cost them their jobs. They anticipated the yelling and scorn thrown at them and the accusations of wrongdoing and incompetence.

And there were about a half-dozen folks sitting with the farmer who launched this siege by asking county staff if he could build a slaughterhouse on a parcel of land near these 80 folks.

Staff said it looked unlikely but since this was America the famer had the right to seek approval from the proper zoning board.

At this point, facing staff discouragement and neighborhood outrage the farmer is rumored to have made the typical applicant decision: Fight, if for nothing else the principle of Property Rights.

Property Rights are not the same kind of rights that extend down your arm and through your fist but end at my nose. Property rights cross boundaries. That's why there are zoning procedures and zoning boards and citizen hearings and a lucrative business in land-use law.

People not believing in Property Rights are -- and how obvious can it get -- Communists.

Property Rights are, however, mercurial. Logic suggests these same 80 folks would have supported the farmer's Property Rights to carve his cornfields into building lots for their homes -- even though the elected, appointed and hired government officials at the time would have tried to explain that cornfields are a net gain in the public coffers and building lots a significant and continual loss.

The citizens would have yelled and scorned them, accused them of wrongdoing and incompetence. The government people would have claimed allegiance to Property Rights and blended a residential and agricultural zone.

This leaves these 80 citizens worried about a slaughterhouse. Clearly, their homes stand as testimonial, Property Rights can trump the common good.

Perhaps pure force of old habit raised my hand. Thankfully I saw a staffer's incredulous look before my hand was noted. My hand dropped. "I thought I could just explain it," I said to her and started suddenly to giggle, and not in the good way, in the bad way like when you see Freddy Krueger walking in the door.

"I don't think they would hear it," the staffer said.

I left the hearing to wait in the car for my government official husband who -- as I had been once -- is paid to endure these encounters.

I accept my departure could be considered avoidance, abandonment. But I prefer to consider it an exercise in self-control, something that needs to be given a lot more play in these free-form citizen zoning meetings.

It leaves me wondering what would happen if you just invited Freddy in for a cup of tea. Or a Budweiser. But then that giggling starts again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I can't believe I left my press pass at home. One of my cronies -- as my husband refers to my journalistic-ally bent friends -- told me to flaunt my credentials. Pathetic as they are, she reminded me, a press pass is the key to the city.

How many times have I told students, even their high school newspaper's press pass carries weight. Everybody, everybody, EVERYBODY wants to talk about themselves to a professional listener.

And although my hair is still dark and my face somewhat leaner in the laminated photograph, I do have a press pass and -- albeit from a company no longer in business -- IT WOULD HAVE WON ME THE RESPECT OF THE GATEKEEPER OF SALVADOR DALI'S HOUSE.

His house.

But no. I didn't listen. I pulled that ancient old laminated press pass out of my wallet more concerned with the Tel Aviv airport than thinking about Salvador Dali. I took it out of my wallet and I KEPT IT AT HOME! Digging before the gatekeeper I discovered I had I kept my government pass in my wallet. WAS I CRAZY? No one in Tel Aviv asked me a thing about credentials. They just kept asking the origin of my name and if anyone had asked me to deliver a package out of the country. Then they'd asked me again, about 20 seconds later, like maybe it had slipped my mind.

How can I be offended by that. Obviously I am slipping. Turning into a non-journalist -- because who else would leave their press pass at home. So many of us former journalists are slipping -- some becoming flaks, others complete sleaze-bag journalists others sanctimonious. By this I mean, lean toward the sleaze-bag spirit of the old days and even if you have to use your kid's computer software and the laminate-kiosk at the nearest mall: DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR PRESS PASS. We're talking about Salvador Dali's house.

Oh, and a small flashlight. Press pass or not, likely you're still in that economy hotel room down a hallway without a single electric light bulb. Some things change when you lose your credentials. Some things stay the same.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Few Minutes Before Midnight

A few minutes before midnight in the Tel Aviv airport, jetlagged already and awaiting another transatlantic flight I found myself confessing, again, the accusation that my generation abandoned the struggle for Justice to become insurance salesmen and grow houseplants. That’s how it would have been said back then, salesmen.

I confess this time to an intrepid young woman who’d asked permission to share a table then left her passport beneath her wallet at its corner as she returned to a kiosk to retrieve a bowl of soup rich with pesto. She had graduated a few months prior from boarding school and launched a “gap year” from the West Bank. In response to my praise of the soup she said life was more primitive where she had stayed. People made their food from scratch, she said. She expected to enroll next year in a conservative Jewish seminary school in New York.

I am meeting my daughter in the airport; she is a few years older than the future seminarian and has also been in Israel. Her time was spent within a multi-national project viewed with suspicion by Israeli officialdom. “My daughter is working for World Peace,” I tell this younger woman with the small ironic smile that provoked wry and slightly condescending smiles from my Baby Boomer peers back in America.

I tell the younger woman how glad I am to see young people getting back to our unfinished work on Justice. I tap my cell phone, worrying my daughter about the approaching boarding time. I mention Stuart Brand to the girl, the visionary scientist who grasped the significance of the first photograph from space of the entire planet which, Brand said, “gave the sense that Earth’s an island…” He coined not merely the phrase but the entire “Whole Earth” concept and led many of its earliest manifestations.

The message to us Children of the Sixties that We Are One wasn’t exactly taken to heart, I confessed.

It is 30 years since my accuser said we abandoned the struggle for Justice once we saw the price of war. He told me this the week John Lennon was shot, 10 years after Kent State where overly armed and undertrained Ohio National Guardsmen shot 13 students to rein-in protests against the Vietnam War. Four were shot dead. After that, he told me, my generation went home to sell insurance and grow houseplants. We didn’t merely capitulate; I inferred from this, we didn’t even stop at collaboration: We turned tail and returned to the lives of petty privilege feeding Injustice.

I wouldn’t need to explain Kent State to these two women; they’d been in Israel where overly armed men and women just their ages roam the streets. It would have been difficult to explain how it appeared back then that only men made war.

They would surely have grasped the quote from that time, “This is a nation at war with itself,” which Wikipedia attributes to a lawyer in the Nixon administration, but which was too broad a sentiment of the time to actually be accorded to only one man.

But as for One Earth – the Whole Earth – could they have grasped the significance of seeing for the first time our entire plant from outside, the recognition that we are not merely All One, it is actually a very tiny place. The first visualization of the mother planet, and she looked alone.

I offer none of these explanations. Instead I say, “He lost his daughter and her family in 9-11.”

Why keep sharing this shard of guilt in the first place? And why now consistently endow it with the unrelated but somehow connected accumulated weight of 9-11?

And why in particular burden these fresh-faced women whittling toward World Peace? To assuage my own guilt? Simply because I had spent 13 hours in mind-numbing pettiness trying to move harmlessly and unharmed through Israel for no other purpose than to get home. I had not even been long in Israel. I had spent the weeks touring lovely European seashores and museums. I had bought my daughter a T-shirt of Pablo Picasso’s “Don Quichotte.”

Was that it? Simple but now compounded guilt?

It is time to seek our boarding gates. She has finished her soup and would like a polite way to exit. I am texting my daughter that it is time to board. All of this and a large glass of wine too quickly downed weighs on my jetlagged soul. “I’m nothing but an old hippy,” I tell the young woman. We smile and part.

And that alone of what I’ve told her was a lie. I wasn’t a hippie. In May of 1970 when four died in Ohio I talked a big game but pretty much expected life insurance, house plants, daughters. My friends and I didn’t choose petty luxury over war. We never considered war would – or should – interfere with the accumulation of petty luxuries. Few of us expected Lear jets, for example, but we all expected homes of our own, well, with our husbands and enough food and even ballet and piano lessons for our daughters. More petty bourgeoisie than hippie.

The Vietnam War was ludicrous. Our generation of soldiers weren’t saving anyone's world for Democracy, rescuing unjustly tortured and exterminated peoples. There didn’t even seem a conspiratorial economic reason for Vietnam as in oil in Iraq. Vietnam was our parents' petty bourgeoisie war.

It is only today I think to ask my accuser, what would he have had us do? Even had it been possible for Kent State to morph into a Harper’s Ferry what would we be today? Israel? You can't go to war to end war. It doesn't work. Nor did the peaceful strategies of refusal work when the war was more a generational struggle than a cultural clash. It is harder to bite the hand that feeds you than the one that takes your food away.

But even as I boarded, despite of or because of my tipsy jetlagged state, I still thought I'd handed something off. Something more than my guilt. Something kinder than the worn-out warning to do as I say, not as I do. I hope this young woman and my daughter nose around a bit about Stuart Brand or Kent State, about collective efforts and the incorporation of peace into life, even petty lives. And I also hope my husband watered the plants in my absence. It seems always a good thing to have reminders that in spite of it all, life is flowering around us.

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