It's a name change, that's all. To some of you, it might sound familiar. To others, it might not even ring a bell.
To me, the new column title is about getting back to a personal identity and purpose as a writer. Don't expect much change in content — you'll still read about individual initiative, people making a difference and political issues and foibles, along with the usual amount of evaluation, perspective and commentary (or strident rant, if you prefer) on topics great and small.
It took a little persuasion. My editors were none too certain about my wanting to reclaim the former title, but they were willing to go along. Hell, John Fox himself came up with the Conscientious Objector title back when he worked at the late , so we're kind of keeping it in the family.
It's now been a year since the death of and my joining the crew here at CityBeat. The staff has been great, the editing has been reliable and generous, the readership enthusiastic and the pay current.
I didn't mourn much over the loss of my former print home. Still, respect for the dead and gratitude to my new publisher kept me from dwelling on old associations buried in the past.
But with anniversaries come evaluations of where we've been and where we're going, and I wanted to combine my old title with my new home. Some might call it grave-robbing, but with moldering in the ground — and its heirs still owing me payment for several stories and columns — I have no problem with picking the corpse's bones.
Others have suggested it's not the name of the column that should change but the name of the writer. And these are my friends. (Well, some of them). They question why on earth I'd put my own name on the stuff I write when it so often comes back to bite me in the ass. They think I should write under an assumed name, an alias, a nom-de-plume.
And with good reason. My name has been associated with enough controversy to make it a hazard for myself and others. It's difficult for me to make a living as an artist when some of my most volatile language is directed at the commercialization of art and the corporate appropriation and dumbing-down of artists. That's real popular stuff in a town where a few big spenders can control the cash flow of every arts nonprofit, making my name a hazard for them, too.
But businessmen, politicians and greasy opportunists wrapped in do-gooder cloaks don't appreciate probing questions either. It seems my phone calls rattle the nerves of those with something to hide, even if my first intention is to write something positive. They start acting skittish and saying strange things, and suddenly I'm getting more material than I was after.
The best thing about pen names is the tremendous freedom they afford a writer. You can say just about anything if you don't have to worry about putting your name on it. You won't get harassing phone calls from right-wing activists or threats from the police. You can be a man or a woman or just a stylish enigma. And George W. Bush won't identify you as "a major-league asshole."
I envy those who write endless fluff about all the nice people they meet. Fluff is popular. It wins friends and influences people. It gets you invited to parties. I don't get invited to many parties, because folks are afraid what I might write about next. I don't get to write much fluff.
But the downside of anonymity is a certain lack of credibility. Why should a reading public trust the words or consider the opinions of someone who won't take responsibility for what he or she writes? You won't be taken seriously, no one will know to invite you to parties and George W. Bush won't identify you as "a major-league asshole."
But I wasn't invited to write this column because of fluff skills, stylish blather or social anonymity, nor for my popular opinions or universal perspective. They hired me because I was known and because I was outspoken and because I was willing to be both.
And I'd love for George W. Bush to call me "a major-league asshole." It takes one to know one.
Boy, Car, Cop, Gun
See, I told you so. Readers might remember my diagnosis that the Cincinnati Police Division suffers from acute insecurities, manifested by its symptomatic compulsive display of authority over Jazz Festival weekend. But the latest symptom — the dragging/shooting on Colerain Avenue — underscores my argument that such an urgent need to show force only makes for more dangerous situations.
How does an officer decide it's necessary to shoot a 12-year-old boy who has no driver's license? Such a decision isn't rooted in concern for public safety. It is arrived at only through frustration that an officer's authority is being ignored.
Both the boy and the cop in this case were black. Otherwise, the key elements of the case — motive and procedure — would by now be drowned in shouts of "Racism!" Without such charges to cloud the air, we might get at the truth.
If a kid ignores a cop's orders to stop, why couldn't the cop take the license-plate number, call for backup and then follow the car or track it down later? What would the charges have been? Violating curfew, driving without a license, with probably a disorderly conduct and resisting arrest padded on for emphasis. The law itself is built to accommodate the extent of the transgression. No further escalation on the part of an officer is needed.
This officer escalated the situation. He allowed the frustration of his authority to endanger his life and the public's safety. And I don't consider stupid decisions to be "in the line of duty."
How many more will die as a result of such reckless displays of authority?