Friday, January 11, 2008
An independent viewpoint
The Forum has been part of the Mosquito for most of the newspaper's 36-years, yet many readers may not be aware of the unique structure of this column.
One of the primary purposes of the paper is to provide opportunities for Carlisle's citizens to debate issues and share ideas. Opinions are published through letters to the editor and submissions to the column, "Carlisle Comments." Also, the Mosquito will sometimes seek community representatives with opposing viewpoints to contribute essays on two sides of a controversial topic. The Forum staff was assembled to augment these sporadic submissions by providing weekly commentary by a team of experienced writers.
Forum pieces are written by a dozen writers who are carefully chosen by the board of the Mosquito's parent organization, Carlisle Communications, Inc. The board seeks to assemble a cross-section of the town's population, including writers who have varied interests and backgrounds, both with and without school-aged children, male and female, Democrat, Republican and a-political, working and retired. The board also seeks to include newcomers as well as established residents and people who grew up in Carlisle. Two characteristics sought in every Forum candidate are strong writing talent and an interest in our community.
In 2004, the New England Press Association honored the Forum staff as a finalist in the "Community Involvement in the Paper" category of its annual "Better Newspaper Contest."
Writers may choose topics touching on anything from national trends, to Town Meeting, to personal events, but the emphasis is always on life in Carlisle. The weekly essays are edited by a special Forum editor instead of the news or feature editors. This structure was established to protect the independent voices of the Forum writers, which the newspaper believes may be particularly valuable for the community during times of town controversy. After serving many years, Bob Rothenberg retired as Forum Editor last June, and since then, the editing has been handled by Christy Barbee, followed by Penny Zezima.
As the newspaper seeks a new permanent Forum Editor, it is also exploring ideas to improve the column's structure. Is the Forum's independence from the regular editorial staff recognized? Is it valuable? Would cosmetic changes, such as a new name or photos of the writers, or perhaps a different placement within the paper better emphasize the column's role? Send us your ideas, as well as topics you would like to see covered in Forum essays. (Of course, the paper can make no guarantees that a particular topic will be covered — after all, the Forum writers are an independent bunch.)
A cock-eyed optimist
Several weeks ago in this space Kerry Kissinger sang the praises of Carlisle for the energy and good sense that so many of its citizens bring to its civic and cultural life. I am in full agreement. What's more, I think the praises that he confined to Carlisle extend more generally to the rest of the nation. My friends accuse me of wearing rose-colored glasses, but consider.
The first primary caucuses have just been held in Iowa. They're unusual affairs where voters assemble in a large room and then sort themselves into groups according to the candidate they support, including a group of undecideds. After counting the number in each group, candidates with less than 15% of the total are ruled out, and the supporters thus set free may join a new group. Each viable group tries to persuade free voters to join them. In spite of a certain amount of vitriol in the campaign, the people whom I heard on the radio during this tug o' war were civil, good-humored, and eager to play by the rules. And when it was all done, people cheered their successes and perhaps rued their failures, but no one vowed vengeance or even seemed to think less of those on another side. Contrast this with Kenya, where at least 300 have been killed in the past week or two over a disputed election.
And look at the front runners. In a race supposedly governed entirely by money and connections with power, the Democrats selected an African-American and the Republicans a Baptist minister. I know that racism in this country is not dead, but it certainly has had to go underground. It is hardly short of a miracle that a country that could tolerate lynching in the first third of the last century can be enthusiastically considering an African-American president. The event is a tribute to the decency of the American people.
I don't know just what to make of a Baptist minister. My supposed East Coast sophistication makes me distrustful, but he represents something important to a large proportion of Iowans and, I suspect, to a lot of other Americans, namely, traditional values. By this I do not mean the standard so-called conservative positions on polarizing issues like abortion or stem-cell research, but the traditions of honesty, civility, and tolerance — in short, decency — in our dealings with one another.
It is easy in these times, when we are inundated with bad news and shrill opinions from every corner of the globe, to conclude that everything is going to hell in a hand-basket. Political campaigns amplify these feelings of discouragement and misdirection because every candidate's stock in trade is to paint a gloomy picture of the present and to say that he or she will fix it. It's what politicians do best — in fact, it's what politicians do, most of the time.
But it's a good idea to step back and take stock of how things are going, and in fact they are not going too badly. We don't have a Great Depression, a World War, a Cold War, a major epidemic — in fact we don't have any really enormous problems. Call me cock-eyed, but I am optimistic that, one way or another, and whoever is President, we will solve our future problems as we have solved them in the past — with decency and ultimately good sense. So I can echo Kerry Kissinger's idea that he is glad he lives in a community like Carlisle, and I am glad that Carlisle is in America.
© 2008 The