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Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at

Reader: Wow-ee! What a load of eco-wacko baloney on the front page of the Sunday (April 6) paper -- "Study: Spikes in toxicity rarely recorded." The Californian, in sympathy with ultra-left activists, hits us with a scare-tactic assault on hydraulic fracturing -- "fracking" -- as applied to potentially productive hydrocarbon zones.

The piece cites a "peer-reviewed" study conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. To a discerning skeptic (like an editor?) words like would, should, can be, people report, scientists don't fully understand, little is known about are hints that something is amiss. In this case, what's amiss is a concoction of supposition, prevarication, hyperbole and grant-pandering by dedicated anti-natural gas Luddites supported by such left-wing moneybags as the Claneil Foundation and the Heinz Endowment, among others. (The chairman of the latter is ketchup heiress and lefty billionairess Teresa Heinz Kerry, spouse of bumbling gigolo John Kerry).

The article was distributed in InsideClimate News (formerly SolveClimate News), a propaganda vehicle for radical environmentalism and hardly an impeccable source. Sure, it was awarded a Pulitzer recently, but that is less testimony of its veracity than it is more affirmation of the buffoonery in journalism these days.

I don't know how the new executive director can justify featuring such drivel, but to my mind it can't be gullibility -- rather it's venality. The Californian owes its readers a full explanation of the underlying deceit contained in the article and why it chose to defile ink and paper with its publication.

-- Hank Londean

Price: I can't believe I bought into that whole Pulitzer Prize mumbo-jumbo, Hank. And I'm embarrassed to have so naively believed that peer-review gibberish, even if it is the basis for the responsible advancement of virtually all scientific theory. As soon as I'm finished with the self-flagellation you prescribe, I'll be firing off chastising letters to all of the liberal media lackeys like me who also published the story -- the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Charlotte Observer, Tulsa World -- yes, The Tulsa World, which, like The Californian, serves an oil-and-gas-producing region situated in one of the most conservative places of the country. My list of complicit and/or easily duped media organizations also includes The Texas Energy Report and the Kentucky Coal Association. It should be clear by now that this anti-American, flag-hating, Birkenstock-wearing conspiracy is worse than we thought.

Either that, or rational, fair-minded people come from all political persuasions and business backgrounds. It seems possible that even those who make their living mining fossils fuels, or serve the people who make their living mining fossil fuels, have a genuine interest in the possible consequences of their pursuits -- even if it's only to prepare intelligent rebuttals to those findings.

I asked Joe Worley, executive editor of the Tulsa World Media Co., whose paper published the story on its Sunday Science page -- and received no complaints that he's aware of -- for his thoughts. "Obviously, the debate in Oklahoma about fracking is important," he wrote, "but most sides contribute in reasonable ways to the debate."

That was our thinking when we put the story in last Sunday's paper. We weren't thumbing our noses at one of this area's two most important industries. We were informing readers whose interest in the subject runs -- or ought to run -- a little deeper than the cursory.

I've responded to your guilt-by-association charges with an endorsement-by-association counterargument. What I should have first pointed out is how utterly devoid of factual or statistical refutation your letter is with regard to the study's actual findings.

The article says the study found that the "most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don't catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production." Perhaps you know enough about the characteristics of natural gas extraction to justify your reservations about the study's validity. Perhaps your knowledge of air monitoring techniques is extraordinary. You don't say. I have no doubt you're better informed in those areas than I am, though. But I do believe there's value in informing the public that somebody who understands those processes well has discovered possible areas of concern. Some of the study's conclusions -- that the U.S. needs uniformity of measurement among the states, better tools for evaluation and further study on the subject -- hardly strike me as "eco-wacko baloney."

Call me gullible if you want, Hank, but venal? As in receptive to bribery? Wow. That's what I'd call putting a cherry on top of an ad hominem argument for the ages.


Reader: I really don't understand why there is so much in the paper about Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard's childhood home, Merle Haggard Way (which, btw ... will always be 7th Standard Road to me), Merle Haggard EVERYTHING!

Really, the man lived here for a couple of years AS A CHILD. Big deal. Why not emphasize the people who actually live here and care about our city?

I'm not talking about the ones who stand to receive financial gain by monopolizing services, or the ones who supposedly represent us in government. But the ones who try to make this a swell place to live. The pastors, the people who volunteer to serve the homeless, the people who work hard in the trenches, as it were. Flood Bakersfield Ministries is one. CASA. The folks at Teen Challenge. The mission. This is but the tip of the iceberg.

Last weekend good folks were out in droves serving Oildale in the I Love Oildale project. Not one word was written about that. But the Hag, who probably sits in his (not Kern County) home laughing at all the gullible people here giving him accolades that he doesn't deserve.

I am not saying that you have not covered Flood or CASA, or the others. ... (The) point is that there are a lot of people here that make a difference in small and large ways. Merle Haggard is not one of them.

-- Susan Castro

Price: A couple things, Susan. Merle Haggard lived here a lot longer than two years. Maybe you're thinking of former Bakersfield resident George W. Bush, who lived just off Mount Vernon Avenue as a toddler. (But probably not. Neither of those two has ever been mistaken for the other, as far as I know.) Haggard was born at what is now Kern Medical Center in 1937 and lived in the Bakersfield area more or less continuously until January 1977, when he moved to the Lake Shasta area. Excluding his approximately two years in San Quentin State Prison, a year in Las Vegas and assorted other brief adventures, that's almost 40 years.

Your point that we should "emphasize the people who actually live here and care about our city" is a good one -- so good that we make a habit of it. Just in the past week we've written about the organizers of the Kern County Cancer Fund and their Campout Against Cancer, and Susan Ferguson, who was an energetic and influential volunteer for the American Cancer Society for the last 18 years of her life. Giving people are in abundance in Kern County, and it's not tough to find articles about them in The Californian.

But back to your main point: Have we had an awful lot of Haggard in The Californian lately? Well, yes. He performed a sold-out show here last month, was honored by the Academy of Country Music last Sunday (his 77th birthday), and in between has been in the local news because a group of fans is trying to raise money to buy the converted boxcar home where he spent a portion of his youth and move it to the Kern County Museum.

Here's my take: All of the attention given Merle Haggard recently is about much more than Merle Haggard. It's about an era that put Bakersfield on the pop-culture map, eventually faded from prominence, and, with a blizzard of new books on the Bakersfield Sound and its characters now flooding the market, is now enjoying something of a renaissance. For further proof look no further than the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's Bakersfield Sound exhibit, now entering its third year in Nashville.

To an extent, the attention on Haggard also is a reflection of the collective sense that we may have taken his musical contemporary, Buck Owens, for granted during the last years of his life. We took Haggard for granted for years, too, though it may be hard to remember these days amid all the tributes. Again, the man is 77.

Another thing: I think it's important to recognize world-renowned, home-grown artists, no matter what their genre or speciality and regardless of their civic involvement. My favorite comparison, and I've written about this before, is Fresno novelist and playwright William Saroyan.

Both Saroyan, who died in 1981, and Haggard were born within a few steps of railroad tracks. Both lost their fathers as young boys. Both were blessed with the ability to fashion poetry from the mundane. And both availed themselves to legendary excesses as young men, much to the chagrin of their long-suffering mothers.

Yet, in 1984, Fresno saw fit to name the William Saroyan Theatre in his honor, erecting a bronze bust of Saroyan at the entrance to the building. (There's a statue of Saroyan in Yerevan, Armenia, too.) Nobody asks what Fresno charities Saroyan supported.

People like Haggard and Saroyan make the people of the San Joaquin Valley -- a place some might consider culturally barren -- producers of art as well as consumers of art. People like Haggard and Saroyan prove that the wellspring of poetry and grace (along with other, more pedestrian forms of expression) bubbles forth here too. I suspect Haggard's long wait for local recognition had something to do with the perception that the literary achievements of an Armenian-American essayist represented higher art than that of an Okie-American songwriter whose themes include poverty, prison and drinkin'.

I completely understand your point, though, Susan. We'll try to rein it in a little. Haggard himself might be getting tired of it by now.


Reader: I dislike the word "alleged" in news reports. My linguist son for years has insisted that "literally" is the most inexact and overused word. I agreed with him until this morning when I opened my Californian and read the blaring headline, "Alleged hit man tied to Kern Deaths."

Alleged? Seems to me that when a person makes an incriminating statement, it's called an admission. No newspaper in the world need fear being sued over accurately reporting a perp made an admission. Better -- "Admitted hit man tied to Kern Deaths."

-- Pete Carton

Price: I, too, agree with your son. "Literally" is grossly overused and often wrongly used. We see things like "I was literally jumping out of my skin" on a pretty regular basis.

I disagree with you on "allegedly," though. Just because a suspect admits to something doesn't mean he won't plead not guilty. In fact, it doesn't even mean he actually committed the deed. People confess to crimes they didn't really commit surprisingly often. There's also that presumption-of-innocence thing we're all supposed to be paying attention to.

"Allegedly" gets in the way of sentence flow, though, I'll give you that. We can couch things and honor our ethical obligation not to "convict" suspects by writing "police say" or "prosecutors claim" or similar phrasing. But within the limited confines of a headline, it's tough to beat "allegedly."


Reader: In the April 5 Sound Off, there was a reference to President Obama's "famously false promise." ("If you like your doctor, you'll be able to keep your doctor; if you like your health plan, you'll be able to keep your heath care plan.") The way I look at it is that President Obama can look forward to receiving the "Profiles in Courage" Award for reversing his position and breaking his promise just as former President George H.W. Bush recently received it for his famous broken promise, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

-- Sidney Kelley

Price: I don't think that instance of promise-breaking on Obama's part is in the same category as Bush's. First, the details of Bush's award, from the Boston Globe of March 27: "Former President George H.W. Bush has been selected to receive a Profile in Courage award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for agreeing to a 1990 budget deal that would raise taxes, despite previously pledging not to raise them, the foundation said today.

"The annual award is presented to public servants who have made courageous decisions without regard for personal or professional consequences. ..."

When Bush memorably pledged not to raise taxes, I believe he truly intended to not raise taxes. Reality has a way messing with political promises, though, and Bush paid a steep price even though he did the only responsible thing he evidently thought he could do: raise taxes to help square the budget. His mistake wasn't so much raising taxes as it was saying he wouldn't, two years earlier.

However, it was different when Obama declared that under the ACA you can "keep your doctor." Many critics, no doubt including some supporters of the ACA, will maintain that he was mischaracterizing, either willfully or ignorantly, the terms of a law that was already in place -- one that he himself had helped create.


Reader: I don't usually write, reply or comment about articles or columns I read in the newspaper, but after reading Sound Off on page B1 this past Saturday, I decided it was important.

The comment about the photograph showing President Obama and Lenora Alvarado essentially said: "How dare you run a photograph like that?"

I see it differently, and applaud The Bakersfield Californian for running such a powerful photograph of a moment frozen in time. As a photographer/photojournalist for 35 years, I understand how a photograph has the power to say in images what words cannot.

This picture is a perfect example. Let me explain. This photograph shows interest, compassion and a connection between the president and Alvarado that the viewer can only imagine, and begs to ask what happened as the shutter clicked. In a singular moment a daughter receives honor and glory on behalf of her father while the president shares pride in the honored citizen of a beloved nation.

The photo shows them both with their eyes closed. How often do we make the mistake of judging without looking beyond our preconceived opinions?

I say, bravo, because for once we actually feel a very special connection to a real moment, which is what makes a great picture. Look at it again and try to imagine what both were thinking right when the shutter clicked.

-- Layne Morgan

Price: You're right: We're constantly judging without looking beyond our preconceived opinions. Last year we ran a small photo of a fiery-looking Paul Ryan speaking into a microphone at a congressional hearing. I thought it made him look rather leader-like, but we received several complaints from readers who assumed our liberal editors had selected it because Ryan had his mouth open.


Reader: Thanks for the photo info (on the selection process that gave readers that eyes-closed Obama shot), but I'm afraid, like the pitted prune, it's still rather badly wrinkled. So many photos -- so few choices. In the old film days, photographers would submit rolls of undeveloped film to editors who would have them developed (slides or contact print sheets) for careful perusal. These days, photographers review the digital images and decide for themselves (in many cases, I understand) which ones to submit electronically to an editor.

Forgoing editorial review and subsequently deleting images they believe to be inconsequential may be depriving society of untold resources --e.g. the infamous image of Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky was taken by Dirck Halstead, on film. He found it after a laborious search and lamented that it probably would have been deleted from a digital device. Food for thought.

And while we're on the subject of photos, (husband) Jack noticed that the dove (April 4, by Casey Christie) was not a mourning dove but an Eurasian Collared-Dove. He wanted me to Sound Off about it but I told him I didn't want to "hog" the space and that some other reader would catch it. Who knew he would become an amateur bird watcher in his old age?

-- Pam Wildermuth

Price: The digital age has been a wonder in terms of its ability to streamline our workload but it also has its downsides, and you have accurately described one.

Give my thanks to Jack for the clarification. He is correct, and one of only two readers I know of who spotted the error.


Reader: Dear Steve (Levin, assistant city editor): Just wanted to thank you for the very thoughtful memorial for our friend and colleague Duane Moore. You captured the essence of the man he was. Thanks again.

-- Danny Kane

Price: Thanks, Danny. Yes, Steve's story on Duane Moore, the local Democratic leader who died of cancer April 1, was another gem.

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.