This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.
Reader: I always enjoy your columns. I do, however, take issue with a statement you've made regarding California's missile readiness in your Jan. 31 column, "Hawaii's false missile alert got me thinking."
During my tenure in the oil patch, I had occasion to drill on Platform Irene — off the coast, in sight of Vandenberg AFB. We shut down operations for safety reasons on several occasions for missile tests.
Your public announcement that California is not ready for missile defense is simply unfounded. Defenses are in place, and exceed the threat, which you have projected publicly.
I appreciate your journalistic talents, and the delivery of such. Please don't engage in the "yellow" fear-mongering of other networks. Your columns are worth so much more than tabloids.
I certainly hope you will clarify this situation ASAP. Please don't follow every other journalist in search of ratings. I am not alone in my respect for the writing you do — as factual as it is entertaining.
I look forward to your reply, as do my neighbors.
— Stephen McDougle
Price: I had to reread the line you referenced, Stephen, to see where you got the impression I said our missile defense system is not ready: "Things won't end well for Kim," I wrote, "but unless Vandenberg has a sufficient number of ground-based interceptors locked and loaded, it won't end well for us either."
That's a true statement. Now, I am hopeful and reasonably confident that our military is equipped to defend us from a missile attack. But if our missile defense system is 100 percent reliable, we have no reason to discuss the next line of defense, which I guess is still "duck and cover." For the column to have had any relevance I had to cast at least a hint of doubt on the defense system. I don't think it's unreasonable to have done so; why else would the state be working on a contingency plan?
I tried to keep the column light enough to avoid inducing any undue discomfort. When I interviewed Georgiana Armstrong, the local director of emergency services, she expressed that very concern. But there's only so much you can do ease people's minds on this topic.
I must remind readers, regretfully, that a land-based defense missile reportedly failed to intercept an incoming faux attack missile launched from an aircraft over Hawaii in a test on Wednesday. The U.S. military obviously still has work to do.
Reader: Good column, as usual ("Hawaii's false missile alert got me thinking," Jan. 31). One additional point: Vandenberg AFB isn’t our only nuclear defense card. We have many nuclear armed submarines, each one containing a larger arsenal than North Korea. I assume more than a few are lurking in Korean waters as well as other hostile nations.
— Bill Tracy
Price: True, we've got a lot more going for us than just Vandenberg's ground-based interceptors. Vandenberg just happened to represent a nearby example of our defense shield.
Reader: Since I, rightly or wrongly, consider you the guru of all things grammatical, I have a question for you. For 60-plus years, I have been taught the association of nouns with verbs. One of those nouns I have extensively used for many years is the word “data.” The word “data” is plural; therefore, "data are" and "datum is." It drives me nuts when I read or hear the misuse of the associated verb, which happens more often than not.
I may have missed the memo that Noah changed his mind, even though this is entirely possible because, since my retirement, I am off many lists, not all bad. I think, however, I have been added to a few, but that is another story.
I hope you will clarify this for me so I can get back to my golf game where all the data are telling me to take up bowling.
— Michael Couchot
Price: The data/datum debate, like the media/medium quandary, can be confounding. We speak American English in this country, not Latin, from which those words sprang. Our tendency is to Anglicize words borrowed from foreign tongues and regularize their use to satisfy our American ears. To the English-speaking world, the word "data" sounds as singular as "banana."
In a very real sense, Noah has changed his mind. Since the first Neanderthal emitted a meaningful grunt, humans have tweaked the rules of language and grammar to fit common usage. That's what's happened with "data." The New York Times, for example, uses it either in the singular or plural, depending on context. The Associated Press Stylebook, which we use around here, classifies "data" as a collective noun that takes the singular verb when treated as a unit but the plural when referring to individual items — "the data is sound" vs. "the data have been carefully collected." But in scientific writing "data" is usually treated as a plural. The American Psychological Association, for example, advises "data are."
That didn't help at all, did it?
If you're still baffled (as I am) try writing "the database is" and "media organizations are." Sort of a cop out, I know.
Reader: Political discussion has hit a new level of polarization during the past year. Two glaring examples appeared in the Opinion section of Jan. 26. Both were letters responding to authors of previous contributions. Both went beyond commenting on content and attacked the letter writers themselves.
In the first, "Trump accomplished a lot in his first year," the critical writer personally affronted the original author, Brik McDill, calling him, among other things, "our unctuously smooth-talking, wannabe psychological journalist friend."
In the second example, "No proof about Trump, Fox lies," rather than debating anything the first writer contributed in his Jan. 24 letter, "The truth keeps losing," it was stated, "We get it — you are a liberal Republican hater, therefore your opinions hold no water whatsoever. I guess that with his useless rants, you just have to consider the source.”
My point is, each of us is entitled to our own opinions and who’s to say which ones are correct or incorrect? We used to be a nation of compromise and now, it seems, we are a nation of confrontation. Proper debate should attack content and not contributor.
I also wonder if personal attack letters such as these might cause someone who wishes to contribute in the future to have second thoughts and defer, being afraid of public humiliation?
— Steve Bass
Reader: The Jan. 26 letter "No proof about Trump, Fox lies" was simply a sophomoric attack on a previous letter writer ("The truth keeps losing," Jan. 24). The first letter-writer offered his thoughts and opinions and The Californian published his letter. The second letter writer then baselessly and personally attacked him in an ugly and inappropriate manner.
The second letter writer needs to realize that the liberal right-wing haters’ opinions, well-supported or not, do not deserve such hateful diatribes. I urge The Californian to use better judgment in publishing such empty letters.
— Ray Hedrick
Price: I completely agree with you both. Disagree if you choose, but attack the argument, not the writer. We violated our own policy by allowing those insulting rants. I'll remind the folks who help select and edit the letters that we publish.
We violated a second, less formal rule, too: When letter-writers reference other, previously published letters, we remove the first letter writer's name and replace it with the headline and date of the letter. The idea is, as you correctly point out, Steve, we don't want to embarrass or intimidate those who have the courage — and it does take a certain amount of courage — to publicly express their opinions.
I should note that that rule doesn't apply to Community Voices articles. We base that exception on the idea that CV writers are allowed the space to support their opinions more thoroughly and therefore should be willing to accept criticism that's directed at them by name. But it still has to be civil criticism that faults the argument, not the writer.
Reader: I don't have the nerve to criticize your grammar — glass houses and so on — but I believe you made an error in your choice of words in your Jan. 27 Sound Off. You advised Name Withheld and his friends to write pro-Trump letters and "[i]f they make any sense at all we'll print them."
I've been reading the pro-Trump letters you've been printing, and it seems to me you meant to say, "We'll print them whether they make sense or not."
Of course, if you really are receiving pro-Trump letters more incoherent than the ones you print, you have my apologies and sincere sympathy.
— Jay C. Smith
Price: We do indeed withhold from publication letters, both pro-Trump and anti-Trump, that are unusually incoherent. So, yes, I'll accept your sympathy.
Reader: If we are to be exposed to your column must it be on the front page? Your writing (in your Jan. 28 column) showed promise with your statement, “Kern County has a big need for a durable immigration solution," etc. But apparently your immigration solution is only a DACA amnesty fix.
DACA is important but is not the only immigration issue. There is little mention of border security, chain migration and immigration lottery. Why not try and deal with these related issues together? Your comment about holding DACA participants “hostage,” is straight out of the Schumer/Pelosi playbook. Kevin McCarthy should make himself more accessible to his constituents, but to go on and on about this seems like whining.
— John Scott Johnson
Price: I don't pretend to have any solutions on immigration, other than agreement that it must be sanely regulated. A sensible reform package that makes reasonable allowances for guest workers and skilled, permanent-resident workers is going to be more effective than a wall; drug traffickers and other smugglers have already proven that physical barriers can be defeated. And we already have effective technology in place: towers, drones, aerostats (giant tethered blimps), video cameras and helicopters with infrared sensors. The U.S. Border Patrol has arrested tens of thousands of illegal border crossers using that arsenal of tools. What's needed most now is legislation that gives us to some semblance of order while acknowledging present circumstances and future economic needs.
Resolving DACA is not my only immigration fix. I focused on it because the deportation deadline is next month. Millions of undocumented residents, many of whom consider this country and this country alone their home, need an answer and quickly. We might still be debating Trump's wall and chain migration a year from now (and I'm betting we will) but we've got to reach an agreement on DACA one way or another very soon.
Reader: On Jan. 20, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement saying that he promised to prosecute employers, businesses and others who cooperate with federal immigration authorities. I understand this could also include fines of up to $10,000.
As of this date, Jan. 25, I have seen nothing of these comments by the A.G. in TBC. It seems to me since you folks refer to yourself as a newspaper that when the State A.G. threatens to prosecute people for following federal law you might consider this to be not only news, but front page news of great interest.
I understand TBC is focused on local news, but the thought the Attorney General is threatening employers and other folks with arrest and huge fines is unheard of, unbelievable, and downright outrages. Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who has classified Kern County as a law and order county and not a sanctuary county, will no doubt cooperate with the immigration people if necessary.
Is the A.G. going to have our sheriff arrested?
— Don C. Craib
Price: We republished an Orange County Register editorial on Jan. 25 that called AB450, the law Becerra is enforcing, "state government’s latest contribution to making California’s business climate the worst in the nation."
We should have had more than that. Stay tuned.
Price: Last week reader John Pryor suggested I take a cue from the late, great Jim Day, whose "Pipefuls" column appeared daily in The Californian from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s. (That's quite a run.) Pryor wrote that I should come up with a name for my column, which has grown from just this weekly Q-and-A, published Saturdays, to three columns a week. I asked readers for suggestions. Here are a few of them.
Reader: I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy your Sound Off column. Love the responses to so many nit-picking, grumpy people. I now look forward to your new column to be published three times a week. My suggestion for its name is “Unvarnished and Other Phenomena.” No further explanation needed and it could cover any number of topics. Good luck with the complainers.
— Elizabeth Johnstone
Reader: Robert Price's column title should keep the conservative theme. How about "Conservative Chronicles" or "Truths from Unknown Sources." Or maybe "Conservative Manifesto." No, too complicated for Bakersfield.
My favorite would be "Reverse Race Engineering for Dummies." Or something simple such as "Piling On" or the more contemporary "Shithole Shouts."
— Panfilo Fuentes
Reader: How about "Pricetags" or "Robert's Ramblings"? Just a couple of ideas. I look forward to your columns whatever the name.
Reader: With tongue firmly in cheek, I offer “The Price is Right.”
— Laurie Green
Price: I wrote a column is high school — yes, I've been at this a while — called "The Price is Write." "Pricetag" was a longtime schoolyard nickname. (Digression: A sarcastic, semi-literate fellow busboy liked to taunt me with "Priceless" until someone broke the news to him that it was complimentary.)
I think I'll stick with just my name, but thank you for the suggestions.
Reader: I'm thinking of writing in Sal Moretti's name on the ballot as a worthy candidate for the presidency. He is thoughtful and makes his points in a gentle but clear and accessible way ("US news media could learn a little from this Sicilian," Jan. 31). I hope he keeps writing, at least until it comes time to start campaigning!
— David Campbell
Price: Sal is already getting a big head. I shared your note with him, David, and now he's demanding top-of-the-page placement for his next submission.
Reader: The reader that compares Donald Trump to King David in your Jan. 27 Sound Off is correct in one area: King David had a general killed so he could have his wife. Trump hasn't killed yet, but he definitely is an adulterer!
— Kerry McGill
Price: American generals, take note.
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