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Typical editorial jabber

The emotional power of symbols should never be underestimated. — No matter how rational we are, our emotional responses to stimuli in a — basic animal nature is powerfully motivated by symbols.

For example, in "The E-Myth Revisited," author Michael — Gerber explains buying habits of customers. He points to years of research — with thousands of consumers and confidently asserts that a salesman in — a blue suit will have 20 percent more success that a salesman in a brown — suit. Plain and simple. Want to improve your sales? Buy all blue suits. —

Humans are that powerfully connected to symbols.

The American flag is the granddaddy of symbols. Wherever — it flies, Old Glory evokes a wellspring of emotion. A distant memory is — immediately recalled with startling clarity - like the time in 1984 when — I sang the national anthem in front of maybe a thousand or more people — in a gymnasium in China - often with the same emotional reaction you experienced — back then.

But since I moved to Ashland, the symbol of the flag has — evolved in new ways for me. As the flags were flown along the boulevard — Wednesday, I was reminded of my red, white and blue welcome to what is — likely the greenest town in America.

I still refer to this incident as the Great Flag Flap — of 2003 when I talk to my friends. The truth about the flap has never — really been told - until now.

Old Glory

It's ironic then that my first introduction to Ashland — was at the center of the flag flap. I know better. Picking on someone's — symbol is like calling them a bad mama.

Then again, I didn't have much choice.

In July 2003, I had been the editor of this paper for — no more than 20 days when I was given the weekend off. After training — with a departing editor, this weekend was my last break before I was on — my own.

Before I left, I heard a little banter about a possible — editorial topic dealing with a budding controversy over a teen's desire — to have a flag flown on the Willow Wind Learning Center campus. I didn't — even know what Willow Wind was at the time. I didn't have strong feelings — about the topic. I did however have strong feelings about leaving for — my weekend away.

While I was out of town, the Ashland Daily Tidings printed — an editorial about the merit of the student's desire to fly the flag. — The editorial was well written and made a solid case that the flag is — first and foremost a symbol of free speech. Those who protest the government — can do so because of the freedoms symbolized in Old Glory and therefore — shouldn't balk at a flying flag.

Three words in the editorial became the fuse of a explosive — issue that lingered for months. The author referred to arguments against — the flying of the flag as "typical liberal jabber." The ironic thing is — that this line was written by one of three of the most liberal people — (none of whom, to this day, has taken credit) on the staff.

I returned to a firestorm of controversy on Monday, with — letters pouring in, demanding my immediate resignation. Several people — canceled subscriptions. "Typical liberal jabber" was painted on the sides — of newspaper boxes. Coin slots were stuffed full of debris.

And the calls. I will never forget the calls. One after — another blasting away at me like a pressure washer against old paint. — I was stripped clean. Rarely did I have to say a word. Just pick up the — receiver and listen in.

My response was simple: We stand by our editorial.

What else could I do? An editorial represents the opinion — of the newspaper, written by one or many people. It does not, or should — not, reflect the changing whims of one editor or another, or even one — owner or another. It's like a legal decision, a guidepost of thought that — the paper adheres to. Whether I wrote it or even agreed with it was not — important. Defending the newspaper's right to its opinion was very important.

I was interviewed by Sneak Preview, who butchered my comments — to make me fit the profile many built for me. When I confronted the author — on the inaccuracies he told me he was doing, "gonzo" journalism - effectively — deciding what you will write, then "reporting" to get the stuff you need — to make your point.

I was interviewed live by Lars Larson, who cut me off — after about three minutes when I failed to live up to the stereotype he — built for the "author" of the editorial.

And I was interviewed, or grilled, by readers who wondered — who in the hell had come to Ashland to run this newspaper. Most were more — angry when I wouldn't tell them if I had written the editorial or not.

Finally, at last, the issue faded, or so I thought.

A year later

I never fully grasped how much public opinion, for at — least one segment of readers, was crafted by the Great Flag Flap of 2003. — It was more than a year later when the fuzzy lens I had viewed it through — became a bit more clear.

In a store downtown, I bumped into a delightful woman. — She didn't recognize me and we talked about a variety of topics. A couple — of days later we spoke some more. And again, a couple of days later.

Then one time I met her and she looked at me differently.

"You are the editor of the paper," she asked?

My secret was out. I said yes.

"You aren't what I expected," she said in a response I — had come to expect.

A few awkward moments of conversation I could see the — confusion in her eyes. I saw the elephant in the room and decided to mention — it.

"The 'typical liberal jabber' thing," I said.

"YES!" she said with great enthusiasm. "Why would you — write that?"

"I didn't," I said simply.

"What?!"

I explained briefly that I had been out of town.

"Why would you let people think what they did about you," — she asked.

"They thought what they wanted to think," I said. "I decided — to show people who I am, rather than tell them."

That wasn't good enough for her, bless her heart. She — said she would tell "everyone" what I really was like (though I am still — not sure from our limited conversation she had much more to tell).

Flags flying

Almost another year has past. The powerful symbol of Old — Glory continues to stir among the people of Ashland.

Because it had been awhile between official flag-flying — days, the Kiwanis busted out the Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. The red, — white and blue flapped colorfully over the green meridian grass for no — apparent reason other than Kiwanis members wanted to show support. The — last time Kiwanis tried to fly them - Memorial Day - vandals had attempted — to fill the slots with cement.

Kiwanis volunteer Don Paul said Wednesday presented no — problems.

"We've been trying to do it for awhile," Paul said, "and — the weather's been bad, so we thought, 'hey, we've got a chance to put — them up.'"

Paul says the flags are an important fundraiser for the — Kiwanis but the negative reaction by some has not hurt the group at all. — After the Memorial Day vandalism, one person joined the group because — of its flag efforts, Paul said.

That's what the symbols do to us.

Though the Great Flag Flap of 2003 is now little more — than a good party story about my introduction to Ashland, the power of — the symbol is not lost. To some it is freedom. To some it is the very — embodiment of America. To others, its something far less to be proud of. —

To me the flag is a comforting constant - a reminder of — singing in communist China in the 80s, a reminder of Ashland turmoil and — a reminder of my growing appreciation for America as I taught high school — civics for four years.

But beyond the symbol the flag represents freedom to be — individuals, to express a wide disparity of opinion and to tolerate the — very different people who live and have lived under those stars and stripes.