Welcome to another edition of Columnists Are Human (note: Tom Ashcraft not included). This is where we look at how good newspaper columnists take their gut reactions to the news of the day and transform them into the clear, reasonable works of journalistic art that readers love ... or at least love to hate.
Most columnists, after taking note of their gut reactions, calm down with a stiff drink, intently research the issue at hand, put the news into its proper context, and present it to readers in articulate, lucid prose. From time to time, however, I like to be more transparent and show you, the beloved readers, exactly how that creative process works. So, once again, here's a series of recent news items, followed in each case by my gut reaction, and then a carefully crafted commentary more suitable for a column. Hopefully, you'll get a better idea of the hard work and artistry involved in bringing you this fine column.
Item: Bush tells Australian Deputy Prime Minister "we're kicking ass" in Iraq.
Gut reaction: Grow up, you pathetic clodhopper frat boy.
Final version: The president would better serve America's international reputation if he showed even the slightest knowledge of proper international protocol and of the facts on the ground in Iraq.
Item: Atlanta city council member proposes outlawing saggy pants that result in "publicly exposed underwear."
Gut reaction: Hey, while you're minding other people's business, how about banning women's just-above-the-butt-crack tattoos (aka "tramp stamps" or "ass antlers")?
Final version: Surely city governments everywhere have more pressing problems to consider than teens' fashion faux pas.
Item: A reader writes, "Why should I pay a sales tax so someone else can ride the transit system?"
Gut reaction: Maybe because the rest of us are already paying taxes so you can ride alone in your Humvee, jackass.
Final version: Some people have a hard time grasping the fact that the tax money spent to build roads and highways are a public subsidy of a specific transportation choice, the same way our county's half-cent "transit tax" subsidizes public transportation. We all pay for services that benefit the community's overall well-being -- such as police and fire protection, clean water and schools -- whether we personally use all the services or not.
Item: Man contracts "popcorn lung" after inhaling "butter-flavor" chemical fumes from microwave bag, twice a day for 10 years.
Gut reaction: Inhaled from the bag?! Jesus, just being in the same room with that odor makes me want to throw up.
Final version: This sad example can be useful in reminding people that microwave popcorn does not contain real butter, but rather is slathered with nasty, "buttery" chemicals.
Item: African-American community split over transit tax repeal.
Gut reaction: Well, I hope a lot of folks are ready to do some serious walking.
Final version: It's reasonable for Charlotte's African-American business community to want to benefit economically from light rail, but a repeal of the transit tax would result in drastic cuts in bus service, which is disproportionately used by black citizens.
Item: South Carolina upgraded to severe drought status.
Gut reaction: I bet that's the only time you'll see the words "South Carolina" and "upgraded" in the same sentence.
Final version: The same week my beloved home state was "upgraded" to severe drought status, the U.S. Energy Department announced it would begin sending used plutonium from Washington State, New Mexico and California to S.C.'s Savannah River Plant for storage. Those guys just can't win.
Item: Whoopi Goldberg defends Michael Vick, claiming that dog fighting is a traditional, accepted part of rural Southern culture.
Gut reaction: Yeah, and so is wife beating, but there's still no excuse for it.
Final version: Being raised amid cruel customs doesn't justify someone's decision to continue them.
Item: Germans capture Islamic terrorists by using expert intelligence and complex, coordinated police work.
Gut reaction: And that, my friend, is how you fight terrorism, not by launching a goddam needless war that throws a trillion dollars down a friggin' rat hole.
Final version: And that, my friend, is how you fight terrorism, not by launching a needless war.