Author Archives: Jentri

Jentri’s Journalism–Opinion Columns

At several papers where I was a reporter, I had a regular opinion column in addition to reporting news. Not quite kosher, but these were small papers, reporters multi-tasked. Here is a column I wrote in 1998 while working in Jackson, Amador County CA.

TARGET PRACTICE: Little things mean a lot

By Jentri Anders
Ledger-Dispatch Staff

As film buffs line up to see Saving Private Ryan, purportedly the most accurate World War II movie yet, those who actually remember that war are telling their stories again. What they remind us is that, unlike the war that defined my generation, that one was based on a principle many were willing to die for–the value of the individual, the foundation of democracy.

Fascism, the absolute power of the state, was the name of the game in Germany, in Japan, in Italy and, we are now learning, in Great Britain, France and the United States as well. Each of the latter countries had its fascists, just as Germany had an underground. In each case, they were
overruled. Most people know about the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Historians also know that many groups besides the Jews were targeted and that persecution came in shades. People were fired, evicted, busted, deprived of their possessions, beaten and incarcerated, as well as murdered en masse.

Those groups included Gypsies, Romanians, Communists, people who would now be called developmentally disabled or mentally ill, Seventh Day Adventists, homosexuals and people of African descent. “Pure” Germans were not all exempt, either. Germans with impeccable racial credentials were persecuted for having genetic defects such as dwarfism or albinism and the “purest” of German women were enslaved as breeders for the duration. Who any of these people were as individuals was irrelevant to the state’s purpose.

How could such a thing have happened? Volumes have been written dealing with that question. One startling thing that has emerged is the role played by the intimidation of detail. Raise the wrong question and your boss might get an insinuating memo about you. Rock the boat, you lose your job, your boyfriend, your club membership.

One thing that has saved America, historically, from its own fascists is the value we place on thinking for ourselves. Our democracy is not yet perfect, but we have come a long way. Over time, we expanded the definition of “citizen” to include first the landless, then slaves and, finally, women.

The price is, we fight a lot, but we revere rational discourse as the foundation of democracy. Our laws give citizens the right to question the powerful, if only they have the courage. Why does the individual require courage to exercise those rights? Ask anyone who writes anonymous letters to newspapers. We fear loss of our jobs, reputations, credibility and friends. The devil is in those details and many was the German citizen who learned that too late.

This writer once dipped her own hands into history¹s details working as a part-time assistant archivist in the Washington State University Library. The assignment was six large cartons containing the papers of a man named Hans Rosbaud. Arranged by date, they traced how a thoroughly German, highly respected orchestra conductor and composer was humiliated, demoted and finally exiled into the German hinterlands until after the war.

Rosbaud¹s crime? He liked modern classical music and American jazz, both of which Hitler saw as “Jewish” music. (There¹s a good movie about this, called Swing Kids, but be prepared for violence if you watch it.) Until the insinuations finally got him, Rosbaud was a patron of individual creativity. What kept Rosbaud alive and in Germany was the extent of his reputation. He was so well-known and loved by the German music establishment that the minions of the Third Reich had to work against great resistance in persecuting him. In the beginning, his colleagues fought the denigration campaign. In the end, they were too cowed to utter a peep.

The similarity of Rosbaud¹s experience to that of Charlie Chaplin would be inescapable to anyone who remembers the McCarthy era. Chaplin, too, was forced into exile and unemployment by insinuations contained in letters, phone calls and whispered conversations. Some patriots get tears in their eyes remembering how the United States fought facism abroad with the sacrifice of lives, and that was, indeed, a beautiful thing. But let us not forget our own fascists and that what stops them first are citizens who know their rights and are not afraid to exercise them.

 

Aging Hippies

 

From Star Route Journal, September 1988, photos and links added to blog. Photos are unidentified hippies, including myself, as they looked at the time this article was published, and later.

 

Gracefully Aging Hippies

 by Jentri Anders

I saw it again today–a reference to that alleged ‘60s motto, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” and thought “oh, no, not again!” I was not in the room when Free Speech Movement activist Jack Weinberg said that, but I’ve seen film of him telling the story. Reporters, on instructions from their editors, no doubt, were trying to establish that the Free Speech Movement (December, 1964, Berkeley, California, for those too young to remember) was a Communist plot to spread disorder in the universities. Back in the days of in loco parentis, when college stuLarry crptdents were considered adolescents in need of stern guidance, it was reasonable to expect that the McCarthy-trained populace would be able to see the FSM as too well-organized to be the collective effort of college students. Some reporter asked Weinberg where the orders came from, or something like that, and he said, with an exasperated expression on his face, “Oh, come on, it’s a student movement; don’t you know we have a saying that we don’t trust anyone over thirty?”

Context is all, isn’t it? The joke was easily taken out of context and twisted to imply that student activists in the 1960s thought they would never grow old. If you accept the remark out of context you can then say, “Ha, ha, they’re over thirty now; the joke’s on them.” As an attempt to trivialize what was a major historic event, it has worked fairly well because it dovetails so neatly with the American attitude towards the aging process. Expanded to include the counter-cultural movement as well as student activism, this mindless version of Weinberg’s remark was much more a reflection of the American attitude that youth is better than “oldth” than it was of any attitude held by the activists or the hippies. The cruel joke is the way our society denigrates aging, not that what was called the “youth movement” matured.
Student politicos of my post-Beatnik, pre-hippie age group used to matronizingly call the hip baby boomers a few years younger than we “teeny-boppers” and, initially, “hippie” was more than a little derogatory. But, in my crowd at least, both words always had an affectionate connotation. There was a sort of back-door respect implied, a recognition that whether they understood their historical, political and philosophical context or not, and even if they affected an attitude of anti-intellectualism, they were expressing something valuable with their beads and fringes and feathers. Later, when the repression became unbearable, these nuances became irrelevant and we accepted the artifacts and the style in a spasm of anomie that made absurdity feel like preventive medicine.

Still later, it became clear that, insofar as any labels at all could be applied to that social phenomenon, it was the straight journalists and social scientists, hung up in their preoccupation with aging, who called it a “youth movement.” In practice, chronological age per se never had much to do with anything and there were “drop-outs” of all ages (Tim Leary, Ram Dass, John Lilly come to mind) as well as dropouts who felt themselves very much a part of a tradition of freethinking and tolerance that stretches back through the Beatniks to the turn-of-the-century European Left Bank Bohemians and beyond.

We may take heart in the thought that those worthies, who occupied the same social space now occupied by us dropouts, were in the course of time more or less accepted. The artistic productions of some of my deceased heroes and heroines now sell at high prices, bought by people who would have shunned them in the street when they were alive. I know of at least one ‘60s person who has always been proud to identify with the continuation of that tradition and I see her every morning in the mirror. When that ancient, pacifistic free-love advocate, Bertrand Russell, sent a telegram of congratulations to the Free Speech dissidents after their arrest, I received my 1/800th of the praise with satisfaction and vindication. I had been nearly expelled from high school for reading his “Marriage and Morals” behind my (ahem) Home Economics book in study hall. He was in his ‘80s at the time of the telegram—don’t you dare dismiss us as a flash-in-the-pan youth movement controlled by Communists!! And by twisting an off-hand joke made by a frustrated activist under fire. For shame!

The ‘nyah-nyah’ attitude which grabbed at the over thirty remark is the same one that inspires the sneering reference to “aging hippies” in periodicals like Time and Newsweek and which prompts San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen to refer to Garberville now and then as if it were some sort of quaint time warp. Again, the implication is that anyone who retains their personal integrity into middle age and resists the capitalistic pressure to constantly change their style (you consume more that way) is somehow a fool. Oh, they have gray hair, pot bellies and double chins now, yet see how they cling to the symbols of their wasted youth, never moving onward, never growing up. “Progress,” after all, to quote Ronnie (Reagan) in his Fifties incarnation, “is our most important product.” And here are all these people not progressing.

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Or, supposing you did, in the natural process of maturation, revise or modify a few ideas, reinstate a few abandoned pieces of technology in the light of new evidence (telephones, computers). Well, that’s obviously an admission that everything you did before was wrong, is it not? Frustrating, isn’t it?
The personal experience of this particular aging hippie (45 and a half, which I report without the slightest compunction) has not included any major changes in the basic values I hammered out from my ‘60s experience after having chucked 80% of the ones I was raised with, and thank you very much Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Phil Wylie, Franz Kafka, Simone de Beauvoir and others for your help in this process. The 20% I retained, strangely enough, were the true Christian ones of pacifism, tolerance for diversity, and racial, sexual and economic equality. If you don’t believe me that those exist in Christianity, try reading only the words of Christ and forget the patriarchal revisions of Christianity that began with that misogynist, Paul the Apostle (St. Paul to Catholics), which have proliferated these last twenty centuries. (I owe Phillip Wylie bigtime for turning me on to THAT trick.)

So what is the reality for the aging hippie? Cling we blindly to the symbols of our youth? I’ve been asking around, looking around, here in the Land of Shum (S. Hum.), and I’m happy to report that whatever this is we’re doing, most of us are facing middle age every bit as gracefully and, I contend, more gracefully than our non-Shumian friends and relations. Descriptions in the S.F. Chronicle notwithstanding (a review of our “Jazz on the Lake” event in that paper referred to “pony-tailed doctors” and “tie-dyed lawyers,” a reference I imagine must have incensed some of our local professionals), I’ve noticed that some people I’ve known for fifteen years have sprouted gray in their beards, ponytails and braids. On the other hand, many of the beards, ponytails and braids of others have disappeared.

I see two explanations for this latter event. One is that a deeper, community-bred confidence in responsible social deviation has replaced the need for external statements in those for whom those hair arrangements were principally statements. The other is physiological. I cut my formerly waist length hair because my aging neck can no longer support the weight without pain. Also, it has a lot of significance as a sexual flag and my changing views of sex have rendered that particular message inappropriate.

As for beards, I have been pleasantly surprised in recent years to become acquainted with the lower half of so many masculine faces I had previously only known through the hairy mask. Forbidding-looking men turned out to have gentle humor lines around the mouth, hitherto unsuspected. Patriarchal elders became downright androgynous, and men I considered nondescript turned out to have been hiding handsome jawlines and sensuous lips all this time.

This is not to exclude a few Alfred E. Newman lookalikes who must have originally grown their beards in order to attain a dignity otherwise denied them. (How did shaving originate, anyway? I recently came across the idea that early men shaved their faces so as to more closely resemble the Goddess. I’m fond of that one.) I suspect that some latter day rearrangements of hair might have been inspired by a desire on the part of observant residents to distance themselves from the in-migration of non-resident growers wearing camouflage clothes who grew their beards to blend in more easily with the back-to-land hippie population.

Rick n Hal iphSo much for superficials. What about the deeper maturation changes? One of the more interesting aspects of our local culture is that individuals are not required to be particularly consistent. Sudden about-faces are usually tolerated, even expected, and likely to be interpreted as spiritual growing pains. The fluctuations accompanying the natural growth stage known as the “mid-life crisis” needn’t be so sudden and dramatic here as they are elsewhere because they have, like earthquakes, had their force reduced by many smaller shifts preceding them. The more elastic one has been so far, the less shattering need be the changes that hit at mid-life. Perhaps only the individual knows whether the latest change is a crisis motivated by the realization that half of one’s life is over or whether it represents an attempt to address the great question of what to do with the second half. At any rate, I see my contemporaries taking up scholarly studies abandoned twenty years ago and with a much clearer focus now, or becoming politically active after twenty years of hermitism or cynicism (Vietnam vets!), or becoming hermits after years of frustrating activism. A wave of secular agnostics my age have recently formed new religious groups or joined existing groups who can tolerate their spiritual eclecticism. They include Quakers, Jews, Fundamentalists and Presbyterians. Former Krishnamurti non-followers (you can’t be a Krishnamurti follower since the major tenet of his philosophy is don’t follow anybody) now wear pictures of gurus around their necks, and women my age who used to walk three feet behind their men carrying the children and the packages, have recently discovered feminism and/or political Lesbianism. If there is a point to these ruminations, it becomes more obscure the more directly I look at it. I’m not worried that this is a symptom of senility, however, since astronomers and optometrists can attest to the value of peripheral vision. Perhaps this is a plea for tolerance on the part of those spiritual seekers younger than I who have been lately tormenting me with pop psychology. This is not ageism. It is an acknowledgement that our society is so fast-changing that five years difference in age can mean a cultural difference so great that it invites ethnocentrism. Translation: you share a lot with people who are the same age at the same time.

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Former teeny-boppers, I love you, but hear me. I know I look negative to people who can’t clearly remember the Vietnam conflict. I know you think that my memories of the Sixties have trapped me into being the perpetual victim. My Goddess, I even had a cute late-twenties masseur trying to convince me that I, too, could be rich if only I could rid myself of that old sixties belief that rich people are evil. (Where have all the Marxists gone, long time passing?) Please don’t try to sell me a $400 “Life-Spring” course in the city, even if you think it worked for you. I’m too old to be a yuppie. Just let me flounder along trying to sort it all out in a manner consistent with my historical period. I’m sure my slightly older, Beatnik-era friend is correct when he says, “Wait five years. It gets better.”

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My Short-lived Journalism Career

Jentri reporter

Throughout my sojourn in the Land of Shum I wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, helped start and edit the Briceland Community High School newspaper and wrote articles for local newspapers pro bono. Sometime in the 1990s, I began stringing (freelancing) for both the Redwood Record and the Garberville Life and Times. The former job grew into a fulltime stringing job, meaning I got paid by the inch with no benefits, but was promised enough stringing assignments to pay me as much as a permanent reporter position would, but only if I bailed them out of a pinch by agreeing to be the front desk for six months first. I did that until the Fortuna Group, which owned 3 Humboldt County newspapers, closed down the Record and the Arcata Union, both of which had been important to the county historically. The Record had been in existence for over 60 years and the Union for 102. Both were “absorbed” into the Fortuna Beacon.

I have no evidence but my own observations to back me up, but I am convinced that the problem, with the Record at least, was that the staff had over the years become increasingly interested in writing environmental stories and covering other news that had been ignored in the past.  When our editor returned every two weeks from her meetings with the publisher and editors of the other two papers in Fortuna, she was always recovering from the stress of pressure on her to downplay the green stories. Fortuna Group was very, very conservative and the newspapers, not very profitable I assume, were more or less hobbies of the owner to begin with. The Group mainly held interests in logging and other industries. At one point, we were instructed not to write one more story about County Supervisor Dan Hauser, whose environmental leanings endeared him to Shummers. The closure came shortly after the issue that had an entirely green front page, purely by accident–it so happened that the news that week was all green and the editor must have not realized it until it was too late.  I carefully preserved and cherish that front page, for its greenness and also because I wrote most of the stories on it.

When the paper was closed, so abruptly that I returned from an out-of-town story to find myself locked out of the office, I was among 25 news workers in Humboldt County who were suddenly and without any warning whatsoever thrown into a very tight job market. I was able to save myself, for a while, because I was already a part-time lecturer at both Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods. When both of those gigs fell through sometime later, however, and I could find no news or clerical work and figured death would be better than waitressing again, my time at the Record had supplied me with enough clips and chutzpah to seek employment out of the county as a reporter, despite my advanced age and lack of a journalism degree. One of the really nice things about the news business, at least the reporting side of it, is that so much of your interview consists of plopping your portfolio down in front of your prospective editor, instead of impressing the personnel office with how obsequious and conforming you can be.

I worked for three different papers outside Humboldt County, all of whose editors were thrilled to get a PhD who was a published author for entry level wage plus benefits. They were the Lake County Record-Bee, the Amador County Ledger-Dispatch and Sonoma West Times & News in Sebastopol. To assuage my hippie conscience, I told myself that I would skate just as close to the line as possible for as long as possible in terms of investigative reporting and writing green stories. At each paper, I lasted about a year before the publishers made me miserable enough to leave. (I was never fired outright, but any employer worth his or her salt knows what will drive an unwanted employee to quit.) By that time, at the first two papers, both owned by corporations with distant headquarters, I had the sheriff, most of the county supervisors, all of the school superintendants and the newspaper sales department out gunning for me. I never had an editor that didn’t beg me to stay.

The exception is Sonoma West, which was not a corporate newspaper, but owned and run by former reporters. The problem there was that,  just because it was not a corporation, it was not influenced by laws against sexism and the sexism proved unbearable to me. I was patronized, ridiculed, handed all the Grange breakfast stories, not allowed to cover women’s issues  and had to, each and every day, look at the picture of Marilyn Monroe taped to the back of the male reporter’s computer my computer faced. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Marilyn’s position in the women’s movement, but I really did not want to have to look at one of her sexiest pin-up pictures any time I was in the newsroom. I allowed myself to be wooed away by a software corporation about which I had written stories, at double my salary, only to find I preferred the low-paying sexism to the high-paying cultism. That job did not last long. I had one more newspaper job, doing part-time reporting and layout for the Garberville Independent, which had filled the niche left when the Redwood Record folded.

Below is a sampling of my work done outside the county. I am posting it even though the stories do not relate specifically to Shum, because I think it is of interest that a longtime country hippie such as myself could be employed at a straight newspaper at all and what kinds of things would she write as a result of her life in Shum that would shorten her tenure at each paper. Also, I am very proud of my environmental writing and feel that it is the answer to anyone who might wish to accuse me of “copping out” by having to leave the county to find acceptable work.  At each of the papers except Sonoma West, I wrote a regular opinion column and many features, in addition to reporting straight news, which is why I have the temerity to call myself a journalist instead of a reporter. One of my editors questioned this reasoning and insisted that he was a reporter, not a journalist, then looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to cave. But, I didn’t. I love you, Thomas, you taught me oh, so very much about the news business, but, no, I’m a journalist.

From the Amador Ledger-Dispatch, 1998

Mesa d'oro ed

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