2006: Mike Trimble, Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle
Award for Editorial Writing
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
by: ASNE Staff

Section: Editorial writing

Mike Trimble

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The Manchurian Televangelist

November 14, 2005

The public pronouncements of the Rev. Pat Robertson have become so bizarre that responsible conservatives don't even bother to defend them anymore. Instead, they chide the press for paying any attention whatsoever to anything Robertson says, and we are forced to concede they have just about convinced us.

The public pronouncements of the Rev. Pat Robertson have become so bizarre that responsible conservatives don't even bother to defend them anymore. Instead, they chide the press for paying any attention whatsoever to anything Robertson says, and we are forced to concede they have just about convinced us.

Robertson 's latest outrage was to warn the people of Dover, Pa., that they had best not expect any help from the Almighty should they be beset in the future by fires, floods, pestilences or any other disasters of an apocalyptic nature. Should they do so, Robertson predicted, God would simply tell them to go fish.

The sin of the Doverines, a sin that surely ranks up there with those of the Sodomites and the Gomorons, was to vote from office a school board that had approved the inclusion of Intelligent Design in their schools' curricula.

Spake Robertson on his television show, The 700 Club: "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him in your city."

This, you will remember, is the man who twice claimed to have prayed hurricanes away from the Virginia coastline and nodded like a bobblehead doll at fellow parson Jerry Falwell's assertion that Sept. 11 was God's retribution against an apostate United States, a view that happened to coincide perfectly with that of al-Qaida.

Robertson has also suggested in the past that an atomic bomb be dropped on the American State Department, that the U.S. government assassinate a leftist South American dictator and that feminism urges women to "kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Let us leave aside the merits of the Intelligent Design theory, which, simply put, argues that the universe is just too complicated a structure to have come about by chance. There are arguments to be made about it pro and con, but that is not our purpose today.

Our purpose is to (1) ask who made Pat Robertson the arbiter of whom God will save and whom he will condemn, and (2) point out that he shot the Intelligent Design argument square in the knee with his pronouncement.

Second point first: The proponents of Intelligent Design know that they must present their theory on a purely secular basis. Intelligent Design, they argue over and over, is not about God. It is about science! Now comes the Rev. Robertson to proclaim that God Himself is supremely cheesed off at the people of Dover, Pa., for rejecting this allegedly secular educational approach.

Does God take sides in these secular matters? What ever happened to rendering unto Caesar? How does God feel about cold fusion? How about the Designated Hitter Rule? Surely there should be some divine retribution for that.

First point: Pat Robertson's insistence that he speaks for God has at long last ceased to enrage us and has put him firmly in the tinfoil-hat section of the Peanut Gallery.

We knew it as soon as we heard clear-headed conservative commentators horse-laughing his Intelligent Design dithyramb along with everyone else. Some conservatives even speculated facetiously that he might be under the diabolical control of the lefties, a Manchurian preacher programmed to spout crazy stuff that makes the right look bad.

When your own side brands you a crackpot, you have pretty well slipped into the slough of irrelevance for good and all, and we don't envision commenting much about Pat Robertson in the future. He has passed into the realm of the truly whacked-out, where space flight is faked and pro wrestling is real.

Out there be dragons.

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Ernest Wayne Dallas Jr.: Two Pictures, One Life

July 29, 2005

That picture of Ernie Dallas Jr. in Thursday's paper, the one that shows him as a child in his baseball uniform, is what being an American boy is all about.

In that picture, replicated a million times each summer across this land, you can tell the young Ernie Dallas is already rehearsing how he'll pose for his rookie baseball card. He's got the stance down pat, and his uniform is perfect, from the gentle major-league roll on the bill of his cap to the batting glove on his left hand.

One senses that he is doing his best to affect a menacing batsman's stare for the camera, but he can't quite pull it off. The moment is just too perfect: The sun is shining, school is out and Ernie Dallas is playing baseball. A smile threatens to break out at any moment.

You can see that threat of a smile in the other picture of Ernie Dallas that appeared in Thursday's paper. In that one, he is in desert camo and the black beret of a United States Infantryman. He is a man now, there is no doubt of that, but the young baseball player is in that picture, too — in the clear eyes and the determined set of the jaw. Just as he had been in that earlier photo, Ernie Dallas was at home in the uniform. We know that about him if we know nothing else.

It is a source of both pride and sadness in this country that children in baseball uniforms grow up to be young men and women in military uniforms, and the physical stamina, enthusiasm and team spirit they learned on the playing field is spent on battlefields and carrier decks, and cockpits and control rooms in lonely outposts the rest of us cannot pronounce.

When any of these young men and women falls in battle, we are overcome by both the sadness and the pride. When it is one of our own, the loss and the pride are doubly strong.

The fog of war still surrounds his death, but we do know that Ernie Dallas died Sunday in Baghdad when the Bradley fighting vehicle he was riding in struck an explosive device. He was one of ours, the first of Denton's sons and daughters to die in that far place, and suddenly this war is brought home to us as it has not been before.

We have all formed our opinions about this war — the politics of it, or the economics — but this is not about politics or economics today; this is about one of our sons.

When members of his family spoke of him in Thursday's paper, we all became a part of that family. We went with them to baseball games, and to activities at Fred Moore High School.

We shared his parents' pride, and, we would guess, their quiet, unspoken fears, when he announced in high school that he wanted to be a police officer, and enrolled in the Denton Police Department's Citizen Youth Academy.

We shared both emotions again upon reading of how he joined the Army in 2003, itching to help avenge the terrorist attacks on the United States in September of 2001. His anger made us proud again, and afraid again, afraid for him and all the young men and women whose anger, skill, strength and confidence are necessary to survive the deadly business of war.

And on Thursday, when we read that he had died, our fear became ineffable sadness, though our pride was undiminished.

Ernie Dallas Jr. had dreamed of a life in uniform, his family said, a life of service. He fulfilled that dream, and it is our prayer that knowing this brings a measure of peace to those who loved him, and who miss him so today.

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Bye Bye, American Pie; Hello Whipped Topping

July 6, 2005

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman."

mdash; Thomas Paine, "The Crisis," 1776

"Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

— Martin Luther, 95 Theses of Contention, 1517

"The pie-eating contest, really a whipped topping-eating contest, was the biggest dish served up in the city's rain-soaked Fourth of July Jubilee."

— Cliff Despres, Denton Record-Chronicle, 2005

For those who missed the account in Tuesday's newspaper, here is the grave situation:

As is the custom in this good town, the city government scheduled a wingding on Monday to celebrate Independence Day. It rained, forcing cancellation of the big parade and the horseshoe-pitching tournament, but spirits were still high for the pie-eating contest.

Imagine our shock upon reading our correspondent's account of the contest in Tuesday's paper and learning that contestants were asked to eat only one pie, and that the winners were determined by timing the contestants, shortest time winning.

Worst of all was what passed for pie.

Let us ponder for a moment the entire concept of a pie-eating contest: It must involve pie. A fruit pie is best, and cherry is the best of all, given its arresting, attractive color. Banana cream is OK, too, but meringue pies should be avoided, as they contain too much air, and lead to falsely impressive eating totals.

At its very least, a competition-worthy pie includes a metal pie tin, crust and a substantial filling that requires some chewing. That is to say, the pies in a pie-eating contest must be pies, not "pies."

The "pies" used Monday in the city of Denton's Fourth of July pie-eating contest were not pies at all; they were plain old plates onto which were splashed some kind of whipped "topping" that we can only assume was suitable for human consumption.

And what, may we ask, is the idea behind timing the eating of just one pie? For children, maybe this is the way to go, but a Fourth of July pie-eating contest for grownups should be an exercise in good old American gluttony, with moaning and eye-rolling and the threat of projectile vomiting. It is the American way!

This newspaper has never avoided controversial editorial positions before, and it doesn't intend to begin now. It is with faith in the right, as we see the right, that we hereby declare that if the city of Denton is going to throw a pie-eating contest, it should supply the contestants with real, honest-to-God pies. Moreover, the winners should be determined by the amount of pie they eat, not the time in which they eat it.

If the city cannot afford to buy pies, it should encourage someone to donate them. We nominate Ken Willis, the proprietor of Ruby's Diner on the Square. Willis would no doubt be more than happy to donate a couple of hundred pies to avoid being branded a cheapskate.

That is our position. Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us. Amen.

We modestly await the thanks of man and woman.

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The Governor Closes the Borders

June 10, 2005

Gov. Rick Perry has invited homosexual war veterans from Texas to move elsewhere, a statement so breathtaking in its bigotry that we thought at first that reports of it had to be incorrect.

Sadly, they were not. A quick check in newspapers and wire service Web sites confirmed that the governor had uttered the 21st-century equivalent of "Send 'em all back to Africa," and, even sadder, that he did it before an approving audience at a private Christian academy in Forth Worth.

There are a couple of circumstances that might tend to mitigate the governor's vile pronouncement:

1. It was in response to an obviously hostile question, and,

2. Perry may simply be too dumb to realize just how vile his answer sounded.

Perry had orchestrated a big campaign photo op at the Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Worth over the weekend to watch him sign legislation requiring minors to get parental permission for abortions and a proclamation putting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the Texas ballot. There were several protesters on hand who objected to one or both of the measures Perry was signing, and to what they perceived as an unhealthy melding of church and state. At some point in the proceedings, someone asked Perry what he would say to a returning veteran of the Iraq war who wished to marry someone of the same sex, the unfriendly but not unreasonable implication being that a Texan who has fought for his or her country has pretty much earned the right to marry whomever he or she damn well pleases.

Perry answered thus:

"Texans have made a decision about marriage, and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that's a better place for them to live."

Setting aside for a moment the technicality that the people of Texas have not yet voted on this proposed amendment, let us examine the malign prejudice that is implicit in Perry's words.

There are plenty of intellectual arguments to be made for and against constitutionally defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. They involve custom, sociology, child welfare, economics, individual liberty and a raft of other issues. Perry addressed none of them; he simply implied - strongly, in our opinion - that gay and lesbian people are not welcome in "his" Texas. Because the question was couched in terms of returning war veterans, that's the way he answered it, but his "invitation" seemed pretty general in nature: If you're gay or lesbian, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

There are some people in Texas, and everywhere else, who believe that way, and Perry seemed to be pandering to that constituency. He may well win their votes with such statements, but they do him no credit among people of good will, no matter how they feel about same-sex marriage.

We do not want our governor to be a bigot. We fervently hope he just said something stupid again. We can live with stupid.

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Big Brother Moves in Just Down the Street

May 8, 2005

We probably shouldn't worry about the Code Rangers, but we do, a little bit. The Code Rangers, if you didn't see the paper the other day, are a corps of volunteers who are going to keep their eyes on how often we cut our grass and how high we stack our garbage.

When we don't measure up, the Code Rangers will send us a little reminder in the mail. If we don't straighten up and fly right after that warning, our friendly neighborhood Code Ranger calls in the heavy artillery, the "city code officers."

We shudder to think what that might mean: the knock on the door in the dead of night; the endless interrogations ("Are you saying this isn't your rotten two-by-four, MIS-ter Anderson?"), landscaping miscreants being herded into the backs of city trucks, which will take them for "re-education" at Frenchy's Lawn Care and Gulag, or, if the offense is particularly heinous, to a device hidden in the city Service Center on Texas Street, a device known only as "The Big Chipper."

You see? We're working ourselves into a lather over this for no reason at all. All the City Council has asked residents to do is what good citizens do anyway: Keep an eye on things and drop a dime - er, a reminder - on a neighbor if something isn't quite up to snuff. The council came up with the idea last year when it approved some stricter requirements concerning grass cutting, tree trimming, junk-car displaying and the like. Because we assume the council acts only with the best of motives, we assume it believed it was simply tapping Denton's renowned well of volunteer spirit in recruiting residents to keep an eye out in their neighbors' Johnson grass and garbage piles.

We wish we could think of it in the same way, but we can't.

At best, we think of it as an amusing annoyance, in which the neighborhood Barney Fifes patrol the streets, secretly yearning for a uniform and a whistle, on the lookout for high grass and old washing-machine parts. Gotta nip it, nip it, nip it in the bud, Andy.

At worst, we can see neighborhood grudges escalating into blizzards of warning letters and the use of official power to settle personal business. We can see suspicion blooming with the azaleas, ill feeling piling up along with the old newspapers.

We think it is revealing that the city's two existing Code Rangers declined to comment on their activities for the story in the paper the other day. What would they say? What could they say? Would they have to appear wearing a ski mask?

Yes, we all have a stake in clean, healthy neighborhoods, and there needs to be a way to help an overtaxed code enforcement staff find out about the most egregious violations.

But it seems to us there already is a way. Anyone who sees an overgrown lawn or a clapped-out Henry J in somebody's front yard already has the power - and, we believe, the obligation - to report them to the proper city officials.

Of course, the possibility of abuse exists with individuals just as it does with the Code Rangers, but a complaint that comes from a private resident is just that - a complaint to be looked with no prejudgment of guilt or innocence. A complaint from a Code Ranger has the imprimatur of the city government right from the get-go. If the Code Ranger says your back yard's a mess, it's up to you to prove that it isn't.

If it's all the same to the City Council, we like our neighbors just fine like they are, and would rather not see any of them turned into the lawn Gestapo. We had just as soon skip this side trip to the brave new world.

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