Oh, brother. Sometimes you just have to roll your eyes and heave a heavy sign to keep from screaming at some of the blockheads who share your profession.
For instance, I'm sure the one good attorney out there hates being lumped in with the 99 bad ones.
That was a joke, see? There is no need for attorneys to now call and accuse me of trying to stereotype lawyers and make them "look bad," which is like being accused of making a landfill "smell bad" (and yes, that was another joke).
I do plenty of dumb things on my own, but I'm generally willing to admit it. I wish we could get the same consideration from others in my profession who screw up.
What has me rolling my eyes is an editorial that ran this past Wednesday in the Athens Banner-Herald, a newspaper owned by the same company that owns this one. I love Athens, and love my alma mater there, but my ink-stained brethren have evidently been held hostage in the weird air of that college town for so long that they're taking it a tad too seriously. Likewise the letter (in today's edition) from an Elberton resident who's really knotted up.
Perhaps these kind folks can blame the misunderstanding on a fax from the little weekly paper in Elberton, the Star, which ignited the furor by getting all vapory over a comment from Jim Whitehead, our former county commissioner who now is a freshman state senator.
Here's the story: Whitehead and other lawmakers were appearing at a forum with the Elbert County Board of Education. There is a great deal of concern around the state, particularly in rural communities like Elberton, that property taxes are an unfair way of paying to operate school systems. Elbert County, in fact, is one of many such systems suing Georgia because of funding disparities.
Many of these systems want an increase in the state's sales tax, with the money going to operate the schools and relieve some of the property tax burden. At the Elberton forum, someone told the lawmakers that a University of Georgia professor criticized the sales tax as "regressive" because it disproportionately hits poor people. (Never mind that Georgia exempts groceries from sales tax, protecting those with subsistence-level incomes.)
Here are Whitehead's comments about his response. "We were cutting up about some of the professors, liberal as they are. Many of them don't support our conservative views, and I said something, probably not the best words, but to the effect that other than the football team they probably ought to bomb it."
Now get this part: He. Was. Joking. Apparently that's a possibility our brethren in Athens didn't consider when they responded with horror, and one that slipped past the angry letter-writer.
"Certainly I said it as a joke, and they pounced all over it," said Whitehead, who played football at UGA. "I don't think they need to question my loyalty and my giving and my love (for UGA) and everything else. If I get to where I can't joke about something, that bothers me," Whitehead said.
Well, it's gotten there. And it ought to bother all of us.
Remember Ronald Reagan's famous joke while waiting to give his Saturday radio broadcast? Something like, "We've passed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Holy, cow! From their overreaction, you would have thought the liberal commentators were going to fling themselves on missile silos as human shields. Which, come to think of it, wouldn't be a bad idea, except that it would deprive us of so many college professors and lawyers.
Even the Great Communicator could make a joke that, while funny, used the term "bomb." And just like Whitehead's quip, it "bombed" with the humor-challenged.
Maybe these folks all were trained by the same school -- heck, it's probably at UGA -- that teaches airline screeners to tackle and strip-search the guy who jokes about bombs in the airport, even when he's obviously kidding and deserves nothing more than a squirt of pepper spray; or that gets school officials to handcuff a kid who innocently brings scissors to school (that actually happened this past week, but not here, thank goodness).
We've all gone a little nutty when we can't take a joke any more, when every incident is treated with hyperventilating seriousness. Though Whitehead's off-the-cuff comment was pretty dumb -- and he knows he shouldn't have said it -- no one should get all worked up over it.
It would be a shame if the first casualty of Whitehead's decision to serve his community in the state Senate was his generous, if sometimes goofy, sense of humor. We've got too many humorless stuffed shirts in Atlanta already.
And apparently a few in Athens and Elberton, too.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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