Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Friday, May 12, 2006

Open letter to columnist Ira Hansen

Dear Ira:
Many thanks for your kind comments about my column in your column in the Sparks Tribune. I especially appreciated the words “envy and awe at how much punch he can pack in each sentence.” I don’t remember if I ever had a nicer compliment about my columns.
But I am not writing to boast. I am writing to explain myself, to clarify. And, believe it or not, to praise you despite the yawning gap between our stands on most issues.
One of the sadder aspects of our daily lives is that most of us live in a tiny circle. We really don’t know people outside that circle. We seldom know “the other guy.”
I recall hearing former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor talk informally a few years ago at the judicial college on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus.
I had frequently criticized her in my column and would do so again and again because she was so often part of the Reactionary Five on the Rehnquist Court. But listening to her, I liked her in spite of myself. She had a modest, soft-spoken and, yes, wise-sounding manner.
You asked, Ira: “How can we ever find common ground?” We don’t have to. But what we do share in common is humanity.
I recall the words of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?…If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?”
And another quotation from Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”: “As adversaries do in law, / Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.”
You strive mightily, Ira. You argue your case forcefully. You know your American history. Your research is solid. And your column surely has more sympathetic readers than I have. (One letter writer to the Trib said I should go back to Moscow “where I came from.” After the Soviet Union collapsed, another letter writer said I should go back to Havana.)
Then, Ira, you say your “formal education is limited to a high school diploma from Sparks High School.” No apologies needed. I have known PhDs with little common sense. You say you’re a plumber. So what? You must be a good plumber (and that is saying much in these days of slipshod work, shoddy merchandise and flawed new clothing). You certainly must work hard. You certainly must give honest measure. You certainly must have great integrity.
If people give the best of their talents, that is sufficient unto the day. I recall my newspaper days at a Baltimore newspaper. I was often assigned unimportant feature stories. Yet I always tried to make the stories “sing.”
I suspect, too, Ira, that you are an autodidact, a self-taught man who never stops reading, never stops learning.
I have a master’s degree. So what? (I know many PhDs who are knowledgeable about narrow specialties, like salamanders, say, but who are limited in conversation and turgid in prose.)
Most real education begins outside formal schooling. I read constantly. I am constantly learning. I learn from a dear faculty friend, learn from my wife. I also learn from my students, sometimes getting valuable insights that I note in future classes.
Sure, Ira, on most issues we are diametrically opposed. You believe the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired. Need I remind you that four out of the first five presidents--Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe--held slaves? Was slavery divinely inspired?
You believe, Ira, that “America and its traditions” are “the best possible for mankind.” Oh? More than 100 wars and interventions in other lands, most of them unjustified? No national health insurance despite the enormous wealth in this country? A Manifest Destiny that first destroyed native American peoples and then grabbed vast chunks of the land from Mexico? A terribly flawed democracy? A nation so uncivilized in many ways? A country were money rules?
As for hedonism, Ira, I do take pleasures in wine, food and my wonderful wife. But I don’t live wholly for those, which a hedonist does. Far more important, as a teacher I try to do as much good as possible for students. I hope in a small way I achieve the ideal of teachers defined by Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”
In any case, your column is a credit to the Sparks Tribune publisher and editors who run it. It speaks highly of the Trib that it runs Hansen from the Right and Highton from the Left.


Blogger Daniel said...

I just stumbled across this blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. Ira and Jake make an interesting juxtaposition and your civility towards each other is an excellent example of how ideologically opposed individuals can still share peaceful dialogues.

May your example spread to others!

9:04 AM  

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