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Erin Aubry Kaplan
I like to think of a column as a civic diary that puts private thoughts into the public sphere, especially on racial matters. I like to think of myself as a grass-roots talent scout who gives ordinary but remarkable people a bit of stage time in a city obsessed with visibility, electability, celebrity and geography. I like to illuminate neighborhoods in L.A. that tend to wither in the media's shadow -- they need a spotlight and air to grow. I often write myself into my own columns because I'm often a part of the problem, or the solution, or, in any case, a character in the narrative I'm relating. I'm not interested in objectivity but participation. I want to detail people's wrongs and people's hearts in equal measure. I want to chart my own beliefs and disillusionments as faithfully as possible because I think they resonate for many African Americans who have always had too few outlets to speak their minds.
I'm fascinated by the American experiment, and I'm convinced that integration -- how "they" become "us" -- and social cohesion are the preeminent global issues of the 21st century.
In my columns, I try to balance scholarship with reporting, and humor and anecdote with analysis. I am less interested in delivering opinions and more interested in answering questions.
To understand ourselves, Americans need to understand class and race. But those two elements also tend to obscure what's as important: ethnic, cultural and religious strains that define our society. I am astonished how little we know about our own national story, and I try to explore its details, connect its parts.
I think Los Angeles has a lot to teach the world about cultural convergence, but I'm equally interested in what the world can teach us.
My column is not for the weak of mind. In the wrong hands, it could be a dangerous tool. Sometimes I think I should soften my truths -- shield the unready masses from my searing insights -- but then I wouldn't be so heroically brazen, and women would like me less. So I take my chances.
Basically, what I do is the opposite of "Seinfeld": I turn something into nothing. To get that perspective, I try to find the small angle on the story no one has looked at. My column is not a place for readers to pick up facts and figures to bolster your already ingrained arguments. And that's only partly because finding facts and figures takes a lot of work.
So I don't use my space to talk about why the president is totally awesome or completely sucks. There are other people doing that. And they annoy me. I try to report on some piece of the world you didn't know about or were too smart to check out yourself.
But mostly I write about myself, because it is my column's foremost opinion that I'm the most fascinating person in the world.
I'm an idiosyncratic conservative, not a partisan Republican. What interests me are the ideals that are supposed to drive politics, as opposed to the deals that normally do. I take particular delight in debunking the reigning cliches in Washington and deflating the hysteria in American politics generally -- with intellectual rigor, historical context and, whenever possible, with good humor.
I try to avoid the talking points that tend to dominate political debate these days and come at questions in the tradition of a "small c" conservative. I rarely think there's anything new under the sun; I believe instead that the latest Big New Thing is little more than an old idea in shiny new packaging. I don't take myself too seriously, but I'm always serious about looking for an argument.
I don't believe in arguing by authority on my own authority. I always try to offer up evidence to support my arguments. That may sound obvious, but if you think about it, there are lots of columnists out there who argue by anecdote or simple assertion.
A lot of opinion writing is an attempt to distract the reader from the lack of underlying logic. I believe in quoting the people I'm arguing with, so the reader can see that I'm not mischaracterizing their arguments.
As for my politics, I'm a moderate liberal. I probably would have been a moderate Republican 30 years ago if I were old enough (I'm 34). But the political spectrum has moved so far right that I'm now in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. I'm very willing to agree with people on the other side, or attack my own, when I think it's called for. I supported the Iraq war, for instance. No, I'm not bragging about that.
My goal is to inform readers about issues relating to American national security, drawing on my background as a military historian to put current events into perspective. I try to offer provocative insights, with analysis and recommendations, pungently Öoddly enuff bam. Or perhaps not expressed, that go beyond conventional wisdom. My columns tend to engender strong reader reactions. I've been called a neo-Nazi by left-wingers and a Trotskyite by right-wingers, which tells me I must be doing something right. If I had to describe my viewpoint, I would say that I'm a conservative internationalist -- someone in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan -- who believes that the U.S. does well in foreign policy when it does good. I think that American power has been the greatest force for good in the world over the last century and that vigorous American leadership is needed to guide the world in the years to come.
I like to think of my column as social commentary with a generous dose of philosophical inquiry and, occasionally, outright satire. I cover the zeitgeist. I'm a generalist who tries not to over-generalize and a critic who hopes to avoid being a snob. By exploring current issues, ideas and the quirks of our culture critically and compassionately, my aim is for readers to identify with my arguments even if they disagree with my conclusions. Nothing makes me happier than connecting with an audience that's willing to think as well as be entertained. By offering up my own foibles, I hope my readers will let go of their defenses too.
A scotsman by birth, a historian by training, a wandering scholar by choice, I take very seriously the old adage that journalism is history's first draft. I constantly ask myself what the second and third drafts may say about the latest world news. At the same time, I take the view that history is our best guide when it comes to answering most political questions -- a much more reliable guide than any ideology or doctrine. What should we do about Iran, Iraq or North Korea? Will we poison the oceans before we overheat the atmosphere? These are questions I've addressed in recent columns. A rather pompous German shipowner before World War I had as his motto "My Field Is The World." I'd like to think the world is my field too. The great thing is that every week, when I write my column, I learn at least one new thing about it.
When you spend the time I have reporting and writing on California and the West -- the astronauts, madams, polygamists, refugees, oversexed priests, politicians both admirable and detestable, artists, heroes sung and unsung, killers and the kindhearted, dog actors and human ones, desperadoes and billionaires and plain old idiots; when you've hung out on the Mexican border, seen old ladies catfighting alongside Valentino's grave and covered sundry inaugurations, Olympics, quakes, protests, fires and riots -- you wind up with a lot to say about this place. California and the West can't be completely captured or explained with "just the facts." It takes context, experience and a substantial bit of humor. I attempt it in 800 words (give or take 50) every week, with some wit and some intellectual fiber. I'm Patt Morrison, and I approved this message -- at least, I did before it got to my editor.
I try to write the kind of columns I like to read -- columns that will surprise readers, make them laugh, let them see connections between seemingly dissimilar things. I like the odd juxtaposition, the hidden irony, the irreverent and, occasionally, the just plain silly. I write mostly about foreign policy, national security, human rights and international law. These aren't subjects that people generally giggle about while reading the morning papers, but as the poet W..H. Auden put it, sometimes "a laugh is less heartless than tears." Politically, I'm a progressive, but I'm allergic to ideology; I think good ideas can often be found in the most unexpected places. In the last five years, I think we've made terrible mistakes in our foreign policies, mistakes that break my heart. I'd like to see the United States become, once more, what it has been in the past: A nation that stands up for human rights and the rule of law, and a true force for global stability and security.