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Opinion

Column: I’m the new L.A. Times opinion columnist. You may call me a bedbug. I’ve heard worse

Los Angeles skyline
Columnist Robin Abcarian is the new L.A. Times opinion columnist. Being a columnist is “a dream job,” she writes.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

I think I’ve done everything at this paper except cover sports.

I’ve been a feature writer, a culture writer, a national reporter, a section editor. I’ve covered mass shootings, hurricanes, political campaigns, presidential conventions, Oscars, Emmys and film festivals.

I’ve written travel stories, obituaries and celebrity profiles.

But my favorite post is columnist, an assignment I’ve had at this paper, on and off, since 1992. It is a dream job.

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Your work is to help make sense of this messy, beautiful world. You get to tell readers what you think, and why. You try to persuade, engage, enlighten and inform. All of it is an honor.

I am not immune to criticism, but I have a very thick skin. You may call me a bedbug, or worse. It won’t hurt my feelings and I won’t try to get you fired.

When I wrote for the California section, a recurring complaint from readers is that my political views had no place in the news pages.

“You should be on the opinion page,” they would say.

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I have good news for the critics: The Los Angeles Times has finally put me in my place.

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My first Times column ran in the old feature section — “View,” which became “Life & Style” before its final incarnation as “Southern California Living.” All those format and name changes were, in retrospect, a harbinger of the newspaper industry woes to come. Try as we might, we would find no magic formula to increase readership and advertising. The digital revolution upended all of that.

In the early days, I explored what many people would call women’s issues: sexual assault and abuse, reproductive rights, domestic violence, workplace discrimination and of course, parenting. They aren’t really women’s issues, of course. They are human issues, but my male counterparts here never seemed especially interested in those topics, so I had a lot of running room.

I also wrote about my personal life, hoping that my struggles and joys would resonate with readers, or at least keep them entertained. The greatest compliment I ever got was when readers told me they’d clipped my column and taped it to their fridge. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Nora Ephron’s admonition — “everything is copy” — was my motto.

You soon learn, however, that everything cannot be copy; in the interest of marital harmony, for example, I gave my then-husband veto power over anything I wrote about him. He exercised his power judiciously.

My daughter, thankfully, was fair game. She couldn’t read yet.

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When she was 3, I wrote about her intense tantrum phase, a shock because she’d been an angelic 2-year-old. I consulted her wry pediatrician, Harvey Karp, who would later go on to fame as the best-selling author of the “Happiest Baby” series of parenting books.

Karp always had the answers. Unlike 2-year-olds, who are clueless about their place in the universe, he explained, 3-year-olds have started to grasp that they are tiny and powerless, which creates anxiety, which can lead to outbursts.

He gave me a few tips, then added: “If all that fails, you simply have to go to the next step.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“Putting them in the microwave.”

The deluge of outraged mail accusing me (and Karp) of advocating child abuse confirmed what my English professor father had always warned: Unless you are a writer the caliber of Jonathan Swift, satire is very difficult to pull off.

I still think that microwave joke was funny, though.

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Like the politics of so many urban, coastal Californians, mine are left-of-center.

Here are a few things I believe:

The job of government is to improve people’s lives. Corporations run the show. Gay and transgender people deserve equal rights. Racism, misogyny and patriarchy must be smashed, but never will be.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a disaster. Freedom of speech is seriously endangered on college campuses.

You can hate the way Israel treats Palestinians and not be an anti-Semite.

Republicans only care about deficits when Democrats are president. If Sarah Palin had looked like Margaret Thatcher, she never would have made it out of the Alaska governor’s mansion.

I do not consider the label “secular humanist” an insult; it is entirely possible to be a moral and ethical person without relying on religion, or believing in God.

President Trump is a cold-hearted con man who is not just ill-suited to the presidency, but dangerous to the world order. I hold with New Yorker editor David Remnick, who, shortly after Trump was elected, said the whole thing felt like a “hallucination.” Still does.

We do not need a wall on our southern border, we are not being invaded by Mexicans and Central Americans, and separating children from their parents who are seeking a better life is betrayal of the principles on which this country was founded.

No one should own military-style weapons; if you want to shoot an assault rifle, join the Army. When it comes to the American epidemic of mass shootings, mental illness, ideology and alienation may play a part. But the availability of these guns is the irreducible cause.

I pray every day for the good health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford are heroes.

Over time, my thinking on some issues has evolved.

After covering the abortion wars for many years, including the 2009 assassination of Kansas late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, I no longer couch abortion as something that is tragic but necessary. It’s not tragic; it’s a social good. It allows women to control their lives.

I accept that vaccines have injured a vanishingly small number of children, but I am appalled by parents who place their feelings and fears above science. Gov. Gavin Newsom should sign the new state bill that puts greater scrutiny on medical exemptions.

I don’t stop talking to people just because they disagree with me. I have spent endless hours in conversation with people who sincerely believe abortion is murder or that vaccines are poison.

One last thing: I will not argue with you about tacos. There are already enough people at this newspaper doing that.


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