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Stateside with Rosalea: Diorama

Writing Well, I presume, is near Walden Pond, where Henry Thoreau so famously went to simplify life and cut the cackle. Anxious to do a bit of cackle-cutting of my own I recently enrolled in a course on copyediting and while shopping for my textbooks this week came across "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser. Oh, Thoreau's book wasn't called "On Walden Pond"? There you go - you can see what a daunting task I face if I'm ever to make any sense. So that is why this column will be my last.

Among the many gems of wonderful nonfiction writing in "OWW" is an excerpt from a collection of columns of television criticism written by Michael J. Arlen in the mid-1960s, where he speaks of Vietnam being 'television's war': "I wonder (sometimes) what it is that the people who run television think about the war, because *they* have given us this keyhole view; we have given them the airwaves, and now, at this crucial time, they have given back to us this keyhole view - and I wonder if they truly think that those isolated glimpses... are all that we children can stand to see of what is going on inside the room."

The world moves on, and the execution of Timothy McVeigh gave television the opportunity to give us children the diorama view - literally 'a representation of the scene with three-dimensional figures viewed through a window'. And what a die-orama it was, comparable in its broad sweep of screen time with the broad sweep of film used in the photographic panorama and by Cinerama movies. The week leading up to the event was one in which I used my tv remote like a skipping stone, touching lightly here and there on the airwaves to avoid sinking in a mire just barely below the surface.

And I wouldn't be mentioning this now if it wasn't that last Tuesday morning someone at Fox's KTVU morning news show had a 'Yeah, right!' moment on air. Taking a live news feed of McVeigh's lawyer reading a prepared statement about the concern McVeigh felt about how the poor and the non-Caucasian are clearly victimised by the law in the United States because they make up over 90 percent of the people on death row, the station kept the statement audio and cut to file pictures of bloodied babies being carried from the bomb scene.

The audience didn't have to wonder what *that* television person thought, and it was perhaps an understandable act of frustration at all the airtime the impending execution and sympathetic coverage of the prisoner had eaten up. But it was not the act of a professional. Ironically, KTVU's evening news programme last year scored the highest ranking ever given by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in its nationwide study of local television news: "Twice national average for issues, experts, balance and relevance. Proof quality sells." Yes, not only does The Original Ten O'Clock News garner critical and peer acclaim but, according to the ratings, more people watch it than any other Bay Area newscast.

Well, that's that then. For what it's worth, here's my summary of what my 18 months in the United States has taught me:

Do not under any circumstances have a constitution. The British evolutionary system of parliamentary democracy is far preferable, as it saves having to go over the same ground time and time again, redefining what it was that the founding - and supposedly unifying - document means. A treaty is a different matter, because by its very nature it implies there is more than one view being taken into consideration.

Do not under any circumstances allow the right to bear arms become something the majority of your citizens wants to do, nor arm your police force.

Do not under any circumstances create an elected monarch unless you have an elected monarch-in-opposition.

Do not under any circumstances allow inequities to become iniquities.

Do not ever forget that the freedom of the press is the one freedom you need to guarantee all the other freedoms.

Under no circumstances whatsoever forget that down there in Aotearoa/New Zealand you live in paradise. Don't foul your own nest or allow someone else to come in and foul it up for you. And I'm not talking just about the environment.

Have fun and enjoy life!

Lea Barker
Sunday June 17, 2001

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