by Cara Gardner and Joel Smith

Choose Your Words Carefully -- SPOKANE -- In case you ever wondered what happened if you didn't support the troops, just ask Lily Morris, a student reporter for The Communicator, the Spokane Falls Community College newspaper. Morris may have felt like she was getting something off her chest when she wrote, "No Pity for the New American Hero" -- a diatribe accusing military personnel not only of not being heroic, but of being, in fact, "brainwashed," and "lazy." Since the piece was published on Feb. 25, however, Morris's angry rant has stirred such rage from military personnel and their supporters that even soldiers in Iraq are writing to the paper, the dean is getting irate phone calls and two news stations have covered the controversy. The Communicator has received dozens of letters, calls and e-mails protesting Morris's claims that "infidelity is as common as jaywalking among the ranks," and that people sign up for the military because "they cannot find work," or because "they don't feel like attending ... college."

"Besides an utter lack of ambition, a belief that you are incapable of living your own life effectively ... why would anyone in their right mind chose [sic] to discard the next four years of their life... to live under a dictatorship-style hierarchy?" Morris wrote.

Some protestors are calling for the resignation of Mark Stimpfle, advisor to The Communicator.

"I'm not worried about my job," Stimpfle says. "But it's just very stressful."

Morris' commentary is, to some, typical of an uninformed but passionate college student; to others, it's frighteningly hateful. "I don't feel sorry for a single American soldier killed in Iraq," she wrote. "Don't go writing me some sob story about what a fantastic person he was and how he didn't deserve to die; he was stupid."

Despite the overwhelmingly negative response to Morris' comments, she and the paper have not apologized.

"She's appeared quite contrite. She apologized for her ignorance; she used the word 'apology,'" Stimpfle argues, regarding a caveat Morris wrote below pages of angry letters to the editor. Her use of "apology," however, was in the context of clarifying that her commentary refers to current soldiers, not soldiers from previous generations.

But as a college student learns her lessons about the power of words, larger questions loom about the line between free speech and speech that is harmful. Was The Communicator being gutsy or irresponsible -- or both? What role does fact and evidence have in commentary-style journalism?

Stimpfle, who does not view articles before they are published, says that even though he would have advised changes to Morris' piece, he would not have blocked it from being published.

"These are students, and people forget that. People abuse the word, 'professional' again and again." Stimpfle says that based on long conversations with Morris and other staff writers, he believes they have learned a lot from the controversy. "It's a student paper. If they were doing everything right, they wouldn't be here." -- Cara Gardner

Paper or Plastic? -- SPOKANE -- Right up there with "D'ya want fries with that?" it's one of the most ubiquitous questions of our generation. Paper bags hold more and they're better for the environment, but aren't they cutting down the Amazons? Plastic is forever, but I can use it later to keep my Q-tips away from my cats.

No longer shall we stammer in the checkout lane when pressed for a response. At least not if we're Yoke's shoppers. Spokane-based Yoke's Fresh Market announced last week that it will be the first grocery chain in the U.S. to offer customers plastic bags that are completely biodegradable. Using a technology called Totally Degradable Plastic Additives (or TDPA), the bags, when introduced to oxygen, fragment into smaller particles and dissolve completely into a mush of carbon dioxide, water and microorganism cells.

It won't happen on the way home, however. The process, says Yoke's VP Denny York, can take anywhere between 60 days and a couple of years. He says the company did a test where they hung one of the new plastic bags and one of the old, non-biodegradable bags next to each other on a chain-link fence. "You could see after a month the color and the writing were gone from the new bag," York says. "The old bag looked exactly the same."

The new bags are already being handed out at Yoke's check stands. By the end of the summer, York says, the company will also offer the new technology in its produce and prescription drug bags, and they'll even sell zippered sandwich bags for home use. -- Joel Smith

Publication date: 03/24/05

Heart Strings for Hope

Tue., March 9, 6 p.m.
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