Editorial: Rude, Crude and In Your Face

By Becky O’Malley
Friday May 18, 2007

A few years ago the publisher and I were tourists in London, and we stopped to look at a lovely old churchyard in Hampstead or somewhere. The kindly grey-haired old vicar saw us looking at his tombstones, and came over to tell us a few interesting stories about local history. Then, with no apparent segue, he launched into a tirade about what savages the Irish were, how they were making England uninhabitable and worse. Now, to be fair, this was during the time when some IRA members were planting bombs in British cities, so his annoyance was not unjustifiable, but he went way over the top with accusations of superstition and illiteracy against the whole Irish nation. We went on our way quickly at that point, terrified that he would introduce himself and we would have to cop to our shared Irish surname.  

The British (my own ancestors) have always counted a fair number of bigots among their number, so the vicar’s rant was not surprising, though the source was. “Wogs” was the term of endearment applied uniformly to any foreigner in past generations, often with no distinction made among different racial, ethnic or national origins. The appalling anti-Islam video from a British website which Peace and Justice Commissioner Jonathan Wornick circulated to his fellow commissioners was right in step with this historic posture. The speaker was an actor, apparently expressing his own opinions, though one might think he was simply playing the part of “Colonel Blimp,” the traditional voice of British bigotry. 

As a citizen of the United States, Wornick has every right to his own opinion, and every right to endorse and forward the opinions of others. But after he shocked his fellow commissioners by circulating that video, some might question Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s judgment in appointing a fellow like Wornick to the Peace and Justice Commission, where presumably tact and diplomacy are part of the job description.  

Although I’ve never met the gentlemen, I’ve become aware that his ideas about good taste and appropriateness are, shall we say, unusual. I myself received this letter from Wornick at my personal e-mail address (I’ve no idea how he got it):  



Sometimes I go to bed pleased that your crappy insignificant paper is read by so few people. And those who do read it, (there are of course a couple hundred graying leftists) many are like myself, who check it out online only to see what outrageous and entertaining bullshit you (or the couple dozens regular letter writers) will say about an evil real estate developer, or Republicans or Christians or Zionists.  

You’re delusional, really angry and alone and I’m sorry to say, very fat. You should know that people like that die early and sad.  

Enjoy your little playing field where the ball is yours. The rest of us will be playing on planet earth—making a real difference. 


I forwarded the letter to Wozniak when I got it a couple of months ago, but apparently it didn’t cause him to think twice about Wornick’s suitability for his commission slot, as it should have. 

The traditional White Anglo-Saxons in the United States (my own ancestors among them) have also had trouble telling one non-northern-European from another. People my age with White Anglo-Saxon Protestant names like my birth name grew up hearing disparaging references to all kinds of people, Jews and “Ay-rabs” among them, often lumped together, with African-Americans called by a name too rude to repeat here. I’ve also heard elderly Yiddish speakers speak disparagingly of “schwartzes” (blacks), and I’ve heard ignorant anti-Catholic rants when I was not using my (Episcopalian-raised) husband’s Catholic-sounding name. Moslems and fat people might seem like easy safe targets these days, but bigotry is a slippery slope, and when someone like Wornick thinks he’s shoving a despised group down it he might find that his own group goes tumbling after.  

And speaking of tumbling, some bicycle enthusiasts seem to have taken a fall in the eyes of the public, judging by the letters we, other papers and craigslist have been getting. It’s fine to say that the road should be shared by all regardless of method of transport, but allowing a gang of riders to bully law-abiding motorists is very different. Even the edited version of Critical Mass’ video, which they posted on the Internet, clearly showed that they’d trapped a couple of frightened older people who were driving carefully on their way to care for their disabled daughter. I suspect that if we’d seen the whole thing it would have looked even worse. 

Circulating a video displaying vile pejorative opinions about Moslems is a protected civil liberty in this country, though it does seem to be what some are trying to ban as “hate speech,” a murky category easily abused. But the website where the Critical Mass video was posted was sponsored by something called the “Bicycle Civil Liberties Union.” That’s a misappropriation of a fine old name—pushing others off the roads is not civil liberties, it’s just plain rude, and dangerous to boot. It crosses over the line from free speech, within the territory covered by the First Amendment, to illegal action.  

But the real problem in both cases is attitude: self-righteousness about opinions which are arguably fine carried to inappropriate extremes. Both Jason Meggs, spokesperson for the bicyclists and a former Transportation Commissioner, and Jonathan Wornick, a current Peace and Justice Commissioner, are doing harm to the causes which they claim to espouse. The councilmembers who appoint commissioners need to take some responsibility for their actions as well. Uncivilized behavior, whether or not it’s legal, is not good PR for either Israel or bicyclists.