Desecration row

What does it mean to “desecrate the flag”? According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, desecrate means “To abuse the sacredness of.” This week Wendy Oshima, the woman whose water service was cut off a few weeks ago because of an alleged flag desecration, came into my office to show me the flag in question. I took a photo. The flag has a peace sign on it and some little faces. The alteration of this flag was enough to cause the Mt. Shasta Water Co. to stop its service to Oshima. The water delivery man, Richard Orduno, found the peace sign offensive and told his boss as much. “Before I gave our route salesman instructions to discontinue servicing your account I had his manager verify what he told me he had seen, the desecrated flag of our country The United States of America,” wrote Bill Ellis, Mt. Shasta’s general manager in a letter to Oshima. There is no room on the American flag for a peace sign, at least in the collective minds of the Mt. Shasta Spring Water Co. Inc.

Jack Lee, a mover and shaker in the local Republican Party, wrote in the Enterprise-Record (he has a blog) that Oshima’s actions were “repugnant.” (Actually, Oshima’s 9-year-old daughter put the peace sign and the faces on the flag.) To see Lee’s blog, you have to go on the E-R’s Web site. And here’s some irony for you—on Halloween, the banner of the E-R’s Web site featured the American flag carved onto two cartoon pumpkins—the pumpkins served as the “o” in Chico and com. Does this treatment constitute an abuse of the sacredness of the flag? Doesn’t the pumpkin represent a pagan holiday? Doesn’t the flag represent a Christian nation? I smell abuse here. Will Mt. Shasta pull the E-R’s water cooler (assuming it has a contract with the paper) over such flag abuse?

What about the huge American flag that flies from the tall pole that sprouts from the Wittmeier Auto lot just off Highway 99? The flag is there not only to announce the auto dealer’s profound patriotism, but to serve as an attraction to the dealership as well. The city has an ordinance limiting the height of signs. If it didn’t, I’m pretty sure we’d have a huge Wittmeier sign there instead of a flag. Wittmeier is completely within its rights to fly that huge flag—and who among us has the guts to say, “Hey, that flag’s too big”? Does using the American flag to help sell automobiles (some of which were built in Japan) add up to desecration?

Oshima says the water company owes her $43 because she double-paid her bill at the end of September. The company has told her, she said, that it will take six to eight weeks to get her refund. “I feel very bad this has happened,” she said this week. “We don’t consider this a desecration of the flag. [My daughter] grew up with us being peace activists.”

The scariest sight reported to us this Halloween season, besides the relatively deserted downtown, was the invasion of 100 Christians from Redding who gathered outside the City Council Chambers and cheered for the police. Don’t get us wrong, we respect the cops as much as the next paper, but 100 Christians coming to town to applaud the heavy-handed and absolute crackdown on Halloween fun makes us uncomfortable. Weren’t the cops and city telling people in televised advertisements not to come downtown this year? Are only Christians invited?