Prepare your own crusade

Addressing Problems in a Media-Saturated World

by Ralph Heller

t was only a few weeks ago that I overheard a couple of youngsters squabbling. Finally one of them, summoning up all the verbal gibberish he could remember after watching 827,431 hours of television, shouted at the other one:

"If you DARE to WEAVE in and out of traffic, or SLAPP a SAINT, or CRASH into my DAD or some other CHAP, or try to HALT local COPPS running in the RAINN—well, I may get so MADD that I’ll have to SWAT you to help you GROW up."

Welcome to the rapidly expanding World of Acronyms, defined as "words formed from the first letters of other words," or sometimes simply letters that look like they ought to be words even if they aren’t.

From the trendy 1970s onward the challenge of solving problems took on new dimensions, and the eight-step approach to modern problem solving that ultimately emerged is all too familiar:

1. An incident occurs.

2. No matter how isolated, unprecedented or aberrant the incident, it is assumed to be part of a "wider problem."

3. The existence of a "wider problem" having been assumed, with or without evidence, a "crisis" is declared.

4. The institution that allowed the presumed "crisis" to develop then commences, with great fanfare, to unveil elaborate stratagems to "address" the "crisis."

5. Federal agencies or private foundations disgorge dollars, or, in the alternative, a "task force," "commission" or "committee" is created, constituted not primarily of those professionally equipped to solve the "crisis," but of those who are "concerned."

6. Rallies are held, banners unfurled and chants chanted.

7. Meetings are announced, draft reports circulated and the media is kept on Red Alert.

8. Finally, an overly clever name for the "task force," "commission" or "committee" is established, from which an acronym emerges that may last forever.

What I have just described, of course, is a "crusade" and unfortunately crusades exist not primarily to solve problems, but to make the crusaders feel insufferably noble about themselves. If one is adept at this sort of thing he adds to his "task force" or "committee of the concerned" also some men who are "caring" and some women who are "nurturing," of course.

This is unlikely to solve many problems but may qualify leaders of the effort for induction into the Liberal Hall of Fame.

Awash in Acronyms

The rapidly growing use of acronyms often makes fund-raising easier and at the same time acronyms are made to order for publicity and public relations efforts. Law enforcement is knee-deep in acronyms these days, part of a massive publicity effort. What follows is a random list of a few of the acronyms seen in Nevada newspapers in recent months:

CHAP—Nevada’s own "Child Health Assurance Program."

YES—"Youth Education Shoplifting" program introduced by Mervyns’ 275 stores nationwide which suffer about 32,000 shoplifting incidents annually.

PRIZM—"Potential Rating Index for Zip Markets," pronounced like "prism," as though it really were a word.

SAINT—"Sexual Abuse Investigation Teams," presently functioning at the University of Nevada, Reno.

ROP—"Repeat Offenders Program."

DARE—"Drug Abuse Resistance and Education" program, a law enforcement program now considered to be a flop in communities across the country although still taken seriously by Gannett in Reno even as youthful drug abuse skyrockets.

GROW—"Grief Recovery Outreach Workshop," offered by a Nevada hospital, complete with a "facilitator," naturally.

DAD—"Dads Against Discrimination," a support group for divorced fathers that originated in Portland, Oregon.

CRASH—"Citizens for Reliable and Safe High

GAP—"Gang Alternatives Partnership," a youth program failing so badly that a fund-raising dinner in Reno featuring Judge Mills Lane on July 31 had to be canceled.

MAN—"Men’s Advisory Network," a mediation service whose non-profit status was revoked by Nevada’s Secretary of State in 1993 and which is the subject of several ongoing investigations.

SWAT—"Special Weapons and Tactics" teams, falling into disfavor as police misconduct becomes more widespread. Baltimore’s SWAT team, for example, has shot 71 people in the last 32 months.

MADD—"Mothers Against Drunk Driving," an effective lobbying force against drunk driving in Nevada and elsewhere.

HALT—"High Accident Location Target" program, another police acronym.

WEAVE—"Women Escaping a Violent Environment," which originated in Sacramento and is now spreading to other communities.

PACT—"Program for Assertive Community Treatment," a program originating in Madison, Wisconsin to help the mentally ill, incorporated by Nevada Senator Randolph Townsend in Senate Bill 319 in the recent Nevada legislative session, part of total state appropriations of $17.7 million to address mental health problems.

POP—"Problem Oriented Policing" team, the newest of law enforcement acronyms, now about nine months old.

HISTEP—"Highly Intensive Supervision, Training and Education Program."

POST—"Peace Officers Standards and Training," a certification program.

SLAPP—"Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation," to address lawsuits intended to intimidate the public from testifying or speaking out, a problem addressed by Assembly Bill 405 during Nevada’s recent legislative session.

COPPS—"Community Policing and Problem Solving," a new bachelor’s degree program at UNR with a COPPS master’s degree program already in the works, designed to make uniformed law enforcement personnel more "sensitive" in certain types of situations.

RAINN—"Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network," complete with the telephone number 656-4673 which, if you look closely at your phone, you’ll note, is 656-HOPE.

Preparing Your Own Crusade

Clearly, no name is too awkward or unlikely for today’s acronym buffs. And there are also those acronyms that at first glance seem to be words but really aren’t, of course—TANF, for "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families," most common on Indian reservations, MISH for "Medical Institute for Sexual Health," a conservative program having absolutely nothing to do with government, ALITAS for "Alliance of Latinas in Teen Action and Solidarity," and countless others.

This is problem-solving, 20th century style. So remember that if you hear of an "incident" it is probably part of a "wider problem" signifying the existence of a "crisis." You’ll then want to marshal your forces to "address" the "crisis" by applying for government funding, planning rallies and unfurling banners. And don’t forget to keep today’s obliging media on Red Alert.

But most important to your crusade may be the selection of an attention-getting acronym. How about PRAYER? It stands for "Press Releases Are Your Ethereal Reality." At least, that’s how it seems to be these days, doesn’t it? u

Ralph Heller is Senior Consulting Editor of Nevada Journal.


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