David Shapiro
Volcanic Ash logo

By David Shapiro

Saturday, August 14, 1999

A column by
any other name

FORMER Star-Bulletin reporter Greg Ambrose stopped me in the hallway once to talk enthusiastically about the name I had chosen for this column, "Volcanic Ash."

Ambrose, one of those rare office orators who could talk intelligently for a half-hour on any subject on a moment's notice, described the meaning of the title so eloquently that I asked him to repeat it into a tape recorder so I would always remember his kind words.

"The best thing about the title 'Volcanic Ash' is that it's completely seemingly contradictory," Ambrose said.

"You have something that's a devastated wasteland after a volcano erupts, completely devoid of life, covered by ash, everything dead. And yet, if you look closely, there's the kipuka with life springing forth and the volcanic ash made it possible.

"Years and years later, after layers and layers of ash have built up, you have sugar cane fields, you have life in a jungle."

Greg's explanation was so beautiful that I almost wished it was true. But giving credit where credit is due, here's how the column really got its name:

I was writing sporadic pieces without a name when Diane Chang, our editorial page editor, told me she had an open spot on Saturdays. But she said I had to come up with a permanent name fast because she needed the column to start that week.

I couldn't think of anything to call it. One office wise guy suggested that I call it "Diantidote" after Chang's constant lament that the two of us never agree on anything. But that suggested that I don't respect her interesting opinions.

I asked my wife Maggie for help. I told her I wanted the name to reflect our Big Island roots and have some bite. She threw out many suggestions and I rejected them all with a touch of ill temper until she got fed up. "Why don't you just call it "Volcanic A**hole," she snarled.

I started to get offended, but then she showed me how I could delete a few letters from her initial suggestion and solve my problem: "Volcanic As*h***." I loved it immediately. When I start to take myself too seriously, all I need do is remind myself of her original intent.

THE only problem is that the name is too easy for people to twist against me when they mock me. Like the guy who called to say my views are "more like volcanic you-know-what." I can only imagine what. Or the person who said, "Your volcanic theories on anatomical attraction fall short of even common sense."

Not that I don't occasionally mock the names of other columns. Bill Kwon, who writes the "Sports Watch" column, is a golf nut who wrote about his favorite game more often than I thought warranted for a general-interest column on the Sports cover.

I told him to knock it off or I'd move his column inside the section and rename it "Golf Watch." Never one to sneeze at opportunity, Kwon took me up on it and started a second weekly column called "Golf Watch."

Charles Memminger, our investigative humorist who writes the award-winning "Honolulu Lite," sometimes unleashes one too many espousals of his curious political views that fail to make me laugh. I threaten to rename his column "Honolulu Right" (as in "wing," not as in "correct") and move it to the editorial page.

But he doesn't get insulted. He knows I'm full of volcanic you-know-what.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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