Last week I heard something for the first time in 25 years of attending Tucson Symphony concerts: the little woodwind passage bridging the first two movements of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Audiences usually clap mindlessly over that snatch of music and drown out what the bassoonist and her colleagues are doing.

Frankly, the passage is not one of Mendelssohn's most revelatory, but it's nice to hear the music that's actually there.

Barbara Kingsolver has found herself in a position similar to Mendelssohn's. In September, she wrote a widely syndicated column that, in part, complained that the American flag was being appropriated by people with hateful agendas.

That passage, a fairly small part of the essay, was then wrenched out of context and misquoted in a conservative magazine, making it look like Kingsolver said that the flag itself stood for those hateful things. The misquote then circulated more widely than the original essay, and in the resulting clamor nobody went back to read what she'd actually written.

We even repeated the misquote here in the Tucson Weekly a few weeks ago, and by way of apology I've invited Kingsolver to set the record straight in this issue.

Barbara Kingsolver advocates certain traditional, if idealized, American values: achieving social justice by building communities in which diversity may flourish. Perhaps she's too idealistic, considering how easy it has become for diverse, irrational loudmouths to hijack the national discourse.

Maybe we should just burn the flag once and for all, get rid of all these damned symbols that foster more discord than unity. Maybe then we could focus not on symbols but on the often forgotten principles behind them.