Counter Book Banning With Book Sanctuaries

It seems incongruous to have members of the Proud Boys complain about a book at a local library. Unless there was a plan to scale the building or enter and threaten patrons it seems odd to have that right-wing organization involved with books. Or engaging with the ongoing book-banning conversation in the nation.  But in Downers Grove, Illinois group members objected to an autobiographical novel in a school library about nonbinary author Maia Kobabe’s journey of gender identity.  After the needless controversy, Gender Queer was unanimously voted by the school board to remain on the shelves.

This is but one of the far too many episodes where an attempt at censoring books and limiting ideas and removing varying perspectives on bookshelves has been undertaken by conservatives in the United States.  Not all such cases, sadly, are concluded as soundly as with the Downer Grove school board.  That then begs the question of what route can be taken to limit the damage from those who feel threatened by living in the 21st century?  While some conservatives are hell-bent on limiting exposure to the lives and experiences of people of color and LGBTQ+ people, it is important to know a move to counter the book banners is gaining traction.

The idea seems to have started in Chicago and is centered around a rather fundamental cornerstone. The city’s public library system has grounded itself as an institution fully committed to upholding the First Amendment Rights of all citizens, wherein books and the right to read them are front and center and where the well-heeled political groups have no undue influence. There is a procedure for complaints, but the first hurdle to cross would be the First Amendment.

The Chicago Sun-Times ran an article about this concept, which echoes the disdain that authors, readers, librarians, and teachers have registered against the ones who find censorship an embraceable action. 

Chicago hasn’t faced any battles over which books to make available, so library Commissioner Chris Brown said the city library system has more freedom to respond to the issue than many. He said any place can be a book sanctuary.

“It can be in your house, it can be in a community center, it can be in a school and also a library,” Brown said.

People seem to be catching on to the idea. Brown said more than 1,300 people viewed and downloaded materials that the Chicago library system first made available online last fall to help them get started. The library isn’t keeping track of who is downloading the kits. He said protecting challenged titles is part of the legacy of Chicago’s libraries.

According to the library association, which is based in Chicago, there were 67 attempts to ban books last year in Illinois, up from 41 such efforts in 2021. It says the number of book ban attempts has been on the rise in recent years, with 681 such moves involving more than 1,600 titles throughout the United States in 2021. That’s the most attempts the association has seen since it began tracking these numbers 20 years ago. According to ALA statistics, 44% of challenges to books happen in school libraries and 37% in public libraries, with sexually explicit material the No. 1 reason cited.

Tracie Hall, executive director of the library association, said the rise in book-banning efforts could be due to an increasingly polarized political climate nationwide. She said there’s a focus on books representing the lives and experiences of people of color and LGBTQ+ people.

“The way that power is hoarded, sometimes the way reading is politicized is an attempt to get to something that’s much deeper than just a joy of reading,” Hall said. “It’s really trying to restrict political, economic and social access.”

I fully understand the importance of books and their introduction of new ideas and countless perspectives.  I was a boy in rural Wisconsin with my local library providing the light and opening to the vast world beyond the town limits. I can speak to reading at a higher level than my peers from an early age, and why venturing into topics and arguments about issues that define our humanity allowed me to become the man I am today.  Book banning and censorship are reprehensible.  Book sanctuaries are an idea that must be furthered coast to coast.

Donald Trump’s Weak Efforts To Deflect From Looming Legal Woes

President Nixon with Anwar Sadat waving from a motorcade through Alexandria, Egypt June 12, 1974.

It once was a trait of sitting presidents that when domestic politics became unbearable a foreign trip was planned to divert attention and showcase the power and skills of a leader. Perhaps the most prime example of such a transparent move was when President Richard Nixon took his phlebitis-ridden leg to Egypt to talk with President Sadat. With an open-air motorcade, the beleaguered Watergate figure waved to the cheering throngs.  It did make for powerful imagery on evening newscasts and morning papers across the United States. It was but a mere respite because in the end the law always prevails.

Late Saturday night I thought of Nixon in Egypt as I read some of the news reports following Donald Trump’s campaign appearances earlier that day. Apart from the oddly disjointed packaging of his remarks and his clear desire to undermine Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, I asked a question as to why a sudden need to be in front of a group of people to make a headline at this time?  After all, Trump has been mostly invisible since his announcement to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in late 2022. As with most political moves, regardless of person or party, I like to know what drives and motivates action.

Early Monday morning it became clear as to why Trump was trying to insert a headline over the weekend so as to divert and deflect from the real news about the one-termer.  The Manhattan district attorney’s office began presenting evidence to a grand jury about Trump’s role in paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.  This is the brick-by-brick construction of potential criminal charges that District Attorney Alvin Bragg needs to bring his case to fruition. There was no need to further grasp the weight of the matter than to know David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, was seen entering the courthouse with his lawyer early in the morning. 

Meanwhile, in the famed Fulton County case things were far beyond simmering as we read last week that District Attorney Fani Willis stated in court that decisions in the case were “imminent”.  This case has been fascinating to follow as it has grown and would appear to be not only the first to press charges against Trump but also legal actions that have burrowed the fastest into the fake elector issue, a highly troubling attempted illegal power grab by an autocrat.

The case started when Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and made a statement that proves his disdain for our election processes and any notion of common decency.  Trump asked if the Georgian could “find” the votes needed to overturn Trump’s narrow election loss in the state to Joe Biden. 

“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said on the call.

It then comes as no surprise with these legal developments percolating in various states and the heat increasing daily Trump would seek out his own ‘Nixon Cairo moment’. Needless to say, Trump lacks in the finer arts of politics and optics.  In his meandering comments from behind a podium, and even with a teleprompter, Trump was trying to dodge his future problems. He tried to deter the GOP from siding closer to DeSantis. Trump claimed that the Florida governor was “trying to rewrite history” regarding the Covid pandemic. “There are Republican governors that did not close their states,” he said and then added, “Florida was closed for a long period of time.” 

Michael Cohen wrote a stinger of a column this morning with this pithy take on the weekend events, most cutting and too true.

This feels oddly unfair to DeSantis. Few governors have gone to greater lengths to ensure their state’s citizens are exposed to and die from COVID-19 … and he’s not even getting any credit from the former president. FFS, what does a Republican have to do to imperil the lives of their constituents and get rewarded for it?

Nixon could escape the heat and investigations by standing on the world stage with power all about him.  In contrast, to see Trump squirm for headlines and try to deflect from his future legal woes seems akin to a small boy putting on his dad’s suit. For now, at least, not an orange suit.

Sadat and Nixon 1974

Jennifer Dorow’s Unsound Judgement On Mingling Guns And Alcohol Calls Into Question Her Suitability For High Court

When I think of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices my mental image constructs a serious person with law books and one of those expensive type pens that write smoothly and has a nice heft when held. I recall the mesh market bag that held at least ten legal tomes as Wisconsin Justice Shirley Abramson placed them into the back of my car for a trip to Door County. She was a guest speaker at an event packaged by our legislative office, and I readily introduced my sincere interest in being her means of transportation. I would argue she best exemplified and epitomized a member of the high court in both intellect and legal reasoning, as well as temperament and personal composure. After all, that court must be viewed as a place of decorum and high personal standards.

I have been giving thought about the type of person best suited to sit on the court as our state enters the final weeks of a primary contest where four candidates vying to fill the seat of a retiring conservative member. (Place aside for the moment that merit selection would be a wiser and more appropriate way to fill seats on the court.) There is no way to not think about the type of person we need on the court, especially when reading the news this weekend.  One of the candidates, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, has been constructing a business plan in Delafield for an indoor gun range with a liquor license.  Potentially alcohol-fueled guests could also buy firearms and accessories on-site and use them on a shooting range.  One might assume there will be convenient cups and glass holders near to where the bullets are stored for easy access for the paying guests as they load the deadly weapons. I have never heard of a more potentially dangerous business plan. 

Nothing of this type has come before the local Marquette Neighborhood Association, where over the years I have attended meetings on proposals for many an entrepreneurial design. While many were interested in making money and having success with their venture, no one would have ever so foolishly entertained the marriage of alcohol and guns.  Dorow is just plain wrong to play so close to potential injury, or worse, as she seeks to make money.  This business plan, in and of itself, serves notice as to why she is not fit to sit on the Supreme Court.

Our state has many complex and weighty issues that percolate up to the court that then await the review and findings of the justices. Citizens obviously have sincere, and at times, very diverse opinions as to the proper outcome of such cases.  But win or lose, at the end of the day, the populace must have a feeling the justices are credible individuals. Folks around the state most likely are not much aware of the nuances of the law and state statutes, but they can relate to the foundations that a justice must first have a solid character and basic common sense as a prerequisite for being elected.

Dorow alerts us to her lack of seriousness for statewide office as a justice when she endorsed combining alcohol sales, gun sales, and a shooting range.  Why not ask for a daycare center in an adjoining room?

Five Memphis Police Officers Charged With Murder, Treated Tyre Nichols Akin To “Human Piñata”, House Cleaning Needed In Memphis PD

Absolute and justified rage could be felt in the newspaper stories from the Memphis Commerical Appeal over the past two weeks as the details of events surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols were reported. Today a bombshell landed that would have made the UPI teletype machine back in my radio broadcasting days send bells sounding as news of the five police officers involved in the traffic stop that precipitated Tyre Nichols’ death were charged with second-degree murder. The young man died January 10th, three days after a traffic stop near his mother’s home and after what Memphis Police called a “confrontation.”

But those who have viewed the police cam footage have a different perspective than it being a mere “confrontation’. Lawyers describe the video, which the public at some point will see as an “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” for three minutes, saying Nichols was allegedly treated like a “human piñata” by the officers.

The swift moves by the district attorney and legal system underscore the gravity and overwhelming evidence that points to depravity among these five officers, but also a lack of professionalism within the ranks of the Memphis Police Department. There is no way that five officers out of the blue (no pun intended) act in such a fashion, and in unison without there being a rot in the entire system that requires a top to bottom wholesale cleaning. This type of behavior did not just occur due to the alignment of planets or the lack of enough strength in morning coffee. The top brass of the police department must be addressed as Memphis seeks not only justice for Nichols, but also a complete understanding of how this monstrous crime could have ever happened.

Nichols “suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating,” according to preliminary findings of an autopsy commissioned by his family after being stopped by officers on suspicion of reckless driving. Reports in the Appeal stated police wrote initially that a “confrontation occurred” as the officers approached his vehicle and that Nichols ran away. There was then “another confrontation” as the officers arrested him. For a traffic stop. No one should be murdered for a traffic stop.

In addition to the horrific murder of Nichols, I wish to add how much this hurts and unfairly defames police officers around the nation. While most police officers are not of the stripe found in Memphis and pictured above, they will still be viewed in a light that undercuts their authority and required necessity in our society. That is another reason a complete and immediate evaluation be made of the practices of the Memphis Police Department. The nation needs to see a reckoning of justice in this case.

U.S. Correct To Supply Abrams Tanks To Ukraine, Putin Needs Reality Check

The United States’ policy to supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine is the proper course of action to take.  The fact we are months late in taking such a course of action is the concerning part.  We can be proud of the commitment our country and other Western democracies have shown in the face of Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.  At the same time, we must be mindful of the mushy ground that those like Congressman Mark Pocan planted their feet when dealing with this war, a move in 2022 that still deeply offends.

In 2022 Progressive House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden asking that he pair the military and financial support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push” that involves direct talks with Russia. It remains one of the most serious mistakes that the group made by playing into the efforts of Russian President Putin to lure some members from the Western alliance to make concessions. Since no one should make concessions to a nation that has committed war crimes goes without saying. But what was equally damaging was promoting a course of action that only would result in prolonging the war.

It was most troubling that Progressive Democrats signed the letter, with seemingly no awareness, that Putin has every intention to change the historical narrative of the last hundred years, not just the years following the end of the Cold War. He wants to make Ukraine, Europe, and indeed the whole world conform to his own twisted version of history. There can not be an inch of wiggle room when it comes to what Putin gains from this act of aggression. The letter was a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance. But, hey, there was probably a quick and fleeting political upside that more concerned the signators.

I like peace, compromise, and diplomacy, but first, the aggressors that blasted homes, schools, and hospitals must be removed from Ukraine. No one starts negotiating the wishes of the madman when he still holds a dagger to the throat of the victim.  Therefore, the news that we will supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks, the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion, is a solid move and worthy of praise.  But the reluctance for months to make the move is concerning and warrants attention.  While it seems Germany may have been the force to push the Biden White House to make the shift in policy, it must not be seen as the last move our nation will be required to take with heavy armaments as this war progresses. The process of consideration and study within the White House requires some modification so as to meet the real-time needs of the Ukrainian soldiers who are doing the work on the battlefield.

Not only are the tanks a solid and lethal way to address Putin’s military, but it sends a clear and unmistakable statement the West will not relent or bend the way of Congressman Pocan. Talking can only occur with a real reduction in attacks by Russia and a removal of their troops from the soil of Ukraine.  

Putin has been delusional in his views about a reconstructed Soviet type-era of countries for a long time.  He has often talked of Russia having been “robbed” of territory going back to the 1920s when the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established.  In his mind, one that is consumed with paranoia and visions of grandeur, Ukraine can only be sovereign in partnership with the homeland, Russia. To that fallacy, the West says, NO. The M1 Abrams tanks will go far in alerting the autocrat to the limits of his delusions.

24th Day of 2023, 39 Mass Shootings, 69 Dead

By the time I get to the end of this post, I will check my news feed to see if an upward adjustment to the number of mass shootings and deaths needs to be made. It is a hell of a situation we find ourselves in as a nation. At the age of 60, I find myself writing about gun deaths with the same sense of frustration as when a middle school student. That is when I wrote my first letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the topic being the number of needless deaths from cheap handguns.

This morning The New York Times started a news story about mass shootings in a fashion that underscores the enormity of the problem in the nation. Such violence is not simply a part of the large urban landscapes, such as Los Angles, or within the mean streets of inner cities like Chicago where drugs and gangs too often predominate.

There was the mass shooting near a youth center in Allentown, Pa., and the one at a Subway restaurant in Durham, N.C. Another took place behind a beer hall in Oklahoma City, and another at a strip club outside Columbus, Ohio. Two mass shootings ended parties in different Florida cities.

And that was just on New Year’s Day.

For many years I would write a blog post when the most recent and deadly gun carnage made headlines in the nation.  They happen with such frequency, however, I just instead opt to head to the front lawn and bring the flag to half-staff.  What more can be said about the barbaric slaughter from our fellow citizens, the frenzied desire from a sick subset of the populace to amass guns and weapons and bulletproof vests, or the spineless and cowering politicians who kneel to NRA lobbyists and gun manufacturers? What I do know is that we must never relent in our demand that reason and common sense win out over the complete insanity from the gun culture in our nation. We have witnessed 39 times this far what more guns, easily bought with few limitations, has brought upon our country.

I read with interest and much agreement the comment from a Minneapolis reader in the NYT when she made the following cogent argument. There is a real need to talk about what drives some men to act with such depravity and what social conditions allow them to believe their actions are ‘warranted’. I would add hyper-masculinity is very much a danger in the nation, and we need to have our schools, churches, and social organizations address it publicly while parents step up their skills to talk with their sons.

Something’s very wrong in American society, and the ridiculous availability of firearms of every description and capacity has been and is a symptom of something much deeper in the American psyche. That killing is so compelling and apparently so easy and irresistible for so many American men and boys shines a spotlight on the morality and values they are raised with, either by parents who inculcate those values or by the larger society that surrounds, advertises, coerces, and threatens that if you are male and are not comfortable with casual, angry, ego-driven violence, its endless expressions in sports and entertainment, and its gruesome instruments, somehow you are not a real “man.” Unrelenting, unthinking, “me-first” capitalism is also to blame. If you’re a man, having your own way in everything is a first principle of “success” in America. Just look around at the troubled and troublesome men America is obsessed with. Who is in the headlines day after day? How did they get there? If you can’t be one of them, just get yourself a gun and you can have all the power in your own hands, at least for a few minutes.

At this point in our gun-soaked and consequently blood-soaked nation, it is no longer the aim of gun control legislation advocates to stop gun crimes, but rather to stem the increase and start to roll back the numbers. The enormity of the issue can be seen in just the past three days in California where gun laws are on the books (and yes, I know the sound rationale for federal laws so weak states cannot be sources for gun sales) but even with more rigorous laws hell still broke out.  However, we must not lose sight of the data that consistently shows that sane gun restrictions make society safer overall. 

One of my reasons for this foundation can be found in a Rand study that was talked about on the news this weekend.  Due to California having tougher gun laws, only 28% of California adults with those deadly weapons in their homes.  As the reporter alerted viewers contrast that to Missouri where nearly 50% of homes had a gun inside.  The steps required to bend the curve towards sanity and away from the gun culture will be slow and come in a variety of ways.   The reason it must be done is in front of us daily.

Madison Youth (And Adults) And Personal Responsibility

Following one of the news stories from Madison this past week reminded me, once again, that parents and adults who supervise young people have one goal to undertake from the moment they lift their head from the pillow until they place it there again at night. One thing that must constantly be at the forefront of their day.  That is the requirement of being an adult in every situation that deals with a young person.

Madison news was filled with reports about a 16-year-old girl being charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in a stabbing at a city park that doctors said could have killed a 14-year-old boy. Obviously, the adult court will be required to deal with this outlandish and unacceptable behavior. The weapon was a kitchen knife, and the violence was the continuation of a fight that started at a middle school.  Adding to the absurdity of this story is the report the stabber’s aunt drove the 16-year-old and others to and from the park before and after the fight.  The aunt, it was reported, told the teenager to get rid of the knife, a weapon that when found at a local business garbage can, still had blood still on it.

As I read this story my mind rushed back to my teen years when an uncle would load a bunch of cousins in his car and drive……to the latest Star Wars movie.  Kin from all over the midwest would converge at the grandparent’s home for a long, wonderful summer week.  No headlines were ever made for any newspaper to report.

What in hell allows for the outcome that made headlines in Madison about the stabbing?  How is it that this city can produce spelling sensations—kids I love to post about each year as they spell words I never even knew existed—but also have a middle school fight that extends to a park and a knife wound that doctors said would have been fatal if the weapon had been inserted only three more millimeters?

We love to talk about poverty and family structure and great social inequities, and yes, while all that plays a part in such madness there is still something else missing from the discussion.  Something that is lacking in homes and the upbringing of young people. There needs to be, must be, a strong understanding that personal responsibility is central to all actions taken.  In this case above, not only for the student with the knife but also very much so for the adult who demonstrated extremely poor judgment. What happened is staggering to read about.  What is most troubling is that none of it needed to have happened at all.  

What I sense to be lacking in our city-wide conversations is the lack of regard that personal responsibility plays not only in the lives of individuals but how that then impacts the city as a whole. That responsibility is just not for the youth of this city, but also for the adults. I understand what I write will be tuned out by some and rejected by others.  Some will say I am just too removed from today’s youth and their concerns ‘to understand’.  To all that I say the foundations for family and personal responsibilities do not change, though the decades do.

Parents and adults need to instill values in kids about how respecting oneself and others is the only way to make it through life successfully. Our youth need to better understand and be able to work through the fact that not everything in life will go smoothly, but when things get bumpy, we do not lash out, but instead stay calm and work through it. I truly think most will agree that what we really need is to implement the guidelines of personal responsibility that our grandparents employed.  It worked for our parents, and I bet for those reading this blog. But that seems not to be politically correct to say in Madison these days.

Hearse That Carried Elvis’ Body Destroyed In Fire

There is much emotion among many in the nation today as Graceland was opened this morning to the public for a memorial service for Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis. With powerful words and numerous musical selections, the program was a stirring reminder of the connection fans around the globe have for the man who changed music and culture. Elvis’ family has become a part of the national fabric the way the Kennedy family formed emotional chords of unity.  This phenomenon has been rather remarkable to witness going on for 50 years. Growing up as a teenager in the 70s I was drawn to the music and mood that was conveyed in performances ranging from Treat Me Nice to Its Midnight. From my rural and too-often redneck community, I found strength in Elvis having worn pink shirts and a ducktail in a direct middle finger salute to the norms of his time. His message was not lost on a kid from Hancock who was trying to bend the norms in his hometown, too.

While there are many stories and photos today of the program and the grief in Memphis, I want to take a different path with this post and in so doing add some trivia for fans that are always in search of another aspect to the larger story concerning EP they might not have been aware of previously.

What happened to the hearse that carried Elvis’ body in Memphis in 1977?

My name is Chuck Houston, President of Houston Brothers, Inc., a funeral car dealer in Marietta, GA. Around 1984, I was the last person to drive the hearse that carried Elvis to his grave. Our Company, then known as Crain S&S Sales which my father owned, bought, sold, leased and traded cars with SCI. He did so for many years. He originally sold the car new to SCI. We came back into possession of Elvis’s hearse when Memphis FH updated their rolling stock.We were loaning the hearse to a funeral home in South Florida until their new vehicle was ready for delivery. My father was reluctant to loan the car out. He wanted to hang on to it, the only car he ever wanted to keep in 50 years of business.The funeral home in Florida was one of his biggest customers and needed a white/white loaner desperately. Elvis’s hearse happened to be the only white hearse on the lot. Another employee and I, both of us about 21 at the time (we were going to drop off the car and then spend a few days of spring break in Ft. Lauderdale) took off toward Miami on I-75 around 7:00 pm.Around 10:00 we ran out of gas just north of Valdosta, GA. What was odd is that a tank of gas in those days would carry you from Marietta, GA to the Live Oak exit in Florida with gas left in the tank. That was based on the many, many cars my friend and I delivered to the south Florida area in the early ’80s. Therefore we never checked the gas gauge until we were in the vicinity of Live Oak.

abandoned funeral service car

After running out of gas, we walked about two miles to the next exit, bought a can and some gas and started back up the northbound return ramp toward Elvis’s hearse. Before reaching the highway a Lowndes County Sheriff stopped us, asked where we were going and called us a cab. We got her going again and headed for the gas station to fill her up. Heading south again, we were on our way. Just as the weigh station (the last one on southbound 75) came into sight the engine cut off. I dropped her into neutral while traveling around 65 mph and turned the ignition. When I did, fire shot out from under the hood on both sides. I eased her to the shoulder next to the weigh station return ramp and my friend and I jumped from the hearse as the fire engulfed the front end of the hearse.My friend and I met at the rear of the car and realized all of our possessions were in the rear of the hearse and the doors were locked. We couldn’t get back in the front to retrieve the keys due to the fire having already spread. A truck driver appeared with a fire extinguisher but it was too late. Neither of us wanted to get close for fear the hearse would blow up. So there we stood and watched as Elvis’s hearse went up in flames. A fire truck finally arrived and all they could save was the rear quarter panels, the rear door, and bumper.