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.

Election Day Tradition In The Oven: Country Jam Cake

There is an Election Day tradition at our home, other than voting of course, and that is making Grandma’s Country Jam Cake.

Monday afternoon I proved my capabilities in the kitchen as I measured and mixed and upon noticing I had no buttermilk…..which is the only time I yelled “James”….OK, the second time as the first was not being able to locate measuring spoons. James wings cooking with no such devices, but I am old school.

He made buttermilk the way Grandma might have done had she needed some, too. Or she would have thoroughly read the recipe beforehand!! Details, details.

The cake started to be our traditional election dessert in 2004, and it has never failed to bring smiles, even if the returns are grim. Now the cake is in the oven and I can still hear Mom tell me to go outside and do my jumping around so the cake will not ‘fall’. Aw, yes, traditions never grow old.

Memories Of UW-Madison Polling Place vs. Threats To Poll Workers In 2022 Midterms

I fondly recall, and mainly for nostalgic reasons, the large clumsy metal voting machines that operated only when the curtain was pulled shut so the voter could maneuver a small lever next to the name of their candidates for election. I had watched as a kid the grainy news footage of prominent politicians casting their votes with such machines.  So, there was something almost perfect when it came time for me to first work as a polling official in Madison and saw the same type of machines had been rolled into the ground floor space of a UW-Madison dormitory. Yes, there was always a prankster who would intentionally drop a pencil into the machine (requiring poll workers to ‘unjam’ it) or other voters who made for long evenings as we counted write-in votes for the likes of Mark Twain and Bucky Badger.  But there was a strong united sense with enthusiastic young voters (many doing so for their first time!) and then counting and tabulating into the evening that made it all seem like a Norman Rockwell scene had come to life.

I thought about those days of working the polls while picking up small limbs and such on the lawn after this weekend’s blow.  What struck me about those old-fashioned and politically romantic memories was how they seem so out-of-place with the current headlines of threats to election officials, as poll workers are being alerted what to do in case of violence on Election Day.  I read Sunday morning that in Arizona’s Maricopa County, as Reuters reported, between July 11 and Aug. 22, the county election office documented at least 140 threats and other hostile communications, the records show. “You will all be executed,” said one. “Wire around their limbs and tied & dragged by a car,” wrote another.

The heightened anxiety voters are feeling has been echoed in the past weeks with an increase in conversations about concern, dread, and even fear regarding the midterm elections based on our political climate. One of those conversations came my way from a kindly older woman self-described as middle-of-the road, the type of person I am quite sure if she hit her finger with a hammer, would scream “DRATS”. She wrote about concern regarding the outcome of the midterm elections. She admitted fearing at times violence might occur in the nation over the great divide we are experiencing with our politics. She only knows me through my online writings and through social media, and as she lives alone, I did my part to lift the mood.  But at the same time, I felt a need for honesty, too.

We need to be as resolute, I wrote to her, as those who came before us.  Every day we know there are news stories and events that are of the type we could not have imagined happening even only a few years ago.  Our nation is being torn apart, our culture becoming more coarse, our political institutions are maligned, and facts are being tossed aside and denied.  We are losing our moorings as a nation. I told her that as concerned Americans we simply must lift ourselves up to the task of making sure that the outcome we actually want for our nation happens. I told her while we certainly read of and hear the loud, often crude angry crowd, the rest of us need to again show to ourselves that America has not lost its focus, its will, or its promise to future generations not only here, but around the world. We need to root ourselves again in what democracy means. That comes about by being a well-informed voter. It happens when we encourage the youth around us to read history and care about civics. There is no one answer to the problems we now face, but rather a series of steps each of us can take in our community to alter the wrong direction we are headed. One citizen at a time.

As we pack our polling places around Wisconsin and the nation make sure to say Thank You to the folks who are doing their civic duty to ensure this essential function of democracy runs smoothly. And please, do not write-in Mark Twain for any office!

Congressman Mark Pocan Signs Letter Giving Russian President Putin Voice In Progressive House Caucus

Congressman Mark Pocan

It was not what I expected as the first news story to read when I turned on my computer today. In fact, I looked to see if the story was the daily offering from Andy Borowitz. The news article, however, was from NBC News, and then I noted in my listings every major news operation was reporting on the undermining of Ukraine and its people by Progressive House Democrats. A letter from the caucus was sent to the White House on Monday (yesterday) but retracted only hours later. The damage, however, was done. Without one iota of foresight, the caucus had already allowed Russian President Putin a victory off the battlefield.

Progressive House Democrats sent that 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.  To say that letter with its weak-kneed overture to Putin was a stab in the back to worldwide efforts, that have proven to be forceful and meaningful, would be a vast understatement.  Of course, Russia would much enjoy seeing a split in the majority party of the world superpower at a critical juncture in both the military moves in Ukraine and the political timing approaching the midterm elections.  Having gained a voice in the Progressive Caucus Putin must be pleased that the united message against Russia’s war of aggression has a crack that can now be used to further his aims against a sovereign nation.

If I could talk with Mark over a cup of coffee I would encourage him to realize that stopping Putin is in America’s best interests for security reasons, and standing with our NATO alliance is essential. Putin invaded Ukraine not because he felt threatened by NATO expansion or by Western so-called pressures. He ordered his military to move because he believes that it is Russia’s divine right to rule Ukraine, to wipe out the country’s national identity, and to integrate its people into a ‘Greater Russia’. We all have had some Russian history and can recall that since the mid-1920s there was a running argument that ‘Russia was robbed’ of core territory when the Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union and established a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. What these Progressive Democrats, who signed the letter, are just not grasping is that Putin is trying 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. To consider any talks with Putin at this time would be a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance.

It was most disconcerting that over a week ago House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a GOP majority would not give a “blank check” to Ukraine, indicating it would instead focus on relieving economic pain at home.  Standing on the foundations the Republican Party had firmly owned during the Ronald Reagan years, such as being tough on Russia, and aligning with core values about democracy has become ancient history for some in the GOP. But McCarthy now has a number of progressive allies in his plans for future congressional action–or not–regarding Ukraine.

Let me weigh in as a liberal Democrat. I am not pleased to see so many of those in Congress who are often right on a whole array of economic and social issues flounder so completely when it comes to an absolute need to stand firm against Putin. Sadly, and not for the first time when it comes to foreign policy issues, Pocan comes from a partisan position.

He lacked the will to offer his backing in Congress for a needed military strike against Syria in 2013 after that rouge regime used chemical weapons on its people. Now with this Russian aggression, he believes that his district, which includes liberal Dane County, must be catered to with squishy words about our continued needed resolve and support for heightened military measures, so to push Russian forces out of a sovereign nation it invaded. Too often that sentiment seems the default position of progressive Democrats. I understand politically why Pocan wishes to keep his bona fides with the Progressive Caucus but it should be of higher importance that he not turn off common sense and the moral calling that history demands of him.

We do not have the luxury simply due to our living in the 2nd Congressional District to throw our hands up to the horrible crap that happens to so many around the globe.  When Putin invaded Ukraine there was only one response the world community could give; a complete and absolute rejection of such brazen hostility. I am truly concerned that Congressman Pocan and his fellow Progressives have divorced themselves from reality about Putin and his agenda. Timid and reticent politicians are only remembered for being wrong.

UW-Madison Protestors Missed Chance For Critical Conversation, Matt Walsh Got What He Wanted

Here we go again. A person who desires to create controversy is paid to stir up a university campus, and a small segment of the student body creates headlines in a weak attempt to prove some ‘enlightened’ point. This storyline is getting very, very stale.

Every time there is a ‘fire-eater’ invited to a university campus there is another round of discussions about either the value of hearing ‘the other side’ or why shutting down ‘hate-speech’ is a necessity.  This week attention is being given to UW-Madison where a conservative campus group thought it important to pay for a bully against transgender people to speak and also show his documentary. Call me old-fashioned or just way out of step, but bringing Matt Walsh, who only wishes to needlessly provoke and alienate, seems like a waste of money when a conservative scholar might have been invited that would have afforded truly engaging conversation. I find it difficult to explain why college campus groups would not invest in truly weighty thinkers, a modern-day version of William F. Buckley Jr. I desire this from both sides of the divide and then let the issues and dialogue flow.

As I surveyed the news reports from the UW campus today it was not the first time I knew there are many students and others in the community who want diverse thought presented in an adult fashion. That is not, however, what the university or this city is experiencing today. I know I am over-simplifying matters by putting Walsh, an extremist and self-promoting individual, at one end and the erudite world of the Buckley types at the other.  But as one who does enjoy listening to speakers at UW-Madison I am not pulled in by the ‘hair on fire’ types but instead find the words from the likes of George McGovern or Robert Novak to have real appeal.  (I was most fortunate to walk with the slow-moving Novak due to his recovering from a hip operation down the length of Memorial Union and ask about how he actually wrote columns–he told me he wrote them in one sitting–akin to one take if it were a movie production.) 

What I found troubling about the local chapter of Young America’s Foundation is that while they speak loudly about ‘free speech’ what they really desire is the dissemination of harmful lies and bogus arguments that would not stand up in a robust give-and-take dialogue of ideas. I was reminded today that this grand freedom we all have of speaking freely comes with the responsibility to speak responsibly.

Free speech also allows for the ones who might be offended to counter with even better speech. That seems to have been totally lost on the ones who seemed to buy spray paint by the gross and then harm numerous places on the campus. It was more than sad to see, it was simply pathetic. Those many years ago after Novak finished with his remarks the floor was opened in the Great Hall to questions. He faced some tough attacks and verbal volleys as he sparred with students about the role of journalism and preemptive wars. Those occasions on campus when robust and sharply divided views can be talked about and debated are what truly constitute part of the educational experience.

Instead of engaging with the buffoonish Walsh in a lively debate inside the Hall about his absurd views, protesters to his appearance gave a low-brow performance on the public square with a mindless tantrum of graffiti—the very type of outlandish behavior the YAF were hoping their dollars would buy. As Monday comes to a close Walsh won this day as he wanted exposure and an angry reaction. Meanwhile, the art of dialogue and conversation, something a university should excel at, took a loss.

Open Letter Of Thanks To Sarah Day, Madison Actress Makes Smiles And Laughter

There are certainly many people in life who we cross paths with that make a strong impression and perhaps lasting memories. We might think of those encounters and even tell family or close friends of a rewarding and fleeting experience. But because in most cases we are not even aware of the name of the one who lifted the mood or brought a laugh we never get to say thanks. It might also be the case that the person who impacted our life was not close enough to offer a verbal thanks.  In my case, however, thanks to this blog space, I can offer my words about someone who simply brightened my life for several hours Sunday night.

James and I had tickets to see Sense and Sensibility at American Players Theatre in Spring Green. After a day that started cloudy and gray, sunshine and only a few puffy clouds ushered in showtime.  The book by Jane Austen came to life with fast-moving scenes enabled by seamless set changes conducted by what was assumed to be the household staff.  There has never been a performance from over the decades at APT that was not delightful. 

But this year, for me, it was far more impactful.  It was the first large public event we have attended since 2019, before the COVID pandemic. It was the performance from Sarah Day, with her sprightly and finely tuned delivery of lines in the role of the lovable Mrs. Jennings, (pictured in orange/rust-colored attire below) that made me aware, again, of why theater matters.

Photo from Liz Lauren Cap Times

During the pandemic, this home struck close to CDC guidelines, and because James works with an aging population suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia in his guardianship business, and since we had no interest in becoming infected with potentially long-term consequences, we steered away from large gatherings. But with an outdoor setting that APT has so well created over many years, and with our expectations that later in the season a larger percentage of people would be vaccinated, we opted to attend a performance. 

So, it may not be hard to understand why I was misty-eyed when Day first jauntily walked onto the stage and started her matchmaking of the unwed Dashwood daughters.  I had so missed this type of entertainment, this sense of community from both those performing on a stage and the people who watch and participate in the moods of the actors and actresses.  If theater allows us to know what it means to be human, and reflect a mirror on ourselves, then the absence of that in our lives certainly leaves an empty space. For the past few years, that part of me was inactive, but with Day’s wit and energy on stage over the course of the play, I was rejuvenated.  The whole ensemble which was most splendid was clearly part of the tonic this soul needed.

During one conversation between two daughters center stage, Day comes to the aisle where I was seated and stayed in character as she looks downwards, into the audience.  She sipped a glass of refreshment served in the play, mouthed words as if in conversation with another actor nearby her, and winces and uses her facial expressions to align with the dialogue of the women.  Not for a moment was she not in character and that just completes the professionalism and thoroughness that allows the theatre to be such a rich experience for me.

Could I be in such a great mood this Monday morning had I attended any other theatre production Sunday night?  I am sure I would be after the drought due to the pandemic and my love of theater. But the fact is it was APT and Sarah Day who were the lifters of the sails that make me write this post today. I simply need to say thanks.   

Madison City Council Correct Not To Ban Tear Gas

I was very much opposed to Madison Alderperson Juliana Bennett’s proposal to enact a ban on the Madison Police Department along with mutual aid agencies from using tear gas, mace, all chemical irritants, and impact projectiles for use in crowd/riot control within the city. It was a reckless and short-sighted proposal that was constructed with the aim to make for a progressive signature for an alder rather than concern about the greater needs of the city and the residents who reside here.

By the time of the city council meeting Tuesday night, a concerted effort was made to bridge a compromise so that law enforcement can still use those measures should they be required but mandates the city’s yet-to-be-hired first independent police monitor to do an after-action review of any use of tear gas. Police Chief Shon Barnes accepted the compromise and the matter passed the council 14-4.

Since I find the independent police monitor to be as needed as a third nipple I much agreed with the rationale of those who voted no on the after-action review. The Wisconsin State Journal reported “Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Charles Myadze, Sheri Carter and Tag Evers voted no. Those opposed said the police have been responsible in investigating tear gas use and that the reporting requirement was micromanaging or redundant because the independent monitor already has the capacity to do investigations.”

While police work to make sure protesters are safe when pressing their message, we should also want and expect law enforcement to be most determined to quell and stop the smashing of windows, the tearing down of statuary at the statehouse (!) and to stem the undermining of basic law and order. As such, I fully support the police using tactics that will meet the mission as needed. I wrote with much hope on August 28th on this blog that citizens should reach out and contact alders to demand a vote against the Bennett proposal. I know many people across this city did that very thing.

I am glad that pragmatism (for the most part) was the path chosen by the council on this matter. After all, the vast majority of those paying the taxes in our city have faith in the ones wearing blue and hired to do their professional jobs to keep us all safe.

Trans American Broadcasting Reunion On Madison Isthmus, 40 Years of Friendship

The annual Trans American weekend reunion was held on the Madison Isthmus. Granted, this is not the largest reunion in the state, but since we are not aware of any other broadcasting students from Wausau or former on-air talent connecting in this way we are proud to post some pics. Every third weekend in September our gathering coincides with a neighborhood festival and a small parade that passes in front of our home on Sunday. Saturday afternoon we gathered on the lawn overlooking Lake Monona, with dinner that followed. A 30-minute ‘in the studio’ podcast of our thoughts and recollections will be posted here in about a week. For now, Bruce Miller is in white, George Manesis is in black, and Gregory Humphrey is in yellow. What is most certain is that radio management changes and announcers come and go, but friendship remains. These guys have been a part of my life for 40 years. From vacations together, to weddings, to laughs, and at times tears we have been a part of each other’s lives. And it all started because we had an interest in radio.