Standing With Ukraine On Madison Isthmus

Like millions around the world, I am distressed and utterly dismayed at the looming threat to Ukraine due to the military massing to crush the burgeoning republic. The diplomatic moves are to be applauded, but the results are not yet in evidence as the international news reports continue to prove Russian President Putin is not backing down.

Today in a symbolic act of outrage about the idea of Putin, in any way, thinking it rational to refashion a part of the failed Soviet Union, and threatening the viability of another’s boundary, came my feeble attempt to send a message.

From the Madison isthmus to the folks in Ukraine who surely have a level of stress that we can only begin to imagine comes this video from our home. And just a touch of humor, as Lord knows the world needs it now.

I tested out the firing capabilities of my water gun in preparation for a Russian invasion as the fridged cold takes hold. Russians fight in the cold weather with ease, and as such we are going to be prepared for their onslaught. More hot water, James, I can see their vodka bottles from here!

I am not trying to be light with the issue at hand. So let me be clear as to where I stand.

President Putin has designs on reviving a chapter of history that can not be remade. The old Soviet Union and the forced subjugation of peoples and cultures that had no reason, other than brute force, to be joined together must not be allowed again by the international community.

And so it goes.

Madison Kites On Ice Recalled By Historic Facebook Page

For a number of years, there was a most remarkable event held in Madison during the coldest month of the year. The ice on Lake Monona would be frozen solid and scores of people would flock together, bundled for the January weather to enjoy ‘Kites On Ice”.

Today Historic Madison WI Photo Group on Facebook posted a photo of James Wilson and myself on the lake while thrilling to the sights and sounds. (And no, we are not the ones on strings!)

There was no way not to become a 7-year old when out on the ice with the colorful and huge array of kites flying about. And these were no ordinary kites!  From all over the world people would come to showcase their talents with the artistry of kiting. Inside the Monona Terrace, there would be workshops and chances to meet the talented ones who mastered what many of us as kids never did.

As I looked out at frozen Lake Monona today I thought how exciting it would be if the event were still a Madison moment about to happen.  There is enough ice for the whole event this year!  I am not sure as to the reason why the kiting event left the city.  Perhaps attempts to make it too big back-fired, or someone wanted too much money to host the event, or funding dried up.  Those are usually the reasons good things in the city disappear.

Those who recall the event can smile over the magic of the kites and the way January once was on the Madison isthmus.

Kids Of All Ages On Frozen Lake Monona

The first time this season James and I ventured onto frozen Lake Monona…WOW–fun!! I only had one lens for the camera so the pics here are not perfect with the light—but if they could smile like my face!! Pictured is an iceboat, the neighborhood as seen from the lake, the Capitol, along with the power of Mother Nature as it pushed at least foot thick slabs of ice about like potato chips on a plate. Be a kid like us in the wintertime, too.

MMSD’s Carlton Jenkins Wrong About “Bullies”, Undermines Students Being Bullied

Words matter.

It was truly troubling to read that Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins cheaply used the word “bullies” to describe critics of the local education system. This is at a time when some students at our public schools are truly being bullied and striving to make it through each day.

This matter was brought to light in The Capital Times.

Jenkins said he welcomes critical feedback on that and other subjects, which he said can provide a chance to reflect on decisions and think about how to better communicate the reasoning behind them — though he added that “bullies will not move MMSD,” citing a difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited feedback.

There is no need for me to inform readers that bullying is a constant problem on school campuses and the impact it has on some students is most profound. To be singled out with verbal assaults or physical blows is a real bullying occurrence for some students.

So to then have the district superintendent use the word “bullies” to describe citizens giving feedback and perspective on the policies of the board is almost stunning. It is not fair to the ones offering legitimate opinions to the school district and most harmful to students who are bullied and need not have the word marginalized.

I write about this matter from a personal perspective.  My best friend and I were victims of bullies throughout our school years, with high school in the late 1970s being the most intensely troubling.  Three months after graduation the county sheriff arrived at my home to tell me of the suicide of the person who I had known better than anyone else since I was nine years old. 

I offer that insight for the sole reason of making it clear I know what is at stake when it comes to youth who are bullied.  I know what the term “bullies” means. Reacting in opposition to a school policy about classes being resumed or speaking out about lawlessness in the classroom are not reasons to label people as “bullies”.

How can a school district adopt plans to curb actual bullies, and the bullying of students, if the superintendent willfully misuses the word so to make him and the district look like the victims over policy disputes?

Words matter. And when they are misapplied it can cheapen that word and cause additional harm.

Students who are bullied need our collective attention and care. If you are aware of a situation where it is occurring please step up and demand action. Thank you.

And so it goes.

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes Mixed Messages About Public’s Right To Know

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes has placed himself into a position that no one can defend. Not conservatives, not liberals, not progressives. No one.

Usually, I find myself comfortably able to stand alongside our local police and give my support. Not this time.

Unlike past major episodes dealing with local police shootings, and actions taken (or perhaps more to the point not taken) by law enforcement to quell violent downtown rioting, there is no respectable ground for the police chief to stand on regarding Reginald Patterson. Or the way Matt Kenny was treated in 2021.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Barnes sent an internal message to officers that he would seek to fire anyone found to have leaked to the local media information about the resignation of a lieutenant who had been videotaped engaging in sexual activity with a woman in his squad car in a store parking lot.

But the desire by Barnes in promoting a self-serving message about another officer was even elevated to the office of the department’s spokesperson.

Matt Kenny, a police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old who was highly combative and under the influence, was approached in 2021 by Barnes about voluntarily retiring.

Police Department spokesperson Stephanie Fryer said, “Since joining the Madison Police Department, the chief has heard from grieving family members and concerned citizens about the employment of Officer Kenny.”

There is a lot to unpack in those two stories.

First, there is a right of citizens to know what their public servants do while being paid for with tax dollars. That is not a new concept. When a 15-year employee of the department, no less, the West Police District’s head of the patrol, is caught in a sex act in a police car in broad daylight it does merit public scrutiny. Such lack of regard for sound judgment from someone who works for a department that does concern itself with public relations deserves public attention. But transparency was not the route our police chief chose to follow.

Police had refused to provide Patterson’s name until announcing his resignation, but the State Journal reported it on Oct. 14 after one current and one former department employee confirmed his identity. Six days later, in response to public records request by the State Journal, the department identified Patterson as the only department employee then on paid leave.

The fact is journalists, who report on the work of government and public officials, do rely on souces and tips so to fulfill their responsibility in a democracy. Such input from a wide array of sources, as proven in this case, ensures the public has a better understanding of what is happening with the departments and agencies they fund. As such, it was not proper to then have Barnes make the threat of firing anyone about a matter that did merit public notice.

From a public relations perspective, it appears that the desire to keep tight reins on information was more an issue for the police chief than the preposterous action taken by an officer on duty.

Regarding Officer Kenny, meanwhile, there was a true effort made to publicize an attempt to remove him from his job. For the record, I am glad that the story was reported. It, too, needs to be known by the public, as it shines a light on Chief Barnes. Sadly, his action in this matter demonstrates how he too plays to the anti-police sentiments held by some of the louder voices in this city.

Following the Tony Robinson shooting those who opposed the police attempted to frame our force as akin to other departments nationwide which have landed in the headlines.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We might recall that then Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, in a number of national interviews, proved his communications skills while outlining why Madison is a department that is head and shoulders above others.  Statistics also make the case why Madison police can not be summed up in pointless rhetoric from the anti-police crowd.

Matt Kenney was not found to be in any way negligent in the performance of his duties as a law enforcement officer.

So to have Barnes then seek the retirement of Kenny, an officer who acted professionally in the line of duty, is more than mystifying. It is infuriating. For Barnes to take that action is a back-handed slap to the entire police force.

It is difficult to have professionals akin to former Police Chief Koval continually serve in our city. But it sure would be nice if that were possible. When they are absent it is most noticeable.

And so it goes.

Canada Geese Dance-Like Moves On Lake Monona

A sizable flock of Canada Geese has been sighted over the past several days flying back and forth over the Madison isthmus.  During the holidays a group of honkers landed on a freshly iced part of Lake Monona, not far from the shore at B. B. Clarke Beach.  While pouring another cup of hot coffee I noticed folks were congregating so took my camera and dashed over to the lake.

I post a few photos of the dance-like magic on the ice.  With all the hardships due to the continuing pandemic, these are the type of moments that we can embrace and find uplifting. 

Letter From Home “They All Want To Be A Christmas Tree!” 12/10/21

It seems the average price for a Christmas tree in the city I live in is about $80.00 this year. Driving near sellers of the green-needled beauties has made me aware that this annual tradition is not cheap. Late this afternoon with a cold rain being lashed against the windows of the car I slowed to get a better look at ones arrayed in a city parking lot. It was then I flashed back to the white pines of home.

I suspect such flashbacks are more common than not for most people as the holidays approach. Be it the scent of fresh-baked cookies, the traditions of decorating, or the pull of memory resulting from certain chords struck by a carol, we are transported backward through the decades. James and I have found a way to include such memories into our lives each Christmas season.

There are those items of special meaning from over the years that are kept, such as an old change purse, a clothespin, or the gift tags with the writing of loved ones preserved with laminating. But then the question is how do we view them after being placed into boxes?

Several years ago James and I concluded our love of the season necessitated there be more than one Christmas tree in our home. (We have three.) One of the trees is what we call a Memory Tree. It is there that we then place the items such as a small photo of James’ mom and dad along with my mom’s old can opener on a tree that might seem to be an odd array of items to a stranger…..but not to us.

Though our home was built in 1892 with one large white pine from the northern reaches of Wisconsin, we have not had a white pine Christmas tree. But when I was a young man that variety was the only one ever to be decorated for Christmas where I lived. Namely, because much of the wooded portions on the 100 acres back home were of white pine. You never saw me buying a tree when a homegrown one was precisely what I wanted.

The memories of those Christmas trees remain priceless to me. As I looked about (simply for curiosity) at the trees for sale today I thought of the axe that hangs at our home on a wall. It was the very axe that I used in my younger days to cut trees that now stands out in my memory.

If the axe could talk, what stories it would tell.

In the family probate process, the items I wanted, as my attorney noted at the time, would not have collectively sold for $25.00 at a garage sale in Hancock. Simply put, I wanted memories.

So what does this ax mean to me?

Before purchasing a VW Beetle, with a minuscule trunk, I used to drive home to Hancock to cut a Christmas tree for my apartment in Madison. It was an annual ritual made special because my Dad assisted in making the simple wooden stand that allowed for the tree to stand upright. My trees at that time were always smaller than what was required for the store-bought stands. There was a reason for that.

As a boy, I loved to walk in the woods populated with white pines and oaks. After I got to a certain age, I would take the axe along and chop on this dead branch, or even take down a very small spindly tree here and there. When I grew to be a teenager, there was one tall white pine that I would wail on with the axe. All the tensions of youth were unleashed on that tree. At the end of my teen years, I had discovered there was far more tree than angst. When I left home it was still standing, but with a very haggard look. Since then, the ‘wailing tree’ has come down with age, and others have grown up in its place.

I had narrowed my stress-releasing axing to a single tree thanks to some thoughtful words from my Dad. I was just a boy when he told me that one just never knows when a tree would be needed to hide under in the rain. He looked as though he were sheltering his face from raindrops as he spoke. One can never foresee, he added, the need to climb up one in order to get away from a wild animal. Dad imitated the noise of a bear and its growl. I discovered then that trees were my friends, and I should respect them.

All trees have value according to Dad. Some small trees seemed to me to lack that postcard quality of rounded beauty we as a culture value most at the holidays. One side of so many little trees on our property seemed to be deformed. They did not get enough light, or were too close to other trees in the woods. Dad would comment about the misshapen trees, “They all want to be a Christmas tree!” As I got older, that message seemed ever more important to me. When it came time to chop down my own trees for Christmas, I always sought out a nice tree, but one that was not perfect. My friends would smile, and gently chide me about the ‘Charlie Brown’ tree. Yet, decorated in all the lights and glass ornaments the tree was always perfect, just as it was for Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown, and his friends.

Each season for years and years, I took my Dad’s axe to the woods, and dragged my tree through the snow to our ‘barn’ where Dad would eye it up, and then reach for some wood pieces in the pile near the back of the building. He would measure a bit then take the wood, and place it over the side of a wooden potato crate, and cut for perfect dimensions. He would hammer and fashion the pieces together so the small trunk of the tree would fit without slipping out. As he worked, I would look out the door of the barn, and see my Mom at the kitchen window. She carefully watched our progress, ensuring that we didn’t do anything foolish, or hurt ourselves. Steam collected on the windowpanes from something wonderful cooking on the stove for dinner.

Days after I had the tree back in Madison my Dad would phone to inquire as to how it was standing. I always answered that it was up, and decorated without a single problem. Vendors do not put less-than-perfect Christmas trees on the lots in the city, but I can say with all honesty that my little trees could stand in competition with any of them, if the competition were about conveying life’s lessons on love.

I never asked Dad about how or why he came up with his philosophy about Christmas trees. It just fit him, and never seemed to need an explanation. It means we all are needed in life, and all fit in somewhere. And with a little help from someone can be that which we dream.

Merry Christmas!

And so it goes.

For Youth’s Sake Madison School Board Candidate Mary Jo Walters Needs To Withdraw From Race

Since 2015 I have often stated that nothing shocks me anymore. Nothing could leave me looking slack-jawed. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

After a cold and blustery Monday James and I sat down for dinner while watching the 6 PM news on the DVR. It was reported Madison School Board candidate Mary Jo Walters stated over the weekend that “I’m trans-a-phobic” when describing her platform for the spring election.

Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has three students in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.

I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.

Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.

No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.

Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.

It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?

I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.

So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.

And we must be pro-active.

Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.

There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.

Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.

And so it goes.