This Is Why We Celebrate Pride Month In June

I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood.  What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community.  The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.

This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president.  Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy.  Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.

President Eisenhower and Robert Cutler

When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur.  While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment.  In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month. 

Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”  The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.

Arthur Vandenberg Jr.

The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.

Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.

We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.

Chronic School Absenteeism In Madison Solved By Parenting

This month Madison schools released data to show that about one out of every seven Madison School District middle and high school students is considered at risk of not graduating from high school.  What the district left unsaid is that the cost of this failure in education will place a strain on society and taxpayers for decades to come. I could have used almost any large school district in the nation to show that chronic absenteeism is a problem and there need to be corrective measures taken.  While solutions seem hard to implement, we know the source of the issue starts in the home.

In Madison, higher rates of chronic absenteeism are largely driving the increase, as about 98% of the district’s 2,231 at-risk students have been deemed “habitually truant,” defined as missing more than 10% of days in an academic year. The number of students considered habitually truant during the 2021-22 school year more than tripled from the year before.

While I am not a parent, it goes without saying that once one carries that title, the time for excuses and rationalizations about why a child does not attend school is over.  There is only one side to the argument for a parent to be on, which is with the teachers and school administrators requiring that a youngster is in their seat and ready to learn.  I know some will argue that is easy for a non-parent to say or write.  But taxpayers do have a right to register their thoughts about schools they fund and the resulting issues from those in society who do not fully avail themselves of the free education offered.

The issue of children being absent from the classroom came to mind while reading this weekend about Robert Harlan.  He was a famous and influential Black man, who The New York World in about 1870 compared at the time as second only to Frederick Douglass. Historians place him as the once-enslaved half-brother to famed Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan.

It was what Robert said in a speech celebrating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that stands out not only in the context of his time but our ours, too.  Words that are not in any way limited to the color of one’s skin or a region of the country one calls home. Words which should land at the door of every parent.

Here is the supreme duty of our generation.  Let us resolve that come what may, though it be biting poverty, coarse garments, plain food, and humble shelter, our children shall receive the full measure of education that our capacity can admit of.

Education is the greatest factor in the makeup of an individual and the ability for a full and rewarding life. When one looks at the real pitfalls to learning in places like Kyiv or for girls in Afghanistan, we then can measure the lack of actual obstacles to getting any child living in Madison into a classroom.  That does not mean some will still not offer excuses for continued absences.  While the majority of those living in our city willingly and understandably pay the taxes for our schools we only ask all parents to more fully take seriously their role in the education process for their children.  Outside of illness, there is no reasonable explanation for chronic absenteeism. Enough excuses, let’s get on with learning.

Madison Bus Service Changes Raise Hackles Of Riders

For many weeks I have been reading and hearing concerns from residents in our Marquette Neighborhood about the bus changes that are afoot in early June. I sense not only confusion about the upcoming changes but also some disgust with the city that has not been more mindful of the needs of riders. For the record, I have taken only one bus ride since moving to the city in the last days of 1986. It was a blizzard and my car was somewhere under a pile of snow in our parking lot. On the bus I took a seat and sat in a wet ‘something’, and to this day still call it ‘water’ though my office mate told me all that day it left “a stain”. Though I never needed to ride the bus again I am most mindful and concerned for those who require the service.

As I have noted the concern of riders about what awaits them I came across an example posted on our neighborhood listserv that is worthy of your time to read and ponder. This posting proved most illuminating. The writer explained what would be entailed to get to Woodman’s from our area.

  • If one uses the Route C/G option, the time to get to Woodman’s is 44 minutes.  That is because Route C gets you to the Cottage Grove/Dempsey intersection about 10 minutes after the Route G bus (a 30 minute bus route) heads north to Woodman’s, so there is about a 20 minute wait.
  • If one carefully plans their trip, one can use the Route C/L option – a transfer at Atwood/Water – and get to Woodman’s in 33 minutes.  This route only works at certain times.  For example, on weekdays one can use this route at 5:33, 6:50, 8:05, 10:35, 1:05, 3:35, 6:05, 8:33 (departures from Jeni/Ingersoll).
  • The best route for returning from Woodman’s is the Route G/C option at 30 minutes – a transfer at Cottage Grove.  Departures that work for this are every half-hour on weekdays.
  • There are also other routes: A/D, about a 17 minute ride, works about every hour on weekdays; and, D (leaves from Johnson), about an 11 minute ride, every half-hour on weekdays. 
  • The “plan your trip map” also has other routes that are not very realistic if one is just going to Woodman’s:  Route A/G, go almost out to East Towne, then wind through east side neighborhoods (51 minutes); Route A/L at 46 minutes, and Route B/L at 53 minutes.

Following that madness came this additional thought.

Originally, the City said that BRT would complement, not replace, existing service.  That changed in the fall of 2020, when the website was modified to say that BRT was “part of an effort to improve its existing transit system and reduce travel times across the region.”  This change could well be the result of the consultants who said:  “A substantial part of the network’s existing resources will go to operating BRT.”  (My emphasis added.)

I find that there are two things that trigger very strong reactions among people. First, changes to the local newspaper be it the layout of the pages, the font, removal of this feature, or that cartoon. Second, is the way local bus service operates, be it where stops are located or the time to get from one side of the city to another part. We are about to hear very strong reactions from people who are reliant upon the bus service they have long known but are going to find, in many cases, it now will be less than what they had experienced.

I would not care to be answering the phones at city hall or at the homes of our alders as this unfolds across Madison. I suspect residents will consider this bus problem of a greater magnitude than a mere “stain”.

Shame Is Lacking In Our Politics

My dad’s nephew robbed a bank when a young man.  Had he been better as a criminal that first line might have been written in the plural. He took the loot and stashed it under his bed at home, which made him a fast catch by the authorities and more a family story than a lingering series of headlines for the public to read.  As a boy, I wanted to know more about the events and wished to talk about them at the annual family reunions.  My parents always firmly reminded me how far it would be to walk home if I started a conversation about that forbidden topic with the larger family.

In later years, his ‘youthful adventure’ as it came to be termed by the older family members at a small town bank, would rank up there in the family tree with the man who slept in a car in the driveway of his home while the spouse lived inside their home. People knew the stories, but the propriety of the reunions made people somewhat circumspect in their conversations.  When as an adult I had long chats with the man who robbed a bank, and there was nothing holding me back from getting insight into the day it happened, I was held back by that sense of decorum, that cloud of shame if you will, that still was hanging about overhead.

I thought of that now departed man when reading a story in the Wall Street Journal today where it was reported Donald Trump’s close associates are bracing for his indictment concerning his criminal behavior of handling classified materials. They “anticipate being able to fundraise off a prosecution.” It seems hard to fathom if one takes a step or two back and reflects from a longer lens view, that a former president who repeatedly denied a return to the federal government of classified documents, once caught and indicted, would seek to make money over the criminal charges.

What happened to the people in our nation—and I can use my larger family tree to ask the question—where talking about the how and whys of a bank robbery were off limits—but the acceptance of the behavior of the likes of Trump and George Santos are accepted and abided?  Some of the reasons have to do with how public relations experts package the awful behavior along with the fact there seems to be a growing segment of politicians who harbor no sense of shame.

Decades ago, former Wisconsin State Senator Robert Welch, when seeking a primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate spoke at a ‘porky-pancake’ breakfast in Hancock, my hometown.  Dad was involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ones flipping the pancakes, and so much of our family was in attendance.  Welch talked about how shame as an ingredient for how people operated, or the lack of it, needed to be again a more visible force in society.  I was not aligned in any way with his views or politics, but these many years later recall that small portion of his longer presentation. I think he had a point worthy of attention.

I tend to think on the issue of shame the current barometer of decency might be Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney. The line from his encounter with a reporter regarding Santos seated at the State of the Union Address this year points to the values we once had in this nation about shame. “He shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.” It is a sentiment that does not get voiced often in the nation anymore. After the outrageous behavior by Trump since 2015 and what we now know is acceptable to a certain segment of the electorate we might even conclude shame is dead.

But we know shame is a useful tool as it prods people in the larger context to act in accordance with values. We know slavery was our nation’s original sin, and the tug and pull to own up to that stain has produced an ongoing series of policies that still provokes and arouses passions. Shaming the federal and state governments and institutions to act for a better outcome has proved to be effective. How might leaders in our nation now arouse a sense of shame to counter the growing absurd behavior from the likes of Trump, Santos, and the far extremes in our politics?

Madison School Board Should Follow Lead Of 76% Of Public Schools And Ban Cell Phones In Classrooms

I had a conversation with a schoolteacher in a Madison school last weekend.  We chatted about the changes in their health insurance, and how the pandemic impacted the learning path for some students. But it was the matter of cell phones which most animated the instructor to express concerns about the way they intrude on her classroom and distract her students.  What she told me was similar to the national conversation that is heard in news broadcasts and through social media.  Young people seem fixated on their gadgets, to the exclusion of learning in a classroom.

I have a very difficult time understanding how cell phones ever started to be allowed in a classroom, let alone being so much of a problem that it is “a constant battle” to have students put them away as the teacher told me.  I am continually surprised at how consumed young people are with their personal phones.  I say that since not a single one is dealing in stocks or making plans for international intrigue so one can fairly inquire what has them so captivated.  Granted, the same can be said for adults, too.  But children are still being shaped and molded and should not be allowed to drift off aimlessly into their hand-held devices.

The biggest distraction for me in school was Carol Lisak who had pretty eyes and would turn around in her seat and roll them at me as she made facial expressions, all in an effort to make me laugh. She found her mark every time and what confounds me to this day is that I got in trouble for laughing as opposed to her memorable antics.  I am well aware those types of classroom issues pale over what teachers now confront.

Following the conversation with the teacher, I spent some time online looking for a bit of data to show what can be done to curb the cell phone problem.  The stern approach of a teacher setting down the line which cannot be crossed, I am told, is just not reality in many classroom settings.  So, to bolster and support instructors school districts ranging from Colorado to Ohio to Maryland have placed a ban on these phones in class. The National Center for Education Statistics in 2020 reported that cell phone bans were in place in 76% of our nation’s schools. The problem with kids and phones is a worldwide topic. In September 2018, French lawmakers outlawed cellphone use for schoolchildren under the age of 15. In China, phones were banned country-wide for schoolchildren last year.

Madison must do the same.  I urge the school board to implement what candidate David Blaska urged in a race for the board in 2022. When addressing the matter in a forum he held up a paper grocery bag and said, “cell phones go in the bag and [students] can get them back afterwards.” First and foremost schools are the place to learn and grow and whatever impedes that mission must be dealt with. Education is too precious a commodity not to have it fully implemented. When teachers speak so forthrightly about the need to curb cell phones in the classroom the school board should heed the views of the educational professionals.

For the record, my husband and I do not own a cell phone.  James has a thriving guardianship business which is all conducted with our landline.  Yes, we have a flip phone for long vacations, or day trips that are placed in the car, but if you ask me to give the phone number for it, I would be a man who just missed getting a huge payday.  I live in a tech world with my podcasting but have no desire to be connected 24/7 on any device.  I know with certainty that a classroom setting which has so many avenues for distractions all on its own, should not be further burdened with cell phones at the desk of students.

Teachers Should Not Be Constrained, Classrooms Should Be Able To Dialogue About Abraham Lincoln And Joshua Speed Relationship

Upon finishing Courting Mr. Lincoln my first thought was how great writers seemingly allow words to flow effortlessly.  The amazing work by Louis Bayard combined historical facts with an author’s elaboration using dialogue and moods to convey larger topics for exploration. The second thought I had was this book, so beautifully written and constructed, sadly will not be found in school libraries where book banning runs wild.

Central to the story as Mary Todd enters the world of Springfield in 1839 and meets Abraham Lincoln, is the tight friendship and deeply personal relationship between Joshua Speed and Lincoln. Lincoln shared a bed with Speed for four years over a general store that the latter owned.  While the sharing of such close quarters by men was not uncommon at the time, it is the narrower story of bonds and shared closeness between the two that has placed the question of what their actual relationship was into the minds of historians and writers for many decades.   

Historians have tried to grapple with understanding Lincoln in more books written about him than any other president. The books range from his efforts being portrayed as highly patriotic and grounded in the words of the Founding Fathers to the wildly outlandish that try to paint him as a dictator. Over 15,000 titles have been published, all in an effort to better define and dissect what many consider (including myself) the most important leader this nation had in the White House. Bayard stepped into this arena and added context to the possible (and a growing number of researchers think probable) homosexual relationship between Lincoln and Speed.  Though we will never know with absolute proof through evidence that a relationship occurred, this discussion allows students insight into social structures that mandated secrecy at the time over such relationships.  Students are left to beg the question that if Lincoln had committed himself to Speed, and given the mores of the era meaning he would not have been elected president, what might have happened with the Union and the issue of slavery?  Contrasting that to 2020 when Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay married man, sought his party’s nomination is exactly the role of a history student studying the patterns and forces that shape(d) our nation.

Given how the rhetoric in our nation about teaching Black history or gay history or tackling anything that might make certain parents upset in some regions of the nation, the idea of broaching the topic of Lincoln with a homosexual side to his life surely seems an uphill trek. If merely suspecting Lincoln to have a male love interest riles feathers, pray tell, how does that same school teach Oscar Wilde in literature class?!

My deep respect for Lincoln started in my school years when learning his determination to show the world that the United States’ brave attempt at democracy must not fail, as it would then allow despots to think people could not rule themselves successfully. My high school library had a copy of Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln. (I recall the larger book’s wonderful black and white drawings depicting places and people as the story unwinds.)  It was there that I first read any hint and in only a few sparse words, of Lincoln’s potentially gay feelings. Sandburg had studied the letters and wrote of Lincoln and Speed having “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets”. 

I had questions so I turned to, Marge Glad, my history teacher, a woman who so positively impacted my life I went back as a young adult to thank her for what she did in her classroom.  There was no internet to search (as this was 1977) or a huge collection of other books in a rural community so I sought a teacher for a further explanation.  She told me that lavender was a way (especially in Britain) for how gay people would be referred to so as not to seem ‘vulgar’ in society when speaking of the topic.  I recall she used the word pregnancy as another example of what was not used in ‘polite company’ in times past. I never once considered such a discussion with a teacher to be out-of-bounds or anything other than just another day at school. It was rather just another educational experience.

The points I made are two-fold in this post.  First, a school library should have books that promote learning and bring forth ideas that foster more research along with discussions. Banning books is meant to constrain or undermine learning, which is simply unacceptable.  Secondly, teachers must have the ability to educate and speak openly and factually about a wide array of topics with their students. Schools must be a place where ideas are able to be explored and questioned. In so doing a new generation of minds with broadened perspectives will become the sturdy adults this nation requires.

Quintez Cephus “Suspended Indefinitely” From NFL, Released By Detroit Lions, Might UW-Madison Have Helped Him Find Guardrails Of Life?

Well, here we go again. Character matters.

I often stress those two words when it comes to presidential candidates, strongly implied it just yesterday when talking about astronauts of my youth who so very much impressed me, and say it repeatedly when writing about athletes who have a bevy of youth looking up to them. I made it plain in 2019 when writing about Quintez Cephus that what was lacking in the larger story was the issue of character. For those who need a quick primer, he was accused by two women of sexual assault but was acquitted of those charges by a Dane County jury. This morning his name landed in my email box as a news feed from the Washington Post dealt with his time with Detroit Lions upended due to….yes….lack of character.

Quintez Cephus was “suspended indefinitely through at least the conclusion of the 2023 season for betting on NFL games in the 2022 season”. (By the time I reread this post for editing I learned the Detroit Lions had released him from the team.) While no one should take any glee about this news, as having a dream of any profession ripped apart is sad, there still can be a lesson learned from what happened to this man. The lack of constructing the guardrails of life, those ways of living and abiding with the proper conduct as one moves through society, while also not working to ante up on the character side of one’s personal ledger has a cost. What I found so glaring and lacking in this young man in 2019 are seemingly the ones that made him a headline today. Had there been a more strict application of the rules for this football player in 2019 might he have been alerted to the behavior changes required for adulthood?

My issue at the time this story made headlines galore was direct and can be summed up this way. Did Cephus honor the sports program, or the school where he was a student, when he went to a bedroom with two women, asked another man to join the trio, and where a photo was taken and then deleted from a phone?  Do these actions from a football player, and a UW student rise to the level of acceptable behavior for the university?

We all recall the tight restrictions and demands a high school coach would place on players about how they were to handle themselves when off the field.  It mattered in small towns and communities when a player, who made the local paper for a play in a Friday night game, was able to walk with dignity and self-respect down Main Street Wednesday evening.  Values mattered.  And they still must.

I stated in 2019 the obvious. Let us pretend that all other aspects concerning the Cephus controversy were equal.  If that only then left character as the determining factor any common-sense outcome to the question of his being readmitted to the university sports program would need to come back as negative.

I do not wish to be harsh to anyone wishing to gain higher education.  But there must be standards of behavior employed when one takes on the name of being a UW-Student.  Even more so when wearing a red jersey for the Badger Football team.  Given the out-sized role college football has in our culture the very least we should expect is for the players to exhibit a level of deportment that can be known about in the light of day.

There are many people who let Quintez Cephus down. First, and foremost, himself. But all those in sports programs who wished to use him for their wins and profits but seemed unwilling, or perhaps unable, to shape the type of character that makes for a winner on and off the field also must take ownership of today’s news.

(No, I am not a parent, but I think I might have been a good one.)

SpaceX Rocket Explosion Sad, Elon Musk To Be Thanked

I am sad to see this news. But thankful for Elon Musk for his determination to challenge space.

The SpaceX Starship explodes after launch for a flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20, 2023. – The rocket successfully blasted off at 8:33 am Central Time (1333 GMT). The Starship capsule had been scheduled to separate from the first-stage rocket booster three minutes into the flight but separation failed to occur and the rocket blew up. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

After liftoff, SpaceX’s Starship exploded midair on the first launch attempt. The most powerful rocket ever constructed was uncrewed. Yes, I get the reason some feel a puckishness about Elon Musk’s social media giant, and thus why some are saying, well, what we know they are saying over the past several hours. But not at this desk. I champion space exploration and cheer advances in discovery no matter from what quarter it comes. I have done so since a boy when the Apollo crews were my heroes, back in the days when heroes acted like heroes. I recall as a boy I even tried to walk with that certain gait seen as astronauts took their proud steps to the capsule entrance for their mission.

I believe that Musk has the thirst for answers about space that many share, but he gets rebuked about his space plans due to the fact he has the means to experiment and ponder things on an actual launch pad. In the glare of public success or failure. Such abilities often foment jealousy. Musk could just hide his money and not perform a greater benefit to the world, but instead has anted up and demonstrated a willingness to challenge space.

While fully aware that space exploration has always had dangers and setbacks, we always plowed forwards, and I know this today will be seen as a learning moment, too. I can hear Walter Cronkite if here to see this turn of events today, say something akin to this last line of the post. The darkness of space will be lit by humans with our curious natures and determined drive to overcome today’s event.