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.

Historical Photo From Oregon, Wisconsin Allows Us To Ponder Masculinity

Hat Tip to Dan Young.

I saw a most interesting photo in my email Thursday morning from the Oregon, Wisconsin Historical Society.  I could not locate a precise time or listing of which team was pictured, but that was not required, since what struck me at once is that no contemporary photo staged this way would be now considered.  And that is rather sad.

Given the macho lingo so overused by many men today along with the derogatory use of the word ‘gay’ assures us that the grouping of Oregon athletes from the picture is one that could never now be photographed.  It reminds me of the Civil War photographs that men would often take (if they had the means) prior to going to war. Many of the pictures show close male bonds and even tender-type images with their buddy, brother, or fellow soldier from their local area. During the pre-war days, it was common for male friends to visit a photographer to show their love and loyalty towards each other.

Physical non-sexual intimacy between men was much more prevalent in the early years of our national story, as evidenced also in letters that allowed for emotional intimacy from the likes of Alexander Hamilton along with numerous examples of deep regard among elected officials in Washington.  Over the decades of reading and better understanding history one of the features of small-town America that forms a perfect mental image for me was summed up by online writers, Brett & Kate McKay. I pull this from my files today to make the case.

The photographer’s studio would have been at the center of town, well-known by everyone, and one’s neighbors would have been sitting in the waiting room just a few feet away. Because homosexuality, even if the thought of as a practice rather than an identity, was not something publicly expressed, these men were not knowingly outing themselves in these shots; their poses were common, and simply reflected the intimacy and intensity of male friendships at the time — none of these photos would have caused their contemporaries to bat an eye.

The photo that arrived in my email and prompted this post is a reminder of the limitations that men have constructed for themselves in our society.  Emotional distance with a limiting and unhealthily self-created definition of what constitutes ‘being male’ has stunted men and negatively impacted families. Years ago, I asked historian Stephen Ambrose, during one of his many visits to Borders Books on University Avenue about this form of male bonding and how it manifested itself during WWII, a time period he wrote about in numerous volumes.

I recall his speaking about late teenagers (boys really) who had known nothing other than their farms or villages and close families then walked into a completely new world of terror and unknowns, coming to soon realize that their lives depended on their fellow soldiers. With such a connection with strangers, it was easy for them to find bonds of intimacy and deep emotional regard for each other.  Those friendships and relationships made solid individuals, but such interactions should obviously not need to be confined to the war theater.

Some foolishly claim from a political perspective that men are losing their masculinity, but I would argue what society requires are men who understand the totality of being human and living the whole spectrum of their emotions.

How Long Will America Remain Exceptional?

As we drove in the city Saturday night James relayed a phone call conversation with a nurse regarding one of his clients.  The nurse had a resonant and deep type of voice which James noted made him “perfect for radio”.  The medical professional was not at all sure what those words meant and said as much. He even seemed a bit miffed by the remark.  I laughed upon hearing his response as radio and the sound of announcers’ voices is often a topic at our home.  In addition, the phrase was not some obscure one, but rather what anyone should be able to grasp and further banter about.

It may seem like a most trivial matter, and by itself it certainly is, but as we talked about it further, it segued into the larger topic we often discuss. We have lost a commonality on a very wide and broad array of topics that we once had some awareness of, and equally important, an ability to converse with on a whim.  Be it a lobsterman in Maine, a truck driver in Florida, a rancher in Montana, or a dock worker in San Diego there was a time when we had more unified and common connections.

The diversity of ways to get news and information, hear very narrow types of music, dialogue with a select group of friends and acquaintances, or live in areas that are very much akin to one’s beliefs and customs has, too often, created very confined thinking and abbreviated knowledge about a host of topics. Instead of looking at our current ways of being happy be they in how we are entertained or lifestyle choices, we might ponder how limiting it has made us when considering our relationships with our fellow citizens.

I am most certain that those who read blogs are more my age than young adults. As such, the background of older readers will better recall having family dinnertime together (or supper as it was called in my Hancock home) where free-flowing conversations were held each night and where being absent was not an option. In many cases, I suspect readers might also know that the table of decades ago was often intergenerational which added another layer of background and even enhanced storytelling capability. Younger people in that grouping were exposed to topics galore, differences of views, and ways to reason and interact in a fast-paced yet convivial manner. There was no way not to come in contact with a vast array of names, places, and trivia that linked with other such dinner tables nationwide.

I often mention to James the argument that some historians and sociologists have presented in papers and talks that America’s time on the world stage is waning towards a far-off sunset. They view their theory based on international dynamics, economic power, or advances made with new innovations and life-altering concepts. While I do not subscribe to their dour conclusions, I certainly recognize the larger arguments they make and, in some respects, much agree with the current problems in need of remedies. While the comment about a radio voice from the start of this column does not seem to mesh with needing to be more potent with international commerce or foreign policy, there is a theme that does connect all this together.

During the holidays I read an older article in Foreign Affairs where Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun was discussed.  He lived in the 14th century and is probably best known to us in the 21st century for his ideas about collective action through what he termed asabiyya.  To winnow this down, a society best moves forward when there is a feeling and conviction that we are all in this together and that our united actions will allow for advances to be made.  The key, of course, is unified actions, which also blend with unified knowledge, which is my argument in these paragraphs.  The problem is that I do not see our nation as united on anything.  A pandemic struck and killed well over one million of our fellow citizens and the virus splintered us into varying parts. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of the titanic story was not medical but societal.  

Our lack of bonds of commonality ranging from what we generally should know about common phrases to how we should behave with regard to each other during a pandemic does then beg the question researchers and historians are asking. How long will America remain a city on a hill?

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.   

Brett Favre, Short On Character, Not The Man We Want Our Sons To Emulate

The story of Victor Hugo is well known.

In the 1840s the writer was walking about when he noticed that a thin man was being taken away by police for stealing a loaf of bread. Hugo will turn that man, who had ragged clothes and human misery all over him into a most memorable book, Les Miserables. The poor man who just wanted bread for his family can be understood. The rich man who took money needed by those in poverty can only be scorned. This week one can only ponder how Hugo would have constructed a Brett Farve story based on the news coming out of Mississippi.

Favre was always less than what his image makers wished to make him.  His years in Green Bay as quarterback for the Green Bay Packers produced enough stories about his antics and shortcomings off the field to alert anyone listening that he was just another typical sports figure, certainly not a role model. Favre, as a married man, further lowered himself with his sexting scandal and redneckish ways.

The last nail in the coffin, however, for what constitutes Favre’s lack of character can be found in text messages made public last week. His conversations with utterly disgraced Mississippi nonprofit executive Nancy New, who has pled guilty to 13 felony counts concerning $77 million in funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families which were improperly siphoned elsewhere in the Magnolia State are truly troubling.

For years Favre has simply denied he received roughly $1 million in welfare funds, the money I should not need to add which was to have been spent on folks who, oh, I don’t know, do not live in a mansion built from being an overpaid sports personality. Last week with the release of text messages we know Favre was not telling the truth. There is no doubt whatsoever that in 2017 Favre was most aware that monies he had no right to have, or use were being improperly channeled for his whims.

The reason this matter lands on CP is my concern about the lack of real heroes when it comes to the sporting world.  Since so much of our culture surrounds sports it seems we should have a bevy of men and women who today’s youth should be able to look up to and truly admire.  But that is not the case. As I read the accounts of Farve it struck me again how no parent would wish their son to emulate him.  I take no glee in that conclusion, but the facts are clear.

There is an old song recorded by Bill Anderson which sums up this mess with unseemly sports figures and our nation’s youth. Where Have All Our Heroes Gone has a few lines that make my point.

This country needs a lotta things today friends
But it doesn’t need any one thing anymore than it needs some real heroes

Men who know what it means to be looked up to by a griny faced kid
Men who want to sign autograph books and not deal under the table
Men who are willing to play the game with the people who made them heroes
Men who don’t mind putting on a white hat and saying thank you and please

I wish I knew more men that I’d be proud of for my son to look up to and say
Daddy when I grow up I want to be just-like-him (Where have all our heroes gone?)

Brett Farve should be asked that question in his next interview.

Good Sportsmanship Should Not Be In Short Supply For Adult Americans

I read in the Monday newspaper that a quarterback was roundly and soundly booed as he made his entrance onto a football field this week.  I generally do not opine on sports and have no thoughts whatsoever on the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Rather why I post today is what happened when the former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took the field. It was then that a large portion of the audience displayed their sharp disapproval of the player.

As I quickly read the other paragraphs, I learned the guy they were trying to shame had been very important to the team, so much so that it was during his contractual period with the team they garnered their only Super Bowl success.  There was a rather messy, it seems, off-season trade of his role to the Broncos.

Hence the booing?

I well understand decorum and manners in much of the nation have been packed in a box and placed in the upper reaches of the garage.  People know where they are, but seldom wish to revisit the reasons they learned about them in the first place.  Additionally, there is no longer any reluctance to show off boorish behavior even in the most public of places, even with live television noting all that occurs.

With the huge amount of taxpayer money that has been used for school sports programs, both at the public and college level, and not only for the aim to impart physical education but also to instill a firm grasp of good sportsmanship, we still somehow wind up with the outcome in Seattle. I strongly suggest that taxpayer money has not been used wisely when we continue to witness bad form when it comes to sporting contests.

I can understand the urge to whoop and holler for a team touchdown or growl when a mistake is made on the field, but to act out in a truly low-brow form for someone who just walks out onto the field is so tacky it demands a post on a site that mostly dismisses sports.

Television Shaped The Nation, Streaming Services Lack National Commonality

Sunday the New York Times published several special sections looking ahead to the arts and leisure aspects of life for the months ahead. From movies to the theatre, and TV, too. Which made me think about something. We know that in the years when I was a kid (probably for you, too) the three main networks aired new shows or brought back fresh episodes of continuing series after Labor Day. That model in many ways is not the norm as there is a frenetic push by streaming services to broaden their audience and steer viewers at home away from the main networks. The data shows that streaming services are making great inroads into audience share. And while there are truly wonderfully written, acted, and produced shows on such services there is one larger problem we may not have considered. One commonality as a nation when I was a kid was that ‘we’ sat down and watched Mash or Roots or (pick one) and were able to have a conversation about it on the bus the next day, at the office lunches, or over a beer after work. That connection is long gone as television has altered how we view programming. I believe that has impacted our nation negatively as it is one less thing to be cemented together about, and that does concern me.

I write this as television has made a positive impact on the real America we live in by being a mirror on society. From Archie Bunker showcasing how bigotry actually looks and sounds to “Hawkeye” Pierce bringing the humanity and angst of men and women near the war front into our homes in a way we could relate to and learn from at the same time. Soap gave America its first gay character but Will and Grace allowed for a sweeping acceptance in the nation. None of these are small things in the social development of this land.

As it turned out television was clearly one of the most influential forces in changing Americans’ own definitions and perspectives of what society can look like, and should look like while also better defining the wide use of the word family. Television sets were in the homes of liberals and conservatives alike, and slowly over time, the family sitcoms that Americans watched for decades actually helped in their own way to remake and refashion the traditional American family into the ones we see in our communities. That is no small feat.

So when we lose the television experience as a commonality in the nation to mold and reshape views and outlooks I contend we have lost a proven tool to link us as people and lift us to a better place to live.