"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The NRA’s War Of All Against All”: The World Is Not Made Up Of “Good Guys” And “Bad Guys.”

It’s quite salutary that Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association are getting so much attention, because the truth is that most Americans aren’t familiar with their rhetoric and the reality they inhabit. If you didn’t know too much about LaPierre but tuned in to see him on Meet the Press yesterday, you probably came away saying, “This guy is a lunatic” (a word we’ll get to in a moment).

I’m not talking about his preferred policy prescriptions. I’m talking about his view of the world. LaPierre gets paid close to a million dollars a year, which I’m guessing allows him a comfortable lifestyle. But he seems to imagine that contemporary America is actually some kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape a la Mad Max, where psychotic villains in makeshift armor and face paint cruise through the streets looking for people to kill.

Why do we need armed guards in every school? “If we have a police officer in that school, a good guy, that if some horrible monster tries to do something, they’ll be there to protect them.” Monsters? Yes, “There are monsters out there every day, and we need to do something to stop them.” Should we improve our mental health system? Well, maybe not improve it so much as keep track of everyone who has ever sought mental health services. “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics…We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets.” There was also this: “Most of the media, when I go around this country, they’re protected by armed guards.” This got a lot of guffaws from journalists, because no one who works in the media knows anyone in the media who is protected by armed guards, except maybe Roger Ailes. Does LaPierre actually think that your average working journalist takes an armed escort when he goes down to City Hall to interview the deputy mayor? Who knows. But as LaPierre has candidly said, before “We have nothing to fear but the absence of fear.”

At his Friday press conference, LaPierre effectively offered a one-sentence summation of his group’s philosophy: “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you talk without irony about “bad guys” and “good guys,” you’re inhabiting an imagined world that has absolutely nothing to do with reality, and it’s a good bet your ideas about policy are similarly absurd. But you can’t understand the NRA’s perspective without grasping the importance the good guy/bad guy dichotomy plays in their worldview. As far as they’re concerned, we are indeed living in that post-apocalyptic nightmare, where murderers and rapists are going to come banging down your door any second and the police are ineffectual.

What they never acknowledge, however, is that the typical gun murder isn’t a home invasion. Harold Pollack got data for his hometown of Chicago, and according to the police there were 433 murders there in 2011. How many happened in the course of a burglary? One. In the whole country, we get about 100 murders that happen this way. In 2011, 14,612 Americans were murdered; gun murders account for about 9,000 of those.

So what do the actual gun murders look like? They’re disagreements that get out of hand, people taking revenge for real or imagined slights, family members killing each other. They’re not the work of super-villains, or “lunatics,” or commando squads of “bad guys” (David Frum has more on this). But the NRA and its supporters believe that the home invasion is always just moments away, and that’s why our laws must allow everyone to be armed to the teeth.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“All Minds Are Little”: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

Well over 100 years ago, shortly after her eighth birthday in July, 1897, a young New Yorker named Virginia O’Hanlon put pen to paper in hopes of settling an argument she’d been having with some of her little playmates: Is there in fact a Santa Claus? She sent her brief letter to the New York Sun because, she explained, “Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.'”

Weeks passed without response from the newspaper, which apparently misplaced the letter. Young Virginia had just about given up hope. But on September 20, Edward P. Mitchell, the Sun’s editor, handed it to veteran writer Francis Pharcellus Church with instructions to craft a reply for the next day’s edition. Church had seen the worst of mankind, having covered the Civil War for the New York Times. But the editorial that he crafted conjures man’s best angels, which explains why it’s the most reprinted editorial ever.

As we try to come to grips with the awful fact that a score of six- and seven-year-olds in Connecticut will never see their eighth birthdays, Church’s words have special resonance. “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus,” Church wrote. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. … [Without Santa Claus] the eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”

When so many of those individual lights have been snuffed out, it’s important to remember the things that give life its “highest beauty and joy” and pull back the “veil covering the unseen world.”

Here’s Virginia O’Hanlon’s original letter:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’

Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?



And here, in full, is the unsigned editorial which Church penned:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Thank God indeed.

As the right jolly old elf himself can be heard to exclaim, ere he drives out of sight:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Christmas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Must Find A Better Way”: Armed Guards In Schools Is A Dangerous Diversion

Sandy Hook Elementary School has been added to America’s ghastly litany of school shootings. We cry. We pray. We grieve. Then we grieve even more, knowing that unless fundamental and decisive actions are taken in our society, we’ll be grieving again for the victims of the next school shooting.

As educators whose colleagues have given their lives protecting students, we challenge America to confront the evil done by guns to our children and young people. We need focused efforts leading to deliberative action, not staggeringly misguided ideas about arming educators and a mind-boggling proposal to place armed guards at every school in the United States.

Our deepest instincts are to nurture and protect the children and young people in our charge. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, educators risked their lives putting themselves between the shooter and their students, just as they did at Columbine, Jonesboro, and other school shootings. We dream of day when every child is safe and every school is a sanctuary of learning. But if we continue to dream alone, it’s only a dream. When we dream together, that is when a new reality begins.

“Take the first step in faith,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase.”

In the wake of Sandy Hook, Americans seem ready to take that first step. A serious conversation has begun about meaningful action on gun control. Reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines, and instituting universal background checks are critical and commonsense gun control measures.

Consider this: Since 1979, when data was first collected, 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence in America. Imagine if a foreign power had inflicted such violence upon us. How would we have reacted? Would we have allowed our politicians to duck and cower? We can’t allow this violence to go on. We can’t turn away and think, well, that is just the way it is. We can, and must, find a better way to live in this country.

Yet as essential as commonsense gun control is, it will not suffice in a country awash in guns. We need to look at what can be done to prevent a deranged young man from picking up a gun in the first place. We need to improve availability and access to mental health services—no state or insurance company should be able to rely on escape clauses to deny what is basic healthcare coverage. We need to remove the stigma from seeking mental healthcare, a stigma that is common throughout society. There is also much we can do in our schools. We need to dramatically expand our focus on mental health. A huge shortage of school counselors and psychologists exists due to education budget cuts, and we need to reverse that trend.

The essence of democracy is self-government, and 119,079 dead children and young people calls into question our ability to govern ourselves. The best way, and perhaps the only way, to prove that we can make self-governance work again is by coming together—educators, parents, and all citizens of conscience—and doing whatever it takes and spending whatever it costs to protect our children.

Let’s close ranks, heal the breach, and restore peace to our children’s lives.


By: Dennis Van Roekel, U. S. News and World Report, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Holiday Wish List For Congress”: Work In The Spirit Of The Season And Help Get The Country Back On Track

For many of us who give gifts at this time of year, the rituals put in perspective the differences between what we can afford, what we need, and what we want. Considering the nation is more than $16 trillion in debt and facing the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax hikes, lawmakers need to concentrate on doing just what is needed.

With that in mind, here’s my suggested holiday wish list for Congress:

For many of us who give gifts at this time of year, the rituals put in perspective the differences between what we can afford, what we need, and what we want. Considering the nation is more than $16 trillion in debt and facing the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax hikes, lawmakers need to concentrate on doing just what is needed.

With that in mind, here’s my suggested holiday wish list for Congress:

1. Peace and harmony. We can’t afford for the ideological differences between the political parties to paralyze us. Make a short term deal to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff and set up the 113th Congress to succeed where the 112th Congress fell short. Here’s a suggestion on how to do that.

2. Fund only the defense we need. Every year, the defense budget is full of weapons and programs someone in Congress wants but that the Pentagon doesn’t need or want. Leaders as diverse as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright, and James Baker, along with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates say we can spend less on national security. And working with others, we at Taxpayers for Common Sense have provided a set of suggestions on where to cut defense spending.

3. Be good shepherd. The Farm Bill is one of the best examples of programs some people want, but we don’t need right now. It is hard to argue that with farm country seeing record profits the last few years we need to continue to provide massive crop insurance subsidies and other subsidy programs for farmers. What we absolutely don’t need is to have a trillion dollar farm bill shoe-horned into the last days of the 112th Congress.

4. Listen to the wise men—and women. In the last two years, wise men and women from former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to former Sen. Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin have laid out plans for long term restructuring of our budget and reduction of our debt. It’s time to listen to those ideas and set the stage for solving our fiscal problems.

5. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The tax code is riddled with loopholes and breaks that total more than $1 trillion in forgone revenue every year. It’s time for lawmakers to give taxpayers the gift of flatter, simpler, and fairer tax code that eliminates most of the breaks and generates the revenue to fund the government we need.

We know that Congress will be back at work even as many of us are enjoying time off with our families and we hope that each and every one of them can work in the spirit of the season and help get the country on track for a brighter fiscal future. That’s what America needs.


By: Ryan Alexander, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, December 24, 2012



December 25, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Christmas Inspirations”: Peace On Earth And Goowill Toward Men Is A Moral Demand

There is much dispute and dialogue among scholars over what to make of the Christmas narratives in the scriptures and the connection between what was written and what we can know about what happened. As the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington has noted: “The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew: 1–2 and Luke: 1–2. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.”

Those of us who celebrate Christmas do not tend to think as scholars or (God forbid!) journalists, but as people of hope. We tend at Christmastime to rely most on Luke, whose telling of Jesus’s birth is, as the Rev. Harrington says, is “upbeat, celebratory, and even romantic.” We find in Jesus, all at once, inspiration, comfort, challenge and, in one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite phrases, “a sign of contradiction.” And the contradiction is right there in the two Christmas accounts: Matthew emphasizes Jesus’s noble lineage, while Luke tells the story of a savior born in a manger. There is a special moral significance, I think, in Luke’s account: a faith rooted in the Jewish prophetic tradition traces its origins not to a palace but to a stable; not to an aristocratic household but to a family led by a carpenter. It was a powerful way to send one of Christianity’s most important messages: that every single human being is endowed with dignity by God and worthy of respect.

Pope John XXIII offered a take on this idea that quietly reminds us of how the materialism that seems to run rampant at Christmastime is antithetical to the Christmas story. The church, he argued in his 1959 Christmas message, “has always fixed her gaze on the human person and has taught that things and institutions — goods, the economy, the state — are primarily for man; not man for them.” He added: “The disturbances which unsettle the internal peace of nations trace their origins chiefly to this source: that man has been treated almost exclusively as a machine, a piece of merchandise, a worthless cog in some great machine or a mere productive unit. It is only when the dignity of the person comes to be taken as the standard of value for man and his activities that the means will exist to settle civil discord . . . .” In this telling. “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” is not a greeting card sentiment but a moral demand.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also took “peace on earth” as a personal and social imperative. On Christmas Eve 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. aired King’s “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” as part of the Massey Lecture series. (I draw this from “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” published by Harper Collins.) King argued that “if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional,” and he added: “Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

Like so many of Rev. King’s sermons that included stern warnings and tough lessons, this one ended in hope.

“I still have a dream,” he said, four years after his most celebrated speech at the March on Washington, “that with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when there shall be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day when the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of god will shout for joy.”

Go tell it on the mountain.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Christmas, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: