Things Best Left Unsaid

Circumstances had kept me away from my blog.  Circumstances had me searching through the garage for Christmas decorations.  In the end, circumstances led me to a box of the wife’s books that had followed her from her old elementary school.

Staring back at me was this vintage school edition:

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Me being me, naturally, this type of serendipity demanded that I post this to Facebook.  On a slow Sunday, I wanted to get the requisite immature giggles and silly innuendos from my friends.  After all this was a book written in 1959, using acceptable language of the time, and it would definitely generate the proper immaturity.

So I did.

And “Likes” I got.

I posted more from the book:

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This book sounded like something I could milk for laughs throughout the afternoon and evening.

But then I started to flip through the pages of the book:

“This story takes place in 1781 in Newtown, Connecticut.  The main part of the story is true though Adam and his family are imaginary.  The golden cock is still on a steeple of a church in Newtown…”

Newtown.

And to find this book during this particular week, this particular anniversary…

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I was getting laughs out of what is the symbol of the city of Newtown.

While I don’t shame very easily, I felt it now.  Nice timing, huh?

For someone who tries to take pride in his knowledge of American history, having spent the bulk of his teaching career teaching 5th graders about the nation’s foundation, this was a story I had never known:  that of Newtown’s small but critical role in the denouement of the American War for Independence:

By 1781 the war was about to wind down although it may not have looked that way at the time. The French, having seen that the Americans could actually hold off a British army in Battle and always looking for a way to annoy the British, committed four regiments of troops to aid George Washington.

These troops under the command of the Compt d’Rochambeau, landed in Newport RI, in 1780 and languished there until Washington devised a use for them against the British in New York at the beginning of the fighting season a year later.

The problem was getting the French force from Rhode Island to his headquarters, then in the Hudson Highlands. The solution was to march them across the middle of Connecticut where they were away from the coast and thus not subject to British attack.

Marching across the middle of the state brought them into Newtown, and it was here that they planned to make their 10th camp and rest for a couple of days before joining Washington.

On June 28th, the first of the four regiments consisting of 1,000 men arrived in Newtown and camped on Church Hill Road about where St. Rose Church is today. For protection, they placed their artillery park on top of Castle Hill where it commanded the southern approach against the possibility of approaching British soldiers.

The next day the second regiment of 1,000 troops marched in and also camped on Church Hill Road across from the entrance to Walnut Tree Hill Road. The third division arriving on June 30th, set out their camp on the plain alongside the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook.

Even before the fourth regiment could arrive, Washington received word that the French fleet was in a position to bottle Lord Cornwallis in the Chesapeake Bay and so a fast messenger was sent to have Rochembeau hasten his march to New York. 

The poor fourth regiment had just arrived in Newtown where they were scheduled to stay and rest for two days when they were told they had to move out immediately.

And so on July 1st, the French in their splendid white uniforms and blaring French martial music, marched out of Newtown to join the American forces as they headed to the resounding victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown that effectively ended the war.

As it goes, this book, that I had been so determined to mock, was mocking me right back, in its own way.

The story itself is, in my opinion, ordinary, as children’s historical literature goes:  When French troops under General Rochambeau camp near the young boy’s town in Connecticut, the boy makes the acquaintance of a young French soldier and must face up to a questionable relationship with a friend whose father is a Tory.  The church’s weathervane, the eponymous “cock” of the story, makes it appearance in the story by appearing to Adam in a dream in the midst of his ambivalence towards his friend living so close to the French encampment.  In all seriousness, being what it is, the rooster gives Adam no real help in trying to sort through his dilemma.

In real life, the rooster weathervane still sits upon the steeple of the Newtown Congregational Meeting House.

If not for the events of a year ago today in Newtown, that weathervane—and the inevitable sophomoric humor that it derives for people like me—should have been the extent of Newtown’s notoriety.

But it’s not.

Circumstances had taken care of that detail.

Action/Overreaction

teachertrainingHere it comes.  This is just one story of what I’ve seen beginning to happen across the country since the Newtown, CT.  shootings.

Gun advocates to give classes to teach teachers how to come to school armed:

Ohio-based Buckeye Firearms Foundation has launched an Armed Teacher Training curriculum to offer gun training to teachers and school workers. According to Ohio’s Fox 19, “As of Wednesday, the Armed Teacher Training Program has attracted more than 600 applicants from several states including Ohio, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.” More than one-third of the 600 applicants are female.

I am wondering if any of these gun training applicants have taken time to be aware of the ramifications of coming to school packing a firearm each and every day?  This is not the same thing as bringing a laptop or iPad, or making some other teaching tool is available and accessible for the day, although advocates for arming teachers are trying to make this argument.  This choice carries something into a schoolhouse that can make a significant difference in how a teacher approaches the day in his or her classroom.  It also forces us to truly consider the real likelihood of a school shooting occurring in any given day.

I am the worst type of person to be doing this type of math, but you start to wonder if this could be quantified as some sort of rate of expectations with respect to the likelihood of a school shooting occurring on a given public school campus at a given time.  Consider that there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine.  Over 13 years (1999-2012), that’s roughly 2.3 school shootings per year.  If you then take the number of public schools across the United States, 98,817 (as of 2009-2010), and divide 2.3/98,817, the statistical insignificance of the resulting number calls into question this sudden fear of violent gun-related terrorists coming onto our campuses.  There seems to be a more reasonable and rational fear of preparing California school campuses for a major earthquake, given that the likelihood of a major 6.7+ temblor striking the Greater Los Angeles area is far higher than that of a school shooter arriving on a given campus.

But my fuzzy math also doesn’t take into account the fact that an mentally unbalanced individual who decides to shoot up a school will be far less stable and unpredictable than the various faults and geographic terrain factors in the Southern California area.  It is that very unpredictability that is undoubtedly behind this sudden desire for fearful teachers to start packing.  Would it therefore help?

Since the days after the Newtown shootings, another argument I’ve seen expressed, involves some sort of assault weapon fantasy involving Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochprung, and how arming her would have ended Adam Lanza’s life before he had a chance to take the lives of the Sandy Hook students and staff members:

[L]et’s assume that if part of Hochsprung’s job were to protect the school from an armed assault, she would have to be trained in counter-attack tactics. She would have wanted to wear body armor. She would have wanted to clean and fire her M-4 regularly, to make sure it was ready to go at a second’s notice in the highly highly unlikely event that the school was attacked. And she would have somehow trained herself to remain on high alert every hour of every day for all the years and decades that she worked as a teacher and administrator, all the while also being an excellent educator and manager.
And then, the morning of the attack, Hochsprung would have had to have reacted perfectly — hearing the gunfire and shattered glass from her conference room, unslinging the M-4, releasing the safety, crawling silently toward the door of the conference room, and then taking aim at a highly alert gunman and shooting him in the head before the gunman noticed that she was there or had fired a single bullet at anyone.
(In other words, she would have to assassinate Adam Lanza on the assumption that he was there to kill kids, and not wait for him to do it. Or was she supposed to wait for him to kill someone, on the theory that he might just be a dime-a-dozen crazy person who didn’t actually intend to kill anyone? There are lots of those, too.)

In other words, Hochsprung would have had to have acted and reacted like a soldier in a war zone. All day. Every day. For decades.  

Are these 600 applicants prepared to act and react militarily, all while maintaining the appropriate empathy and understanding for the very idiosyncratic nature of what we teachers do with our students in a classroom each and every day?

Even if these teachers have the capability to do their jobs and that of an armed constabulary:

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin…

Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances.” A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.

But back to this fantasy of arming Principal Hochsprung, even then, that wouldn’t be enough.  The entire school should be armed:

And what if Hochsprung had been on the other side of the building when the attacker shot through the door? Principals do, occasionally, leave the vicinity of the front door.

Well, to eliminate that risk, Gohmert and others who want to keep giving almost all citizens unlimited access to military weapons will presumably want to arm every teacher and employee at the school. So they’ll all walk around all day with M-4s and bullets strapped to their shoulders. And they will all have to be trained and act and react in precisely the same way — all without someone ever making a mistake and shooting a kid instead of a bad guy.

And, in the rare event of a school shooting, in the ensuing chaos, would police officers know who to shoot?

Sadly, calm reassurance was the one consistent component that my daughter’s school district hoped to convey to its parents and students in the days immediately following the Sandy Hook shootings.  It was what I tried to do with my own classroom of kids.  Calm and reason, rather than irrational fear, should be how we moved forward from such a terrible experience.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t play into the minds of those people who have manufactured some sort of post-Newtown gun revenge fantasy wherein the staff members rise up and take out Adam Lanza before he can take them out.  Weaponry apparently trumps calm reassurance.

In the end though, it reminds me of one of my students, years ago, whose mother chose not to allow him to go on a overnight school field trip to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point in the weeks after 9/11, because of her real fear of a terrorist attack occurring there.  While I don’t necessarily mean to belittle her decision to not allow E. to go with us, I was left wondering how the Institute would have moved so high up Al Qaeda’s list of high-profile targets.  Seeing teachers fleeing to gun training classes calls to mind how I felt then.  We’ve allowed the fear to overtake our reason.  We should know better.  Teachers, who must incorporate rationality into their lesson planning, should be even more aware of this than anyone.

The real terrorism is not from forces outside, but rather inside of all of us.

Boxing Day is no Fight Club Celebration

The shooting in Newtown, CT have, for the foreseeable future, put my twin muses Cynicism and Sarcasm on hold.

This would normally be the time of year wherein I would eagerly tell anyone within earshot about my favorite Holiday song:

Yeah, not quite appropriate.

For that matter, my favorite Christmas movie…

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Nope, not that either.

To do so this holiday season, what with all that has gone on over the past week, would put me in a place where even I am uncomfortable being, given the level in which such a place divorces itself from reality.

But that, apparently, didn’t stop NRA Vice President Wayne La Pierre last week:

LAPIERRE: And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like “Bullet Storm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Combat,” and “Splatterhouse.”And here’s one, it’s called “Kindergarten Killers.” It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t? Or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Add another hurricane, add another natural disaster. I mean we have blood-soaked films out there, like “American Psycho,” “Natural Born Killers.” They’re aired like propaganda loops on Splatterdays and every single day.1,000 music videos, and you all know this, portray life as a joke and they play murder — portray murder as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it entertainment. But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography? In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior, and criminal cruelty right into our homes. Every minute, every day, every hour of every single year.

I found it interesting that LaPierre might have been giving this exact same speech after the 1999 Columbine shootings, what with the movies and games he mentioned so sadly dated that you have to wonder if he is still watching films on a VCR, or even a DVD, much less Blu-Ray.  And last time I checked, I can’t recall any recently significant music video, particularly given how what used to pass for music television is anything but an outlet for music video.  While a topic for another time, music television effectively killed the music video star.

But in order to obfuscate the point, the true sign of a Mayan Apocalypse, wasn’t in the nature of an End-of-Days, it was in the NRA’s stubborn insistence that American culture can only actualize through unbridled access to assault weaponry and/or high capacity magazines.  It truly must be an inconvenience to have to reload while shooting target practice; or to be an unprepared hunter in the face of either a wildlife banzai attack or a zombie assault.

Even more remarkable however, is that Wayne LaPierre‘s unctuous thinking is guaranteed by the First Amendment, even while he seeks to trample other people’s First Amendment rights, in this instance, filmmakers, songwriters, and game designers.  All of this to protect the gun lobby’s perpetual misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.  It calls to mind this exchange from Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine:

John Nichols: No one has the right to tell me I can’t have it. That is protected on our constitution.
Michael Moore: Where does it say a handgun is protected?
John Nichols: No, gun. We should…
Michael Moore: [interupting] It doesn’t say gun. It says “arms”.
John Nichols: Arms. What is “arms”?
Michael Moore: Could be a nuclear weapon.
John Nichols: It’s not these – That’s right. It could be a nuclear weapon.
Michael Moore: Do you think you should have the right to have weapons-grade plutonium here in the farm field?
John Nichols: We should be able to have anything…
Michael Moore: [interupting] Should you have weapons? Should you have weapons-grade plutonium?
John Nichols: I don’t want it.
Michael Moore: But, should you have the right to have it if you did want it?
John Nichols: [thinking about it] That should be restricted.
Michael Moore: Oh. Oh, so you do beleive in some restrictions?
John Nichols: Well, there’s wackos out there.

It was in this interest that I set out Christmas shopping over this final weekend.  My niece wanted roller skates.  My nephew, on the other hamd, wanted a gift certificate to GameStop–knowing how much the lad wanted to use that game as a chance to undergo training in mass violence and mayhem with which to use to eventually gain tragic notoriety…

Wait.  He wasn’t.  I had to take into account who his mother was.  Very few people cross my kid sister.  And William certainly wouldn’t.  In fact, my brother-in-law even mentioned that there’s no way that they’d allow him to purchase violent video games in the first place.  Still, on Christmas Eve, it was funny to watch my nephew beg my sister and brother-in-law to let him use the gift card to buy Assassin’s Creed III.

Even if they did wind up letting him get the game, my brother-in-law had shared, earlier, they trusted his boy to know the difference.

If the NRA is to be considered a vital part of this country’s conservative movement, it’s instructive (as well as sad) to consider how much so-called “conservative” values, amongst all of the frontline groups who claim to represent that side of the political spectrum, have succeeded in fraying the very familial infrastructure they claim to want to maintain–not just within the family, but each family’s role within the larger American community.  In a political climate that over this past generation has created a mentality of winner-take-all over all-for-one, for all of America’s purported freedoms, once eloquently summarized by President Franklin Roosevelt, freedom from fear has been summarily replaced by freedom to fear.  We’ve created an American culture rife with mutual distrust.  It’s little wonder that the only solace that such distrust can find manifest is the right to access heavy weaponry.

Years ago, while cleaning up around my house as a kid, I came across this battered old revolver.  I showed it to my kid sister, and the two of us asked my Mom, who took it out of where it had been and put the thing away.  We had a general idea where it was located, but neither of us ever considered looking for it again.  Still, honestly, when things used to get tense between my parents, I always wondered if I’d ever see its reappearance.  But that I never did, taught me something — that having access to a weapon does not mean you have to use the thing.  That even with the inevitable tension between my parents, usually about something financial, I never got the sense that the argument would be ended with firepower.

Exposure to something doesn’t mean being tainted.  My daughter hears expletives, and knows not to repeat them.  My nephew could even play Assassin’s Creed, and not get urges to attack people with a musket and hand axe.  My sister and brother-in-law are aware of what he does.  But I also know that our respective domestic situations are far more secure with respect to familial dynamics than those situations that are not.  Adam Lanza’s domestic circumstances, in addition to his mental state, had to have something to do with his internal demons.  Ready access to weaponry at home had to have made it worse.

Of course, there’s this:

In addition to his technological and weapons prowess, Adam Lanza was an excellent dancer – at least within the confines of the Dance Dance Revolution video game.
“It’s an arcade game as well as on the home systems where you basically dance around to a pattern on the screen,” Hanoman said. “And he was extremely good at it.

Wayne LaPierre should have been all over that, decrying “Dancing with the Stars” or any movie directed by Adam Shankman, no?

Hold on There Little Buckaroo!

There’s a scene in 2011’s Rango, where our titular hero is being fitted with his new “Good Guy” outfit, as befits his appointment to sheriff.  He is asked by one of the town’s children to sign an autograph.  Initially surprised, Rango draws his revolver on the child.  Then, realizing that the kid only wanted an autograph, Rango hands him his revolver.

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“There’s a bullet in this!”

The child then proceeds to handle the gun in all the ways you wouldn’t want a child, much less an adult, to handle it.  But somehow, in the logic of the NRA, the equation merely has to be about whether or not the person handling the weapon is good or not.  That’ll be enough to keep him or her safe.  At today’s benchmark press conference, the NRA’s first public pronouncement about the shootings in Newtown, CT:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President, National Rifle Association

What happens, though, if one Good Guy faces another Good Guy?

One of my favorite films of the 1980s, Rustler’s Rhapsody, actually addressed the question.  In the film, Tom Berenger is a stereotypical good-guy cowboy, Rex O’Herlihan, who is drawn out of a black-and-white film and transferred into a more self-aware setting, an updated cowboy movie, but with the idea that the Good Guy now realizes that he’s caught in the same story arc, albeit in a different setting each time.  All of the features of the classic 1930s/1940s Westerns remain, in that the Good Guy always wins the shootout against the Bad Guy.

Eventually, the Bad Guys also become self-aware themselves, and decide that the only way that a Bad Guy can kill a Good Guy is to hire a Good Guy to fight another Good Guy:

Money quote:

Now hold on there little Buckaroos.  You can’t be hearing language like that.  Get on back to school.  Obey your teachers and study really hard.

And if the NRA has anything to do with it, at that school, there’ll be Good Guys patrolling the hallways looking for shooters, the Bad Guys.

But the problem is what’s going on in the head of the Good Guy.  Alex Sietz-Wald in Salon:

The truth is that it’s extremely difficult for anyone, let alone a lightly trained and inexperienced civilian, to effectively respond to a shooter. The entire episode can take a matter of seconds and your body is fighting against you: Under extreme stress, reaction time slows, heart rate increases and fine motor skills deteriorate. Police train to build muscle memory that can overcome this reaction, but the training wears off after only a few months if not kept up.

Or, of even greater concern to me, is when you have armed Good Guys wandering around the campus, in the dark, in search of the one or two armed Bad Guys.  It then becomes a matter of dumb luck that someone doesn’t get killed in the chaos that might ensue, or worse, when the armed police assault team arrives, the police now can’t differentiate between who is a Good Guy and who is a Bad Guy.

While not quite a circular firing squad, how that manages to save lives in such a situation is beyond me.  In light of such advice from the NRA, perhaps the suggestion that we train unarmed kids to bum rush shooters makes far more sense, no?  Of course not.

Karoli, in Crooks and Liars:

Arming teachers isn’t the answer. Scapegoating teachers isn’t the answer. Supporting teachers, making sure they have adequate security, an evacuation plan, enough teachers’ aides and a manageable class size is about the best anyone can do. For all of the stories of tragedy told over the past few days, there are also stories of heroism, of teachers shoving the kids into bathrooms and closets, keeping them safe and shielding them with their bodies.

This is what teachers do. It’s what they’re trained to do. It’s why they’re teachers. Arming them is not the answer. Supporting them is.

Yesterday, at our staff Christmas party, a colleague suggests that perhaps the idea of arming teachers is the right idea.  For my part, as the school’s Union Rep, I try to gently suggest to her how wrong-headed such thinking might be, not to mention potentially harmful, to anyone involved.  I also try to point out that in the midst of unmitigated budget cutting in an era in which teachers are derided as being overpaid, yet are expected to produce magical testing results, to demand that we undertake weapons training, when we’re still trying to maintain a semblance of middle-class living at home, despite furlough days and pay-cuts, is certifiable.  Too many power brokers are content to cut those things necessary to achieve basic academic competencies among our students, yet they would somehow find the funds to pay for armed guards, or, absent that, weaponry for school staff?

Somehow all of that race through my mind to try to be eloquent enough to debunk my colleague’s assertion. But I also realize it’s a holiday gathering, and discerning quickly that my argument was falling on deaf ears, I was glad that the waiter showed up to cause the subject to get changed.

Yet there it was, in an El Torito, Good Guy turning on Good Guy.  I suppose that this was what the NRA wanted to see happen, in order to obfuscate real issues with the nature of the American gun culture.  My only hope as far as eternal punishment for the likes of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre lies with this unattributed quote:

If the devil punishes all the evil people, doesn’t that make him the good guy?