Saturday, December 29, 2007

The rituals of December

This is a picture of an ornament on the Christmas tree at Casa Collins, which is still up as 2007 comes to a close. Back when I was delivering newspapers every morning (1994-2004), I was always surprised by how many people had their tree by the side of the road on December 26. Perhaps they just needed to get the house cleared out to put up the Memorial Day ornaments early.

We have a fake tree now, so there's no rush to take it down, and I think it's wrong to take down a Christmas tree before New Year's anyway. In fact, I favor the second or third week in January approach.

This week, my sister, Cheryl, and my brother-in-law, Willie, were in town visiting Willie's niece over in St. Paul, so we got together on Thursday, and Patrick joined us for lunch. After that we stopped by MPR and Sean gave us a tour (I've seen it before, by the way). It's really a great experience.

Here's a picture of Patrick, Cheryl, and me that Willie took as I dropped them off in St. Paul.
A little earlier than this, I showed them the hangar I have at Fleming Field in South St. Paul. Playing with the wheel pants was the order of the day, I guess.
Cheryl and Willie left early Friday morning with a connection in Chicago, heading back to Boston. She called today to tell me their flight in Chicago was canceled and they had to wait seven hours for another flight.

I don't know of any other industry that treats its customers as poorly as the airlines and rewards its chief executives with millions and millions of dollars in bonuses for doing so.

When my RV airplane is finished, I won't miss them a bit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A postcard Christmas

The empty nest was not empty on Christmas. Patrick didn't put his Navy papers in. He says it was because he had to clear up a wart before the Navy would have him, though I suspect he wanted to be around for Christmas. Good.

There was a gentle snowfall from a narrow band along a low from Omaha up through the upper peninsula of Michigan. It didn't move for the day so we ended up with about 6-7 inches of powdery snow, and a perfect Christmas scene out the window.

Sean once again came up with a quote that we had to write down for great family quotes. "People who are offended when I say to them, 'Merry Christmas,' can rot in hell," he said. There is irony and so many other things in that sentence that it's nearly impossible to comprehend.

I got a watch from Patrick, which was really nice of him. I'll think of him whenever I look at my watch and think, "I wonder what Patrick is doing now?" Young people: hear me now and believe me later. When your parents say you don't need to give them presents, believe them. Two of my kids walked in the door yesterday, and that gave me the only present I'd hoped for.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Go, Navy! But not so fast, OK?

"It's OK, there'll be other Christmases."

I'm not sure why I said that a few months ago when my youngest son, his mother, and I were sitting in a Navy recruiter's office, and the subject of a date to ship out came up.

Patrick has enlisted in the Navy to try to become the Navy's best medical corpsman ever. And I have no doubt he will.

It'll be good for him, I tell myself. He'll really get a good education and he'll see the world. I tell myself that, too.

There was a chance he wouldn't ship out until May, a greater chance he'd ship out in January.

Carolie told me last night he'll probably ship out -- for Chicago -- next Friday.


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Omaha difference

(This is a piece I wrote today for my new gig at work, News Cut, at Minnesota Public Radio. I post it here because it's a subject that's always interested me personally. I hope you add News Cut to your daily browsing. Bobby's gotta eat!)

(Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

This week's tragic attack in an Omaha mall is playing out in the news cycles across the country, pretty much as one might expect. After pausing for a moment to honor the victims, the gun debate resumed.

"When are they going to understand that easy access to guns - and the violence that accompanies access - isn't limited to inner cities? It's not just drug dealers who are shooting people," says the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial.

"The real outrage of this crime is that it happened in a 'gun free zone' where law-abiding private citizens are disarmed by mall rules and state statute," counters a press release from the Citizens Committee for the Right To Bear Arms, an angle picked up by Fox News. Nebraska, like Minnesota, is a concealed carry state. The mall in Omaha, however, posted signs prohibiting guns.

From Columbine, to Cold Lake, Minn., to Red Lake, to the campus of Virginia Tech, the post-tragedy debates have been changing. It changed with this shooting, too. With a few exceptions, this time, the mental health issue is on the back burner.

We dared not speak of it after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold gave us Columbine, for fear that attempting to understand their minds would be synonymous with condoing their actions.

When Jason McLaughlin shot up Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn., in 2003, there was a hint -- though small -- of an attempt to understand the brain that masterminded it.

Hundreds of people gathered in the past few days to grieve at St. Boniface Church. A priest there, Father Cletus Connors, says he empathizes with the streses of high schoolers like McLaughlin.

"I think at that age of being a ninth grader, a person is growing so much in so many different ways, I can see how things can be disturbed," he says.

As a leader in the community, Father Connors laments that Jason McLaughlin didn't seek help from an adult. But perhaps his church will now have a better understanding of how to intervene with such a young man.

Those were our first steps toward understanding the unimaginable.

By the time Jeff Weise killed nine people -- and then himself -- on the Red Lake Reservation in 2005, the mental health issue was as much a part of the subsequent discussion as the role of guns.

University of Minnesota child psychiatrist Dr. George Realmuto offers another view. He argues some people have a genetic risk of problem behavior. Realmuto says traumatic events including bullying, violence at home or rejection increase the chance that people with certain genetic backgrounds will act out.

The focus on the need for mental health treatment reached its crescendo earlier this year, when Seung-Hui Cho committed the deadliest shooting rampage in American history. In its aftermath, the national dialogue was dominated not by guns, but by the mental health issue.

"We have difficulty recognizing mental illness in the young, often confusing serious behavioral problems with normal, temporary adolescent behavioral changes. Better recognition of mental diseases can act as a deterrent of future massacres by making an honest attempt at therapy and intervening with these vulnerable kids," the Denver Post wrote.

The evolution of the post-shootings dialogue, though, ended on Wednesday. People did see the demons in Robert Hawkins, they did intervene, he did get a diagnosis, and he did get at least some help.

In the end, it didn't matter. We're back to square one.