What are we afraid of? (5×8 – 12/21/12)

What’s behind an old debate, veterans dying for a little help, the North Dakota cowboy lifesaver, the season of stealing, and setting a high bar for marriage proposals.

Happy first day of winter! Pitchers and catchers report to spring training just 53 days from today.


Today is the day the NRA holds its long-awaited news conference to reveal what it thinks in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy. Half of America will part to this corner; half will part to that corner. Let the debate begin, even though both sides will not offer much we haven’t heard before.

I was prepared to draw that conclusion halfway through Mike Gudgell’s commentary on ABC News (sent to me by a family friend last night), which told the story of a mentor who taught him how to use a gun, and the responsibilities that lie therein.

Then he went in a direction, I didn’t expect:

I’ve found the differences between Americans and others are far less important than those things we share. We’ve been invited into the homes of many. All were generous to us, fellow travelers on the road to discovery.

There is only one country where that universal sense of hospitality was not offered: here — my own country.

My wife and I once bicycled across the U.S., and although we were met with characteristic American kindness we were never invited to stay in anyone’s home. The reason was obvious to us. Sometimes it was declared, other times understood but not said. People are afraid.

have several good friends on that island near the Canadian border. Some have permits to carry concealed weapons and regularly “pack” when they come to the mainland to visit Seattle. They carry handguns for protection, a reasonable choice given their perception of the violent world in which they live, or in this case visit.

Other than hunting and sport, it is fear that drives us toward guns. Fear of the government, fear of your neighbor or fear of a stranger, even a stranger on a bicycle. I will admit that those of us in the media are partly responsible for creating this world — a world that is not actually real. Despite what we see every night on television, the chances of being involved in a street crime or home invasion robbery are miniscule.

Perhaps it’s easier to repeat the same arguments for and against gun control than it is to answer the much more sobering question: Why are we so afraid? (h/t: Susan Lauber)

Related: Is the Connecticut shooter’s mother a victim? (Washington Post)


The Center for Investigative Reporting has released a study showing that tens of thousands of veterans are being approved for disability benefits and pensions only after it’s too late to be of any help.

In a compelling story on Daily Beast, the group provides several examples of Agent Orange victims, who spent years fighting for money from the VA to help them, only to die before the money was delivered.

Astoundingly, a VA official doesn’t see it as a problem:

“It’s a good thing that the V.A. pays benefits to honor the service of veterans and the sacrifices of their family members despite the fact that a veteran has unfortunately died,” said Dave McLenachen, director of the agency’s pension and fiduciary service.

Others, the Daily Beast reports, are more than willing to explain it:

Iraq War veteran Scott Eiswert “gave up on life” after receiving a February 2008 letter from the V.A. denying his claim for post-traumatic stress disorder for the third time, according to his widow, Tracy Eiswert. Three months later, the 31-year-old Tennessee National Guardsman shot himself in the head.

Then, in August 2008, the VA reversed itself, sending Tracy Eiswert a letter stating that it “was clearly and unmistakably in error” for failing to grant her husband’s disability claim. The agency sent a check for more than $10,000 to cover the disability benefits Scott Eiswert should have received while he was alive. The VA also deemed his suicide related to his military service, entitling his widow to a $1,195 monthly survivor’s benefit.

“I was relieved to get the check, but if they would have done their job and given him the help he needed immediately, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” Tracy Eiswert said.


They used to call them rodeo clowns. Now they’re called bullfighters, because they’re in the business of “cowboy protection.” The Daily Dakotan — a series that profiles North Dakotans via video — follows Tim Walford, whom it describes as “a classic North Dakota family man.”


Really, thief in Grantsburg? Stealing from Habitat?

Related: Donors provide record amount of food to Winona area families. (Winona Daily News)


Said it before. Saying it again in the wake of this new viral proposal video: If you’re an old-school sort of guy who just believes in giving a ring and saying, “will you marry me,” people like this can make your life miserable by raising the bar unnecessarily high.

Recommended for long-term study: Is there a relationship between the extravagance of the proposal and the length of a marriage?

Bonus I: We don’t have a Friday Morning Rouser, but if we did, it’d be this new video from someone who knows how to guide us through winter properly.


A state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to carry guns in Minnesota schools. Rep. Tony Cornish says arming staff members would help prevent attacks like the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut. Today’s Question: What do you think of allowing teachers to carry guns in school?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Friday Roundtable, our panelists will discuss the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Second hour: The importance of investing in infrastructure

Third hour: The Rolling Jubilee project, which is going into the debt market, buying people’s debt for pennies on the dollar and abolishing it.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): “Lady Bird Johnson: Legacy of a First Lady.” On Saturday, the LBJ Library will be rededicated on what would have been Lady Bird’s 100th birthday.

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – The Christmas bird count. Also: Treating Lou Gehrig’s disease with stem cells in mice. Will it work for humans?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – NPR talks to film director Tom Hooper about “Les Miserables.”