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.”

  • Tom Anderson

    Bob: Merry solstice and a happy new b’at’un, which brings this resolution to all: less fiscal cliff & more Jimmy Cliff!

  • Tom Anderson

    Sorry for the multiple posts. My tablet is having issues with the new long count calendar.

  • Robert Moffitt

    #1) I think someone is finally asking the right questions.

    Offering a stranger to stay in your home may be more of a cultural difference than a demonstration of real fear, but I think that he’s spot-on about fear driving many Americans to buy a gun.

    I refuse to give into this fear. I’m not afraid of guns, but I’m not in love with them, either. I simply have no need for them.

  • Chris

    Why are we so afraid? What is the psychosis that seems to have taken over a large percentage of the population (49% of republicans think Acorn stole the election for Obama)? The United States is the only western industrial nation where you can fall through the cracks and the safety net is so thin you can end up homeless and hungry. Or you can work to acheive a solid middle class life only to be bankrupted by a health problem. One of the richest countries yet we are all forced to feel vulnerable at all times. Who knows how that deep feeling can manifest itself.

  • Joe

    I went to the show at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis for the Old Minnesota Song of the North Star and they do a great job of telling the history of Minnesota through music!

  • Kassie

    Until I moved out of my house, I used to often allow strangers to stay through warmshowers.org and hosting artist with the Fringe Festival. Co-workers generally thought I was crazy, but most of my friends got it. Until pretty recently, I was going through a really rough time in my life and so many friends and family helped out. While I couldn’t pay them back directly, I paid it back the best I could to strangers.

    Maybe most Americans are afraid, but it often feels more like greed. They are afraid they will be robbed*. They are afraid someone will take their stuff or their money. Who cares? It is replaceable. It isn’t worth not getting to know people or helping people out because they *might* take your stuff. And a cross country bicyclist isn’t going to be able to get away with much.

    I’ve had my house broken into and all the good stuff stolen. It really wasn’t that bad. I live each day knowing that I will probably be mugged on my way home one of these days. I’m okay with that. I’ve chosen to see my stuff as just stuff and my life as much more fulfilled when I help others and get to know others. Love > Fear.

    *I know rape is an issue for many women. For me, I figure that the chances are small and a risk I’m willing to take. I would never encourage a single woman with those fears from taking in strange men, but I have and felt safe.

  • kennedy

    Re#1: The Mike Gudgell link is not working, but the article is definitely worth the time.

    Fear is one of the things separating people from each other. That fear is amped up by rhetoric used during the election cycle. I heard someone at work offhandedly say “God help us if —- is elected.” We are led to believe that the ruin of our nation is close at hand if we vote the wrong way. I have faith that my fellow americans will not let that happen. Some people have a harder time with that and are truly frightened. They can become dependent on the source of the fear to help them feel safe. Share Collin Powell’s message, “It’s not as bad as you think.”

    It also seems that we are losing the ability to have civil discourse and disagreement. It’s easy to dash off a snarky comment on a blog. This one is among the better, but there is the occasional demeaning reply. Maybe that habit is making it’s way into the way people interact in the real world. How about we all agree to do a little bit less judging people and a little more getting to know people?

  • Bob Collins

    It took four hours before someone told me the link was broken. You people sure know how to depress a guy.

    It’s fixed.

  • Cara

    The wedding proposal’s best part: “Do you really wanna marry me?” “yes!” “cool!”