Two recent Wichita police reports caught my attention and possibly yours. A four-year-old boy … sleeping with his mother … is wounded in the back by one of at least four bullets fired through a bedroom window. The child is recovering. Police believe the shooter intended to shoot someone else, and got the wrong address.
Second case … a 19-year-old man is arrested after allegedly firing several shots at a woman outside her apartment. One bullet struck a bed inside the apartment where the woman's nine-month-old baby was sleeping.
During the on-going debate over gun violence and gun ownership we are provided with daily reminders that there are simply some people who should not be allowed anywhere near a firearm … ever. The first time I picked up a gun my father and grandfather made it perfectly clear to me that I'd better be thinking about the responsibility of handling a potentially-lethal device. I'd better be very, very careful.
There is abundant proof that guns and stupidity just don't mix.
Our thought for today is from Friedrich von Schiller:
"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
Maybe it just needed a new leader and some new ideas, after four years of losing money. This year's Wichita River Festival saw a 30% increase in attendance … to about 360,000 … an 11% increase in food court sales … and a button sales jump from 12,000 last year to 30,000 this year.
Great weather helped. For the first time in several years, our Entercom radio stations were actively involved in promoting events. More media involvement probably helped generate renewed interest.
Wichita Festivals Inc. new president and C-E-O Mary Beth Jarvis led 5,000 volunteers in the operation of Riverfest.
There were some new events to go with popular, traditional events. The concerts did well.
I believe in the saying "If it works, don't fix it". But sometimes great ventures begin to slip, and they may benefit from new leadership and fresh ideas. I think the Wichita River Festival may be one of those ventures.
Our thought for today is from John D. Rockefeller:
"Good leadership consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people."
The date is engraved on the inside of my wedding ring … June 18, 1970. My wife told me I would never have an excuse for missing our anniversary. I don't need the reminder inside my ring, which I seldom remove from my finger. It's easy to remember one of the most important dates in my life.
At least one friend told Shelley she was making a big mistake, and I don't think many believed our marriage would last. We had different backgrounds, different interests, no money, no safety net. But we realized after a while that if we stuck together, depended on each other, and worked as a team, we might just make it.
We've been enormously blessed with wonderful children and grandchildren, good health, and we've found many things we like to do together. We don't focus on negatives, setbacks, or failures. We just try to keep pulling in the same direction.
We're friends, we're a team. 43 years is not such a long time after all.
Our thought for today is from Mae West:
"Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet."
A C-B-S News poll indicates 58% of Americans disapprove of the government collecting the phone numbers of ordinary Americans … but 75% approve the government monitoring those suspected of terrorist activity.
53% think the government's collection of phone records is necessary to fight terrorism, 40% do not. Also, 60% do not think the public revelation of these programs has weakened the United States' ability to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Nearly six in 10 Americans express some concern generally about their privacy being lost, but fewer are worried that their own personal communications are being tracked.
Overall, 46% think the government has struck the right balance in its efforts to fight terrorism, while 36% think the government has gone too far in infringing on people's privacy. 13% say the government hasn't gone far enough.
Protecting civil liberties such as the American right to privacy can be challenging when people are frightened. Law-abiding citizens resent big government's assumption that we are all guilty until proven innocent.
Our thought for today is from Napoleon:
"A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights."
We started our day in Kansas elementary schools by standing and pledging our allegiance to the United States flag. I share most Americans' pride in the red, white, and blue banner … the stars and bars. Our history text books always contained pictures and photos of the flag waving at some great moment in our nation's story.
It's curious to some that the destruction of a U-S flag actually confirms what the banner represents. It seems absurd for people who love the flag to swallow hard when some moron torches it, and recognize that he or she is exercising freedom of expression. It's a freedom that many people in other countries don't enjoy.
On this Flag Day it is certain someone, somewhere will burn an American flag. They may be protesting government policy, or they may just be craving attention. Their motivation may be suspect but their freedom is protected.
It is a strange contradiction.
Here is one American who respects and honors our national flag daily.
Our thought for today is from Thomas Jefferson:
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
This week the Wichita Board of Education began serious consideration of high school education in the southeast quadrant of the city. The board has talked about it before, but now they're looking at a June 24th vote. Decision time is rapidly approaching.
Over the past few months the school district has sent in the experts and talked extensively with the public. No one can say they haven't had the opportunity to express their feelings.
Should the district keep and renovate Southeast High School? Or should it build a new facility farther east, where the city is growing? Or is there some way to do both?
Superintendent John Allison has said that … thanks to big cuts in state spending on Kansas schools … the district simply cannot to operate two schools. The construction could be done, but there wouldn't be money for day-to-day operation.
Many Southeast students, parents, and alumnae have expressed their support for the school that's been open since the 1950s.
The issue is emotional for some. The only thing sure is that the final decision will NOT please everyone.
Our thought for today is from Carl Sagan:
"Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves."
President Obama and our national spies are on the hot seat over two intelligence-gathering operations that have gathered millions of Americans' phone records. National intelligence director James Clapper calls disclosure of an internet surveillance program "reprehensible", and a document leak about a phone records program could cause long-lasting and irreversible harm to the nation's ability to respond to threats.
I happen to believe my personal privacy still has some value … at least to me. I resist sharing any personal information with anyone.
Obviously, we cannot live in a vacuum. People are stealing, buying, and selling our personal information constantly.
I know there are folks who are willing to trade their privacy … and mine … for national security. That is a conflict Americans have experienced time and again during our history, especially during periods of international conflict.
In order to keep people safe -- government argues -- people may have to sacrifice at least part of their civil liberties.
Our thought for today is from Benjamin Franklin:
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Last week's firing of Gene Stephenson was the hot topic of conversation around Wichita. Stephenson was Wichita State head baseball coach for 36 years, building the program from scratch when it was revived in the late seventies … winning many conference titles … taking his teams to post season play … and winning one national championship.
Next year he can collect a half million dollars with his contract, without leaving his sofa, if he chooses. He's said he might like to continue coaching.
Gene Stephenson has had a huge impact on the university and this community. He's helped make baseball a big source of Shocker pride. His leadership has brought students to the school, filled seats at the stadium, and generated large amounts of cash for W-S-U and local merchants.
The guy's made an economic impact on Wichita. He's also made friends and critics.
That happens when someone tries to do something great.
Our thought for today is from Elbert Hubbard:
"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
Most people don't spend 36 years in one job, with one employer. Gene Stephenson's tenure as baseball coach at Wichita State University is quite rare in the workplace … and even more unusual for a college coach.
For most of us, employment requires consistency, reliability, and sometimes a thick skin when management helps us with criticism and evaluation. We realize our happiness is not much of a concern, and we know there are others willing to take our place any time we become too disgruntled. There is a constant pressure to perform, as managers ask "What have you done lately?"
Stephenson built a marvelous baseball program at W-S-U. His teams won conference championships and went to post-season play many times … winning one national title.
Did his "approach" … his teaching and coaching methods … become stale? Did baseball change … did the players change … over three dozen years? Is it simply time for a change?
Obviously, Shocker "management" decided it was time for something new.
Thanks, coach Stephenson, for all you've done for Wichita State.
Our thought for today is from W. Somerset Maugham:
Three professional storm chasers were killed in Oklahoma last week, triggering a call to consider rules for storm chasers. Brian Stone is president of the Kansas Emergency Management Association. He says we may see a new study on who should be out chasing storms. Stone says if someone chooses to chase tornadoes, there should be rules to ensure they know what they're doing.
Stone concedes he's not sure whether law officers could enforce such rules.
I don't think they could, given the size of the rural areas where twisters can be observed … from miles around. Those officers are busy enough when storms hit already. And what are the rules to qualify as a storm chaser? Who sets the standards and verifies the qualifications?
Our Storm Trackers at K-N-S-S are experienced and well-trained … and they're seeing more and more amateur rubber neckers going out to watch the storms.
The three men killed in Oklahoma were about as well-trained and experienced as possible. Nature simply took an unexpected turn.
Our thought for today is from Patrick Young:
"The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it."
Every year on this date I say something about D Day. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi tyranny in Europe and the saving of Western Civilization. And the brave men and women of the United States led the way.
Of course, the English, Canadians, French, Poles, and others played a major role in the assault on Normandy, June 6th, 1944. But the U-S supplied much of the manpower and equipment, and the operation was led by an American general from Kansas.
The landing came along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast … with more than 160,000 Allied soldiers, 195,000 naval personnel, and more than 5,000 ships.
It seems the opening scenes of the film "Saving Private Ryan" got it right. When those ramps on the landing craft splashed into the water, soldiers faced a hail of Nazi fire. Many jumped into the surf loaded with equipment and quickly drowned. Those who survived had to cross a wide beach, charging into German machine guns.
The world cannot be allowed to forget this day in history … June 6th, 1944.
Our thought for today is from Mark Twain:
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear."
Today's Republican Party wouldn't even welcome Ronald Reagan. That's what former Kansas Senator Bob Dole said on "Fox News Sunday". He also doubted that he – Dole – would be welcomed by the G-O-P.
Dole also said the Republican National Committee should put a "closed for repairs" sign on its doors while it works on ideas and positive agendas … reports the Kansas dot com blog. The former Senate majority leader said he is mystified by how little today's lawmakers get done. Dole said he and his colleagues could get together on a budget or legislation. "We weren't perfect by a long shot" – said Dole – "but at least we got our work done".
Of course, the blame for that is bipartisan. But Bob Dole is a Republican and he wants to see his party do better. Other prominent Republicans have made similar criticisms, that the G-O-P needs new ideas and a new approach … to attract more voters and get more accomplished. That would require Bob Dole-like leadership … which is simply not there.
Our thought for today is from Richard Hooker:
"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better."
Occasionally … during more than 40 years of doing this commentary … I have been critical of our national government. I've tried to point out the good and the bad of every president and their administrations since Richard Nixon. Have my phones ever been tapped?
I realize I am a very small media fish, compared to the Associated Press and Fox News. But every reporter and commentator in America must have cringed over recent revelations that the U-S Department of Justice has been listening to media phone calls in the interest of national security. The government's been trying to identify employees leaking information to reporters.
I, for one, am not satisfied with President Obama's response to all this; rather weak, in my opinion. Government should not be spying on news people … at least, not in the United States of America.
I understand the need for national security and the defense of state secrets. But I think the D-O-J crossed the line with the A-P and Fox News.
Our thought for today is from William Proxmire:
"Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous."
After last fall's elections, it appeared that Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce got just about everything they wanted. Several state senators and representatives … painted as insufficiently conservative … were booted out of office by voters. I can think of two effective veteran lawmakers in the Wichita area who received their walking papers, and there were others who came mighty close.
The Kansas Legislature began work in January with some big tax-and-spending issues requiring serious attention. Past lawmakers had lowered tax rates, creating big problems in bringing the budget in balance. Many campaigned that more spending cuts were needed … but where to cut? And which taxes could be lowered or raised?
An interesting thing happened; the new, more conservative Republican majority couldn't find agreement. Leaders handed down decisions that were simply rejected by the rank-and-file. The session stretched beyond its targeted deadline for adjournment.
Has Governor Brownback discovered that law-making is indeed like "herding cats" … regardless of those cats' stripes?
Our thought for today is from Otto von Bismarck:
"Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."