Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas & Hanukkah on the front lines


Merry Christmas & a happy & prosperous New Year.  

For those receiving this as an email notification, come to the blog to view the Fold3 slideshow.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Post Sandy Hook...now what do we do?

A week ago yesterday (12/14/12), I was teleworking from home as I typically do on Fridays, wrapping up the weeks paperwork and documentation. I was also thinking about topics for a Saturday blog post. Now, I am not sure I can ever forget last Friday once the details began to trickle out from Newtown about Sandy Hook Elementary School. I just couldn't help it, and broke my cardinal rule and turned on the TV to see what was happening. Was I dreaming—having a nightmare—I could only hope. But of course the events of last Friday were as real as the tears trickling down my face for the rest of that day.
As of today, we seem to have survived Armageddon but what happened at Sandy Hook certainly gives us a peek at what a world gone mad and self-destruction looks like. It has been just over a week and the memorials and funerals continue while a dialogue has erupted regarding guns, violence, mental health, entertainment media, religion, etc. Time will tell if this is a healthy discussion or merely a lot of self-serving noise with little in the way of meaningful impact or real change. We have looked into the abyss and must now look into the mirror and into the eyes of our neighbors, politicians, corporate heads and the families of those impacted by Sandy Hook—and all other such horrific events in recent years—and decide what, if anything, we are going to do about it.

On this blog I stay clear of most political comment, controversy or posturing though we certainly touch on the issues of assassination and violence—so I can draw at least a minimal connection to those historical topics.  Besides, I just don't feel the ability to go on talking about history and our family as if nothing had happened last week.

What makes me qualified to do so? Nothing particular— no special expertise, not a particularly gifted writer or orator and I have never lost a child, at least not to death. However, like all of you and many others, I do bring some of life's experiences to the table. So here is a little more about those experiences.

As covered at length on this blog, Frank Steunenberg was the victim of a brutal killing by a mass murderer. Yes, the murder of Frank was a couple generations removed but the impacts were lasting and we can compare assassins, murderers, sociopaths and nut cases from across history as a means of gaining some insight into what causes such behavior. More recently, my brothers son, my nephew Gary Osborne, was shot dead when he opened his front door to a home invader. Yes, he might have been able to protect himself if he had a gun of his own, and there is some merit to that view, but it's all hindsight and speculation and some folks just don't want to be toting guns at every knock of the door.

I will leave most of the theorizing about violent acts to the psychologists and sociologists. However, I have studied and practiced my craft at the grassroots level for a few decades now and hopefully gained some insight along the way. Most of that will be for another discussion at another time.

I have been a counselor of one type or another for many years, having started as a young intern some 40 years ago in a county mental health clinic for children and families.  My first client, interestingly, was 16 year old Gary, a young man with Autism that I shall never forget. I will touch again on the topic of autism in just a minute.

I have a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and have amassed hundreds of hours of other training and classes over the years. I get some fancy letters after my name like M.S. for Master of Science, C.R.C. for Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Q.R.P. for Qualified Rehabilitation Professional. None of it necessarily makes me better or more knowledgeable than someone that doesn't have those trappings, as a couple letters here and there before or after your name does not necessarily correlate to common sense. It’s why I usually address my medical doctors by their first names.

Early on in school, I was not a very good student, had poor reading skills, retention was bad and I struggled and lacked self-confidence. Back in those days, no one paid any attention or knew very much about learning disabilities or differences, much less psychological issues that might not be readily apparent. To some degree, because I was big and looked older than many of my peers, I would tend to get a free pass to the next grade. Sports was my outlet and sometimes being a basketball and football player got you a free pass too. Now I am just plain older and and that creates its own struggles.  

I am a dad, having raised three children. Without getting into confidential details, I will mention that one of those children was given a dual diagnosis as a teenager and we experienced many dark and frightful days fearing for his life and the potential risk to others due to sometimes risky behaviors. As a parent who had worked within the system, I was then engaged in a battle with the same system to get the help my son and our family so desperately needed. We experienced a lot of raw emotion and tears then too but fortunately not the ultimate suffering that must come from the loss of a child. BTW, I am happy to report my son is a healthy, intelligent, accomplished and engaging adult who is doing quite well, as are all of our children.

I am a gun owner and do some very basic collecting. Counselors don't have deep enough pockets to do much in what can be a very expensive hobby. You have seen some pictures of a few guns on this blog. Although I believe it is a family choice, as a parent I elected not to have any guns in the household while my children were growing up and especially not during the difficult times I alluded to with my then teenage son. I had no particular reason to believe anything violent would occur but accidents do happen and a gun safe would not have been a sufficient safeguard.

I am not an NRA member but do belong to some other gun related organizations.

And no doubt there are other good, bad and ugly references that might apply to me.

Gun Control: In terms of guns, the answer is neither to arm everybody to the teeth nor to strip away all guns. I enjoy historical arms, I don't want them taken away and have freely provided my fingerprints to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and DOJ. Happy to have them there! We must take steps to control assault weapons, large capacity magazines and certain types of ammunition that has no place except in a military or SWAT team type setting. Now is shooting with full auto or blowing stuff up fun...yes!  We can get creative and still have places for it. Licensed gun ranges and trained military or law enforcement personal, even the NRA, could make some of those experiences available from time to time under safe and controlled conditions. We just have to be creative. But I do not need fully automatic weapons, assault rifles and explosives in my gun cabinet, around the house or in the back yard.

Gun Licensing/data bases and such: What is this constant and conspiratorial fear of gun control?  I have to license my cars, license myself to drive and pass background checks, drug testing, etc. for many employment settings. I am not worried about the government taking away my car unless I commit a crime with it and same is true of my guns. I welcome more licensing, a data base of guns, maybe an ammo tax earmarked for training or mental health and even another picture ID for gun owners to go with my drivers license. We have to practice and study for our driver's license, let’s do more of the same for gun ownership. I believe in the 2nd amendment, but I don't see anything that mentions unfettered access to all the weaponry available today. Let's get over it! There will always be the fringes on both extremes and it is time to ignore them and move on and make some changes.

Guns and kids: Generations of many families have enjoyed target shooting, hunting and collecting guns and kids have grown up with it as a very normal part of their life. We hope their upbringing has included proper training, safety and security and I am confident in most cases it has. Those are decisions that each family has to make. But back to the car and drivers license analogy—licensing, training and testing can play a bigger role. Government, yes, but the NRA, gun dealers, manufacturers, collectors and hobbyists all have a role to play. Look at the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), as they have an excellent record of doing this for years with the support of hundreds of individuals. We need to expand these efforts even more and make sure gun handling and safely training is available in every locality. I know I could use more. 

NRA: I was disappointed with the statement from the NRA's Wayne LaPierre yesterday. I would like to join the NRA, as they do many good things, great training and have a wonderful museum and could be on the leading edge of this issue. Unfortunately, LaPierre missed an opportunity and brought absolutely nothing new to the table—just more guns. Placing police or security officers at every school or arming teachers and/or administrators can certainly be a discussion point, but the NRA has to be willing to give a bit on its opposition to even the most seemingly sensible gun control initiatives. I am hoping a significant portion of NRA members will have more realistic and creative ideas. I have heard from some members that do. On the other side, I have sometimes thought perhaps myself and many others should in fact join the NRA and swell its ranks with those more willing to take on the association leadership and insist on change. Something to think about anyway.

Mental health is an important issue to all of us. But unfortunately it is not simply a matter of saying we need to increase services. As a health issue, mental health is tied directly to funding at the local level for public mental health services and to healthcare reform as related to both public and private entities. As a professional in the field, I probably could not have gotten mental health assistance for Adam Lanza unless he had demonstrated clearly threatening behavior prior to the shooting. Around the country, services are underfunded and understaffed and able to respond only when an overt crisis occurs. Often, with individuals like Lanza, we don't know there is a crisis until the trigger is being pulled. I believe in a very strong military, but perhaps we need to build a few less F-35 Fighters or reduce the cost of those Pentagon toilets or cut other waste. And lets stop trying to buy friendship around the world and instead cut the payoffs to Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. and focus on what is happening in our own neighborhoods and on our streets.

Faith...Faith is a necessity but we have to accept that it may be religious based or may not. Faith in ourselves, our families, our neighbors, a higher power, our god or however we may choose to exercise it. Yes, I may sound a bit simplistic and naive, but isn't that the beauty of those 20 children that just died and the lesson they can teach us. I am also told there were two children with autism among the dead. How ironic. I am sure all these children had their moments of temper tantrums or a tug of war over a toy, book or who gets to use the swing—but by all standards this looked to be a beautiful innocent bunch of kids that enjoyed school, their classmates, had dedicated and loving teachers and certainly the love of their families. Yes, they are our families too. We have to have faith in our kids and sometimes perhaps we adults need to be a bit more child-like in our willingness to accept and trust others too. Doesn't mean throw caution to the wind but a little more "love thy neighbor" wouldn't hurt.

So what do we do now? This is a complicated social and cultural issue which cannot, and must not, be reduced to a few simple talking points. Some want to make it only about gun control, or mental health, or religion/non-religion, or video games/TV, or breakdown of the family, etc. And please stop carelessly discussing Autism/Aspergers in the same breath as this mass killer. I have worked with probably 100's of people, mostly young men, with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) starting with the young man I mentioned from forty years ago. None have committed any significant act of violence that I am aware of. Yes, like all of us, they get mad at times or may lack social graces and etiquette. However, I find individuals with ASD to be some of the most interesting, creative, engaging and intelligent people I know. No evidence that I have seen suggests any greater tendency toward violence then among the rest of us. They may have other co-occurring disorders but ASD in and of itself does not produce mass murderers. If we start to condemn everyone that is a loner, doesn't like to socialize a lot, keeps quiet, etc.—we are going to have a lot of people to evaluate or lock up. If that is going to be the case, I might as well get in the line.

There are far more knowledgeable and capable folks than I am in terms of organizing and lobbying skills. However, we can start my expressing opinions on blogs, by email, letter, fax, social media, phone, etc. to our government representatives from the local to the presidential level, sign a petition or check for one on the White House website—and be specific in terms of changes in law and funding sources. For instance mental health, don't just scream me, me, me and I need more money in regards to public and private funding. If you want more funds for something, fine, but address where the money will come from (savings, efficiency, cutbacks, taxes, etc.).  In terms of guns, lobby the sources—membership organizations (AKA NRA), corporate gun manufacturers, ammo manufacturers, your neighborhood gun shop, etc.

We must accept the fact that there will be no magic pill and unfortunately other tragedies will likely befall us before significant change takes place—but change will occur. I certainly do not have all the answers and will continue to wrestle with these questions and my positions will no doubt shift and change as we study the issues and continue the debate. There will continue to be extreme voices on the far right and far left that make a lot of noise and get a lot of press. Although I have no empirical evidence and have not conducted a study or taken more polls (do we really need more polls!), I am guessing we can throw out up to 20% of the extreme left and 20% on the extreme right and still find a more reasonable 60% of the populace — be they Republican/Democrat/Independent, Religious (all faiths and denominations), Agnostics/Atheists, men/women, straight/gay/lesbian/transgender, all colors, NRA or not and everyone else you can think ofand come to some kind of common sense approach for the sake of our children and our country. The silent majority needs to step up to the plate. Do we need to become atypical allies in this fight? Yes, we have to be. You may feel the need to hold your nose, shield your eyes or keep the disinfectant handy—but nonetheless we can do this—we must do this.

So there you have it—my ramblings for today. Perhaps a little disjointed but still trying to clear my head and make some sense of an event that has no sensible explanation or motive. I will probably come back and add, delete, correct in the days ahead. Not sure what else I will get posted on here before Christmas, maybe at least my traditional holiday excerpt from Big Trouble. Despite, and because of, this tragic end to the year, I wish you and your families an especially Happy Holidays and prosperous and peaceful New Year.   

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 7th

I am not much of a Facebook aficionado but Fold3, like many bushiness and organizations, does have a Facebook page. Here is the link to Fold3 on Facebook  that you can follow to Pacific Wrecks and to the Fold3 Arizona Memorial as a tribute/reminder of the attack and tragedy of Peal Harbor. I included the direct links below.
Above: B17 at Hickam Field 

Direct link to Pacific Wrecks website

Attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S.S. Arizona

Pearl Harbor Muster Rolls

Uncle 'Juke' killed in a B17 accident 

My FOLD3 Spotlights

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jefferson School, Walla Walla, WA...Brenda Steunenberg Richards...circa 1924...and 1966.

9/14/2014 update. Photo of Jefferson School, Walla Walla, WA.

Just ran across this photo. Written on the back by my father: "Brenda sitting on the steps of Jefferson School in Walla Walla. Washington at Ninth and Emma St. This is the school Brenda attended as a child."  Dated "1966." 

Yep, that's my mom right near the same spot she sat on these steps 42 years earlier!
Probably a good thing mom got there when she did.  All I see now at the intersection of Ninth and Emma Streets, Walla Walla, WA is an empty lot and some newer stores.

Below is an old tattered circa 1924 photo of my mother, Brenda Steunenberg Richards, with her classmates in first grade at Jefferson School in Walla Walla, WA. The arrow on the photo points to mom in the back row. Quite a motley crew.* Please email me if you can identify any of the other kids or the teacher.
"Jefferson School was constructed in 1916. Jefferson has a unique history, that it is the only elementary school in Walla Walla that has not had a woman principal. It is also unique because it has had more minority students throughout the years than any of our other elementary schools."  
History of Walla Walla Schools in District #140 
Here is a photo taken at Jefferson circa 1947-48 on the same steps at the front door. No one we know as I found this online for comparison purposes when trying to confirm the school. Not so motley and the teacher looks more relaxed!
During the mid 1920's, my grandpa Julian and grandma Francis Beardsley Wood Steunenberg had moved back to Walla Walla to be near other kinfolk.  Eveline 'Bell' Steunenberg, widow of assassinated Ex-governor Frank Steunenberg, was also living there. As related in prior posts, grandma Francis' family (Maxon-Wood) were early pioneers in the Walla Walla area and involved in the founding of Walla Walla College.
Jefferson School. You can see the front entrance and steps that served as a place for many photographs over the years, including my mother's 1st grade class. From what I see online, the school still stands today.
Other Beardsley-Wood kinfolk settled over in Milton, (now Milton-Freewater) and Roseburg, Oregon. While living in Walla Walla, my mom and the family would periodically visit her uncles, aunts and cousins at the Farmstead in Milton. All those kin were special to her and I know she remained in touch and visited when she could over the years. Frazier Farmstead Museum.
Julian, Francis and the five kids. Circa 1924 Walla Walla, WA
As we know, Julian had been attending Walla Walla College in 1905 and was home for the holidays in Caldwell, ID when his father was assassinated on December 30, 1905.  Having returned to Walla Walla in the 1920's, grandma Francis and grandpa Julian and the five kids (Doris, Bud, Cal, Jule and Brenda) would soon hit the road and head for California.

More Jefferson School Photographs

Bygone Walla Walla

*A motley crew is a cliché for a roughly organized assembly of characters. Typical examples of motley crews are pirates, Western posses, rag-tag mercenary bands and freedom fighters. They may align with, be (as a group), or include either the protagonist or the antagonist of the story. Dictionary.com defines a motley crew as a gathered group of people of various backgrounds, appearance, character, etc.