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Speaking the Truth

Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media.  He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.

America's Obsession With Awareness

America seems to have an obsession with awareness. As I drove down Washington Avenue in Cedarburg last year, I observed a sign declaring October 21 to October 27 as National Massage Therapist Awareness Week. I must admit being a little nonplussed at first. I wasn’t quite sure whether, the next time I see a massage therapist, I should buy a Hallmark card or call the police. After all, October is also National Cyber Security Awareness Month. In as much as there is also an Alcohol Awareness Month (April) and an Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 24 – March 1), and in light of the fact that the massage therapist is just down the street from Otto’s Beverage Center, I wondered if they are both aware of each other.

It seems, however, that Massage Therapy Awareness Week is different from Oral Cancer Awareness Week (April 11 – 17) or National Headache Awareness Week (June 11 – 17), as I assume that massage therapy is a good thing and the others are bad – unless you are a married woman and it is important for your husband to be aware of your headache as you crawl into bed.  I looked up the definition of “awareness” and it means to be vigilant or watchful. I concluded that we are being bombarded with reminders to be vigilant and watchful for both good and bad things – some very important, and some so trivial that you wonder if it isn’t a prank.

I began to wonder what sorts of things were so important that our government felt that they needed an officially designated day, week, or month for us to be reminded to be aware of them, and where all of these awareness observances came from. It turns out that some observance periods are federally designated, like National Domestic Violence Week. But the state legislatures are busy at work also with things like Connecticut Severe Storms Awareness Week, Wisconsin Heat Awareness Day (interestingly, Florida does not have such a day), Ohio’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, or the one day covers all Pennsylvania Warning Day. Louisiana saved tax dollars by combining two dangers into Louisiana Lightning and Heat Awareness Week.

Sometimes organizations or activist groups simply declare awareness days without official permission or legislation. Maybe an Unofficial Awareness Day Awareness Day is in order. 
 Many of these awareness observances are for very important and significant social issues or problems. AIDS is a serious social problem that deserves awareness. Yet, some AIDS observances are rather quite specific and needlessly segregated, such as National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (October 15) and National Black AIDS Awareness Day (February 7). This is in addition to World AIDS Day (December 1), National Womens & Girls AIDS Awareness Day (March 10), American Asian and Pacific Islander AIDS Awareness Day (May 19), Caribbean American AIDS Awareness Day (June 8), and National Native AIDS Awareness Day (March 20). It seems that white American males don’t get AIDS. Perhaps one AIDS Awareness Day for everyone would be in order.

We apparently need a national coxswain to shout out orders and synchronize these observance periods so we’re all rowing at the same time. That person, in turn, could be appreciated during Physical Fitness and Sports Month (April) or, as the word “coxswain” is shouted out at the top of somebody’s lungs, during  New York’s or Idaho’s Tourette’s Syndrome Awareness Month (May 15 to June 15), both of which mysteriously straddle two different months. Unfortunately, both New York and Idaho were not aware that the Gipper himself declared November 2 through November 8 as National Tourette’s Syndrome Awareness Week in 1987.    Some observances don’t even make me aware when I know it’s their turn – like GERD Awareness Week. I had to resort to the internet to learn that GERD is an acronym for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. With some health awareness initiatives we apparantly don’t need to be aware of the disease, rather, we have to be aware of the screening process – Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Week – which makes you wonder if you are to avoid the disease or the screening. IBS Month sounded like a reason to throw a party until I learned it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month.  

Exactly when an issue warrants a day, as opposed to a week or month for observance still has me puzzled. The Earth gets a day (April 22), while Administrative Professionals get a whole week (April 20 – 26). Fireworks Safety gets a whole month (June) – even though we only use fireworks one day a year – in a different month altogether. National Parental Involvement gets only a day (November 15), but fear not, as National Family Week runs from November 18 to 24, in case you forgot November 15. When something really cries out for public awareness, however, it appears entirely appropriate to devote both a day, and an additional separate week to the matter. Case in point: this October 7-13 marks the first National Squirrel Awareness Week - not to be confused with National Squirrel Appreciation Day, which typically falls on January 21. However, they have separated Dog Appreciation Month (April) from Cat Appreciation Month (January).  

I was certain that there were not any awareness periods that lasted the entire year – but I was wrong. 2002 was Autism Awareness Year, 2003 was Asthma Awareness Year, and 2004 was Pneumonia Awareness Year. 2005 went to Pain, and 2006 was Asperger’s Awareness’s turn - although this seemed to be a repeat of 2002, as Asperger’s is one of several autism spectrum disorders. I was not aware of that. 2007 goes to – the envelope please – Malaria. I assumed that we never have to be aware of pain again (2005 is gone), until I discovered that every September is Pain Awareness Month.  Some appreciation observances may leave certain individuals or issues feeling ignored or unappreciated. Take National Incredible Kids Day (March 20) for example, which is great for my kids, but what about everybody else’s? Virginia School Board Appreciation Month (February) is great for the Newport News School Board, but might leave the Cedarburg School Board feeling a little out in the cold, and there are only twelve months in a year, so some school boards will just have to do without. I guess it’s first come, first serve. Wait! Never mind.

January is School Board Recognition Month in Oregon and throughout the United States, so everybody is covered. April is Mathematics Education Month, but history and science apparently didn’t make the cut. Oregon has a taxpayer funded website with ideas on how to help celebrate Mathematics Education Month – but don’t worry about it or party too hard because April is also Alcohol Awareness Month and Stress Awareness Month.   Sometimes similar issues that need appreciating bump heads – like National School Breakfast Week and National School Psychologists Week – both celebrated heavily during the same week in March. However, somebody is going to get failing marks in school because the former is only celebrated for five days – two days short of a full week – and lunch was ignored altogether. Not to be outdone, National Music In Our Schools Month trumps them both and takes up the entire month of March. School psychologists are again honored during National Educational Support Professionals Day (November 14), but only one card is necessary.  

And then there are the genuinely absurd days of awareness. January is National Oatmeal Month – not quite on par with Church Library Month in October. I wasn’t even aware that my church had a library, probably because they don’t. February is Sinus Pain Awareness Month (headaches only got a week in June). February 14 (appropriately enough I suppose), is National Condom Day. Apparantly, on the third Saturday in October - Sweetest Day – we don’t need the reminder about protection, because October is also Clergy Appreciation Month. May is Correct Posture Month, as well as a month dedicated to the awareness and appreciation of smiles, salsa, vinegar, ultra-violet (all other light spectrums are ignored), hamburgers (without cheese), eggs, photos, and teen self-esteem. June 10 is National Yo-Yo Day, right in the middle of National Accordian Month. July 14, Bastille Day in France, is Nude Day in America; purely a coincidence, I’m sure.

August 1 through August 7 is officially World Breastfeeding Week. September 22 is Elephant Appreciation Day, but apparantly there is no appreciation for lions and tigers and bears, oh my, and the post office is open. 
 Super human achievement is appreciated as well. This year, the second Wednesday in October was declared International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction by the U.N. General Assembly. That was right about when the California fires started burning. October 22, besides being Stuttering Day, also is Used Car Day. October 26 is Mule Day. I am either unaware or have forgotten the difference between a mule and an ass - the latter of which, sadly, is not as well respected as the former and therefore has no awareness day. November 22 is Start Your Own Country Day, although this is something that should have been given a week or a month. There’s not much you can do in a day, but it’s still on the books. Interestingly, December 8 through December 14 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week. I was not aware of that.  

Maybe I didn’t appreciate what I was getting into as I wondered about the National Massage Therapist Awareness Week sign in the window that morning. Delving into the subject of national awareness was akin to falling helplessly down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole – and it made me aware of how unaware I truly am. There are things in life that we need to be reminded to be aware of as members of the human race, and, well, things we don’t. The problem, it seems, as I stress over what sort of card to get my massage therapist, is that the really important reminders are being muted and obfuscated by the overabundance of the quite silly and absolutely needless ones – and that is a problem we need to be aware of.

Is Chivalry Dead?

         There will probably be a number of men upset with me for writing this article. In fact, there will no doubt also be some women who take offense at its thrust. I write it nonetheless, because I feel that as a society, we are missing out on many of the benefits of one of the greatest gifts we have been given – the relationship between a man and a woman. 

I have marvelled lately at the number of women - young and old - I have seen recently, riding lawn mowers, struggling with push mowers, or dragging large and heavy containers of trash and recycling to the curb. Is it just me, or is this growing phenomenon both alarming and quite telling about something running much deeper in our society.

Surely all of these women are not widowed or divorced. It may well be that some of them actually enjoy this activity – a possibility I suggest only after some deliberation. And by no means do I intend to suggest that women are not capable of such physical tasks. It is just that I was brought up to believe that there are some things that a woman shouldn’t have to do if she doesn’t want to – that there is virtue in being a gentleman – characterized by honor, by selfless love, and by courtesy toward women, especially one you love. It is called chivalry, and I don’t see it much anymore.

 Historically, chivalry began with knights in the middle ages, and was the belief and practice of men who had been influenced and transformed by Christianity. They held dearly ideals such as courtesy, loyalty, protection, gentleness and honor to all, including enemies. A knight sought love and glory, but not selfish love and glory - love and glory for his lady and king first. Since knights devoted themselves to the Virgin Mary, this is probably where their worshipful attitudes toward women originated. Women were literally treated as queens by chivalric men. Knights were respectful, worshipful, and reverent toward women. A knight’s love for a lady was known as “courtly love”. To a knight, both love and war constituted the ultimate sacrifice – they upheld their lady’s honor and her every whim or desire no matter the cost, even if it meant death. It is the stuff of Braveheart.

 This is not to suggest that things were better back then. Nor am I suggesting that women were better off in the Middle Ages. To the contrary, they had very few rights, could not own property, and their participation in public and political discourse was often prohibited or discouraged. Yet there was something very right about the practice of chivalry - something that transcends the politically incorrect or sexist labels that our modern society feels compelled to place on such attitudes. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed many changes in the attitude and practices of American society concerning male and female roles in life. These changes have robbed us of one of the most beautiful and ingenious gifts we have been given – the relationship between a man and a woman. They have robbed us of chivalry.

 As a Christian, I try not to force God’s will upon the world – only to influence it by my witness in word and deed. Yet, it should come as no surprise that the one responsible for creating man and woman, also left us a manual on how they should function together. This manual was the origin of chivalry many years ago. Regardless of your religious persuasion – even if you have none – I would submit that one possible formula for success in any relationship is found in that manual – the Bible. It is there – in a verse in Ephesians often seen as sexist, chauvenistic, and antiquated - that women are told to submit themselves to their husbands. And before women turn the page in bra-burning disgust and before men point the ‘I told you so’ finger at their wives, understand that this is only half of the formula. The manual goes on to say that men are to love their wives “like Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” That’s a lot of love. It means the husband should serve the wife, and sacrifice everything – even his own selfish interests – to show her that love. It means never dominating or forcing his will upon his wife. It is chivalry in its purest form, and we desperately need it back. And while the formula seems pretty one-sided, chances are, faced with chivalric love in its purest form, women will return their love with all of those little things many men complain are missing in their marriage. 

The burden is on our shoulders, men. Employ chivalry in your relationship – to the point where it feels akward and hurts - and see what happens. Complimenting your spouse on how nice they look on a Friday evening is a simple gift worth more than you know. Doing dishwork or housework even though you’re exhausted from a busy day will never be taken for granted. I am certainly no saint, and I fail all too often as a role model for chivalry. But I do try to make it a point to open the car door for my wife, order flowers for her regularly, and in all things treat her like the princess she is. Chivalric love and sacrifice is unconditional and not easy to give, but you’ll be amazed at what you get in return. Even in our crazy, mixed-up society, simple truths are timeless, and the value of becoming a true knight serving his wife will emerge clearly.  The secret and wonder of the gift of a relationship between a man and a woman becomes self-evident only when the knight is chivalrous. Chivalry takes many forms, and if your wife would feel patronized or uncomfortable with some of the more traditional forms of chivalry, there are better ways to serve her. Few woman will turn down offers for more help around the house or an opportunity to watch her favorite television show instead of yours. 

The principles of chivalry are not culturally conditioned and are as applicable today as they were in the days of knights in shining armor – we have just allowed them to go dormant. Chivalry may have fallen out of practice in our society, but it needn’t disappear from your marriage. The absolutely marvelous and wonderful truth is that it takes only one person to bring it back into a relationship. And it is very contagious. Try opening a car door for your wife when you’re in a group – and watch all the other husbands scramble to do the same. You might be surprised at the woman you married when she suddenly discovers she is married to a knight who practices the code of chivalry. You might pleasantly surprised.


The Great Gun Rights Showdown of 2008

On March 18, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a landmark case which could have a sweeping and permanent impact on gun rights in America. For only the second time in American history, the Supreme Court will address the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and for the first time ever, will decide the full meaning of the right to keep and bear arms. It will be the most controversial Supreme Court decision since Roe v. Wade. 

 In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court will review a 2007 ruling of the D.C. Court of Appeals, which was the first federal appellate court  decision in history to strike down a firearm ban for violating the Second Amendment. The case is about a handgun - a pistol - that Dick Heller would like to keep in his home in Washington, D.C. He tried to register it with the city, but was turned down. In spite of a long-standing law which bans all handguns in the city, Washington, D.C. has been labeled as the “Murder Capital of the United States” due to an endless string of handgun murders. Heller lives in a high crime area and argues that he has a Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense. The Court of Appeals agreed, and now the Supreme Court will have the final word on exactly what the Second Amendment means. 

 The Second Amendment is part of the Bill or Rights to the U.S. Constitution, and reads:

 A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

 Not exactly a model of clarity and good draftsmanship, the Second Amendment has given rise to heated debate regarding the ownership and use of firearms in America. First, there is a dispute regarding whether the Amendment limits federal action only, or also state gun laws. More importantly, gun rights advocates believe it protects the right of an individual to possess firearms, whereas the gun control crowd maintains that the founding fathers merely meant to protect the collective right of a militia to arm itself.  They claim that the “well-regulated militia” clause necessarily adds meaning to the “keep and bear arms” clause by furnishing the reason for the latter's existence. 

 The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, like the D.C. Circuit in Heller,  has held the right to be individual in nature, although they are not the final word because that case was not heard by the Supreme Court. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote --- "The advantage that Americans have over every other nation is that they are armed," and Patrick Henry proclaimed, "The great objective is that every man be armed; everyone who is able may have a gun." It is hard to argue that they were not referring to an individual right, but the Supreme Court will sort it all out in a month. 

 In 1939, the Supreme Court decided the only other Second Amendment case to reach the High Court. In United States v. Miller, the Court determined, erroneously, that a shotgun was not "ordinary military equipment" that could "contribute to the common defense." During World War II, between 30,000 and 40,000 short-barreled pump action shotguns were purchased by the U.S. Ordnance Department and saw service in the trenches and for guarding German prisoners. That decision did not address the substantive right underlying the amendment. In one month, it will have a second chance. 

 If the Court declares the right to be “collective”, then we can expect even more restrictive gun control laws – even statewide bans - to spring up. Currently, there are gun bans in place in cities, in states, in public buildings, workplaces, U.S. Parks, big box shopping centers, airports, at Virginia Tech and other school campuses - all of which have proven to be adverse to the community when a shooting takes place. When a crazed killer, criminal, or terrorist enters and kills in a matter of seconds, they find these gun free zones to be as advertised — victim disarmament zones. If one Virginia Tech teacher had been armed with a Glock, 32 families might still have their loved ones.

 Wisconsin is no stranger to the right to bear arms. Article I, Section 25 of our own State Constitution provides:

 The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.

 Despite this right, Wisconsin is one of only two states that completely prohibit anyone but police officers and sheriffs' deputies from carrying concealed weapons for self defense. Colorado, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and other states all recently passed shall-issue concealed carry bills. Wisconsin stands virtually alone, despite the 2003 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in State v. Hamdan. Hamdan owned and operated a grocery store in a high-crime area on West Capitol Drive, and was arrested for carrying a gun in his store in violation of state law. He was convicted and his case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which, in a six to one opinion, overturned the conviction in light of the Wisconsin Constitution. The Court had the following recommendation to the Wisconsin legislature:

 We urge the legislature to thoughtfully examine Wisconsin Statute §941.23 in the wake of the amendment and to consider the possibility of a licensing or permit system for persons who have a good reason to carry a concealed weapon.

 In 2006, the legislature listened, and passed the Personal Protection Act, bringing Wisconsin in line with the other forty-eight. Governor Doyle vetoed it. "The bill does not create a single job, help a single Wisconsin citizen afford health care, or improve schools for a single Wisconsin child," Doyle said in a confusing statement. "The Legislature should spend more time trying to get jobs into our communities instead of more guns." When will he learn that the guns are here, the jobs have left. The good guys lost the jobs, and the bad guys have the guns. 

 The FBI Uniform Crime Reports dramatically illustrate that states with right-to-carry laws have lower overall violent crime rates. Murder rates in states banning concealed-carry are 127% higher than in states having the most liberal concealed carry laws. Ironically, it is high crime, urban areas with large minority populations that experience the greatest reductions in violent crime when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns. For each additional year that a concealed handgun law is in effect, the murder rate declines by 3%, rape by 2% and robberies by more than 2%. Accidental deaths and suicides do not increase, and there are no shoot-outs at the O.K. Corral. Some of the first gun control laws passed in the 1870’s were a discretionary means of ensuring that Italians, Jews, African-Americans, and labor agitators did not obtain arms.

 There are about 300 million guns in the hands of some 80 million American gun owners. From 300 million guns, there are 11,000 annual shooting deaths - nearly all of which are the action of criminals. At the same time, armed, law-abiding citizens use their guns to de-escalate a crime more than 2.5 million times every year, almost exclusively without even firing their weapon. We have a better chance of sending all illegal aliens back home than we do of removing these guns from their legal owners – and no chance of taking guns away from criminals.

 Simple truths seemingly shine through impassioned and emotional responses to tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech. Guns do not cause crime, and gun-control laws do not reduce crime. Darrell Scott’s daughter was killed in the Columbine tragedy, yet afterwards, he uttered more common sense in four sentences than all the ribbon-wearing talking heads combined:

 The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used. Neither was it the NCA - The National Club Association.  The true killer was Cain and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.

 The Keller case will be the current U.S. Supreme Court’s first big test. Not only will they be interpreting for the first time the substantive meaning of the most controversial Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but it will be the first opportunity the current Court will have to prove themselves as strict constructionists of the greatest legal document ever written. They will have the chance to protect one of the most fundamental of American rights, and to follow the admonition of Thomas Jefferson:

 On every question of construction of the Constitution, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

 The Second Amendment guarantees the “People” the right to keep and bear arms – not just a militia. No revision of history will change that. Hopefully, the Supreme Court won’t either.

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