Would you rather be safe or free?

From the archives: I wrote this in 1999, not long after the infamous shootings at Columbine High School. I really can’t add anything 24 years later.

Would you rather be safe or free?

Those are the choices, you know. There are ways you can try to protect yourself and your children from the possibility that the events of Littleton, Colo., never again happen. But the only way to do it is to lock us all in cages.

You can have a society where no one tells you what church to attend, where no one monitors what you read, write or say, where no one keeps you from going to a Packers game or driving to see an old friend in Missouri.

But you run the risk that someone else may worship Satan or Hitler, that someone may read, write or say persuasively hateful things, that someone at the Packer game may try to sell you a $40 ticket for $250, that bad people will use the Interstate to transport illegal goods or kidnap your daughter.

So the solution is to regulate what church you can go to, what you read and write and say, and place checkpoints at city limits and state borders.

You can have a society where you are free to protect your property or defend your person, or to hunt and feed your family.

But you run the risk that someone with a sick mind will arm himself and kill you or your children.

So the solution is to make sure only the police and military have weapons.

You can have a society where, if you obey the law, no police officer or military unit will ever knock on your door and search through your personal belongings or drag you down to the county jail.

But you run the risk that your next-door neighbor is manufacturing narcotics in his basement or scheming to overthrow the government.

So the solution is a police state.

You can have a society where, if you are accused of a crime, no one can throw you in jail without proof, or torture a confession out of you,  or force you to testify under oath that you did it — even if you did it.

But you run the risk that murderers will occasionally escape justice, or criminals get out of prison and commit new crimes.

So the solution is to lock us all up.

When you have a free society, there will be times when someone abuses his or her freedom and harms someone else, perhaps even kills someone else.

The only way to try to prevent such abuses is to take away our freedoms.

And the bad things will not go away.

Confiscate our guns, and criminals will use knives or bombs made of pipe or fertilizer — or steal guns — and we will be defenseless.

Regulate what the media reports, and you lose the right to know what’s happening. Regulate the Internet and you depend on the government to inform you. Regulate what singers can sing, writers can write,  and painters can paint, and you begin to lose life itself.

And even then, you will not be safe. You will only have built a cage and crawled in. It will be easier for evil to find you when it decides to look.

So how to prevent future school shootings?

Teach children right from wrong. Teach them to cherish life and other living things. Teach them good choices from bad. And punish them when they do wrong, when they harm living things, when they choose badly.

Our nation, this bold experiment, has thrived because of the notion that the only limit on my freedom is that it not impose on yours. The most defining speech of our history concludes, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Sometimes the people of the world look at America and says, “How can they tolerate such things!” But most of the time they envy America and wish to live in a society as tolerant as ours. Immigration has always outpaced emigration because of our promise. 

We must live free. Or we die.

– – –

This essay and more have since become part of my book Refuse to be Afraid. Just sayin’

Sentences add up

It’s funny how the little algorithms work. I had nothing to write for Wednesday’s blog, so I wrote just one sentence to keep my daily blogging streak alive, titled it “This is a sentence,” and went to bed.

It appeared dutifully Wednesday morning, and down at the bottom the algorithm, as usual, offered three “Related” posts: “Write the next sentence,” “Letters into words into sentences,” and “W.B.’s Book Report: Several Short Sentences About Writing.” All three of them had been more well-received than average, and all three were about writing more than one sentence and if — you’re stuck with nothing to say — how to write that next sentence.

Oh, I had great excuses. I had awakened at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, I had put in my first 10-hour day at the day job in several weeks, I was dead on my feet (Technically, I was sitting, so I was dead on my tail) — I barely remember writing the one sentence.

That’s not really the point.

The point is that if you aspire to be a writer, if you present yourself as a writer, there is a certain truism to which you need to adhere. It’s easy to remember, just two words.

Writers write.

Now, I forgive myself for writing just the one sentence. I really was exhausted. I had written about 4,000 day-job words and even dashed off 200-300 Jeep Thompson words during the course of Tuesday, and I had helped to assemble more than 50 pages of newspaper to send to the printer. The blog was not the highest priority of the day.

Still, writers write, and I have set the blog as a daily priority. I made the commitment long enough ago to measure in years.

I forgive myself, but I don’t intend to do that again. Oh, all things come to an end, and one day so will my daily blog streak, but I plan never again to write one sentence and call it a blog post.

Unless its a really, really good sentence.

– – –

P.S. It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet obtained your free copy of the ebook Jeep Thompson & the Lost Prince of Venus: Episode 1: Journey to the Second Planet. This is the looonng-awaited opening salvo in an epic adventure of time, space, and other worlds. Jeep Thompson and her vampire friend, Blaine, live in a world not unlike our own — but not exactly ours; our world doesn’t have vampires, don’t you know — and they are plunged into an intrigue that starts with an odd vehicle under a tarp in her garage. Did I mention it’s free? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain — and how often do you get to read a novella with a 15-word title? Go on, click this link and start reading the adventures of Jeep Thompson.

Cardinal at the window

I first heard the story of the cardinals years ago at the memorial gathering for a mentor and his wife, who had died just a few months apart. The family distributed seed packets with cards telling how a cardinal is a visitor from heaven, a departed loved one letting you know everything is all right.

On the morning Red was scheduled to take her long ride from a Milwaukee hospital to a hospice near Green Bay, a cardinal hopped up to the patio door and peered inside — almost like someone I once knew wanting to make sure I was OK. A few days later there was a cardinal next to the door again. (Obviously the above photo was taken after he hopped a little farther away.)

Perhaps they’re old friends, or my mom or dad or brother, or my Willow The Best Dog There Was, but they are comforting. They help open the spigot and let out the grief, which gives me a few hours of precious productivity.

Three deer emerge from the woods and step carefully into the open field to our north. Dejah notices them and woofs rather frantically. “It’s OK, Dejah, they’re friends,” I say, but she pants indignantly — or is she panting with the desire to run out and play with them? I’m afraid the deer would not understand.

Like the cardinals at the patio door, these unexpected flashes of heart stopping beauty are a reminder that the world is still full of reasons to go on — and hope. 

Walk away from the toxic

© Kiosea39 | Dreamstime.com

In the middle of Joanna Penn’s podcast interview with Toby Neal last week, there came a thought I had to jot down while careening down the highway at 72 mph (I find police tend to give traffic a pass at 7 mph over the posted limit or less).

With regard to social media, Neal said something to the effect of, “Find the helpful and the positive; walk away from the toxic.” Is there wiser advice anywhere, and not about just social media?

The world is bustling with toxic — you can swing a dead cat without hitting toxic. Come to think of it, the image of swinging a dead cat is somewhat toxic.

But the world is also bustling with positive and helpful. Heck, you can go on YouTube and find videos about how to boil an egg, that’s how much helpful there is out there. People are always willing to share their knowledge, come to the aid, smile on one another and live in peace.

Why, in a world brimming with good will, would you wallow in the toxic? Find the helpful and the positive, and walk away from the toxic. Do it consciously and intentionally, every day, and watch it all turn around.

Watch what you say

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

“You can’t say that.”

“I just did.”

“But it’s a trademark; you can’t say that.”

“I’m not trying to promote my scary new movie about a space monster.”

“Doesn’t matter; it’s copyrighted.”


“You’ll think differently when you hear from their lawyers.”

“Oh, come on. It’s just a fact: There’s no air in space, so there’s nothing to carry sound, so if you managed to live long enough to scream, no one could hear you.”

“Well you can say it that way, but the way you said it first is protected by copyright.”

“I wasn’t saying it to sell anything. The copyright is for a movie tagline. If anything, when I say it, people will think, ‘I remember that movie, it was good. I should see it again.’ It’s free advertising for them.”

“I don’t know. I’m still worried you could get sued.”

“You know, of all the things I’ve learned over the years, one of the truest is that most things I worry about never happen anyway.”

“Oh my gaw. You are crazy. Do you want to have lawyers all over you?”


“That’s a Tom Petty song!”

“What is?”

“‘Most things I worry about never happen anyway’! It’s in a song!”

“So what?”

“So you can’t say that! It violates the copyright!”

“That’s so stupid. But I guess what a fool believes, he sees.”


48 years of alleged adulthood

Two score and eight years ago, it was hot and sunny, especially for people wearing black gowns and caps, and U.S. Sen. Bill Proxmire, D-Wisconsin, got an honorary degree, irritating my dad the staunch Republican.

I spent that night and a few nights later in an ancient hotel in Waupaca whose name escapes me — or was it called the Waupaca Hotel? — before securing a home above Hansen TV while I worked my first grownup job.

When I walked into WDUX on the morning of May 19, 1975, the energetic morning man with the radio voice greeted me cordially and invited me to have some coffee. I had made it through four years of college and untold all-nighters without drinking coffee, but that morning I was willing to give it a try. And thus began a 48-year (so far) addiction. Caffeine is an insidious and wonderful slave master.

The first professional favor I ever received was from the friend who took me aside and showed me the word Weyauwega, the name of the next town over from Waupaca. Knowing I would encounter it very early in my news-reading career, he pointed and enunciated, “Why-uh-WEE-guh” (hard G). I am forever in his debt. I would have been stymied.

Every year around the anniversary of that turning-point day, I sit and reflect in what has been and what is yet to be. I was an arrogant young man who thought he knew more than he did, and now I’m an arrogant but more humble old man who thinks he knows more than he does, but at least, I think, I am a kinder, gentler soul than I was when I knew it all.

I spent 22 years in radio, processing sound, which is why I am still irritated when PA systems and TV/radio/podcast audio is sloppily produced or neglected. As recently as yesterday, I have been known to mutter, “Use the mike,” disgusted, under my breath, as someone across a large room talks with the microphone down by the belly instead of near his/her lips.

The rest of my time has been spent in newspapers — most all 48 years reporting the news in one format or another. I am not a legend in my chosen field, nor did I make a fortune, but I made enough to build a house with my sweet partner and companion, I won some awards, and I was the editor when the Door County Advocate won Newspaper of the Year in 2004 and Best in Division in 2014. I guess I’ve done OK.

I started taking God seriously on Easter morning 1982, when I took that familiar invitation seriously and prayed the prayer, although I remember a couple of times much earlier when I encountered a sacred moment. Jesus and I have always had an informal friendship, largely because I’ve often been called upon to work the Sunday morning shift, so regular church-going has not been my thing, but I’m certain He is around and caring — and every so often when I have my doubts, He surprises me by making Himself known.

I’d better make some coffee.

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