Sandy Hook vs. Chengping: two school attacks in stark contrast

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people – 20 of them kindergarteners – are dead at the hands of a gunman armed with a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

Meanwhile, a madman ran amok in a school in Henan province, China today, as well.

A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens.

The attack in the Henan province village of Chengping happened shortly before 8 a.m., said a police officer from Guangshan county, where the village is located.

A doctor at Guangshan’s hospital of traditional Chinese medicine said that seven students had been admitted, but that none were seriously injured.

In one you find words like “guns” and “killed.” In the other, these words are replaced with “knife” and “injured.”


Sandy Hook: Enough with the flashbacks already

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that there was a school shooting by an adult assailant at a Connecticut elementary earlier today. Reports are still in flux, but at the moment it looks like an entire kindergarten class was likely murdered. As the parent of a first and third grader who are thousands of miles away, I’m still sitting here typing this with my guts tied into knots.

There will probably come a point when I can talk rationally again about gun control. But today I’m having flashbacks to the first time I understood that guns were created to kill people – March 30, 1981, when President Reagan was nearly assassinated and I was just eight, the same age as my daughter is today.

I’m also having flashbacks to April 20, 1999, when I heard about the Columbine massacre. And I’m flashing back to April 16, 2007 when 32 college students were murdered at Virginia Tech, and the following summer when I mentored an intern at work who had lived through both Columbine and VaTech.

I’m also remembering July 20, 2012, when 12 moviegoers were murdered by a man wearing body armor and wielding four different weapons. And it probably doesn’t help that a community less than five miles from mine recently went through the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a 10-year-old girl named Jessica Ridgeway. Not gun related, but still mentally jarring given the girl was kidnapped on her way to her elementary school.

As I said, there will come a point when I can talk rationally about gun laws again. But now is not that time, and I may scream if I hear any of my co-workers talking about how “guns don’t kill people, people do” today. Today those dead people include little kids.

And I’ve just about had enough of the fucking flashbacks.

Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

Telling History vs. Making Art: Fictions told until they are believed to be true

grant-president-1Part eight in a series

“Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true,” Ulysses S. Grant said in his Personal Memoirs.

Grant was specifically referring to a fiction “based on a slight foundation of fact” from Appomattox Court House, where Robert E. Lee’s army surrendered. The formal surrender took place in the home of Wilmer McLean in the heart of the small village, but a legend grew that the surrender actually took place beneath an apple tree. “Like many other stories,” Grant said, “it would be very good if it was only true.” Like a modern game of telephone, where a story evolves in the telling from one person to another, a kernel of fact grew into something totally beyond itself and subsequently became accepted as truth.

“The truth of an account is measured by the conviction the writer builds in the reader’s mind,” says Prof. Paul Ashdown of the University of Tennessee. Facts evolve into fictions, and through repetition, become accepted as truths.

In Grant’s mind, facts were “verifiable, quantifiable, recoverable, objective, and rational,” says historian Joan Waugh, and they “could be retrieved from memory, conversations, written reports, letters, maps, telegrams, and diaries.” However, Grant worried about writers and historians who relied too much on those primary sources. Such writers, he believed, “reach conclusions which appear sound…but which are unsound in this, that they know only the dispatches, and nothing of the conversation and other incidents that might have a material effect upon the truth.”

Truth, says Waugh, derives from facts but is not dependent on them. “Truth was subjective and morally based,” she says. “Truth had a higher meaning. Truth was based in the facts but ultimately not answerable to them. Today, professional historians call truth ‘Interpretation.’”

“It is not enough for historians and filmmakers to impart the facts,” says historian Leon Litwack. “It is incumbent upon them to make people feel those facts, to make them see and feel those facts in ways that may be genuinely disturbing.” Artists know this already.

Grant set about writing his memoirs out of financial need, but he also did so because he was genuinely disturbed by the way facts were being interpreted by the growing Lost Cause school of thought. Grant championed the Union Cause. “Thus, the Personal Memoirs were written both to advance a larger truth, that of Union moral superiority, and to remind America of Grant’s contribution to the victory that remade America into ‘a nation of great power and intelligence,’” Waugh says. Grant’s final battle was a war of words over the interpretation of facts, an attempt to advocate a particular truth.

The writer of history, then, faces the same fundamental problem as any other storyteller: What truth am I trying to tell, and how shall I tell it?

The Series Concludes: Fictions and Histories

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #5: Americans love a winner

Part five in a series.

As Americans continue to succeed in the global game, expect fans to jump on the bandwagon.

Back to my original thesis, noted in part one: Americans love a winner, and the more success we achieve on the global stage, the more fans here are going to latch on.

…soccer might well have a bright future as a spectator sport in the US if we become an international power. That’s right. If our national team were one of the world’s top five sides, I assure you – I guarantee you – American consumers would fight for a front-row seat on the bandwagon. We’ve been told we ought to like soccer because everybody else does for all these years (and what do we hate worse than being told what we ought to do?), and meanwhile we’ve struggled to even qualify for the World Cup. We’ve gotten our knickers dusted on a regular basis by third-rate countries like freakin’ Brazil. And you want to tell me that if all of a sudden we were dominating the sport the way we dominate basketball that people wouldn’t be lining up for tickets and merchandise?

We’re already seeing more and more American players succeeding internationally (and not just goalies, either), with several Yanks playing key roles in England (Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard, Maurice Edu), Germany (Tim Chandler, Fabien Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones), Spain (Oguchi Onyewu), Italy (Michael Bradley) and Holland, where Jozy Altidore was leading the league in scoring up until recently.

Meanwhile, the most accomplished field player the nation has ever produced, Clint Dempsey, is starting for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premiership (which is currently engaged in Europa League competition).

Dempsey finished fourth on the FWA Footballer of the Year list behind winner Robin van Persie and Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, who came in second and third, respectively. Dempsey became the first American to reach the milestone of fifty goals in the Premier League, with a free-kick against Sunderland in the last home game of the season.

On 7 June 2012, Dempsey was voted the Fulham ‘Player of the Season’ by fans for the second straight season.

The national team has endured some growing pains since the arrival of new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but they have talent and he has a proven knack for getting the most of the players at his disposal. Nothing is guaranteed, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the US advance past the round of 16 in the next World Cup, and winning an elimination match would be a massive tipping point moment for American soccer.

In sum, then, soccer is posed for massive, sustained growth in the US at the same time our current alpha spectator sport is being eroded from the ground up by incredibly complex problems that suggest no obvious solutions. No one is predicting that football is going to go away for good, but it’s hard to see how it can maintain its status in the face of the dynamics described in the first two installments of this series.

While I love football (despite not being very good at it when I played as a youth), I’ve also come to understand the passion attending world football culture. Last year’s Champions League run by Chelsea FC was one of the most blindingly exciting things I have ever experienced in all my years of sports, and all those young people investing themselves in the supporters clubs are onto something. It’s more than a group of folks in matching shirts getting together to watch games, it’s genuine community.

I look forward to the coming years and the growth of “proper football” in the United States. And I hope that dedicated fans of American football will understand that this isn’t an either/or proposition: it’s okay to love them both.