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Fairly confused

SoVaNow.com / April 18, 2013
It’s been an unsettling week, to put it mildly — reason enough to want to slow things down, cut through the babble, and try to make sense of it all ….

First, Boston: In the aftermath of Monday’s despicable bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, the cold reality is difficult to deny: this slaughter and maiming of innocents is all too easy to do, and virtually impossible to prevent, and our best hope for avoiding a sequel is the same it’s ever been — that sanity prevails. It’s not the surest response to an atrocity, but sureness is not always within our power to grasp.

In these initial days, the Marathon bombing has provoked a mixture of dread and bravado; dread, for all the reasons spelled out above; bravado, because the attacker or attackers assaulted one of our great cities, with its proud history and indomitable spirit, even as its citizens were enjoying a joyous tradition that will not soon be discarded, the malevolence of terrorists or criminals be damned. Of course Boston, and the rest of America, will rise up to meet this horror head-on. What is more uncertain — what no one should be in any hurry to find out — is what might happen if such attacks occurred with some frequency, rather than spaced out by a decade, as will be the case should this bombing prove to be an act of terrorism, which seems likely. There was no ongoing domestic terror campaign after 9/11. This time? The idea of a city like Boston becoming our version of Beirut draws a shudder.

Of course, we have plenty of experience with wanton slaughter, with names like Aurora, Newtown, Blacksburg serving as our reminders; these massacres may not fit the textbook definition of terrorism, but they’re depressingly similar in terms of the carnage involved. Our response to these homegrown mass killings, after all else has been said and done, has come down to one word: freedom. How much freedom should law-abiding citizens be required to give up in the hope that restrictions might deter evildoers?

There’s an admirable impulse at work here — the impulse not to give in to those who would bring down the rest of society, even if the logic of the reaction sometimes leaves something to be desired. (Just to bring up an obvious point, why should gun shop customers be required to pass background checks but purchasers at gun shows or over the Internet are not?) This stubborn refusal to sacrifice any freedom of action, freedom of movement, even the freedom to sputter invective, is a uniquely American trait. But America, with important but faraway exceptions, has also not felt the wages of war fought on its soil. Would we be so protective of freedom if the case were otherwise?

Thankfully, the world almost certainly is not coming unglued, with humanity and sanity forsaken, although some days it does seems like that’s the direction we’re headed. Events like the Boston bombing may serve to undermine an essential quality of civil society — the sense of control, and trust, that comes from acceptance of shared rights and responsibilities — but society does have a way of fighting back against those who would shatter it. It looked for a time as though the investigation into the bombing would be painfully slow, as if in mockery of the rapid-fire commentary that followed the attack, but on Wednesday the FBI reported significant progress towards finding the perpetrators. We can only hope. The exercise of justice is but a first step in restoring the order and calm that existed prior to Monday.

***

Here at home, the news has had a similarly disconcerting bent, albeit with none of the ferocity on display in that other town named Boston. A few observations:

• This is a week for condolences with the untimely passing of two men familiar to many county residents, Larry Fears and Phillip Ward. Major Fears, the senior officer of the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department, was a steady presence in the law enforcement community going on four decades and a man, said Sheriff Fred Clark, who was admired for his integrity and devotion to public service. No question about that. You can’t work for a department for 35 years and not leave a mark on its inner workings. In Larry Fears, local law enforcement had a figure to emulate.

Dr. Ward’s professionalism, sense of humor and cool head under pressure certainly made a big impression on many of his OB-GYN patients. The community is greatly diminished by his loss.

A third death this week has been weighing on my mind — that of Mike Wilder, a former reporter for this newspaper who went on to become a reporter and editor in the North Carolina newspaper industry. (Mike most recently worked as a reporter for the Burlington Times-News.) He will be long remembered in our building for his wry wit and infectious laugh, and for the skill and talent he evinced in his writing. Mike died all too young, at age 45, from cancer. His family and loved ones are uppermost in our thoughts and prayers.

• Finally, turning from the somber to the somehow comfortingly mundane, the Halifax County Board of Supervisors learned this week that the county has $593,000 in funds it wasn’t anticipating to add back in a very strapped budget. The windfall is the result of lower-than-forecast insurance costs, a bump in sales tax revenue, and most important, less money than expected going to the regional jail. The discovery is reminiscent of another recent budget reversal, which occurred this year when school officials thought they faced a crisis with unfunded insurance premiums, only to find the money had been sitting in the budget all along. Oh well. Better to err on the upside than the other way around.







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