Wearing Many Hats

In A Slip of the Keyboard, Terry Pratchett discusses his hats in one short piece. He talks about his, almost, trademark Louisiana hat and its many cousins that were part of his collection.

This got me thinking about my own hats, both literal and figurative, those I’ve owned/worn and those I’ve considered and rejected.

On the literal level, unlike Pratchett, I have been partial to ball caps for most of my life. My current rotation are a comfortable Hogwarts cap with the school crest on the front and a worn and faded Origins Game Fair cap that’s more than a few years old. The last one is a bit sentimental in that I got it in the last year that Origins sold them.

Before those two was the worn, khaki International Snow Leopard Trust hat that I once wore daily and now keep for sweaty yard work. And the, now battered, Trinity College hat from our last trip to Ireland, years ago. Before that, the black COW hat, which I hold for sentimental reasons, as it came from my undergrad alma mater (the College of Wooster, or COW). The maroon Union Street hat is still around to remind me of our year in Pennsylvania, and the time I worked food service at Penn State University. It’s a good reminder never to go back.

In various boxes or closets, I find others. The decrepit Cubs hat with the broken strap that went canoeing in Canada and hiking in Virginia with me, over 50 miles each on three trips, back in my Scouting days. The red beret from high school marching band, and all the memories of friends, teenage crushes, and halftime shows it brings to mind. The black Ren faire beret that I wore at our wedding, which calls to mind my best man’s hat that was passed around the dance floor during the wedding party & families dance. And the big feather hat that replaced the beret for faire trips.

Then there are the figurative hats. At work, the teacher, tutor, and mentor hats come out. Difficult hats, those. They need a balance of approachability and professionalism, openness and distance. Most of all, they require adaptability.

I find those three more interesting in comparison to my “play” hats: as a student and mentor in aikido. I hope that my role as student in that venue influences my work hats at least to some degree. Under those, adaptability is still an important key.

That adaptability rears its head under the parent and spouse hats, even if there is a lot of similarity to the days in both cases. Still, things happen, as the unexpected always does and personalities do their thing.

Then there are the hats that I often feel are imaginary, or pretend: writer and author. It’s always strange to realize that people read things I write, whether here on this blog or in published articles and book. It’s even stranger when they quote things I wrote. Somehow it doesn’t entirely feel right, no, wrong word. It feels odd.

The hat that I’ve had the least experience with is brother. I’ve had that one for 31 years now. But, due to age gaps, I moved out of the house when my siblings were 7 and 8. And we’ve lived in different cities for 30 of the intervening years. So, it’s a figurative hat that doesn’t quite fit right, always feels a little off.

Anyway, if anyone read through all of thus, I’m sorry but you brought that on yourself. You had the chance to stop a couple hundred words back. Please try not to make any other bad decisions today. 😁

Free College, Brief Thoughts on

I have a somewhat rocky relationship with the idea of federal or state paid higher education, aka free college. I support the idea fully, but also have some qualifications based on both experience and looking at places where it has been instituted.

In sixteen years of teaching and tutoring at the college level, well, not everyone is cut out for college. And this isn’t a bad thing. Some people, whether a talented auto mechanic or a trust fund baby, just don’t do well with classroom learning and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Likewise, not everyone needs college. Contrary to cultural myths, college is not necessary for a “good” job, assuming we define “good” as paying well. For instance, the average plumber earns more every year than the average college instructor (most of whom are adjunct or “contingent” faculty working for low pay and no benefits).

In the countries where free college (university, in most of them) has been implemented, the percentage of people who attend college is lower than in the U.S. A big reason is that entry exams raise the bar for applications. However, the number of people who attend some from of post-secondary education, ex. trade schools, rises. This is, perhaps, a good thing. After all, society will always have need of plumbers, mechanics, electricians, and related trades, and in the U.S. we’re seeing a shortage in the trades.

I suppose the short version is that I think free post-secondary education or training for anyone and everyone is necessary. Any post-secondary training. Just focusing on college causes problems, like our current overproduction of degree holders at all levels. Also, frankly, focusing on just college is the bad kind of elitist (as opposed to thinking that people should be qualified for their job), and definitely classist.

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

(Started after the Parkland shooting, then set aside for a while)

Another day, another mass shooting in the U.S.

Thoughts and prayers all around, and nothing substantial gets done.

And the usual arguments arise from the American Right.

Here’s the disclaimer: I am an Eagle Scout.  During BSA summer camps, I shot rifles.  I was pretty good with a .22, good enough that it got boring pretty quickly.  I even did a little with black powder rifles, and wasn’t too bad there.  I say this not to brag or anything, but to point out that I’m familiar with rifles, that I’m not “afraid” of guns (as so many on the American Right would like to believe).

As Florida, and scores of other school shootings, not to mention the mall, movie theater, and other mass shootings go through my head, I thought I’d address the most common Right Wing arguments all in one place.  I know this isn’t likely to convince any of the True Believers™, but it’s more to get the thoughts out of my head, and maybe someone else can use it and the attached research.

1) It’s too soon.

The perennial favorite.  It’s always “too soon”, “we should respect the grieving”, etc.  The excuse keeps running, pushing the “ok time” further and further back, arguably in the hopes that before it becomes “not too soon”, another shooting will occur so “too soon” can be used again.

The claim is often used because “we shouldn’t be legislating based on emotion and grief”, which is certainly true (likewise, we shouldn’t be creating anti-Choice legislation, which is entirely based on emotion, but that’s another story).  However, we’ve been discussing this issue to one degree or another for decades, and we’re always told “it’s too soon”.

2) Lots of people are killed by cars and we don’t ban those.

This one’s a favorite analogy, among pundits and comment sections alike.  And it’s a terrible analogy.

First, cars are more heavily regulated than guns.  We keep track of car owners and register cars (licenses, vehicle registrations, license plates) and keep them in an electronic, searchable database.  Federal law prevents the same from being done with guns and gun owners (the ATF has to search paper records by hand to trace a gun).

Second, a car’s primary purpose is transportation.  Its use in homicide is, often, accidental, through misuse (deliberate or otherwise), or through other outside forces (ex. inebriation, weather).  A gun’s sole purpose (not primary, only) is to cause harm or destroy.  Certainly, they can be used for target shooting, but that’s practicing to cause harm or death.  They can be used for hunting, again by causing harm and death.  They can, potentially (see below), be used for defense, but again by causing harm and death.  Every “other” reason ultimately comes down to the core “cause harm, injury, or death” purpose.

The same holds true for virtually all the other analogies (ex. knives have use as tools).

3) It’s not a gun issue, it’s a mental illness issue.

The data and available research strongly disagrees with this claim.

Psychological studies conducted fairly continuously since the 1980s have found that “Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly ‘break’ and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills” (Hayes, reprinted on Slate).

In fact, “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness” (Metzl & MacLeish, Vanderbilt).

In short, mental illness is a combined fearmongering and disassociative technique.  It creates the fear that a homicidal psychopath will kill people while assuring everyone that “normal” people don’t shoot others.  The reality is, of course, that most shooters are “normal”, often friends or family of their victims (much like kidnappings—“stranger danger” is false, the vast majority of kidnappers are well known to their victims, often family).

4) I need a gun to protect my family.

Again, this claim is the result of fearmongering, aided and abetted by the 24-hour news cycle.  The claim is based on the idea that the U.S. is a dangerous, scary place where violent crimes happen to everyone all the time.  The reality is that violent crime has dropped steadily for the last couple decades, particularly since 1994 (FBI).  There are no murderers and rapists knocking at our borders.  Unless a person lives in a particularly problematic neighborhood (say, 1990s South-Central LA), the odds of experiencing a violent crime (or mass shooting) are low.

Covering the other aspect of this claim, a person is 34x more likely to be killed in a “unjustifiable gun homicide”, 78x more likely to be killed in a gun suicide, and 2x more likely to be involved in an “accidental gun death” than to be involved in a “justifiable gun homicide” (e.g. shoot someone in self-defense) (FBI, via WaPo).

5) Chicago! (a.k.a. “Dumb Libs”)

To begin with, as of 2017, Chicago is #8 in deadliest cities in the U.S., with many conservative led cities with much more permissive gun laws above it (CBS).  On a list created by that bastion of liberal hippies (</sarcasm>), Forbes Magazine, Chicago doesn’t even break the top 10 (Forbes).  According to World Atlas (2016), Chicago was #16, after a mix of left and right leaning cities (World Atlas).

But, the biggest problem with this line of argument is that it assumes that cities exist in a vacuum.  It assumes that a person in Chicago can’t leave the city, go somewhere else in Illinois with more permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and return to Chicago.  Or that they can’t drive to Indiana, with extremely permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and come home.  Really, the “Chicago!” argument is an argument that supports more uniformity in gun laws across the country, rather than being an example of gun laws not working.

6) Gun Free Zones (e.g. schools) don’t work.

So, the obvious counterpoint to this claim is: If putting up “Gun Free” signs doesn’t work, then why would putting up signs forbidding transgender people from entering bathrooms work?

A bit less tongue in cheek, though, there is sufficient scientific evidence that stricter gun control works and saves lives (Science Alert).  The conclusions reached by 130 studies found that increased gun control reduces deaths and increases safety, ultimately meaning that “Gun Free Zones” are no longer a thing.  But, while they exist, we need to look at the reason they exist in order to determine their effectiveness.  Opponents seem to believe that the purpose of a “Gun Free Zone” is to prevent shootings, much like they think the purpose of laws is to prevent crimes from happening (thus, if crime happens anyway, the law must be ineffective).  However, ideally, yes, laws would prevent crime, but in reality, laws exist to codify what society deems to be a fit punishment for violating society’s rules.  Thus, “Gun Free Zones” exist to provide a code of punishment for those who bring weapons within range of children (and politicians), with harsher punishments than carrying said weapons at, for instance, a shopping center because as a society we deem the school, church, hall of government to be more sacred than a shopping center.

7) We need to arm teachers (and corollary, We need more people with guns)

The scientific consensus amongst gun researchers has definitively shown that more guns does not mean fewer crimes and deaths.  In fact quite the opposite (Hemenway; Moyer).  And the scientists aren’t divided, they are virtually unanimous on the topic.

Matt Martin, a combat veteran wounded in combat, discusses the problems of arming teachers directly.  He states, “Defending children is a must, but putting a firearm in the hands of even the most trained teacher isn’t the answer. Anyone suggesting this solution has clearly never experienced a situation like the one seen in Parkland because it oversimplifies the complexity of an active shooter situation, especially in close-quarters. It is not as easy as a ‘good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun’” (Martin).  Following up with “Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life and death situations until the moment comes. You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. You don’t know how people will react when the person next to them is shot. You don’t know how a person will respond when their task is shooting someone they know or taught.”

As he notes, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for a teacher to shoot someone they’ve taught.  Frankly, speaking as a teacher, I would not want to be in the same building as any other instructor who could shot one of their students.  And I deal with adult students, not high schoolers or younger.  Anyone who could pull a gun and shoot a middle school or even high school student whom they’ve taught really should not be teaching.

USMC veteran Anthony Swofford adds, “People attack heavily armed institutions all too often, as with the mass shootings in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas and in 2013 at the Washington Navy Yard. Assailants in such cases aren’t typically worried about losing their lives in the process. Usually, losing their lives is part of the plan” (Swofford).  The idea that arming a certain number of teachers would dissuade someone from perpetrating a school shooting is absurd.

When people who have spent hundreds of hours in weapons training and served in combat situations say this is a bad idea, we really should listen.

Moreover, as this debate has continued and the NRA’s pipe dream of Rambo-like, gun toting teachers has gained traction among the more impressionable gun activists, incidents like the one Amy Larson covers, in which a high school teacher accidentally fired his gun in the classroom and injured three students due to ricochets.  Not only was this shooter a teacher, he was a reserve police officer, with the additional training that includes.  This is not an isolated incident, and we will see more like it (and more instances of students stealing teachers’ guns) should the idea become more than a pipe dream.

8) It’s a social issue, not a gun issue.

This is a somewhat difficult one, because it’s partially true.

It is a social issue.

It is an issue with how our society fetishizes, and otherwise looks, at guns.  It is an issue with how our society has not changed significantly in its view for decades (at least since the old Westerns made the “good guy with a gun” myth).  It is an issue with how our society has decided that a gun is more important than human lives, that it has more rights than many people do.

9) Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy.

Both tactical experts, combat veterans, and the FBI disprove the NRA’s false statement.  The truth of the matter is that those who make the claim that “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy” mean that only *they* can stop a bad guy, and only if they have their gun.  Because, having a gun makes them, personally, a hero.

On the small scale, retired ATF SWAT officer David Chipman states, “Training for a potentially deadly encounter meant, at a minimum, qualifying four times a year throughout my 25-year career. And this wasn’t just shooting paper—it meant doing extensive tactical exercises. And when I was on the SWAT team we had to undergo monthly tactical training” (Chipman).  Combat veterans have added that even many heavily trained people freeze up in their first firefight, and even in later ones.  They stress that it’s impossible to know how someone, even a highly trained someone, will react until the moment comes.

According to the FBI, victims shot and killed active shooters in less than 3% of cases between 2000 and 2012.  Even with subduals (non-gun carrying victims), that number only rises to just under 17%.  The vast majority of mass shooting events end either with the shooter leaving or the police arriving (in the majority of cases in under 3 minutes) and subduing the shooter.

10) If we ban guns, they’ll just find another way.

This is probably one of the most illogical claims.  While true, in that there are other ways to kill people, it’s rather difficult to kill 20+ people with a knife or baseball bat before being taken down.  It’s also a lot easier to take down someone who is using a knife or bat than someone using a gun.  The gun is also a fast, easy method.  It’s much more difficult with other items.  More importantly, a gun creates distance, which makes the psychological act of killing easier.  It’s psychologically more difficult to stab a person to death than to shoot them.

Additionally, taken to its logical conclusion, the claim, applied to other laws, causes some issues.  For example, if we ban abortions, they’ll just find another way (true, history).

11) Laws only hurt law abiding owners, criminals don’t care about the laws.

Another illogical claim.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this can be applied to any law.  Which, ultimately, brings us to the question of why we bother with laws, after all, they only hurt law abiding people, criminals don’t care about them.  Which is absurd.

Keep in mind, that virtually every mass and school shooting in the country was perpetrated by individuals (usually young, white, males) with legally obtained firearms.  Most of whom were considered “law abiding gun owners”.

That said, this claim reflects a particular view about the purpose of laws.  It is predicated on the idea that laws exist to prevent or deter crime.  This, I argue, is not the purpose of laws.  Rather, laws exist to outline what society deems to be harmful and to provide a standard set of socially agreed upon consequences for failure to abide by society’s rules.

12) You’re just afraid of guns.

Not in the least (see above).  In fact, many “law abiding gun owners” are in favor of stricter gun control.  Many combat veterans are in favor of stricter gun control.  Most police are in favor as well (it makes it easier for them for identify the “bad guys” in shooting situations).

Take the words of Addison Ashe and Marissa Bowman, if you don’t trust mine.

13) <Insert “leftie” celebrity> built their career on action movies and is anti-gun, hypocrite.

No, celebrities, even those who built their careers on action movies, who hold pro-gun control positions are not hypocrites.  They are people who understand the difference between reality (guns are tool of destruction; people are not action heroes) and fantasy/fiction (guns are cool toys!; “I’m a hero when I have my gun”).

14) Gun control/bans led to the Holocaust.

This one is really so outlandish that it doesn’t deserve answering, but I will anyway.

It’s based on a false claim that Adolf Hitler immediately tightened gun control laws in Germany after he and the Nazi Party rose to power.

The reality is that “The Nazis adopted a new gun law in 1938. According to an analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, it loosened gun ownership rules in several ways.

“It deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns and ammunition. It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell or carry one at any time. (You didn’t need to be hunting.) It also extended the permit period from one year to three and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun.

“The regulations to implement this law, rather than the law itself, did impose new limits on one group: Jews” (PolitiFact)  (And Harcourt’s original article.)

The claim is also generally based around the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with the claim that unarmed Jews would not have been defeated if they were armed.  The flaw is that they were armed (with handguns, a few rifles, and grenades), but their numbers were low (est. 750 fighters) and they were civilians with little to no training who went up against SS forces (e.g. trained, experienced soldiers) supported by local police.  The loss was not due to lack of weapons, but rather to barely trained civilians facing highly trained soldiers who had superior support, organization, and tactical experience.

15) I have a Constitutional right to bear arms.

This is very true.  However, the Second Amendment also states “a well-regulated militia”.  Regulated means to govern or direct according to rule; to bring under the control of law or constituted authority; to make regulations for or concerning regulate the industries of a country; to bring order, method, or uniformity to.  All of which involve control and rules.  Which means that gun control legislation is inherently constitutional, so long as said legislation does not completely remove the possibility of bearing arms (e.g. it can limit the types of arms, under what conditions they can be owned, registration, etc.).

Additionally, in any given society, one person’s rights end where the next citizen’s rights being.  Just as my right to practice my religion ends at your right to practice yours, your right to bear arms ends where my right to Justice, Tranquility, and general Welfare begin.

Marketplace of Ideas: A Poorly Chosen Analogy

The last few days, I’ve been thinking about the idea of the university being a “marketplace of ideas”.  Like many such analogies, or metaphors, I’ve come to think that this one was created by people who don’t understand the university.  Moreover, it is deeply flawed and dangerous as a concept.

Considering the university (or any educational institution) as a marketplace is a false conception.  Comparing the two effectively commodifies ideas and thought.  It introduces, or creates, the idea that we can, or should, simply go shopping for the ideas we like.  This has always been a dangerous idea, but is especially so in the Digital Age.  In an era and culture in which the likes of Alex Jones and Steve Bannon are given the same breadth of audience as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Fareed Zakaria, and in which it is increasingly common to commit character assassination against those with whom one does not agree (ref. the attacks against noted geneticist and food biologist Kevin Folta), conceptualizing thought and ideas as commodities that we can shop for and buy is dangerous.

This concept also creates the false assumption that all ideas are somehow equal and should be given equal weight.

As I tell my students, virtually all theories have potential, but not all theories or ideas are created equal.  The measure of a theory or idea’s strength lies in the evidence that supports it and our ability to test it (and, of course, whether it passes objective testing, often in competition with other ideas and theories).

The university is, and always has been I think, a proving ground for ideas (not a marketplace).  That is, the university is not a place where we shop around for ideas, but a place where we test ideas and theories.  We challenge ideas and try to break them.  Those ideas and theories that fail, we either try to salvage and fix (ex. Linnaean taxonomy), before retesting, or discard if they are unsalvageable (ex. theories of racial supremacy).  Those that survive testing, we keep and teach until such time (if any) that they are supplanted by better supported or more refined theories or ideas.

The misunderstanding of the role of the university is, I think, one reason (of many, and perhaps the most innocuous reason) that universities are criticized so heavily.  Particularly by conservative commentators.  The common refrain from such individuals is a screed again professors “pushing liberal ideology” and “unfairly attacking conservative values” (ex. Creationism).  The reality is that the professors, the university, the proving ground of ideas and theories has considered many conservative ideas and theories, has tested them, and has found that they cracked under the pressure of testing and exposure to competing ideas and theories (ex. natural selection and evolution), therefore they are not taught, because they hold no weight or less weight than their competitors.

Best Laid Plans and All That

I intended to get a post together for Thursday, then the week decided to kick my rear.

An unexpected winter weather day off for the kid threw off the week’s plans. As did some minor setbacks on a home repair project (ceiling light replacement).

Pro Tip: Don’t paint a section of textured ceiling two days before a martial arts rank test. (Biceps are still recovering)

On the upside, 2nd kyu rank test went as well as can be expected, passed with flying colors. Not bad, as it had been nearly eight years since my last test. Just another 90 hours of training (and at least 6 months, probably more like 12) until the next one.

The coming week looks good for normalcy, though we’re expected to get wind chills down to -30F by Wednesday or Thursday. Which means more “winter weather” days off for the kid.

Still writing, doing about five pages of worldbuild notes for every one page of story writing, as usual. And copy-editing an anthology on circus cinema for a friend. Occasionally finding time to prep two classes, too. 😁

Writing Music

Thought I’d pass on some of the stuff I’ve been listening to lately:

First, and the first one I came across, the Indian metal band Bloodywood

“Rang de Basanti” (for Holi)

“Tunak Tunak Tun”

Second, Mongolian metal band The HU, mixing traditional instrumentation and throat singing

“Wolf Totem”

Nine Treasures, Mongolian metal-rock

“Wisdom Eyes”

Hanggai, Mongolian folk rock with punk influences and both ethnically Mongolian and Chinese members


The SIDH, an Italian Celtic dubstep-rock group who’ve played with Lindsey Stirling and others


New Year, New Things

Hi, everyone.

Took a couple weeks off for the holidays and didn’t get as much written as I’d planned. Like that ever happens to anyone, right?

So, 2019 started off a bit mixed.

But, this week the kid went back to school, so writing has been done. Along with some home improvement. Syllabi were written, lesson plans started. Department chair . . . well, the less said there, the better. Suffice to say, every semester needs to begin with at least one SNAFU of some sort.

Slogging through one urban fantasy piece that’s hovering around 18,000 words right now. Not sure how long it will get.

Also had a bit of an epiphany and found I could tie two other projects together. Which has led to a “messy” primary world UF with adjacent secondary worlds. So, lots of world building there. And a ton of story potential.

Also found out last night that I should be testing for 2nd kyu this month. My first rank test in nearly eight years (because of reduced training due to child & work). Woohoo!

Starting next week, I should be back to regular posts.