29 January 2013


Tamela Trauth, 1975 - 2013, R.I.P.

Tamela (Tamie) Trauth was someone with so much love for life that her passing this past Sunday leaves me and many more sad, upset, somewhat adrift. She was someone who, when she was on, had so much downright joy for living that it was hard not to love her. I don't know anyone who knew her who knows of her passing from this life that doesn't have a feeling of loss, of what-the-fuck?, of what a joy it was to know her.

Tamie was one of the 2004 computer engineering program graduates at ERAU, so I met her when she was a junior in my Circuits I class in fall 2002. She, her always companion Shannon Albers, and their friend Todd Sherman were all in that class and its accompanying lab, among others who collectively (I am not supposed to say this) remain in my heart as my favorite bunch of students who ever came through our programs (not that there haven't been other individual students who struck me as smarter, or better students, or more professional). 

It turned out that Tamie and Shannon and Todd—and Brandon Rotavera, who hated circuits, and left the program to do mechanical engineering at UCF before Riddle ever had an ME program, and went on to get his doctorate in ME at Texas A&M—had all taken calculus and physics classes at Daytona State Community College with Mack, so he knew them all first. I kinda sorta remember telling Mack about the day that these two women who had transfered to Riddle from DBCC came to my office hours, one with a clipboard with a big lambda on the back of it, with me saying, "I like that lambda on your clipboard", and then us doing the "You know what that means?" dance. When I was at the University of Memphis, I wasn't a total closet case, but I also had played my cards close to my chest; when we moved to Florida for the ERAU position, we had decided we would be out as a couple among my colleagues on the faculty. I was already a co-advisor to the ERAU LGBT student group, GALBA at the time, so I had an excuse to talk up the lambda to Tamie and Shannon, to invite them to a GALBA meeting, and to come out to them.

Tamie turned out to be an extraordinarily smart young woman in a class that had its share of smart young men. She didn't take any gruff off those swine, to borrow a phrase. She wasn't ashamed of being smart, of wanting to learn, and of wanting, at that time, to become an engineer. I had that cohort, including Tamie and Shannon and Todd, in that Circuits I class, then Circuits II, then Signals and Filters (as it was then called), and then Control Systems. I became the confidant to that group as they went through the two-semester capstone design sequence, the design project for which is all they talked about before and after any of my classes. 

Of course I took special interest in and concern about Tamie and Shannon, since they were so obviously together and part of something. I don't think anyone, in my classes at least, ever thought about giving either of them cheap shit for not conforming to norms. Besides, Tamie would've beaten the shit out of them if they had.

She was athletic! She loved to surf, and she loved to ski. She had already accepted an offer from Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids when she got an offer from a company in Melbourne, Florida. She was concerned about the ethics of punting the Rockwell Collins job so she could stay in Florida and surf. I told her not to worry about it: She hadn't moved, hadn't taken a paycheck yet. 

So she stayed in Florida, at least for a few years. She worked on projects like the Direct TV to the back of the Jet Blue seats and other cool stuff, and she loved it as far as I could tell. Eventually, though, her relationship with her employer turned sour, the house she had bought was way upside down, and she didn't get to spend time in the water like she liked. As much as she and Shannon loved each other—and it was plain and simple to see that they did—a mercurial streak that lived in Tamie made it hard for them to be together. Shannon ended up in Washington state working at Microsoft, then back in Florida working for SAAB, married, secure except for not being able to be with Tamie. Tamie, as was her way, tried to shrug it all off, be hard about it, but she knew she had lost something valuable. Eventually, after her father back in Pittsburgh passed away, Tamie just split her job and split her house and split Shannon and split Florida. 

She went back to Pittsburgh and to the waitressing and bar-tending that she had always loved. Yes she was smart, and yes she was a great engineer, but in many ways I don't think she was ever happy with it. She was happy in that role as barmaid/serving wench. (She shoulda had the gig at Medieval Times: "Hello, I am Tamela, and I will be your wench.") We kept in touch on Facebook, of course. I never really understood why she left, what had led her back to her mom's house. I figured a combination of job dissatisfaction, relationship distress, financial total piss offedness, and a loyalty to her mom (that had always been there).

I didn't know she had been sick over the last year or so until I got a message from Shannon this past Friday saying that Tamie was in the ICU. Stupidly believing in the power of modern medicine, I believed that sometime this week I'd be chatting with Tamie on Facebook, catching up again, finding out what was wrong.

I was wrong. Tamie left this world Sunday morning. I didn't find out until this morning when Shannon changed her Facebook profile pic to one of the two of them together. I checked out Shannon's profile, and I saw the status update from Sunday that Tamie was gone.

Even though they weren't going to be together, Shannon had kept Tamie's interests in her heart, had chatted, had visited. She's up there in Pittsburgh now, with Tamie's mom, trying to help Tamie's mom understand this loss, trying to understand this loss herself.

We all are. It was gut wrenching to find out she was gone. Even though we hadn't been really close in years, we had kept in touch. While I never felt I really knew what was going on with her—from the time we talked before she left Florida to the time we talked when I was in Pittsburgh once—I came to accept that. If it mattered to her to explain anything to me, she would let me know. 

And Tamie didn't have to explain anything to me. She didn't owe me anything. She was so in love with life, so full of joy and energy, so much fun to be around (yeah yeah, excepting the mercurial turn), I still feel lucky to have known her, to have loved her like a father loves a daughter, to have loved her like a brother loves a sister, to have wished nothing but good things for her, to have wished her love, and to be so very very sad that she is gone from this world. But I wouldn't take anything for the joy of having known and loved her. She will always have a special place in my heart. With lots of love, I have to say goodbye, but I don't like it.

Tamie, Shannon, Todd, and me at the 2004 ERAU Commencement.

Tamie, Shannon, Todd, and Jordon Scott at the party Mack and I threw for the 2004 BSCE graduates.

Shannon and Tamie, front, myself and Mack, back, at my 50th birthday party.

05 January 2013


For My Gun Friends

I posted a link to the previous post, "A Conversation on Mental Health and Guns", to Facebook, and got a set of wonderful responses from my Facebook friends there. Many thoughtful replies along several different trains of thoughts. I'm grateful for everyone who took time to write.

I've spent a lot of time since that post trying to absorb what people were saying there, what they were saying elsewhere. I've read a good bit on the subjects, but probably not enough, although I have avoided content from institutional media more than I have blogs of various political stripes. One of the best pieces, one I commend to you all here, is Maggie Koerth-Baker's post at Boing Boing, "What science says about gun control and violent crime". Short answer: a mix.

But there is a salient theme in what she points to: That how our various groups/tribes/cultures think about guns makes having a discussion about them difficult. Since differing attitudes towards guns are a core part of several USAn social, geographical, and political groupings, it's easy for us to talk past each other [1]. The geographical framing is well known to most—the south, as an ensemble, is distinct in its attitudes towards guns from most of the rest of the USA, excepting parts of the southwest—but the individuals who make up various cohorts expressing points of views about guns, gun control, mass shootings, crime, etc., shouldn't be considered easily pigeonholed into one or two tidy packages. Instead, we have to accept the messiness of our several identities and how that means any one person's opinion isn't necessarily the same as what someone lining up for the same proposed policy's is.

That said, let me get where my recent reflection on this issue has left me. In my opinion, arrived at after reading what friends wrote, what I could find online, and driving alone for some good drives, while it makes every bit of sense to me to protect the right of individuals to own guns—handguns, rifles, and shotguns in particular—I can't find that the joy of target practice with a rapid-fire semiautomatic weapon having a high-capacity magazine makes the availability of these weapons justifiable. I do find that in other countries that have adopted policies banning or restricting access to such weapons that the policies have worked as intended: mass shootings stop [2, 3].

What I think ought to happen is that my friends in the gun community ought to entertain this idea: that their and others' access to rapid-fire weapons is the major reason we have mass shootings in this country. I think they also ought to examine the degree to which their Guns! Guns!! Guns!!! attitude is also a big part of that same problem. There is a lot more evidence of moderate Muslims taking down the points of views of radical Islamists than there is of moderate gun owners taking down the shoot-first points of views that are widespread in the USA. Bumper stickers like "Keep honking, I'm reloading" and Facebook memes like "The ammo shortage means there won't be a warning shot" are part of the problem, and my gun friends need seriously to entertain the idea that you, my gun friends, need to publicly tell those people to shut up, that they're part of the problem.

There is a substantial cadre of gun owners in this country that are just bullies. They think they can have their way at everything from whether someone cut them off in traffic to the outcome of political races, if not by whipping out a gun, then by whipping out gun imagery. The kinds of political ads during the 2010 midterm elections, with candidates targeted in sights, isn't something without impact, or those paying for the ads wouldn't put them out there. And one of the impacts is making violence against politicians more likely to happen. Whether the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and folks at her town meeting was directly correlated with those ads doesn't matter to me: I think the implication of those ads that political violence effected with guns is okay is pretty clear.

So, likely to the consternation of my gun friends, I think the onus is on you to reflect on what you can do to make this a country where there is next to negligible likelihood that a bunch of people—citizens at a political meeting, folks at a movie, kids in the first grade—are going to get shot up. If your answer is the same as it's always been—i.e., more guns—then I'm going to take that as face value evidence that you're not reflecting on anything, you're just regurgitating the same thing you've taken as gospel for years and years. I'm sorry, my friends, but it's time for you to have an epiphany that your giving up your access to rapid firing weapons with interchangeable high-capacity magazines is not an infringement on your Second Amendment rights.

Can I help you understand that there are very few of us who are interested in taking away your Second Amendment rights to own the kinds of guns that American's have owned over most of our history? What can I do to get that across to you? What kind of evidence of good will on the part of those of us asking you to give up your access to assault weapons would convince you that no one is coming after handguns, rifles, or shotguns? If you want me to take up a public education campaign among those of us who believe that humans can create tools and by and large use tools wisely—including pistols, rifles, and shotguns—I'm happy to help. Long arms have and will be used for hunting and target practice; people will have revolvers and other pistols for target practice and self defense. Slinging hot lead from a semi-automatic is fun, but it's time to let that go the way of chewing tobacco.

How's this: I'll sign something expressing my support for your Amendment II rights if you'll sign something saying you understand that those rights don't extend to assault weapons.

By the way, this whole business about standing one's ground against tyranny is played out, so you need to give it a rest. The Tom Toles cartoon below captures that about as accurately as I've ever seen. And there's not ever going to be a zombie apocalypse. There's simply no non-military context where you need an assault weapon for safety or freedom, and your desire to access one for fun doesn't justify the kinds of mass killings we've seen too many of. That's all this proposal—ban high-capacity magazines, ban assault weapons, buy back the ones already out there—is determined to address: mass killings of people who had every right to expect that some yahoo wasn't going to shoot them up.

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15 December 2012


A Conversation on Mental Health and Guns

Hi, all.

The events of the last few years, much less the last few weeks, has led me (among others) to the conclusion that we have to have a serious conversation in this country about the kinds of mass killings we've seen all too much of in recent history. So, as my entree into that conversation, I want to put down for all my own history, my own biases, the way I frame this, to the degree such is possible through self reflection.

Yes, self reflection. You know, actually taking a moment to think about your stances, how you got to them, instead of reflexively spouting a story you've told yourself and others a thousand times. Or worse, reflexively spouting someone else's story that you've told yourself and others a thousand times.


[Danny, Gloria, Pam: If I get any of this wrong, y'all please correct me.]

I grew up in a family that had guns. Our dad—I have two older brothers—dabbled in collecting guns. He wasn't a serious collector, but he had friends who were. I don't think anyone would've characterized him as a "gun nut", but I don't think many who had guns would've been characterized as gun nuts back in the 1950s and 1960s. Where I grew up, in rural middle Tennessee, gun ownership was part and parcel of the local culture.

How much of that is tied to a culture that valued hunting and shooting—for food, as cultural legacy, just for the hell of it (out at the churt bank off of Grays Bend Road)—and how much of that is tied to our long national, amplified in the rural south, period of white supremacy, I can't characterize. He died the spring of my senior year in high school, so I never had an adult relationship with him. Relatives have represented to me how much of a racist our dad was, but I don't have recollections of arguing with him about that, and as soon as I got my head out of the Sons of the Confederacy nonsense they tried to indoctrinate me into when I was in the fifth and sixth grades, I ended up pretty much on the political left side of things. We would argue politics, but if we argued race politics, I don't recall it. Maybe I shut it out.

He did hunt. He'd go squirrel hunting locally, and we'd have squirrel for supper every once in a while. He once went pheasant hunting in South Dakota; don't recall what the outcome of that was. He'd hunt sometimes with our Uncle Vernon: his and Vernon's friend, Joe B. Pitts, of Cerro Gordo, Tennessee, on the Tennessee River, was the collector and trader of note. He ran a general store, but it was also a local place where people traded guns.

So, our dad had guns: There was a nice gun cabinet we had with our guns in it. Want to say it was made of redwood, with a glass door on the upper part where the rifles and shotguns were. It was locked, but we all knew where the key was. One of those guns was my 22-caliber rifle, although I didn't get to shoot it until I was older, and by then I wasn't very interested. I don't remember the gauges and calibers. Shotgun shells and bullets in one of the drawers. I want to think there was at least one pistol in the other drawer. Cleaning stuff down below. 

He also had a pistol he kept in his and our mom's (He was "Daddy", but she was "Mother": go figure that one out) bedroom, probably in the night stand on his side of the bed, but maybe in a draw in a short cabinet in their room. He also kept one—at least one, maybe more—in his office at his factory. (He was in the garment business. We made ponchos for the Army during the War in Viet Nam, as I've told elsewhere.)

Both at home and at work, there was also booze. His drink of choice was Very Old Barton, which I have learned might be the best damned bourbon for its price, but he would also drink vodka straight out of a small orange juice glass. These days, we'd probably characterize him as pretty much a functioning alcoholic. 

But he did drink to excess at times. I mean, way the hell, over the top, excess. Both in degree and in time. I can recall our mom going and looking for him after he'd been missing for at least a day at least once. Maybe it was more times.

He wasn't necessarily a fun drunk, although at the time, I 'm not sure I even realized that he was drunk sometimes. When I was in the seventh grade, he and my oldest brother Danny yelled at each other a lot.  It made me uncomfortable. Around the same time, I found letters my brother Ray had sent from his one year in military school. A light bulb went off in my head, and I decided I could go to military school.

I researched places that advertised in Boy's Life, and ended up going not to military school, but to a prep school in Florida called Florida Central Academy. Before the school year started, my mom mad plans for her and me to make a road trip across Tennessee and North Carolina to the Outer Banks, and then we would drive down through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to Daytona Beach, then back home to get ready to head off to school. Both my brothers were too old to think they would enjoy that kind of trip. I don't know if it was business or something going on between my folks that led to my dad not making that trip.

We stopped in Oak Ridge (nuclear stuff!), Gatlinburg (tourist stuff!), Raleigh (the Holiday Inn has a pool!). We drove to the Outer Banks and saw the obelisk at Kitty Hawk and National Park Service displays about the first powered flight. The Outer Banks were so different than the beaches I had seen in Florida. Tall dunes, no beach driving. It was cloudy and damp and remote from tourists and commercialism: what kind of beach is this?

We drove past and stopped at the site of the Lost Settlement, I think. We made our way to New Bern, North Carolina, for the night. In the middle of the night, the phone rang, and I was our family friend, Nina Harney. She had been trying to find us, and calling motels in towns in North Carolina until she did. I remember getting a glass of water for my mom while she was on the phone, because it was clear from her side of the conversation and her body language—did she blanch, too?—that something awful had happened. 

When she hung up the phone, she turned to me and said "Your daddy has shot Danny."

And he had. If Danny is comfortable with it, he can fill in the details from his point of view, but I want to say he took a bullet in the right leg above the knee. From what gun, I'm not sure. Yes, Daddy was drunk. If I understand correctly, in a replay of a story that as old as the Bible (see drunken Noah well after all the flood stuff), Danny was trying to get drunk Daddy to go to bed. I don't really know enough to tell the story accurately, but that's my memory of it. Our brother Ray was there, and I know he's told it to me before, too, but it's not something we talked about a lot.

Talking about it would've probably killed our mom to the same degree as Daddy having shot Danny in the first place. She did not want to talk about it; she didn't want to talk about emotional things, period. She and I drove I-40 all the way from its then eastern terminus to back home. I don't recall a word being said.

Danny was in the hospital, but was going to be fine. The local prosecutor had found a way not to prosecute our dad, but I kind of remember there was a story in the local paper about it. Our mom moved into the guest room for an extended period; our dad went on the wagon for an extended period.

A few weeks later, I went off to prep school. Our dad drove me down here to Florida in the Fleetwood sedan he had bought her the day Robert Kennedy was shot. We had a black woman who cleaned for us—a colored girl, in the language of the times—and I can remember her waking me up that morning after Sirhan Sirhan had assassinated RFK, saying "they got our man." I hated that car. We had a blowout somewhere around Cullman, Alabama, and our dad, in his typical over-the-top pissed-off way, had all the tires on the car replaced. He dropped me off at the school the next day, and I was ready to begin a life that was far away from those crazy people that were all I knew, that I loved, but that I had no idea how to be happy around.

That was summer 1969, the summer of love. The White Album was out, and songs off of it pervaded the radio in the car. "Birthday". "Obla-di, Obla-da". "Helter Skelter". I wanna say the Tate-LaBianca murders happened while our mom and I were on that road trip. Crazy times to be alive. Crazy times to grow up. Crazy places, crazy times.

I was anti-gun for a good while after that. There was no joy in guns for me. 

Later, much later (when I went back to college in 1982), I took pistol for a phys ed class. I learned the joy of hurling hot lead at high velocities from a hand-held object. I took the class to deal with the biases I knew I had about guns. Since then, my relationship with guns has been much more complicated and nuanced.

I have friends who love guns; I have friends who hate guns. I don't own any guns, but it's more out of not wanting the hassle of having guns, not because of any now deep-seated aversion.

I am skeptical that arming everyone would work. I am skeptical that you can disarm this nation. Still, if you can't see the data that other countries with more restrictive access to firearms actually do have much—very much—lower rates of violent crime, then you are not paying attention to reality as it is. That is, gun control is very much able to reduce the rate of violent crime. 

I think we all have to look out for our own and each others' civil liberties, but I think people who construct frameworks about the government coming for their guns because governments are intrinsically evil are goofy. Our great democratic-republic is nothing like the state systems of Russia or China during the Communist heyday, nor like the Nazis or other fascist states. People who are looking for totalitarian overlords of the left or the right in the US system are not well-connected to reality in my opinion. 

That said, I think our attractions towards libertarianism are understandable, maybe even innate, since most of us just want to be left alone. My own thinking, though, is that without big government, you give everything up to big business and big finance, especially with the decline of big labor. If you make me choose between big business/big finance and big government, I'll take big government. The latter represents us all; the former represents the interests of shareholders, possibly non-US national shareholders.

The gun manufacturers are a part of big business.


There are multiple players in our national story of mental health and guns:
  • People with mental health problems; i.e., all of us. Of course, while almost all of us have acute mental health issues at isolated points in our lives, a lot of us (and I don't know the numbers) have longer term situations related to our emotional health, ability to cope, our feelings regarding how we fit in in the world, our being able to get motivated to do anything. 
  • Mental health care professionals: Counsellors, shrinks, nurses, doctors, and the like.
  • Advocates for people with mental health problems: This cohort is all over the place, no? Some advocates want people who can't cope institutionalized; other want people who can marginally cope, deinstitutionalized. The forces of deinstitutionalization have been more effective in determining policy at federal, state, and local levels over the past few decades than the forces of institutionalization. And there was a time when there was over-institutionalization, but there have also been plenty of people in positions of authority—statutory and regulatory authority—who have erred on the side of deinstitutionalization based on the idea that it's cheaper, not on the idea that it's either more human or more effective at treating people with emotional disease.
  • Gun owners who hunt.
  • Gun owners who collect but never shoot.
  • Gun owners who like to hurl hot lead at high velocities from a hand-held or arm-held device.
  • Gun owners who like having a gun because they think it protects them. I'm not sure of the efficacy of gun ownership at protection overall or on its impact on overall crime rates (and these ought to be something that can be measured), but I enjoy a good "granny shot a burglar" story as much as the next person. 
  • Gun owners who like having a gun because they think it makes their criminal activities or enterprises more effective. As with the above, not sure of the degree to which reality co-relates with their beliefs.
  • Gun owners who have a gun for one of the above purposes, but get their gun stolen and see it used for some other purpose. Mack still never got that Ruger he bought that got stolen before I met him back.
  • Gun manufacturers.
  • Organizations that represent gun interests. Here's my take on this: The NRA once represented the interests of gun owners, primarily hunters and sport shooters, but it became the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers. Our dad was a lifetime member of the NRA, and after he died and after we sold off the factory, I had The American Rifleman delivered to my dorm address at MIT. Like I noted above, I loved "The Armed Citizen" column. Who wouldn't? But I think that, contrary to what most of its members think, the NRA uses its members, underlyingly representing the gun manufacturers. This was cemented when Charlton Heston was its president: The marketing says "we represent gun owners", but if you look at who truly benefits from the policies supported by the NRA, it's not gun owners, it's gun manufacturers. So, I don't think the NRA can be an honest participant in this discussion, as much as many of you who are members would like to think so. This is entirely parallel to people who vote Republican on values issues, even though the agenda of the Republican party is, at its heart, to represent the interests of rich people. (This is why I was looking up Izzy Stone last night, because I can remember him saying something about the NRA and how it once represented gun owners, but came to represent gun manufacturers.)
  • People who don't like guns for any of a variety of reasons. I was one of these people once.
  • Police who would rather not have to deal with so many damned guns.
  • Politicians who try to respond to all the competing interest groups. The ones who seem to have been most effective at this recently are two recent Senators from New York, now Secretary of State Clinton and her successor, Senator Gillebrand. On the gun side, they have to represent strong rural gun-owning hunting constituencies as well as urban constituencies that are concerned about guns being used against them by criminals.
  • I'm sure I've left some out.
  • Clearly, this is complicated. 


I've already stated some of them, but here's a list: Big government doesn't freak me out the way it does some of you. Mental health advocates and gun advocates may have other agendas than the best intests of those impacted by emotional disease or of those who own guns. A lot of people who once might've used guns in the commission of crimes—disproportionately economically disadvantaged males of black or brown color—have been locked up under the auspicies of drug laws that are ridiculous. People can still buy guns of various sizes and shapes without background checks, meaning that folks from those with criminal records to terrorists to those under emotional distress can legally buy guns through various channels entirely legally without getting scrutinized.

Adult citizens of the United States of America ought to be able to buy guns for some of the reasons listed above: to hunt, as a hobby, for the sheer joy of shooting. Adults who aren't experiencing emotional or mental problems—and alcoholism, as per my tale above, is a mental problem—can manage to own a gun and use it properly. 

Even with proper training, people with firearms are less effective in a shooting situation than they fantasize themselves to be. Again, I love the granny shot the home intruder stories, but in shooting situations, even cops tend to shoot innocent bystanders. The idea that people who own a gun for self protection, go to the range every so often, and even practice certain situations are going to be effective when a mentally disturbed person with a semi-automatic weapon starts shooting in a close environment is going to be able to take out the shooter is a farce. It's laughable. It's a fantasy that the NRA has sold to a bunch of people so that the manufacturers can sell more guns

The mental health side of the story doesn't get nearly the attention it should. Media interests know that stories about guns, controversies about guns, sell newspapers more than stories about our national lack of attention to mental health does. 

Moving Forward

Since we're probably not going to make much progress on the gun side of things—gun ownership, for whatever reasons, is deeply intrenched in our culture—maybe we can make progress on the mental health side of things. Again, I don't think the argument that government can't be effective at gun control is true, since there are examples aplenty contrary to that. Whether those would work given where we are today is another question, as too is whether those scale for a large continental nation that's not under single-party control. (And do not start with me with your "both parties are the same" nonsense.)

For instance, maybe it's time to recognize that the deinstitutionalization of long-term mentally ill patients, begun under President Carter and adopted gladly by President Reagan, was wrong. Maybe institutions can better care for people sadly afflicted with such problems than their families can (and since many of their families can't, with better results than the sad, violent lives many of these folks live as homeless people). Maybe it's time to ensure that our national health priorities better recognize the emotional health, our own and that of those we love, those we live near. 

Maybe the single most effective thing we can do in a shorter run is make progress toward the destigmatization of emotional health matters. Responsibility, for critters like us that do make choices (although not always be the mechanisms we claim we make them by) is important, but don't we have to get away from the idea that people can will away their emotional problems? 

I've got to stop here; this is too long already. We have got to talk this out this time, though. The gun ownership cohort has got to understand that a goodly part of those of us who don't own guns are fed up with mass killings by unstable individuals with access to guns. Those who don't like guns need to give up on their simplistic ideas about making guns go away. Can't we all agree to work on the shameful state of our national response towards mental health matters as a start.

Good wishes to all.

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04 December 2012


Letter to Congressman Mica re "Fiscal Cliff"

3 December 2012

The Honorable John Mica
2187 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, District of Columbia 20515

Dear Representative Mica:

I write to support President Obama’s proposals regarding avoiding the austerity measures that take effect with the start of calendar year 2013.

The President’s proposal, as originally presented to congressional leadership and relayed to Congress with details by Secretary Geithner, is consistent with the fiscal priorities the President campaigned and was re-elected on: Avoid a tax-rate increase on working people; let tax rates rise on capital gains and those making over $250,000; return the threshold for estate taxes to one-million dollars from five million; tax reform to address loopholes; protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Those measures generate $1.6 trillion in revenue and $400 billion in savings over the next ten years. The GOP alternative—proposed cuts to safety-net programs—have nowhere near that kind of deficit reduction impact; it again places the burden on people who work, who have gotten the short end of the stick over the last several decades.

You and your GOP colleagues have the opportunity to do what the American people have said through the ballot box that they want: work with the President to achieve a responsible national agenda. No more games with the debt ceiling; no more sequestration instead of responsibility; no more party of no. And you personally have the opportunity to show again your leadership within your party by getting on the right side of the American public and of history.


Timothy A. Wilson

02 December 2012


Presidential Biographies: Washington through Buchanan

Here's the start of the long-promised bibliography for my presidential biography reading. All links to Amazon. Full disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a meager subsidy if you purchase any of the books by following the links below.

No. Start End President Born Died Biography
1 30 APR 1789 4 MAR 1797 George Washington 22 FEB 1732 14 DEC 1799 Flexner, John Thomas, Washington: The Indispensable Man, Back Bay Books, 1994
24 MAR 17974 MAR 1801John Adams30 OCT 17354 JUL 1826McCullough, David, John Adams, Simon and Shuster, 2001
34 MAR 18014 MAR 1809Thomas Jefferson14 APR 17434 JUL 1826Ellis, Joseph J., American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Vintage, 1998
44 MAR 18094 MAR 1817James Madison16 MAR 175128 JUN 1836Ketcham, Ralph, James Madison: A Biography, University of Virginia Press, 1990
54 MAR 18174 MAR 1825James Monroe28 APR 17584 JUL 1831Ammon, Harry, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (Signature Series), American Political Biography Press, 1998
64 MAR 18254 MAR 1829John Quincy Adams11 JUL 176723 FEB 1848Nagel, Paul, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life, Harvard University Press, 1999
74 MAR 18294 MAR 1837Andrew Jackson15 MAR 17678 JUN 1845Brands, H. W., Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, Anchor, 2006
84 MAR 18374 MAR 1841Martin Van Buren4 DEC 178224 JUL 1862Niven, John, Martin Van Buren : The Romantic Age of American Politics (Signature Series), American Political Biography Press, 2000
9 4 MAR 1841 4 APR 1841 William Henry Harrison 9 FEB 1773 4 APR 1841 Cleaves, Freeman, Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time, American Politcal Biography Press, 1990
10 4 APR 1841 4 MAR 1845 John Tyler 29 MAR 1790 18 JAN 1862 Chitwood, Oliver P., John Tyler: Champion of the Old South, American Politcal Biography Press, 1990
11 4 MAR 1845 4 MAR 1849 James K. Polk 2 NOV 1795 15 JUN 1849 Borneman, Walter R., Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, Random House, 2008.
12 4 MAR 1849 9 JUL 1850 Zachary Taylor 24 NOV 1784 9 JUL 1850 Bauer, K. Jack, Zachary Taylor : Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest, Louisiana State University Press, 1993
13 9 JUL 1850 4 MAR 1853 Millard Fillmore 7 JAN 1800 8 MAR 1874 Rayback, Robert J., Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President, American Political Biography Press, 1992
14 4 MAR 1853 4 MAR 1857 Franklin Pierce 23 NOV 1804 8 OCT 1869 Wallner, Peter A., Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son, Plaidswede Publishing, 2004
Wallner, Peter A., Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union, Plaidswede Publishing, 2007
15 4 MAR 1857 4 MAR 1861 James Buchanan 23 APR 1791 1 JUN 1868 Klein, Philip S., President James Buchanan: A Biography, American Political Biography Press, 1995

More to come as I take time to update. I'm currently rereading the first volume of Edmund Morris's three-volume set on Theodore Roosevelt.

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04 November 2012


Performance Review: The Who

The Who
Quadrophenia Tour
Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mack and I went to see The Who last night at the still newish Amway Center in Orlando.

Background: The Who are one of the few bands that have mattered to me for a long time. Tommy was one of the first LPs I ever bought (at some little record store in Lakeland, Florida, to try to play through this RCA reel-to-reel tape deck (standard two-channel quarter-track quarter-inch dealie) I had conned my dad into buying me (at some home furnishings store in Leesburg, Florida, earlier that same winter of 1971 (I think))). (The ghost of Lowell George celebrates my having closed all parentheses properly.) (Yes, I was a doofus about electronics at the time: The r2r wanted line levels in, but my turntable had a magnetic cartridge, so the level was a factor of 100 or more too low.) Spent that late winter of 1971, a freshman in high school, listening to Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar over and over and over again on the headphone output of that tape deck. (Dammit! Not supposed to reference things at the outer level introduced at an inner level. Bad scoping.)

Who's Next came a year or so later, leading to a world where you could hear ``Won't Get Fooled Again'' on the same daily basis as ``Stairway to Heaven''. When I was a senior in high school,  Quadrophenia was released, and I spent many hours both listening to it—by then I had gotten a receiver with a real phono preamplifier, and I could blast it on the stereo—and playing tunes from it on the piano. I still have the well-worn songbook.

As with much of a young man's fancy, taste changed, and my intense interest in The Who waned but never vanished. Many phases followed: Yes and ELP, Todd Rundgren (say it like Beavis), King Crimson (had had a Record Club of America pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King from some time in high school, but that interest didn't really take off until I got a copy of Larks' Tongues in Aspic), followed after dropping out of college with a turn into punk and new wave. Over the years I never really became aware of many opportunities to see The Who, and after the disappointments of live arena performances by Yes and Jethro Tull, I just didn't crave humongous rock shows like I might have just a few years earlier.

Still, when I back in college in Boston and visiting a friend in Queens for the weekend one summer, I was very disappointed when he said, ``You wouldn't have wanted to go see The Who at Giants' Stadium, would you? A friend needed to sell his tickets, but I didn't think you'd want to go.'' (So disappointed. Yes, we had seen Minutemen and Black Flag and the Hüskers in club scenes—and numerable Zappa shows at disparate locales—but that didn't mean I wouldn't want to go see The Who. Really, dude, what were you thinking? The Who? Not go see The Who?)

I came to realize that of all the big name acts, The Who was the one that I wanted to see. (If you ask me ``Beatles or Stones?'' I always answer, ``The Who''.)

So, when another friend posted on Facebook a few months ago about buying tix to take his kids to see The Who perform Quadrophenia in Nashville, I was like, ``The Who are on tour? Can I still get tickets?'' And, yes, I could still get tickets, which is how we ended up at the show last night.

I enjoyed it tremendously. The backing musicians were great, including two horn players and three keyboardists. Pino Palladino admirably covered the bass parts, and Simon Townsend, Pete's brother, played guitar and sang. Zak Starkey, Ringo's son, was just great on drums, copping the Moon feel and groove. Roger Daltrey has likely seen better days as a singer, but the crowd covers for him when he can't hit the high notes anymore. (He may never be able to hit those high notes again, but we hear them whether he hits them or not.) His and Pete Townsend's stage presences are both solid professionals, old guys who've done this a zillion times. Does it lack a certain spontaneity? Sure. Are they consumate showmen, Roger whirling the mike around (no wireless anywhere, as far as I could tell), Pete still doing the windmill and crunching out thick waves of sound on any one of a dozen guitars? Absolutely.

Here's some photos I shot with my iPhone and posted in this set on Flickr.

The Who: Pete
Pete, during ``The Real Me'' (I think).

The Who: Roger
Roger, during ``The Real Me'' (I think).

The Who: Moon
Keith Moon (!) posthumously singing ``Bell Boy'' by the magic of video. 

Not only did Moon sing, there was also a bass-drums duet, with prerecorded posthumous bass performance by John ``Ox'' Entwistle and the resourceful and wonderful aforementioned Zak Starkey.

For an idea of how guys who've been playing together for a long time, have worn themselves out many times over, sound today, here's a video of the band, with Roger and Pete trading lyrics on ``Helpless Dancer''. Okay, ``sound today'' is probably generous, because of the audio quality.

I think we also have to keep in mind that this is only the second show of the tour. Given what I heard about how the Sunrise show on Thursday night went, I would expect that this means even better shows in the days ahead.

Roger Daltrey put together the accompanying video features with the songs. The montage during ``The Rock'' took us from Mods and Rockers to Free Pussy Riot. Quadrophenia became not timeless, but a multigenerational artifact. It's not just the story of Jimmy and his leapers and his scooter: It's the story of anyone who ever wanted to fit into her or his times as they were changing, as she or he couldn't deal with family, as intimacies were allowed and denied. A very thoughtful framing.

After finishing the performance of Quadrophenia and dismissing the larger ensemble except for Chris Stainton on keys, the band played several more tunes, including ``Baba O'Reiley'', ``The Kids are Alright'', ``Who Are You?'', and ``Won't Get Fooled Again'' (including Roger reminding everyone to vote).

The Who
``Won't Get Fooled Again''.

The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again
More ``Won't Get Fooled Again''.

After that, Roger and Pete stayed on to sing one more tune, the beautiful, thoughtful ``Tea and Theater''.

Will you have some tea

After theatre with me?

We did it all - didn't we?

Jumped every wall - instinctively
Unravelled codes - ingeniously
Wired all the roads - so seamlessly

We made it work

But one of us failed
That makes it so sad
A great dream derailed

One of us gone

One of us mad
One of us, me
All of us sad

All of us sad - lean on my shoulder now

The story is done - 's getting colder now
A thousand songs - still smoulder now
We played them as one - we're older now

All of us sad

All of us free
Before we walk from the stage
Two of us
Will you have some tea?
Will you have some tea
At the theatre with me?

Two old men, singing rock and roll, friends after many fights, performers together, shared history as a force not to be dismissed. Made me think of  ``History Lesson, Part II''.

If you can't tell, I'm really glad I finally got to see The Who. If your criteria is that they ought to sound in voice and attitude like they did when they were all young men, then you would likely be disappointed to see this show. But if you are interested in those who've had success, have maintained  credibility and integrity, have survived losses, and have lived and shared their creative spirit with millions over the years—and are doing so again for whatever reason (maybe they need the money)—then you'd probably enjoy this show. Most human-sized arena rock show I've ever been to, because of an intimate partnership between two creative souls.

Long live rock. Long live Roger and Pete. Long live The Who.

19 October 2012


My Scouting Experience

Earlier today, I posted a link to this New York Times article about the Boy Scouts, how they had protected Scoutmasters who preyed on boys. Here's what I wrote there:
More people need to understand how for generations institutions like the Boy Scouts, the Roman Catholic Church, prep schools, and sports programs have protected men in their organizations who prey on boys. Leadership in those institutions has not only protected the abusers, it also has worked to ensure that there are roadblocks that prevent out-of-the-closet gay men from advancing within those groups.

The abusers are overwhelmingly not gay men: Outside the ostensibly celibate priests, most of them are in traditional heterosexual marriages, and they are not at the same time seeking emotional or sexual relations with a same-sex someone else of legal age. They are using positions of power to fulfill their own effed-up wants, leaving behind boys who became men unfairly burdened with overcoming emotional scars they shouldn't have. There's no evidence that gay men who are out of the closet have the same history of preying on boys and teens as these ostensibly normal creeps do.

It's understandable that the victims of these abuses would focus on the perpetrators, but we collectively need to step back and see that at a cultural and political level, the institutional stances of organizations like the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts are intimately tied to cultures of abuse of boys by men using the power that comes with their roles in those organizations. We need to rein in the power of those institutions: Instead of letting them set the tone for moral discussions, we need to send them to the cultural dog house for a generation or two until they can demonstrate that they've changed their ways.

Here's my personal reasons for having strong feelings about this.

I was briefly in the Boy Scouts back in my hometown of Centerville, Tennessee, during fall of 1967. I was in the 6th grade at the time. I had previously been, off and on, a Cub Scout, largely because our mom was, off and on, a Den Mother. I don't recall the pack number or the troop number, but this was the Boy Scout troop that met in the basement of the Methodist Church on Monday nights.

Let's be realistic: I wasn't the most butch sixth grader in the world. I was what I think is pretty typical for one category of proto gay men at that age: Minimal interest or success in sports, played the piano, sang in the church choir, liked to read books, liked being in the kitchen, liked to play games, liked movies and TV shows. I was in 4-H for photography and electrical stuff, and I didn't object to playing outside with friends -- almost all boys -- making up sci-fi scenarios that usually ended in imagined death, dismemberment, and planetary annihilation, but we didn't play touch football or baseball. Most of our little gang were well on the path to being band fags (of the true homo variety), and I was a pretty soft compared to the ideal boy on his path to manhood.

But I wanted to do Boy Scouts because friends from school were doing Boy Scouts. And our dad had gotten himself into some kind of role as lead for fundraising for, I think, the entire Middle Tennessee Council. So I went to the Monday night meetings, learned to tie some knots, read the Scouting Handbook for the juicy parts about wet dreams and masturbation, etc.

Some time that fall, there was a Camporee held over at a park in Waynesboro. Not sure of the regional extent of troops invited, but it was a big gathering. For those of you who might remember, this was the Camporee where David Patton got bit by a black widow spider and had to be taken to the emergency room. Also, people went swimming downward of the Waynesboro sewer treatment plant and discovered leeches in the water. It was already too cold to be swimming if I recall, but I was tempted until I heard about the leeches. The spider thing didn't bother me.

The Camporee was two nights, I think: Friday and Saturday. (The internal timing of that weekend is a unclear to some extent, but I remember getting home on Sunday morning and being exhausted.) It was already getting dark when we got there on Friday, so I think that night we just ate some kind of supper -- hot dogs? beanie weenies? -- and crashed after setting up camp. I remember digging a trench around the tent I shared with Rusty Bates, and I think it rained that night.

Saturday was Scout stuff: The thing I remember is some reconnoitering and estimating the height of a telephone pole. I wish I had better memories of the rest of that day.

That night, the older boys in our troop took the younger boys on a so-called snipe hunt. Yeah yeah, standard hazing. They took us out onto a woody hill on the side of Hurricane Creek, gave us a bag, told us to wait for snipe, left us, etc. No flashlight, no nothing. Each of us solo from the rest.

Okay, maybe the more butch thing to have done would've been to stumble down the hill in the darkness, but what the hell did I know. I was alone, at night, on a hill, in the dark, with a bag. I wasn't going nowhere. I knew the snipe part was bullshit, but the message had been to be quiet or else.

I'm not sure how long I waited. I remember Bill McDonald finally coming and retrieving me. Everyone thought it was a good laugh, and it didn't bother me. I could've stayed out there all night.

But it was clear to me that this was not something that was to be reported to anyone else. It wasn't made explicit, but the vibe was that this stays within the troop.

Later that night, just like the night before, the bigger boys and the Scoutmaster stayed up. I wanna say there was an open-sided tent with several Coleman lanterns shining. I had never seen Coleman lanterns before, and they were so bright. I came to understand somehow that the Scoutmaster had Playboys for the bigger boys to look at. There was a lot of laughing and fun coming from the area around the Scoutmaster's tent. Was there beer, too? I don't know.

Like I said, we got back Sunday morning, and I was exhausted. I slept the rest of that day. The following day was the troop meeting, and I didn't want to go. It was one of the few times I can remember butting heads with my father. He was embarrassed that his son didn't want to go to Scouts when he was raising money for them. I knew I wasn't supposed to tell of the snipe hunt or of the boys staying up with the Scoutmaster looking at dirty magazines. I just said I wanted to say home and watch "Laugh In" instead, but what I really wanted was just not to go to Scouts. I thought the whole operation was bogus, and I didn't like how I was treated, but I couldn't articulate that.

Years later, if I recall correctly, said Scoutmaster was arrested, tried, and sentenced for exactly the kind of behavior one might think a grown man sharing horndog material with teenage boys might be geared to lead to. I am not sure if this recollection is accurate, and I don't see any value in trying to name names.

A few years after that, the Centerville Church of Christ stood up its own Boy Scout troop. I hope and presume that troop didn't have the kinds of issues I recall. I never heard of such.

No big summary here, but I've had my doubts about the Scouts ever since that Camporee. It's not hard to imagine that others similarly disposed but better geared towards organizational leadership as that Scoutmaster could rise to power within the organization and lead the organization toward protecting the abusers. Given what I know of the sexual peccadilloes of Scouting's founder (regardless of how he was portrayed by Fred McMurray), maybe it had been that way forever.

Scouting needs to quit blaming gay men for its troubles. It needs to stop throwing out gay scouts. It needs to be completely open about how it's been protecting sexual predators, possibly forever, instead of fighting court cases about such. Otherwise, it has no credibility with this one.

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