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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