Why are articles about gun studies so wretched?!

I teach a couple of credit-bearing courses here in Camelot on finding and evaluating resources–critical thinking. With students accessing things electronically, based largely on key words and meta data they lose all of the context of the article.  When was it published? What was it published in?  What kind of a publication is it? What are the credentials of the author?  What (if any) bias?  What else was going on at the time? For example, reading an article in The Observer on free speech on campus that references the U of Chicago’s letter is a pretty strong clue that you ought know what that article is about.  Ditto the whole Yale Halloween bizarre controversy.

The information literacy framework has some great concepts, authority is contextual, scholarship as a conversation and so on.  Scholarship IS a conversation but so is responsible citizenship.  One of the exercises I have my students do every term is to read 4-5 articles that all talk about the same study.  They then need to identify and find the study and evaluate the articles.  Which (if any) accurately represented the findings?  Which (if any) have distorted it beyond recognition.  I use gun ownership research as the topic because frankly it’s very easy to find good, bad and whackadoodle responses to the studies. In fact it’s way too easy to find whackadoodle responses.

This is the week when the students work through the exercise in class.  I came across a reference to “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms” Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey.”  I’d give you the link but it’s been down and the research is due to be published this fall.  A special BIG thank you to the lead investigator, Dr. Deborah Azrael   who very (!) graciously sent me a copy for classroom use when I told her about the assignment.   Here’s the sentence from the report “Put another way, one half of the gun stock (~130 million guns) is owned by approximately 86 percent of gun owners, while the other half is owned by 14 percent of gun owners (14 percent of gun owners equals million adults of 3 percent of the adult US population).”  It’s not even in the conclusion, it’s one sentence in the discussion on page 7 of a 34 page report.    Here’s how Zero Hedge reported it “The Obama Gun “Super Owner”–New Study finds 50% of Guns Owned by Just 3% of Population”     If you follow that link you’ll see it has the report, or most of it but it doesn’t tell you that it’s not the complete report.  Guns America says “Study Targets Obama “Super Owner”  Now,  I’ve read the study three times and ran a word search on it.  The term super owner never appears nor does any reference to the presidency, this was added later in articles about the study.  And targeting? Not a hint of anything other than how this MIGHT be used to reduce suicide.

Yeah, those articles are in the whackadoodle category.  Before you decide I’m one of those damned liberals that only support liberal speech, read my “I’m offended, well so f*cking what?” post.  These writers don’t mention the study findings on the rise of female gun purchasers, they don’t mention the slight drop in gun ownership, they don’t mention the drop in long gun sales that seems to correspond to the drop in hunting.  It’s all about finding something to be threatened by and that, my fellow Americans, is bat crap crazy if you actually go back to the study.

The Obama super owner idea comes in by looking at the number of guns added in connection with elections.  The following table is an excerpt from the study itself, the headings reworded  slightly for readability on this platform. The original chart begins with 1899-1945 as a single number and appears on pages 21-22 of the report.  I chose start with 1999, the year of the Columbine school shootings.

Yes, there is a correlation between gun sales and politics, people motivated by fear (and zero understanding of the process required to amend the constitution) do tend to make purchases or decide not to purchase in anticipation of or, reaction to election results.  2017 has seen a fall in sales post Trump, though interesting people afraid of Trump e.g. LGBT and POC have increased. BTW stocks, react rather the same way–uncertain outcome stocks fall, certainty and stocks rise.

But is Obama the only explanation? It seems unlikely, especially given that in 2013 with the largest increase in gun sales the legislative branch had a Republican majority. Let’s go back to that contextual information literacy threshold.  In addition to the basic numbers from the report I added in mass shootings and advances in social media to give additional context.  There is no legal definition of mass murder that I was able to find but an FBI report on Serial Murder describes it as “a number of murders (four of more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. These events typically involved a single location, where the killer murdered a number of victims in an ongoing incident…” When you look at when the accelerated growth in guns added it’s after Myspace, FaceBook, Twitter were all available.  The ability to spread news, rumors, fears etc. easily, widely and freely seems to be a fairly significant motivating force for gun acquisition; the study states that 76% of handgun owners cited protection and personal safety as the reason they have a gun .

Sources for shootings:

Year                               Millions of Guns Added      Δ           Adjusted (guns gone)

1999                                            261                                 5                                        201

  • Columbine (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 13 killed)
  • Atlanta (Mark Orrin Barton, 9 killed)
  • Wedgwood Baptist (Larry Gene Ashbrook, 7 killed)
  • Honolulu (Bryan Uyesugi, 7 killed)

2000                                            265                                 4                                        203

  • Edgewater Technology (Michael McDermott, 7 killed)

2001                                            270                                 5                                        206

2002                                            274                                 4                                        208

2003                                            279                                 5                                        211

  • My Space launched
  • Meridian, Ms  (Doug Williams, 5 killed)

2004                                            284                                 5                                        214

  • FaceBook launched

2005                                            289                                 5                                        217

  • Red Lake Indian Reservation (Jeffrey Weise, 9 killed)

2006                                            295                                6                                        220

  • Twitter launched
  • Goleta Ca. mail processing center (Jennifer San Marco, 6 killed)
  • Nickle Mines  (Charles Roberts, 5 killed)

2007                                             301                                6                                        224

  • Omaha shopping mall (Robert Hakins, 8 killed)
  • Virginia Tech (Seung-Hui Cho, 32 killed)
  • Salt Lake City shopping mall (Sulejman Talvoic, 5 killed)

2008                                             308                                7                                        229

  • Northern Illinois University (Steven Kazmierczak, 5 killed)

2009                                             316                                8                                         235

  • American Civic Association (Jiverly Wong, 13 killed)
  • Fort Hood (Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 13 killed)

2010                                             325                                 9                                        241

  • Manchester, Connecticut (Omar Thornton, 8 killed)

2011                                             334                                 9                                        248

  • Tuscon mass shooting (Jared Lee Loughner, 6 killed)

2012                                             347                                13                                       258

  • Sandy Hook (Adam Lanza, 26 killed, mother also killed)
  • Accent Signage Systems (Andrew Engeldinger, 6 killed)
  • Aurora Colorado (James Holmes, 12 killed)
  • Oak Creek Wisconsin (Wade Page, 6 killed)
  • Oikos University (One Goh, 7 killed)

2013                                             364                                16                                        272

  • Santa Monica College (John Zawahri, 5 killed)
  • Washington Navy Yard (Aaron Alexis, 12 killed)

Of course there were many more shootings but I’ve only listed those with 4 or more deaths exclusive of the shooter in keeping with the FBI definition.  I’ve also listed only the number killed, not the number wounded.

Gun sales also spike after mass shootings and in response to change in state initiatives. Bloomberg’s 2016 report post the Pulse nightclub shootings shows surges in gun sales in relationship to changes in state laws.

From my research the pattern seems clear. Mass shootings plus mass media results in outrage and calls for restrictions on guns. Social media magnifies the outrage and fear. Calls for restrictions on guns drives gun sales.  Certainly the party in control of Federal law is part of the discussion but in no way is it the complete explanation. To talk about ‘Obama super owners’ lacking any other environmental context is a serious mistake.

So, why are articles about gun studies so terrible?  Because they lack all nuance, they lack all context, they assume that their readers are incapable of reasoning beyond ‘this option good’ and ‘this option bad.’  Given the rhetoric of the 2016 election, they might be right.

Drinking from skulls, bathing suit edition

Mrs. Slocombe (Are You Being Served) was known to say “the things you see when you don’t have a gun.”  Not PC but it’s a phrase that has come in handy–like when I had to wait until my Ohio place closed before I could rehab my new house in Indianapolis.  The previous owner had had unfortunate tastes in wall paper and fixtures.  While I was carrying two mortgages I was stuck with what I dubbed the pepper mill-infested chandelier.   That phrase has come in handy on vacations, too.

This being about bathing suits and the danger of skating close to body shaming I’ll start with a couple of caveats–everyone is welcome at the beach and pool.  Color, texture, shapes and size of skin EVERYONE should is welcome at the beach and pool.  Well, if you have open oozing sores you probably shouldn’t get IN the pool, ditto if you or your kid has a full diaper.  Whales get to poop in the ocean, you don’t.

On the other hand, folks, remember that the rest of us do have to look at you and for gawd’s sake have a little consideration.  There could be children present and there are things that just can’t be unseen.  This last vacation it was the old guy in the skimpy tight suit with the splayed legs apparently forced apart by his massive genitalia or perhaps just inviting us to imagine what his scrotum looked like.  If you simply must prove your masculinity with the man spread at least turn your chair around to face the foliage.  The rest of us really would like to look up from our book now and then without visions of your testicles intruding on our thoughts.  Seriously, to quote Shakespeare,  that’s “an honor I dream not of”.   When old guy turned over and we all got a good look at several inches of his crack.  Imagine #45 in a swim suit, you get the picture.  Welcome to my nightmare.

Then there was the scrawny old guy sunning himself on the beach wearing a thong with a front pouch roughly the size of a travel-size tissue packet.  I’m not sure which was worse, when I walked past him when he was laying tissue side up or on my return trip when he’d turned over and the thong was so far up his butt it might have been checking his prostate.  Must have been avoiding tan lines in anticipation of his next modeling gig.

While we’re at it, let’s just accept that if you’re a competitive swimmer then those tiny briefs are fine but they look like hell on everyone else.  One of the creepiest things I ever saw was a guy with what’s referred to as an aging jock body wearing a speedo that I might have overlooked if he actually swam laps.  That wasn’t the creepy part.  All week we thought that young woman was his daughter then we saw them kiss.  If that was his daughter, then, ewwwwwwww.  If that was his wife I hope she read the prenup carefully before she signed because a guy that desperate to reclaim his youth will inevitably discover that there isn’t a fountain of youth between her legs.  Heck, even Marilyn Monroe complained that guys were always expecting something different than the standard issue and how disappointed they were when they found out she had the standard equipment.

I’ll hold off on men with chest hair that looks like they’re cross dressing as a Magutu woman……

Women don’t get a pass on this either–ladies while I absolutely support your right to dress in a way that pleases you it’s also true that it’s better to dress for the body you have than the body you wish you had.  Tim Gunn would back me up on this.  Everyone gets to wear a tank suit, it’s a practical swim garment and designed to be swum in.  Bikinis?  At least consider how much of your dimpled, wrinkled, flabby or massive butt cheeks should be on display.  Restated, if you look like a fugitive from “people of walmart”  don’t wear it.

The ‘oh dear’ for women tend to come in two flavors.  Women wearing a suit that is way too small or worse, the women trying to compete with their daughters.  Too small?  I know, the struggle is real, I’m two very different sizes top and bottom so I opt for a suit that’s got a bit more room in the seat and hip than I need so that I’m not spilling out of the top. IMHO spilling out of the top is still marginally better than the “I’m her mother but I want you to think I’m her sister.”  Yeah, no, you’re not fooling anyone.  It makes you look insecure, desperate and you’re embarrassing your daughter.  MILF is NOT a complement, learn it, live it.

And don’t forget that it’s a swim suit.  Pools I’m less worried about but if you’re going into the ocean that suit has a job and its job is to not weigh you down and not catch on anything while keeping you visible so boats and other swimmers don’t run into you.

I’ve saved up the worst for last.  Matching suits.  No, just NO.  I have never understood those and why they still make them is yet another example of humans having that “indelible stamp of his lowly origin”  (Charles Darwin)   Is it because you want to make sure that everyone knows you’re a couple?  You have short-term memory loss and if you can’t remember what your wife looks like you just have to find someone who matches your shorts?  Arranged marriage orchestrated by the Duggars? You fell prey to a salesperson on commission?  It’s not cute, really it’s not.  It’s not cute with Aloha shirts and muumu’s at luaus, either BTW–it’s a failed reality show pilot.

I’m still trying to recover from the sight of a tuber-shaped man with a bald spot wearing the same canary-yellow thong as his hot young wife.  I don’t know what the back story was on that marriage but I’d like to think those suits were her idea. Now, to be fair, that bright yellow thong bikini looked good on her, she had the body for it and the confidence to wear it.  Him, he only had adoring Beagle eyes for her and they probably ended the vacation with matching tattoos of rainbows saying ‘just Mauied’ while she had scored an armful of Maui Divers gold jewelry.  Well, they appeared to be smitten with each other but I have the feeling that their bedroom now has ‘hello kitty’ bed sheets and a fuzzy ‘my pretty pony’ toilet seat cover in the bathroom.

Dress for the body you have, not the body wish you had.



Holy Week, two memorable snaps

Good Friday services are over and we’re in the weird not Lent not Easter period.  Some theologians say this is the harrowing of hell but who knows.  Maundy Thursday at my church and Good Friday at St. Matthews and then at First Methodist in the evening.  Good services, I got to play Person One as well as Woman  in the passion because Man One got sick and couldn’t make it.  I was just as glad, Woman only had one line and I’d have felt silly up in the “speaking parts” section with one sentence.

This week reminded me of the two most memorable Holy Week services I’ve attended and each one had a brutal snap. The first was Maundy Thursday at Linworth Methodist in Columbus Ohio.  We had a dinner, not a fancy meal, sort of a coordinated pot luck, but an actual dinner with food interspersed with readings and singing.  Much of the usual stuff but others as well.  Think Jesus Christ SuperStar Last Supper  I’ve always had a soft spot for that song, buzzed disciples thinking about retirement “then when we retire we can write the gospels” even though likely most of them couldn’t write.  Heck the gospels even say that Peter and John were illiterate (agrammatoi) .  It ended with Pastor Terry picking up the Bible from the alter and slamming it shut then in silence we stripped the church. That snap of the book being slammed shut has stuck with me all these years.  I don’t think I’ve attended a Maundy Thursday service without remembering that service and how that sound brought home that this was not a holiday about chocolate eggs, it was about the brutal execution of, if nothing else, one of the world’s great ethicists and for many our connection between the human and the devine.

In Indianapolis (a very livable city with excellent restaurants and a vibrant arts community) I was a member of Meridian Street Methodist, under Pastor Anne we had the most memorable Good Friday services for various reasons.  One year when Pastor Anne came forward and raised her arms instead of starting the service she told us there were tornado warnings and we all went down to the basement.  The kids had never seen hail like that and we had a hard time keeping them away from the windows while we all figured that our cars would be dimpled like golf balls.  But the snap came from another year when Pastor Anne had a carpenter who was a member of our church build a cross during the service.  As the service progressed so did the construction, to set the upright he used a shim–the crack when he snapped it off shook me to the core.  It was the everydayness, the business-as-usual of the Roman domination became real.

This is what they did, if you defied the government they beat you just enough so you could make the spectacle of the walk to the place of execution without shouting rebellion. It was all about showing yet another rebel brought to heal by the Empire. You were a human bill board for obedience to Rome. We need to remember that the Romans didn’t execute Jesus because he claimed to be a God.  It was a polytheistic society, lots of gods, not a problem.  He died because of the claim that he was king of the Jews.  That threatened the Empire.  Jerusalem was a tinderbox, there had been riots before and the Romans were there in force to keep the peace.  You think they would have let hundreds, let alone dozens of Jews into Pilates court yard?  Hell no, way too dangerous.  As John Dominic Crossan said “and keep your hands where we can see them”.  And don’t buy into “all the people” and “let his blood be upon us” crap.  That was antisemitism introduced later when the church was giving up on recruiting Jews and was going for gentiles. If you want to convert Romans probably not a good idea to make them the super villains of the story.  Forget the warm and fuzzy Pontius Pilate, too, the man was removed from office for his brutality and being considered too brutal by Roman standards took some doing.

So, what’s this post about?  Part memories and part hoping that people will use this holiday season to go beyond crayon Christianity.  It’ll be more meaningful if you understand where the Bible came from.  But I’m still going to enjoy my chocolate eggs.

Drinking from skulls (adventures in travel)

Anyone who travels, especially on business, has stories at the ready.  The time you slept on the airport floor because of the blizzard, your suitcase that went to ORF instead of ORD, the screaming baby and sometimes fun things like the celebrity sighting or the flight where everyone goes a little nuts and starts singing show tunes.  And yes, all those things have happened to me.  In fact, my friends sort of expect it now.  When Mak travels the odds of Til Eugenspiel playing some merry pranks increases. If I’m flying alone it’s no longer a question of odds, it’s just math.  And yes, on occasion I’ve been known to howl at the moon or, more often call for the empty skull of the CEO to drink my Diet Mountain Dew.

There was the time in Roanoke when we got on the plane, then we all got off because of a flat tire.  No problem, it’s a 15 minute fix they tell us.  Of course, that didn’t include the five hours it took to drive the tire from IAD to ROA.  That’s also the time the gate agent was a real drama queen, equal emphasis on both words.  After four hours he stormed off. Considering that we’d been waiting for hours everyone was amazingly civil, no one had even raised their voices or cursed, we just wanted some updates now and then.  After we heard that door slam we all burst into laughter. When we FINALLY got on the plane we took over the cabin staff’s job and did the pre-flight orientation ourselves with each row taking a turn–my line was the “remember, the closest exit may be behind you.”

Then there was the time I had the middle seat between one very large man who had been drinking for quite some time and was dealing with some digestive issues.  The other side was a another guy from a culture that, well, doesn’t place the same value on personal hygiene as we Americans.  I turned the overhead fan on full blast to keep the stench down and ended up with wind burn at the end of that five-hour flight.

I still have fond memories of the dragon lady, snapping her fingers to get the attention of the cabin staff, arguing with me whether or not Ohio and New York were in the same time zone, picking up one end of the seat belt as if she were picking up a dead mouse by the tail and dropping it on my lap “this is yours.”  Complaining that she’d told the agent she wanted a window seat, which she had, but it was over the wing.  That was a flight from Chicago to Honolulu so dragon lady had time to molt at least twice along the way.   When she went to the bathroom I was shameless and looked through the papers in the seat pocket–she was on her way to a psychological society conference!  My friend and I are still convinced she was conducting an experiment on us to present at the conference.  I mean really, how can you be headed to Kauai and be in a bad mood?!

Ever been on a flight where there’s you, your buddies and about 80 people over 80?  That’s when I was flying to Tulsa with a bunch of very senior seniors on their way to Oral Roberts for something.  Not a single one could reach the overhead storage and they all had to carefully fold their coats, try, fail, refold and try again.  Reverse that scenario for getting off the plane.  Bless their hearts.  Actually I felt sorry for them because they really didn’t know how to travel and I can’t tell you how many of the little old ladies I had to show how to use the motion sensor faucets in the bathroom.

There was the landing where the pilot rethought things and did a 6 Flags roller coaster maneuver.  I told the terrified teen next to me that she’d have to pay big bucks for a ride like that at an amusement park.

Or the landing so sudden that all the oxygen masks fell.  Pilot apologized and said Denver had raised the runway 8 inches since the last time he’d been there.  Yes, he was joking, we were all just glad to get off the plane.

And the time when the wheels went down, then we heard the wheels go back up and we kept going–and landed at another airport.

Of course I’ve had the usual lost luggage, the many gate changes (record stands at 5 for the same flight),  sitting out a hideous storm on the tarmac hoping lightening didn’t strike the fuselage,  having to change plans completely when between take off and landing a tornado had gone through my connecting airport.  One flight where the kid behind me spent the entire flight kicking the back of my seat–such an urge to break knee caps and I’m not sure there would have been a jury that would have convicted me.  Oh, and the family that brought brats (as in sausage, not nasty children) on board in Philadelphia when we sat in an unair-conditioned plane in 100 degree weather.  We all stunk of garlic at the end of that flight!

Oh, and the lady that pitched a world-class hissy snit when she and her husband weren’t seated together.  I changed seats so they could be together but as I got up I told the stewardess in a stage whisper. “If their marriage can’t survive a 17 minute flight apart then I don’t think my changing seats can help them.”

Most of those thing I can tell myself to ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and get on with things but it’s when the airlines just flat out lie that I lose my cool.  You do know that the reason they want you on the plane fast is because on-time departure means they pulled the blocks away from the tires on time.  It doesn’t mean you took off on time.  That’s why the 24 minute flight from South Bend to Chicago is shown as taking a full hour–it gives them 36 minutes to f*ck with you and still be on schedule.

When a flight says on time and it’s already 40 minutes past departure.

When a flight says on time and there’s no plane.

When 10 minutes before boarding they change gates and you have to hustle your butt from the F concourse to the far end of C. (Chicago).

When your suitcase doesn’t get on the plane (when the connection is long enough) because there’s paying cargo they want to transport instead but they tell you it will be on the next flight–and say that for three straight days. Ever go to an international conference without a change of underwear?

Or when the flight is already two hours late and they scold people for not getting on the plane fast enough for an “on time” take off.

Or when they’ve over-sold the flight and ask for people with flexible travel plans to take a later flight. On December 24th.

Today I’m hoping that my suitcase from the last trip shows up before I leave again in a few days.  How my suitcase was able to make it to ORF when the airline couldn’t get me there I don’t know but I did have to explain that no, I was not going to drive to Norfolk to pick it up. They’d need to bring it to South Bend.  “You’ll have to pick it up.”   Well, driving 5 miles to the airport is a much better deal than driving 795 miles so yeah I’m fine with that.

Now, where did I put that skull……

Small luxuries, big luxuries

Today I’m more aware than usual of the advantages that make smooth my path.  A few extra dollars allow me to use valet parking for this business trip.  I don’t normally use valet but it’s winter and I’ll be getting back late at night.  It won’t be much more than standard parking, maybe $8 max more and still cheaper than taking the cab. I live in a cheap area, but my car will be there, engine running and windshield scarped. Because of storms and rescheduled flights I have two very long layovers (7 hours in O’hare and 6 hours in Washington)  but a couple of years ago I decided that I did enough travel that I’d get a United Club membership.  It means I’ll have wifi, working outlets, clean bathrooms with no waits, food, comfortable seating and mostly safe. Certainly not crowded, not noisy and a staff constantly on the move keeping things cleaned. That I can say that means I have technology with me, lap top, very good head phones and more. It also means my luggage is tagged as priority so it’s one of the first off the plane.  Bottom line, this lay over will be far less hassle and maybe even productive.  My path will be smoothed for me in terms of parking waiting and even getting on the plane (I board in group 2)

I don’t completely take it for granted, I know I’m a lucky lucky person thanks to an accident of birth that landed me in a middle-class Caucasian family that valued education and lived in an area with college-prep high schools.   But there are other advantages I, and most of us have that are all but invisible to us.

When I take my Mom to events on campus I have to get there very early to get one of the few handicapped spaces near DeBart. I’m aware that I’m mobile, I can walk the four steps up to the auditorium level.  With Mom we have to take an elevator and not just any elevator, the one that opens in the back.  We don’t sit where the sound is best, we sit in the wheel chair area in the back, off to the side.  Often my view is partially blocked by a pillar. The people in the great sound seats have no idea that they’re getting a different performance than we are.  They’re sitting where the sound blends at its best, the balance  is at its best, where no pillar is in the way.

And it’s not just that, it’s also where other special needs people and their companions sit.  It’s not unusual for autistic or children with other challenges sit with their parents so our performance is often punctuate with an over stimulated kid who stands and waves their arms while their parent tries to calm them enough to stay or try to leave as quietly as possible. Other children with profound medical complications have machines that hiss and whoosh to keep them breathing or fed or whatever.  And, it’s also where considerate parents and grandparents with a passel of small kids will try to sit because they know their kids are going to be disruptive just because they’re kids.

The rest of the audience doesn’t know we’re there, they don’t know about the service dogs, the seriously disabled children, the medical equipment. They enjoy the concert free to pretend that the world also includes the very aged, the mentally ill, the developmentally impaired, the blind, humans of all ages on the autism spectrum, the cerebral palsy, the muscular dystrophy and all the other conditions that I don’t recognize but share the back of the auditorium with Mom and me.

My priority boarding, use of the United Club, valet parking–those small luxuries smooth my path, make my travel easier but the large luxuries we seldom consider.  The ability to walk up a flight of stairs, the ability to book seats based on where we want to sit, not where we have to sit. The luxury of not needing to know which bathroom stall has the best grab bars or not paying attention to how high the threshold is and can I get the wheel chair over it or do I need to turn Mom’s chair around so the big wheels go over the bump first.

It’s a good day to say thank you for those big luxuries we seldom notice.


Lost in the Library

Lost covers a lot of territory.  Yes, come senior week some of our students will lose their cookies in the library–there’s a game they call the Hesburgh Challenge where they try to drink a beer on every floor or the 14 story building, plus the lower level.  That’s a lot of beer.  Alcohol content aside there’s the issue of capacity and many find it necessary to shed themselves of some of that liquid volume. More about the Hesburgh Challenge at some later date.

I have no doubt that some will lose their virginity in the library. Not that I’ve seen it here in Camelot but having worked at Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois well, undergrads do find the chance of discovery titillating and they’re certain that they will shock the librarians.  Oh little cracker doves, there comes a time when words and acts cease to be shocking and are just vulgar.

Then there are the physical items:

  • computers
  • full cups of $5  coffee
  • flash drives
  • head phones and earbuds
  • boots (boots?  shoe boots in 17 degree weather? two foot snow? yes.)
  • scarves, mittens, hats, shirts, slacks, sweaters, sweat shirts
  • underwear and  smelly socks
  • loose change
  • back packs
  • term papers
  • text books
  • notes
  • wallets and passports
  • IDs
  • skate boards
  • bikes
  • phones (yes, apparently they are capable of putting them down)

Basically, if it’s a physical item and you’d think they’d want to keep it they’ve left it in the library.  But there’s other things our students lose in the library; they lose their preconceived ideas, they lose their parochial view of the world, they lose their inability to contextualize events, ideas, literature, they lose a view of education where all the instructor wants is for them to synthesize information, at least this instructor.

Knowing what apostasy means with in Muslim faith requires a different dictionary than knowing what apostasy means to Mormon or Methodists.  Sure that’s a nifty quote but who said it and why should we care what they think? That editorial about the letter from the president of the University of Chicago to incoming students–if you want to understand that editorial then you need to know what that letter said, and what else was going on that made him think he needed to write it. Sure that article says according to Blah Blah–but let’s find that study and see if it really said that or if they distorted it out of all meaning. I know what Thomas Paine said about a natural form of government, I’ve read Common Sense–you read it and tell me what you think he meant and if you agree with it and why.

Information Illiteracy, that’s what gets lost in the library–provided there’s a librarian there to help them lose it.


Feet of clay

A friend recently admitted, very publicly, how complicated her life has been the last few years. By complicated I mean knitting an internal combustion engine from recycled aluminum cans riding a unicycle and translating the Bible from Greek to Korean complicated.  Now, as it turns out, she didn’t do it all perfectly.  Gasp, shock, horror.

This admission is likely to cost her a few friends who prefer the image of the saintly woman to the flesh and blood woman who had to keep her son’s toe nails trimmed, make sure the household didn’t run out of toilet paper, keep a pay check coming in and yes, did some thing that weren’t necessarily honorable but probably necessary to maintain sanity.  I applaud her for doing a far better job of it than I would have.  Whatever else, she was supportive as she could possibly be and has a remarkable kid.

Some years ago a friend’s daughter was going through dialysis waiting for a kidney.  When she was in the hospital the first time I suggested that they take things to give her a manicure with some fun nail polish.  I thought it was important for her to know that she was a whole person, not just a patient.  That little girl’s story has a happy ending.  An appropriate kidney became available in less than two years and no one even had to die to supply the kidney.  I look at this friend’s stumbles in the same light, she had to be more than just the wife of dying man.  And she was and is.

I too have feet of clay and they’re about to be more obvious.  Here in Camelot the Dome has invited VP Pence for the commencement address.  It’s a masterful political move; ND usually invites the new president to speak but huge numbers of faculty and students were opposed and some were in favor. I signed petitions, I participated in protests and sent personal messages urging that we NOT have that sorry excuse for a human here on the grounds that if he had been a student he would have been expelled because of his behavior.  Having that beast here was going to chaos and carnival.  Father J. side-stepped the whole thing by inviting Pence instead.  Make no mistake, Pence is horrible, but he is the former governor and he’s unlikely to openly insult people.  More than that, it will allow commencement to be about the students and not about the BLOTUS.  At least mostly.

There will be some who will charge me with enjoying my white privilege by not being as outraged as they.  They’re probably right.  I haven’t been quite about my views on Pence, I’ve said repeatedly that he’s all about e pluribus unum as long as the pluribus looks like white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, evangelical Christian rural Indiana. He’s wildly hypocritical and was happy to hurt the cities in order to keep his base happy no matter the harm to the state as a whole.  I won’t go to commencement.  If there are protests I’ll participate but I’ll try to keep this about the students and their accomplishments. No, I’m not as outraged as if he’d invited DJT.  As the former governor of the state there is some justification in inviting Pence, as disgusting as he is. There was NO justification in inviting DJT. In its own way it’s an insult to DJT with just enough of a good reason that the orange one can’t go completely off the rails over it.  As I said, it’s a masterful move and as a cis-gendered, white, heterosexual Christian I have the privilege of enough breathing room to say so, walk away from this and move on to other ways to resist this tragic lapse of national judgement.

So yes, with this early spring my sandal-clad feet of clay are on display.

Note:  there is nothing wrong with being white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, evangelical Christian and rural.  All those things are great.   There is something wrong with insisting that the entire, increasingly diverse, population conform to the social expectations of that single, specific demographic and, it’s wrong to insist that being anything else is less than another equal and valid part of this, our happy republic.



Lent, with cats

As part of my Lenten discipline I start each day reading in a quite room with no distractions.  Except cats.

Now I’m not a purist, when I say I start the day that’s after I pee, make the bed, feed the cats and get my morning Diet Dew in the cup.  No distractions includes longing for that first lovely salvation of morning caffeine. But then I settle into a chair in the den (Mom’s room much of the year) and pick up In Parables: the Challenge of the Historical Jesus.  I’m ready, lets get this thing done!

Push kitty boy away from the cushion he was determined to use as a scratching post.  Pick up kitty, tell him he’s a good boy, he’s a handsome boy, kiss his head and put him down.  Kitty claws enter my thigh.  Human, you are not done admiring me. Pet pet pet, good kitty.

Okay, NOW I’m ready, In Parables, I’m about to make you my bitch.

NO KITTY!  And there goes my Diet Dew.  With cat-like reflexes (ha ha) I catch it before it tips completely.  After clutching it to my bosom (you know how I feel about my Diet Dew) I pull my legs up and brace it between my thighs and assure it that Mommy will protect it from the bad kitties.  Pick up Parables.  Sarah jumps onto my shoulder and starts walking around my neck and face like an indoor track.  Stops frequently so I can admire her “rose bud.”

Resettle in the chair protecting my caffeine and finding an angle where I can read over Sarah’s back (or whatever part of her body is between my face and my book).  Parables, prepare to be read.

Thunk.  Kitty boy has my book-reading rubber duck. NOT A TOY. Dislodge Sarah, retrieve the book-reading rubber duck. Turn around, Sarah is now in possession of the chair and giving me stink eye.  She’s claimed that spot fair and square and no tarted-up ape  is going to tell her otherwise.

Day three of Lent, I’m up to page 8.  Good thing it’s a short book.



Lent–a Nerf crown of thorns

Mardi Gras and Carnival are over.  Today we accept the imposition of the ashes and begin the time of Lent.

If you’ve ever counted up the days then you’ve noticed that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Sundays are not a part of Lent.  Lent is never supposed to eclipse the sabbath which represents the resurrection.  That’s right, if you’re giving up chocolate or chewing your nails for Lent Sundays are by days.  And if you gave up FaceBook then you can login on Sundays.

I’ve done various disciplines over the past few years.  One year I gave up sugar and flour.  Flour was easy, sugar required a LOT of label reading but it did it’s job in making me more mindful about what I was doing.  One year I gave up oregano which put pizza, minestrone and most pasta dishes out of reach. At the same time it’s always felt as though giving up chocolate, biting your nails or not having deserts is really a second shot and keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Pretty trivial.  A very dear friend once complained about it being Lent when we were out for lunch.  She couldn’t have the steak she really wanted and was making do with lobster.  I told her she was wearing a crown of Nerf thorns.

A number of organizations are promoting a 40 bags in 40 days–to fill 40 bags (any size) with things to donate, recycle, discard.  This seems like a great idea, I’m not sure it’s really a Lenten Discipline but it’s a worthy effort so I’m not going to make fun of it.

So what is Lent?  The set 40 days dates from the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. and is intended to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days of contemplation and temptations in the wilderness.  After those 40 days Jesus becomes a public figure and begins his ministry.  Lent is a collective spiritual retreat, we’re supposed to live more intentionally to remind ourselves that even minor temptations are difficult to resist. The injunctions about fasting, meat etc. have changed (relaxed) a LOT over the centuries.  Probably a good idea, it’s better to have a discipline you keep than one you give up on.

Pastor Terry (Linworth Methodist when I lived in Ohio) gave a sermon on an Ash Wednesday that really stuck with me.  He thought that fasting, especially if it involved restricting fluids was barbaric and stupid–while it was one of the traditional means of observing Lent he didn’t recommend it. Basically, he didn’t think that being a cranky, headachy person at work, behind the wheel, around your family was within the spirit of Lent.  For that same reason I don’t plan on giving up caffeine–what have my friends, co-workers and library users done to deserve having to deal with me in a decaffeinated state?! Pastor Terry also said that anything involving neglect of personal hygiene was stupid. Your discipline shouldn’t be something you wear on your sleeve and it shouldn’t impose on those around you. Giving up shaving your legs or underarms, okay but bathe and use deodorant.

Because Lent nearly always overlaps with my annual whale watching trip I opt for a discipline that’s very portable and doesn’t impose on my traveling companions (who are also my best friends and women I love like sisters). So, during Lent no matter what else I choose to do I start the day with a quite period of reading and meditation on what I’ve read.   Over the years some of the things I’ve chosen:

This year it’s a twofer.  Evolution of Faith Phillip Gulley and In Parables, the Challenge of the Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan.  It was a tough call, I had lots of suggestions and I admit, I wimped out and went with authors I have read and appreciated before.  Finally went with these two because I really wanted to read In Parables but it wasn’t available for Kindle made it harder for travel because I don’t want to carry paper books.

Another Nerf crown of thorns.


Note:  There is something about the skin on my forehead that does not like ashes.  Usually while everyone else has a cross I have a smudge that gradually disappears over an hour or two.  This morning I accepted the imposition the campus chaplain and checked a mirror, this time it looks sort of like an IUD or, alternately, the zodiac sign for Ares.


Sources consulted:

“Lent.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 8, Gale, 2003, pp. 468-470. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=nd_ref&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3407706599&asid=d4bf9aec636ec0c567415bdda0cbdc95. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

Russo, Nicholas “The Early History of Lent”


Talley, Thomas J. “Christian Liturgical Year.” Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 1741-1745. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=nd_ref&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3424500581&asid=6e058d57a558474f641c50cc579927e2. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.