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» 2013 » January

Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2013

Commentary & education 25 Jan 2013 07:39 am

Is common sense uncommon with guns?

It’s hard not to feel sorry for gun-rights advocates who keep shooting themselves in the foot — and other parts of the anatomy — in their attempts to persuade us that more guns equal a safer society.

Last Saturday was Gun Appreciation Day, selected by apparently tone-deaf organizers on the weekend before a federal holiday to honor civil-rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., whose own life was cut short by gun violence.

On this day, five people attending gun shows were accidentally shot — in Raleigh, N.C., where a man’s gun discharged, striking a trio of bystanders at the entrance to the Dixie Gun and Knife Show; in Indianapolis, where a man shot himself in the hand as he exited the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show; and closer to home, where a man shot a fellow exhibitor while opening a box containing a gun at the Medina Gun Show. All were accidental.

“Accidental” and gun mishaps, unfortunately, go hand in hand. In 2011, 851 people died in this country because of accidents with the 310 million estimated firearms in civilian circulation.

It’s only common sense to recognize that the introduction of a gun into a situation increases the chances that a gun will be fired, intentionally or unintentionally, in that situation — sometimes to the detriment of the user and sometimes to the detriment of innocent bystanders. Also, to be fair, sometimes to the detriment of an aggressor, but not as often as we might hope.

For instance, one of several Time magazine articles published in the Jan. 28 edition (where most of the statistics in this column originate) notes that New York City police officers’ “hit rate” in a gunfight is 30 percent when the target does not shoot back and an abysmal 18 percent when the target returns fire.

Yet one of the most insistent reactions to the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary is a call to increase the number of armed personnel in our schools — either with armed police officers or teachers. If a New York City cop has only an 18-percent chance of hitting a shooter, do we really expect better results from a seventh-grade science teacher?

Proponents argue that the presence of guns on school campuses is a deterrent, so that guards and teachers may never have to use those guns, that their presence is enough to keep potential shooters away.

But consider: If five people can be shot accidentally in one day at gun shows, how many accidents might we have to accept as a consequence of keeping our kids “safe” in class?

More knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to gun violence. The country doesn’t need additional restrictions on gun ownership because the vast majority of gun owners — last weekend’s accidents notwithstanding — are responsible people with the sense to store weapons and ammunition safely.

Yet we also don’t need to encourage the further proliferation of guns. With more guns than people in this country, we have enough firearms already.

It is unconscionable that the NRA is using the recent Sandy Hook tragedy as an opportunity to extend its political reach, and it is just as unconscionable that politicians, including the president, are using it as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Both sides are preying on — and perhaps are victims of — fear. Cooler heads on both sides, or maybe somewhere in the middle, must prevail.

The sad truth is that, in 2011, the most common reason for gun deaths by far was suicide, with 19,766 people ending their own lives with firearms. Clearly, more needs to be done to bolster mental-health services in this country, which is why the $15 million that Obama has proposed to train teachers to recognize mental illness and the $40 million that would help school districts refer students to mental-health help are the most sensible components of last week’s executive and Congressional to-do list. The same sorts of services need to be made more readily available to adults, as well.

Unfortunately, the parts of the president’s proposals that will get all the attention are the attempts to ban assault rifles and high-capacity clips, which will serve only to offend gun owners who use those items lawfully and safely for recreational shooting. It will do little to curb crime.

If you own guns, lock them up. Store ammunition separately. While this greatly reduces the effectiveness of firearms for home protection (which is a false sense of security, anyway), the life you save and the injuries you prevent may be your own or somebody who has done you no harm.

Especially if you go to gun shows.

Originally published Jan. 24, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 18 Jan 2013 09:15 am

A tale of two half marathons

I jokingly referred to it as the hillbilly half marathon, but there was nothing funny about the course itself.

Last Saturday morning, on a day that should have been snowing and blowing with temperatures in the teens but was instead unseasonably warm, I found myself in the company of 14 honest-to-gosh runners, huffing and puffing through a course that started and stopped in Butler Township and snaked through parts of Knox Township and North Georgetown.

It was the inaugural Bloss Bardo Sanor invitational, conceived by three enterprising guys who marked off a 13.1-mile course near one of their houses and sent word to friends to come run with them. They collected entrance fees (donated to a local charity), made up T-shirts and racing bibs, and laid out a sumptuous feast at the finish.

It was my first half marathon. Over the summer, I had increased my distance to 15 miles at a time, but summer was long ago, and in the intervening months, I’d lost 10 miles and gained 10 pounds, so I was worried about crossing the finish line in anything other than a crawl.

I started Saturday’s race as I always do — too fast. The first few miles I was middle-of-the-pack and feeling strong, deftly jogging past cows and horses and what looked like a prehistoric buffalo, and I started to fantasize about finishing seventh or eighth. But my stamina dried up faster than Kim Kardashian’s marriage, and soon runner after runner passed me by.

This happens so often that I have a routine to follow. As a racer cruises past, I nod my head, wave, and say, “Good job!” or “Finish strong!” or some equally inane expression that is more socially acceptable than what I’m thinking, which is, “I hope you trip.”

Somewhere around mile five, my goal shifted from finishing strong to simply running the entire course without stopping for more than a quick drink. That goal was shattered at mile six, as I climbed a displaced Mount Everest that glacial activity carved on Winona Road. I looked up and up and up and somewhere, at the fog-enshrouded peak, I thought I saw Gandalf the Grey shouting “You shall not pass!” before shattering the road with his wooden staff.

I started walking. (Who am I to contradict a wizard?) And once I walk in a race, I will walk again, no matter what lies I tell myself. And so I did, at various points in mile eight, nine, 10 and 11.

But the walking wasn’t as bad as the hallucinations. At one point, I saw the bleached rib cage of a deer on the side of the road; at another, a large black or brown dog that watched with baleful eyes as I wheezed past its driveway. Maybe they were real or maybe not.

Periodically, I scooped up old, dirty snow and rubbed it on my head and neck, like a Native American on a vision quest. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I don’t know if the same holds true in distance running, but I believe I was only a few miles away from finding out.

As often happens when I experience dehydration and overexertion, I became very philosophical, questioning why it is that we Americans will put ourselves through extreme physical and emotional deprivation in the name of recreation, but will complain bitterly about even the slightest extra exertion in the workplace. To put it another way, if my boss required me to run 13.1 miles as part of my job, I’d file a grievance, but on my own time, I’ll pay for the opportunity.

At the 12-mile marker, I found my second (or third) wind and ended better than I expected, crossing the finish line in 12th place with 9:54-minute miles, despite a half mile or more of walking. I didn’t collapse or kiss the ground, but merely sent a text message to my wife that I would meet her at home instead of the emergency room.

Coincidentally, 1,000 miles away, my daughter and my sister had just completed their first half marathon, in the company of more than 27,000 runners in Disney World. They finished strong, too, coming in 13,594th and 13,595th on a course that included Cinderella’s castle and a pirate ship. If any dog stared at them from a driveway, it was probably Pluto.

You’ve got to love sports like running — and baseball, football, soccer, and so on — that are so adaptable that people can participate in so many different ways and at so many different levels. All across America on Saturday (and other days, too), people laced up their shoes to run, jog, shog (thanks, Harry Paidas!) distances ranging from a few hundred yards to 26.2 miles. They were doing it on treadmills, in their own neighborhoods, solo or in organized races as small as 15 people and as large as 27,000. I find that inspiring, which is why I plan to keep running as long as my legs hold out.

Or maybe I’m just imagining these warm thoughts, and I’m really still climbing Mount Everest out there on Winona Road. Hold on, Gandalf, I’m coming.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Jan. 17, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Family life 10 Jan 2013 10:19 pm

Strategically placed hats

I have a lifelong love/hate relationship with stocking caps.

Like many petulant 6-year-olds, I spent my formative years fighting headwear, especially the Dickensian kind with the ball on the end. Perfectly acceptable hats (to anyone but an image-conscious kid) were accidentally-on-purpose left on buses, stuck on snowmen at a friend’s house or buried unceremoniously in the bottom of the garbage.

Unfortunately, I had a mother with an endless supply of stocking caps, each more grotesque and unflattering than the last. Like “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” every time I got rid of one, another took its place — sometimes brown and orange for the sports team I was supposed to promote, sometimes orange and black for my future alma mater, sometimes affixed with a label for a grain or horse-food company from my dad’s job. Hats were everywhere in Casa Schillig — except on my head.

Mom even resorted to an unethical appeal to authority to coerce my compliance. At times when I was especially uncooperative — usually any day that ended in a “y” — she picked up the phone and dialed her accomplice.

“Hello, Time and Temperature? Yes, this is Chris’s mom. Should he wear a hat today? Uh-huh. Yes, it IS very cold. OK, I’ll tell him. Goodbye.”

“What did he say? What did he say?”

“He said to wear a hat. Do you want to call back and ask him yourself?”

I never did. It didn’t occur to me that Mom would lie — or that time and temperature was a pre-recorded message with nothing to say about headwear preferences of gullible children.

So much for hat hate. Later in life, I reversed myself and started wearing one, maybe about the same time that I switched from Republican to Democrat, a decision that some say proves my head was unprotected for too many years.

Key to this change of heart (hat, not political party) is the often-repeated assertion that 70 percent of body heat escapes through the head.

So when I take the dog for his morning and evening winter constitutional, my uniform includes a blue stocking cap pulled down so far that it practically blocks my vision, making me the Arch Avenue equivalent of Nanook of the North. When I go to work or run errands, I likewise don my headgear.

My niece, who works at Dunkin Donuts, says the hat makes me look like a thug in the drive-thru; my wife says it, coupled with my scraggly beard, makes me a candidate for post-office bulletin boards. Yet I persist because I like looking vaguely unsavory and because I want to support the U.S. mail system.

So imagine my chagrin when a study out of the University of Michigan said the 70-percent statistic is a myth. According to Andrew Maynard, whose research was summarized in a Huffington Post article, you lose no more heat through your noggin than through any other body part.

I tried to forget Maynard’s research as soon as possible, but no such luck: The next day, as the dog pulled me along unshoveled walks (the unofficial status symbol of Alliance winter), I felt colder, as though that 70 percent body heat had been held inside by force of my belief. The next day, I stopped wearing the hat.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. As I was writing this column, I reread Maynard’s research, which has something to do with how much warmer a stocking cap makes you when you dance naked in the snow. (Ah, these academics and their tax-funded research.)

Apparently, escaping body heat has everything to do with how much skin is exposed. Those nude dancers have hats that cover about 10 percent of their body, meaning they are 10 percent warmer than those who dance naked without hats.

For a guy like me who doesn’t dance naked in the snow — at least not while walking the dog — it means that if my head is the only exposed part, then that’s where my most significant body-heat loss will occur, so the hat really does help, just not at the 70-percent level.

This clarification turned the mental trick, because when I walked the dog after reading it, I felt warmer with my hat than I did when I thought it wasn’t helping.

Which proves that warmth has less to do with what’s on our heads than what’s in them, something Mom must have known when she made those bogus calls to time and temperature.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Jan. 10, 2013 in The Alliance Review.

Comic books & Commentary & Media 03 Jan 2013 10:49 pm

Spidey, we hardly knew ye


I forgot.

Dan Slott, the writer of Spider-Man’s adventures, warned readers earlier in December to avoid the Internet on Dec. 26 until they’d read “Amazing Spider-Man No. 700,” which went on sale that day.

Something big was happening in the Marvel superhero’s world, and Slott didn’t want it spoiled by a careless headline or an overzealous fan. In November, fans learned that Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis — OK, one of his arch-nemeses — Doctor Octopus, had switched minds with Peter Parker, Spidey’s alter-ego. This left Parker’s consciousness trapped inside Doc Ock’s failing body while Ock went off and played Spider-Man, even kissing Parker’s former wife, who didn’t remember she had married Spider-Man because a demon erased her memories.

(I can hear you snickering. It’s no sillier than anything on “Glee” or an afternoon soap opera, so cut me some slack.)

Marvel Comics had been crowing about a further game-changer coming in issue 700, so I told myself to take Slott’s advice and not peek on any comic book websites until after I’d read the story.

But I forgot about Twitter. There I was in the middle of the Pittsburgh airport, waiting for my daughter’s flight to depart, carelessly scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw the headline from the Hollywood Reporter (spoiler alert for anybody who has not yet read the comic book): “Peter Parker Dies in ‘Amazing Spider-Man No. 700′ Comic.”

I lifted my head and, to quote Walt Whitman, sounded my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I wasn’t angry that Parker had died, although plenty of fans were (Slott even received death threats). This is, after all, comics, where heroes pass all the time, only to return a month, a year, or even 10 years later, restored by some deus ex machina to full health. Superman and Captain America are two relatively recent examples of superheroes who have gone on to an everlasting reward — and received lots of media coverage along the way — only to find that it wasn’t as everlasting as they thought.

Peter Parker — the nebbish science major without friends, raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, whose life became only more complicated after a radioactive arachnid gave him all the powers of a spider — will be back, if for no other reason than Marvel needs the status quo restored in time for the next Spider-Man movie.

I can’t even say that news of Parker’s death was a complete surprise — although the mind-swapping with Doc Ock was a shocker — because by warning fans to go incommunicado on the day after Christmas, Slott was foreshadowing that something big was brewing, and death is the biggest brew (or brouhaha) of all.

No, I guess my barbaric yawp was because, in this interconnected world of ours, it’s difficult to be caught totally off-guard by a pop culture event, any pop-culture event. Once upon a time, the world was shocked to learn who killed J.R., but these days, the guilty party’s name would be all over Entertainment Tonight weeks ahead of the episode.

Darth Vader is really Luke Skywalker’s father? That blew my mind in 1980, but if it happened now, somebody would leak the script to TMZ, and we’d sit in theaters and wait for the exact moment when the paternal relationship is announced (1:51:18 in “The Empire Strikes Back,” if you care).

We live in the Golden Age of Pop Culture — or Geek Culture, if you prefer. Not only is an awesome array of contemporary entertainment (and a considerable amount of junk — Sturgeon’s Law still applies) available, but also a vast storehouse of past entertainment, more accessible than ever before.

Want to watch all six seasons of “I Love Lucy,” all nine seasons of “The X-Files” and every extant piece of concert footage from Led Zeppelin? Readily available. How about read the classic science-fiction novels of H.G. Wells or watch one of “The Thin Man” films from the 1940s? Hard copies or digital downloads exist for them all, some as close as your local library. Want to talk about any of the above plus tens of thousands more? Go online and start typing.

But this embarrassment of riches comes with a price: Rare is the book or movie or TV show that we watch “cold,” without spoiled plot points or preexisting opinions sullying the experience.

Just last week, in the middle of the comedy “This Is 40,” I sat horrified as a character gave away the ending to the television show “Lost.” I’ve watched only three of the six seasons. Now I’m not so sure I’ll finish.

Maybe I should be thankful. After all, the revelation saved me a lot of time. And maybe I should take a cue from eastern culture, where endings are less important than the paths characters take to get there.

Regardless, I sometimes wish I had Spider-Man’s powers, if only so I could web up my eyes and ears and avoid the next comic book spoiler — the one that explains how Peter Parker cheated death yet again.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Jan. 3, 2013, in The Alliance Review.