It’s been ages since I posted on Florilegia, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve been working on some serials and short stories, most recently the one I’m going to share with you here.

The story had its origin in discussions I had with my mother following the Newtown shooting, more specifically discussions we had following the NRA’s call to put armed guards in every school. After picking up our Canadian jaws off the floor, we talked over all the implications such a policy would have, and how absurd it was to think that one could tell the good guys from the bad guys before you handed over the guns and put those guys to work “guarding” school children.

I’m distributing this story free of charge under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, so please feel free to share likewise. I do ask I ask you to please consider donating to an organization, such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns or Americans for Responsible Solutions, who are advocating and lobbying for sensible gun legislation.

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Good Guys With Guns, Bad Guys With Guns

December 15, 2012

Sarah padded to the end of the darkened hallway and pushed the door open wider, peered inside her son’s bedroom. It was too dark to make out more than planets suspended in orbit from the mobile she’d bought him when they’d visited the planetarium last August, and the black shape in the corner where the bed was. She tried to listen for his breath, but couldn’t hear anything over the rhythm of her own pulse rushing in her ears. She sighed quietly and flicked the light on. He was there. Her Luke. Sleeping. Breathing. This is silly. Ridiculous, she thought. I’m the mother. He’s five. He should be the one coming to my room in the middle of the night after waking up from a nightmare, not the other way around. Even so, she walked over and stroked his hair, kissed his temple, kissed him again on the cheek. Luke slept on, oblivious. Sarah went back to her room, pausing at Luke’s door to take a last look at the sleeping boy before she shut his light off.

She climbed back into her own bed and huddled under the covers. It was times like these that she wished Luke’s father, Carlos, were still around, even though the wish was vague and fleeting. It was no good wishing for something that brought more shit than sunshine, and Carlos, however decent he was as a parent, was crap as a partner. They’d gotten together young — she’d only been nineteen, he, twenty-two. After the initial year or so of lust-filled romance, they’d come to realize that they had a real compatibility problem. This they tried to work through for the sake of Luke and actually stuck it out for a couple of years. In the end though, they were compelled to part ways, and Sarah was relieved to find she was more stable and reliable on her own.

She sighed and tried to get comfortable. Go back to sleep now, Sarah, she told herself. Luke is fine. He’s safe. Probably dreaming of Santa or the camera he wants for Christmas. But when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t relax in that knowledge. Instead, images bombarded her mind, fragmented impressions of grief-stricken relatives and the faces of the little girls and boys gazing happily out of photos capturing carefree moments in time. And then came the remembered fragments of her nightmare. Dropping Luke off at school. Watching with a sense of dread as he goes in. Panic as a man with an assault rifle comes from nowhere and follows him inside. The sounds of gunfire and screaming and breaking glass and looking for Luke through clouds of dust in piles of rubble, as though the school had been the target of a bombing as well as a shooting. Finding him lifeless and bloody, riddled with bullets.

She felt compelled to check on Luke again, though knowing it wouldn’t accomplish anything useful, she talked herself out of it. She decided she needed to do something to get her mind off the shooting in Newtown, or she’d never get to sleep and would then be more than useless at work tomorrow. She sat up and reached for the TV remote on her night stand, flicking through channels until she found one showing Frasier reruns all night. Perfect. When the television turned off as programmed after ninety minutes, Sarah had finally slipped into a restless slumber.

For the next four or five nights, Sarah had Luke sleep with her and whenever she’d wake up in the night, she’d watch sitcoms until she’d drop off again. During the day, she tried to focus on her job as a hotel front desk clerk — that and staying alert. She’d asked a neighbor to look after Luke on the Monday, fearful that some mentally disturbed copycat would choose his school to shoot up. On Tuesday, she reluctantly sent him back, not wanting to deprive him of the week’s Christmas classroom activities in exchange for assuaging her own anxiety. In the evenings, once Luke had gone to bed, she couldn’t keep herself from watching the news coverage: the traumatized people of Newtown, the memorials built of teddy bears and flowers and angels and Christmas trees, the interfaith vigil, and, of course, the pictures, stories of the victims as funeral after funeral were held.

By the time the bells of Newtown were pealing to commemorate the one week mark since the shooting, the initial horror that had gripped her, the panic that had overwhelmed her, was beginning to subside into something manageable. But now she wanted someone to do something. Sure, the media was talking about bans and passing laws about background checks, but how would that be possible since Congress refused to do anything unless their corporate backers supported them? Even if they did get passed, how would such laws even be of any use? Evil — evil men would find a way, just like this Lanza guy had. He just killed his mother and took her guns. No background check needed there, right?

On Friday evening, after Carlos had picked up Luke for the weekend, Sarah curled up on the couch and flicked on the television. The NRA had made a statement. All week, commentators had speculated: would the NRA finally talk about supporting so-called common sense safety regulations? Now they had their answer and utter astonishment was the result. The brazen refusal of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA spokesman, to endorse the accepted narrative that the Newtown massacre was a wake-up call for the American people to enact some solid gun control legislation was being discussed with incredulity as they replayed his speech over and over.

… they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk … when it comes to the most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. … It is now time for us to assume responsibility for their safety at school. … The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. … millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school  —  and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January. …

Sarah was surprised at herself. She didn’t like guns, had never wanted to have a gun in the home and became even more opposed to them when she’d gotten pregnant. She’d never hunted in her life and thought it was dumb to want to kill animals for fun. She considered herself to be the last person you’d think would give the time of day to what some NRA gun nut said. His screed against video games was so absurd it was like a parody of itself. And she was aware that he had a profit motive for his position. Yet here she was, siding with the NRA gun nut instead of with all those calling for tougher gun laws. Yes, sure, she’d be okay with the gun show loophole being closed (in fact, with the whole gun show concept being closed), but she didn’t see how it would hurt to also have armed guards protecting her child. It would be no trouble. After all, as the LaPierre guy had pointed out, there were armed guards at banks protecting the money of the one percent. They had armed guards at airports and even armed marshals on planes — why not have police or retired police at every school? Or even allow teachers to be armed? Making sure evil couldn’t triumph. Good guys with guns were exactly what she needed.

To read the rest, download in PDF & epub format from I Publish Press.


Motion 312 is defeated

September 26, 2012

That’s the good news. Also good news? The vote wasn’t even close: 203 Nays to 91 Yeas, or 69% to 31%.

The bad news? 4 Liberal MPs–John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood), Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan), Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North), and Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough—Agincourt)–voted in support of the motion.

More bad news? Rona Ambrose, the Minister for the Status of Women Chattel also voted to keep women barefoot and pregnant by force if necessary. I think she should resign out of shame. I also suggest that Canadians who care about women’s freedom might consider contributing to the campaigns of her opponents in the next election.

Not anti-abortion either

September 24, 2012

Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism has a post highlighting a couple of comments about the reproductive rights debate (they’re good, go read them). In the comments thread, a sub-discussion is going on about the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life”. Libby Anne makes the following observation:

Those who say they are pro-choice really are pro-choice, but those who say they are pro-life are not consistently so (they generally favor the death penalty and military intervention abroad). I think the term “anti-abortion” would be more accurate, since that is, quite simply, what they are.

Though she’s right that the term “pro-life” would be a sick joke if it weren’t so revoltingly inaccurate, I disagree with Libby Anne’s last statement here.  I wouldn’t say that the other side is anti-abortion. Because if they were, they’d do whatever was necessary to reduce the number of abortions: early and thorough sex education, free access to contraception and Plan B, encouragement of and funding for vasectomies for men who don’t want children or anymore children than they already have, free or at least subsidised child care up to the age of 6, and universal health insurance for (at least) pregnant women and new mothers as well as children up to the age of 18.

They are not pro-life. They are not anti-abortion. They are anti-choice. They are anti-women. They are, in effect, pro-slavery. They want to strip women of their rights to bodily autonomy, free will, security of person, privacy, religious freedom, and even life.

So, okay, I’ll play along for now. But don’t think I’m going to forget about your Let’s Lock Up More Poor Men in Prison bill.

My MP, Bev Oda, has done the only thing I think I’ve ever approved her doing. She’s restored funding to International Planned Parenthood (it’s not all good: for those who don’t recall, abortion is not one of the services that IPP is allowed to provide with the money–kinda like that old Bush ban). But even the whisper of a hint that women in Afghanistan or Sudan might be able to control their own reproduction with the help of Canadian aid money has Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost’s boxers all in a twist (there’s a video of an interview with him there, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it).

But it makes me wonder, does Brad Trost have a quiver full of kids? I mean, if his wife isn’t being a good Christian brood mare and popping them out at the rate of one every eighteen months or so, they must be using contraception. Surely he wouldn’t object to oppressed and starving women in Africa managing the size of their families? Oh, just took a closer look at his website. He’s <b>not married</b>.* And here I thought he was just being a privileged Westerner trying to impose a rule that he’s not even following himself. But his hypocrisy goes even beyond that: he’s trying to impose his religious dogma on women everywhere when he’s not even at risk of becoming a parent himself (after all, as a good Christian, he’s not having pre-marital sex right)?

He writes on his blog about how he and the other forced-birthers in the Conservative caucus worked to get the IPPF funding dropped in the first place:

“Many, many Conservative MPs pressed the PMO to stop the funds from flowing. Federal funding did stop for a time. Funds allocated to IPPF were considerably reduced. Furthermore, federal grants for IPPF also had more strings attached.

This only happened because of the pressure applied. “

Yes, Mr Trost, you got away with pulling funding for Planned Parenthood because you did it behind closed doors. You want to bring your women-are-just-animated-incubators agenda out into the open? Bring it on. We’re ready to crush your iron age thinking into the dust where it belongs. In case you haven’t heard, women now have the vote. And men who acknowledge that women are people too will stand and vote with them.

*I assume, given that there are no pictures or mention of his family and he wears no wedding ring.

A new blog and lots to say results in saying virtually nothing!

Ah well, there’s plenty of time to get into the habit and there’s always plenty to talk about. Just today I could have written entire blog posts on:

  • Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy being stripped of administration of a tourism funding programme for (wait for it…) funding tourism while Lisa Raitt continues to hold onto the sexy Chalk River file when she has handled it with nearly unmitigated disaster, risking the health and lives of not only Canadians but people around the world. The distinction? Not helping cancer patients is no big deal, but helping homosexuals is anathema.
  • On a related note, can right wing Yahoos refrain from using “pro-life” to mean anti-abortion-rights and “pro-family” to mean anti-gay-rights?
  • My thoughts relating to an ongoing debate about science journalism. The upshot? Science journalists have a great responsibility in reporting without sensationalism and with discretion. As things stand, it seems like every day a new study is reported saying that X might be beneficial or X might be detrimental. Without discrimination applied, much of science journalism fosters the impression that science is unreliable. It’s no wonder that many people find it difficult to distinguish scientific facts from religious faith.
  • On the post-Canada Day requiem for knowledge of Canada, Canadian history and Canadian institutions: perhaps Heritage Canada should revive those Heritage Minute ads—but with a difference: how about reviewing some basic facts about how our political system works (no, the PM is not the head of state and if we weren’t so ignorant or complacent about it, we would realise that his taking a military salute should be considered an extreme overstepping of his office, only one practical step away from usurpation; no we don’t elect a PM, we collectively elect a government & that government selects someone to recommend as PM; no, a coalition of elected MPs is not a perversion of democracy but a fulfillment of it), our geography (yes, there are 3 territories), and our history.
  • A couple of points raised by commenters on this post by Phil Plait on the Texas Board of Education: First, one that I commented on myself:

    @Rob Lee Says:@Petrolonfire #19 — “BTW. Is that a Godwin’s law record – nazis /Holocaust coming in at the fourth posts already!? :-O

    Haha — Ok, you got me there. In all seriousness, though, the point does stand. I feel that on an academic level, it is a very valid comparison. I try to stray away from the Nazi references, but in this case there really is not a better or more effective comparison.
    [The comparison being discussed is between scientists who deny evolution and historians who deny the Holocaust. Allegedly, more historians fall into the second group than scientists who fall into the first. – Ibis]

    I’ve seen this “statistic” used as a comparison several times, but as an historian I have to question whether its factual. Where did it come from? I don’t know of any legitimate, trained historian that seriously questions the reality of the Holocaust. Professional historians, like professional scientists, rely on evidence to draw their conclusions and the evidence in both cases are so overwhelming no rational person would doubt either. I suspect that this statistical comparison was pulled out of someone’s…um… hat.

    Second, is this annoying assertion by atheists that agnosticism is (a) a cop-out position (b) doesn’t actually exist (c) a position on a spectrum with gnosticism, while atheism is on an entirely separate spectrum with theism (this last one has some merit, but not in the manner it is usually deployed). Maybe some day when I have a bit of time, I’ll set the record straight.

And all of that is just off the top of my head (and ignores the number of other posts I have sitting here as drafts). Well, I guess this blog writing is a habit just waiting to be formed.

I just finished reading an article in the Toronto Star about the trauma experienced by some soldiers coming back from Afghanistan: a litany of assaults (often against women and children), alcohol abuse, and suicide attempts. A long way from the happy hardship related by Christie Blatchford in Fifteen Days.

Canadians love their boys and girls in uniform, and even those people who oppose specific actions, such as the war in Afghanistan, are rarely, if ever, accused of  a lack of patriotic support. So how does it happen that veterans are left to fend for themselves, left to negotiate the hazards of civilian life? The judge in Keddy’s case (Keddy, a veteran, assaulted his girlfriend) is bewildered at the state of affairs, and the Crown prosecutor responds:

“They are aware he’s got psychological issues. There were programs set up for him that he has not been attending. And their position is … they’re not in the business of 24-hour-a-day babysitting, because they perceive that he is a soldier and has responsibilities himself.”

In other words, the military has programmes to help these soldiers, but they are responsible for availing themselves of the programmes. To me this seems a bit backward.

The vetrans’ ombudsman in Ottawa, retired colonel Pat Strogan says:

“the military must better prepare soldiers for the stress of war, including subjecting them to virtual-reality representations of warlike conditions before they go on tour.

‘I don’t think the military is doing enough. It’s not all about learning how to pull the trigger and strip and assemble your weapon. It’s also about seeing the blood and gore and really being able to relate to somebody who’s badly mutilated and you have to put tourniquets on. We tried to set up a program of stress inoculation. I brought it to the powers that be.’

At the risk of contradicting an expert, that also seems backwards to me. Divorce them even further from the reality of civilian life before they go? Wouldn’t that make it even harder to acclimatize to civilian life later on? Sure, they mightn’t be as traumatized by the experiences in the war, but they’d hardly find it easier to live without it or to connect with loved ones and refrain from violence once back home.

It seems to me that soldiers should have training on the de-escalation side, the same way as the military provides training to ramp up to field duty. A gradual demob programme for veterans (ideally together in a group) to get used to not needing to be hypervigilant, a system for dealing with violent and aggressive compulsion, mandatory mental health care for those who suffer from suicidal thoughts, depression, or guilt. A support system for the families of returning soldiers so that they can report signs of drug use, physical aggression, or trauma. I see this type of programme as one that every veteran would participate in—just like every soldier needs training to go to war, every soldier needs training to integrate back into a non-war state after the fact.