Family responsibility, fantasy life, and American gun culture

I don’t want to spend the day crying, but here are two interesting articles on gun culture and family responsibility that you might find interesting.  First, sociologist Randall Collins says in Lessons from Newtown for Gun-Owning Parents what I was trying to say in this post, only with actual knowledge and a sociological perspective.  He writes about the murderer and his mother:

How could she be so blind? Everything her son did, she interpreted as a manifestation of his illness. The windows taped shut with black plastic were to her just a sign of sensitiveness to light—even though he could go outdoors when he wanted to. The possibility that he was hiding something in the rooms she was forbidden to enter was masked in her own mind by the feeling that she must do everything possible for her son. He had drawn her into his mental illness, building up a family system where he was in complete control. She may have felt something was wrong, wronger even than having a mentally ill son she loved. Though it seems unlikely that they quarreled in an overt way, some signs of tension came through. According to the report, “a person who knew the shooter in 2011 and 2012 said the shooter described his relationship with his mother as strained” and said that “her behavior was not rational.” He told another that he would not care if his mother died. As usual, when one person loves the other much more than is reciprocated, the power is all on the side of the less loving.

The mother entered into and supported his obsession with weapons, while carefully staying out of his clandestine world. In this, as in the rest of their arrangements, they tacitly cooperated. The mother lost her capacity to make independent judgments. This is very close to the classic model of the mental illness shared among intimates, the folie à deux.

Next, Joan Wickersham buys three gun enthusiast magazines and analyzes what they’re selling their readers–mostly fantasies that combine total powerlessness (due to end times, the collapse of civilization, or maybe Barack Obama’s evil stormtroopers) with the belief that a lone gunowner can offer heroic resistance: Continue reading

Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value

cowgirlgunsign1For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been a semi-regular donor to my private undergraduate college.*  I write some pretty big checks in reunion years, and while I sometimes miss a year or two, I’ve given that institution between $1000-1,500 in the past four years.  On the other hand, the pleas from my graduate institution go right into the recycling bin, as does their monthly alumni magazine.  (Honestly:  what a waste of paper and fuel!)  When I get mail from this university, I am disgusted that this large, private research university (which benefits from all kinds of government contracts, including morally objectionable work for the Pentagon, etc.) dares to ask me (me!)for a share of my modest income.

But let’s think about which institution has done the most to help me earn that modest income:  clearly, it’s my graduate institution, which granted me the Ph.D. that made me eligible to work as a tenure-track historian in the first place.  Besides:  my undergraduate college charged me and my parents thousands of dollars a year for the honor of matriculating, whereas I went to grad school for free!  It’s true:  I had a T.A.ship and two years of dissertation support, so I not only didn’t have to pay or even borrow a dime, they paid me!  So why do I react with such disgust and resentment when my graduate institution asks me for money?  That seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it?  But the fact of the matter is that I was happy in college, and I was (mostly) unhappy in graduate school, at least in my first year there. Continue reading

A case for the Oxford comma (as if it needs to be made in the first place.)

Love at first sight! Now that would be a big news day.

I had never heard of “the Oxford comma,” but apparently it’s just a serial comma, the use of which many find duplicative. However, it can clarify the meaning of a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys, and girls,” versus “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys and girls.” To me, NOT using the serial comma makes sentences look like a spreadsheet formula with a missing parenthesis, but to each his own however stupid or illiterate it looks I guess. Continue reading

It’s that time of the year, plus cold, the Louds, and the Mumps

emptyskullI am sorry for the absence of activity at Historiann lately–I’d like to say that it’s because I’m writing 3,500 words a day, but alas!  I have fallen woefully behind in my scheme to finish one draft chapter of my book per month this autumn.  The year isn’t over yet, so I’ll wait to report on the final results, but let’s just say that mid-semester business plus a few trips out of town got me out of the habit of rising at 4 a.m. to write.

It’s cold here, as it is pretty much everywhere in North America, but we don’t have the disabling ice and snow that afflicts the middle of the U.S. now.  I actually took a (short) run yesterday.  I think it was probably my coldest run in 23-1/2 years, as for the first time ever I thought a balaclava would be nice.  My face was cold–no broken blood vessels, so we’ll call it good.

In the History of Sexuality class I’m teaching again with my colleague Ruth Alexander, we’re reading Heather Murray’s Not in This Family:  Gays and the Meaning of Kinship in Postwar North America, which is a really interesting attempt to historicize the “coming out” process that characterizes the post-Gay Liberation era and injects a great deal of nuance into our understanding of how heterosexual parents dealt with gay and lesbian children from 1945 to 1990.  In trying to find some video primary sources, I came across this interview with Lance Loud of the Loud family from An American Family. (Tenured Radical explains it all here.)

Our students didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Lance, which surprised me.  Continue reading

Troubled son or abusive partner? Or, when does caring for become enabling?

Ruth Marcus writes about the Connecticut state’s attorney’s report on the Sandy Hook murderer, and in particular Nancy Lanza’s home life with her son:

“The mother did the shooter’s laundry on a daily basis as the shooter often changed clothing during the day.”

That matter-of-fact recitation, from the just-released official report on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, encapsulates the enduring contradiction of Nancy Lanza, shot four times in her bed with her .22-caliber Savage Mark II rifle.

.        .       .       .        .        .        .

The state’s attorney’s report documents this dogged maternal determination: “The mother took care of all of the shooter’s needs. The mother indicated that she did not work because of her son’s condition. She worried about what would happen to the shooter if anything happened to her.”

Nancy Lanza structured her life around her son’s peculiarities. Workers at the house “were instructed never to ring the doorbell and to make prior arrangements before using power equipment as her son had issues with loud noises.”

Adam Lanza “was particular about the food that he ate and its arrangement on a plate in relation to other foods on the plate. Certain types of dishware could not be used for particular foods. The mother would shop for him and cook to the shooter’s specifications.” When Nancy Lanza considered moving to Washington state so that Adam could attend a special school, she planned to buy a recreational vehicle “as he would not sleep in a hotel.”

Birthdays, Christmas and holidays were not to be celebrated. “He would not allow his mother to put up a Christmas tree.The mother explained it by saying that [the] shooter had no emotions or feelings. The mother also got rid of a cat because the shooter did not want it in the house.” Continue reading

More or Less Right On

Jonathan Rees, commenting on Coursera’s Daphne Koller’s comment that cognitive learning can only be taught at actual, real-life universities:

So pardon me if I’m less than impressed by Koller’s new-found defense of face-to-face interaction between professors and students. Say what you will about Sebastian Thrun. At least his company will soon only be shortchanging customers who won’t be wiped out by the experience. Continue reading