Monthly Archives: August 2014

In Like Flynn: I’m Back in College

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I’m a college man now. Again.

This week draws a close my first frenetic week as an online student at Georgia Perimeter College, where I am taking two classes and endeavoring to elevate my GPA to reapply to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

I’m so moved at how much different this is than the first time I tried to go to college. I have reliable transportation, suitable technology and, more than anything, support. My wife has been up with me nearly every night this week, trying to help me hobble through my algebra assignments. It must be maddening; and honestly, it’s pretty hopeless. My brain isn’t wired for algebra. But I’m determined to make the most of this.

My Study

Where I’ve been toiling late into the night.

Yes, it’s tiring spending every evening poring over text books and fumbling through the online learning module. But I’ve kept the Braves games on the office TV, muted in the background, and I am actually learning some things.

I enjoyed being a college student my first time ‘round. I enjoyed watching lectures and participating in class discussions. I enjoyed the reading assignments and epiphanies. I enjoyed the study groups that I hosted periodically in my basement, which came to be known as my “Basement Lecture Series” as I endeavored to master the material enough that I could speak on it to some end. So while the nights are late and my mind wanders, it’s great to be learning again, enriching myself, making nightly discoveries. I’d even go so far as to say I’m blessed. I know how hard it can be to endeavor to earn your education with no one on your side and no one who understands the necessity of having time to study and learn.

It may take years to get through this. But I have resolve and patience. I know this is a rare chance to prove myself. And it is my obligation to make the most of it.

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I’m Bad at Math

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I’m bad at math.

Unequivocally, wholly and completely terrible at math.

I have to use my fingers to figure out what my total at a restaurant should be after I add in the tip. I had four years of algebra in high school because I had to take Algebra 2 three times.

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How I've been spending my evenings -- when not dicking around with this blog.

It’s one reason I’ve put so much effort in being successful as a man of words. History, writing, social sciences — these things have long come very naturally to me. I’ve been unfortunate in many things, but I’ve been blessed to have had a way with words that has enabled me to make a living not by the sweat of my brow alone.

Math is mysterious, and the mystery is compounded by my perception that it’s a mystery that doesn’t really require a solution. Like hearing a thud somewhere in the house while watching TV, it raises questions but I’m not inclined to put in the effort to find the cause. Very seldom in my professional life have I had to solve for x. Only once have I even had to use height-times-width to figure out an area, and then division to determine that it was going to be cost-prohibitive to build a retaining wall near my front walk.

When I was very young — kindergarten age or so — I was given the gift of a small calculator with my name on it. It had a very small LCD screen and a small keypad of tiny rubber buttons. The device was no larger than a credit card, but it could add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Later, by first grade, I had a teacher who had an unorthodox way of teaching math. She taped a “number line” across the top of each of our desks and instructed us to add and subtract by counting the distance from one number to another. For eight minus five, for instance, count how many numbers you hit between eight and five. Seven (“one”), six (“two”), five (“three”). The solution is three. Easy enough. But the number line only went up to about 16 or so, which made it virtually impossible for me to factor any figures larger than that. And by second grade, they had us stacking the figures and adding them out, borrowing from the tens column to subtract, etc., and I was completely lost. Then by third and fourth grade, I began trying to memorize multiplication tables, which seemed a very silly endeavor since I owned a calculator the size of a credit card that could multiply damn near anything.

(The necessity of multiplication was suspect, anyway: it would be clearer and simpler to just list out the numbers and add them. Why are we doing 6×3? Just do 6+6+6 and quit trying to complicate things.)

On top of it, I had my grandmother as tutor. She was a sweet, Christian lady who meant well, but her hobby was “cyphering.” Cyphering, as my grandmother did it, involved sitting in an armchair with a ballpoint pen and adding and subtracting a long list of figures on the back of an opened envelope that came in the mail (it would’ve been wasteful to just throw that away, I guess). What she was figuring and from where those numbers were derived, I have no idea. She could’ve been figuring how global grain prices were going to impact her grocery bill, less her senior discount for all I know. But her incessant cyphering meant that she knew addition and subtraction the way most people know their multiplication tables. So at a glance she could solve a math problem, and often did, instructing me to write the solution and move on to the next.

By the time letters were introduced to the math problems, I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea what I was doing. Order of operation seemed stupid to someone who read as much as I did. You do things left to write. Why would I start doing a math problem in the middle? Exponents were even more bourgeois than multiplication tables. Just write it out and quit trying to be so fancy.

In high school, I had become a hopeless case. I passed Algebra 2 after my third try with a 70 — the lowest score I could get and still pass. I was obviously the recipient of a teacher’s sympathy. I’d already been accepted to a good college pending the passing of the math class (and completion of my diploma), and the teacher was kind enough to just let me go.

My one and only college algebra course was the professor’s last. He was a tall, thin, old man who would be retiring at the end of the semester. Since his class was for freshmen — 18-year-olds who hadn’t quite made the transition from high school — the class was often boisterous when he entered. His expectation that everyone should be silent when the instructor entered the room (and rise, maybe? call him “your honor?”) was never met. So, rather than try to get the class to simmer down, he’d leave. Once or twice, he didn’t even enter the room; just stuck his head in and went back to his department.

Being without a scholarship and well aware of what college costs, one day I followed him back to his department. “Hey!” I shouted as he walked along, ignoring me. “Hey, professor! Hey!” In the lobby of the mathematics department, as my stalking created a scene, he finally turned to address me. “I’m paying you to teach me algebra!” I shouted. “I paid for gas to drive here, I paid the MARTA fare to get here, and I paid my tuition and student fees. I paid your salary. I paid you to teach me. If we need to go back to your office for instruction, fine. I’ll be quiet. But I’m not going to learn this on my own.”

“Son,” he said, “I’ve done this too long to care if you learn anything here or not.” And he walked through a door near the reception desk and locked it behind him. I looked at the work-study student behind the desk, told her the professor was a dick, and left.

Now, for the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to teach myself math.

I’m trying to get back into college. I need to take a test called the “Compass.” It’s made by the same people who did the ACT and it’s designed to determine which classes I should be placed in. I have enough English classes that carry over from my first foray into college (more than 10 years ago) to exempt me from taking that portion of the test, but I must take the math portion, and I must make at least a 20 out of 100.

That sounds easy enough. But the test ranges from pre-algebra to trigonometry. And the computer-based exam shuts off once it’s clear the test taker has no idea what he or she is doing. So, since it’s obvious that I’m not going to get any trigonometry or calculus questions right, my strategy is to do well enough on the introductory questions to get the necessary minimum that would allow me to even be considered for admission.

So, for two weeks, I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, watching videos on Georgia Perimeter College’s Web site and taking notes, trying to solve my way into college. I took a practice exam last night, and missed six out of 30 questions. That’s good enough for an 80 (don’t pat me on the head — there are calculators on the Internet for this kind of crap), but only on those earliest questions. I can’t say that I feel totally prepared, but I’m ready as I’m going to be. And this morning, I’ll find out if I’m ready enough. So any prayers, happy thoughts, good vibrations, etc. that you want to send my way are very much welcomed.

I feel I understand math better than I ever have, however. I’ve focused, realizing and appreciating that math does indeed have a use for me.

Even if it is just being the hurdle I must jump to be considered fit for college once again.

How to Handle Open Carry Gun Nuts: Leave

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I own guns.

Guns. Plural. More than one.

Shotguns. Rifles. Handguns. I got ‘em.

When someone broke into my house in the middle of the night — for the second time in as many days — I grabbed a gun. Twelve-gauge. Good spread. Little need to aim. Works great in the dark.

So to say I’m anti-gun is a fallacy. I got no beef with owning a gun to protect yourself, your family and your property. It’s a dangerous world and there are people who would do you harm. Having a gun in the home is a comfort to me, and I’ve emerged from my bedroom with a firearm in hand more than once.

It has, however, never occurred to me to take one to Target. Or church. Or out to eat.

Gun nuts eating

Just some well-adjusted patriotic citizens eating at a Sonic.

This is because I’m secure in my own person. I don’t worry that I’m likely to be a victim of a violent crime. I know the crime statistics for where I live, I know the odds, and I feel safe when I’m out and about, even sans sidearm.

I also don’t think my wife requires a gun to go out, and she’s never expressed any interest in having one. She’s not even real happy about the ones we have, though I think she’s accepted them as something of a necessity (aside from intruders, we live on the edge of some acres of woods, and wildlife is also a concern).

But then, we’re not emotional children, either. And this is what I have to assume those who cannot leave the house without a gun on them must be: insecure, scared and untrusting.

The fact that someone is so imbalanced that they can’t leave home unarmed makes that individual exactly the type, in my way of reasoning, who shouldn’t have a gun.

A philosopher from the University of North Dakota, Jack Russell Weinstein, posited the following observation:

“They believe their minds are transparent. But this is because they are all extreme narcissists. It baffles them that we don’t all know exactly what they are thinking. It shocks them that we don’t know that Jim is a good guy, and that Sally would never murder anyone. But they are wrong. We don’t know them and we don’t know how they think. The only thing that makes us notice them at all is that they have guns and truthfully, that’s why they carry them in the first place. They want to be celebrities, heroes, and the centers of attention.”

Let’s propose the one event that gun-packing narcissists live for: an active shooter. Someone strolls into a shopping mall — hey, it’s happened, again and again — and begins randomly firing into a crowd. A shopper in Sears (because Sears seems like the kind of place a gun nut would shop) hears the shots, draws that gun on his hip and charges toward the echoing pop-pop-pop.

What is he likely to encounter en route to the shooting? Potentially, someone else with a gun with the same designs as Shooter A: he’s going to save the day. Since Shooter A and Shooter B are both searching for someone with a gun, what is the likely response when their paths cross? Well, more pop-pop-pops, most likely, from two shooters who are excited about firing at each other and whose accuracy, in their excitement, is probably a little off. So, now we’ve got three people shooting in a crowded shopping mall.

Mall in Columbia shooting

Officers respond to a shooting at a suburban Baltimore shopping mall.

Enter another element in our scenario: law enforcement. After the Columbine High School shooting, law officers changed their training in response to mass shootings. They don’t set up a perimeter and wait for backup anymore, because studies have shown that more lives are saved if they’re able to interrupt the shooter. So, now the first officers on the scene are grabbing their shotguns and running in. And what are they looking for?

Well, some asshole with a gun, first and foremost. Like Shooter A and Shooter B. More pop-pops.

The idea of taking guns into restaurants and stores was initially repulsive even to the National Rifle Association, who tried to convince supporters that doing so was “weird.” But the NRA then retracted that position when supporters began to criticize them for not being hardcore enough, and has since broadly expanded its support for “open carry.”

In a recent post on the Philosophy Questions Every Day blog, Professor Weinstein postulated a proposal in responding to people who openly carry in public: leave.

If at a restaurant, stand, turn, and walk toward the door. Do not pay, as this will only slow you down. Epistemologically, you cannot know if the armed individual who has entered wishes you harm or not, nor can you be sure that, should he or she begin shooting for whatever reason, you won’t be caught in the crossfire.

Indeed, the likelihood that two open carry activists might run afoul of each other is high, since all are secure in the responsibility of their own actions and suspicious of everyone else’s. That very thing happened earlier this year in Valdosta, Ga. Indeed, because of the proliferation of “stand your ground” laws, someone openly carrying a firearm can consider himself or herself justified in opening fire even if they simply feel threatened. And since we can’t know for sure what other people external from ourselves are thinking, we can’t know what might frighten them enough to begin shooting.

In dealing with someone who comes into a public place carrying a gun, says Professor Weinstein…

“My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.

“But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.”

Open Carry at restaurant

And what makes you sure this nice gentleman won’t feel “threatened” before you finish your chili cheese fries?

Since you have no way of determining the intent of the individual with the gun, you should leave. Flee. If the establishment wants you to stay and pay for your meal, it is their responsibility to remove either the threat posed by the firearm or the unstable individual who has it.

If at a deli, set down the cold cuts you’ve ordered and walk out. At the grocery store, leave your cart and go. You don’t have to put yourself in danger because of someone else’s insecurity. And perhaps, if this catches on, businesses will begin invoking their right as property owners to forbid patrons from carrying guns inside their establishments and we’ll all be a lot more comfortable.

There is a time and place for firearms. But if you are so juvenile that you must strut around with a gun strapped to your hip all your waking hours (and cradled under your pillow as you sleep), then you’re evidently doing so for the attention it gives you and the pleasure you derive in making other people uncomfortable.

But I’m within my right not to humor you.