These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:

Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car

In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.

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Shootings, Troubled Boys, and System Failures

I hesitated a lot in writing this.  It leaves the door open to be directly or indirectly judged and devalued.  Some might view it as sensationalizing the tragedy for my own gain or trying to garner attention away from it.  What follows is me sharing what is extremely hard to share because there has been no space for these conversations in our culture.  I make no claims to be or to know Adam Lanza; after all, in the end I didn't do what he did.  But in my adolescence, the impulse was palpable though the opportunity wasn't.    

As early as ten years old, I experienced suicidal fantasies; that was also the year of my first attempt.  I tried to electrocute myself (in rather pathetic conditions in hindsight).  I would try two more times in the next six years; once with a knife and once with pills.  I mired in a depressive suicidal slump for seven years of my life during which nary a day would pass where I didn't think about death; mine and at times, others. 

One day, a neighborhood kid showed me his gun (by sneaking up behind me and pointing it at my head). I told him it wasn't real and that he wouldn't do it, neither of which I hoped were true.  It was a starter gun for races and I remember the disappointment.  I had shimmering hopes that I could end my life and maybe even others’ lives.  For a few days afterward, I hoped that maybe he could get me a gun.

In my teenage years, I certainly thought much about doing what Lanza actually did.  If I had access to a gun, I and maybe others wouldn't be alive today.  I thank the powers that be that my mother did not get a gun until I was into my 20s and I had gained distance from where I was in my teenage years.  But there was a time in which I wanted that “power.”    I hated myself, my family, and the world around me for making me feel the way I did; too fat, too stylistically deficient, too unmanly--just not enough of this and too much of that.  The self-loathing, teasing, and sense of displacement simmered and boiled enough so that I regularly fantasized about taking control of my life with a gun. "That would show them."  The classic line of so many people who felt wronged by the world around them.  Though I probably never spoke the lines, the words echoed in my fantasies.  

I took inspiration from another student at my school.  He was regularly harassed by the jocks and others.  He always carried large duffle bag and the rumor mill produced a story that he had been found with a "hit list" and weapons in the bag.  The myth was that he planned to attack and do serious harm to others.  As much as that gave me grounds to also harass, or at least gossip, about him (in my feeble attempts to fit in by talking about others; after all, if they were talking about him, they were not talking about me), I also took his idea to heart.  I wondered who would be on my "hit list."  Who would be my targets?  Specific people or just everyone?  Regularly, I would play these detailed scenarios out in my mind. 

This was a major feature of my adolescence.  Few would have been privy to it at the time.  If the opportunity afforded itself and I did commit some heinous crime, many would have been just as dumbstruck as people now express about Lanza.  Of course, that's not entirely true.  We often know something is up but we don't pursue it.  We say it's not our business or that we're too busy or that it's not true.  The friends, families and neighbors of most serial killers or mass murderers claim utter disbelief and that he (and we're largely talking about "he") was a good person.  We lie to ourselves.  It's easier to say, "I didn't know" than to grapple with the fact that we had some hints about it.  Because then we would have to ask ourselves, "What more could I have done?" and the answer in the wake of dead bodies is usually, "something."  

Was I mentally ill?  Probably, but I flew just below the radar.  No one saw the full picture of what was going on.  My parents got hints, friends (though at times I believed I had none) got hints, and other adults did as well.  I physically and verbally lashed out in anger at people and things and other times, I was the sweetest kid.  But nobody really put in the effort to get the full picture.  I lived in a state of hiding but showing.  This was no soduko puzzle; it was connect-the-dots.  There is a clear element in these tragedies; the signs are there if we but take the time.  Culturally speaking, we don't do mentally ill; it's too complicated; it's too gray.  It would mean not only looking at our children and our friends differently and with extreme amounts of empathy and understanding, but in the big picture, re-evaluating crime and the closely-held beliefs of freedom and self-reliance.

The structure we have created for youth grossly fails us at times.  For every Lanza who takes actions, there are many who suffer silently or inflict their wounds solely upon themselves through self-mutilation or suicide (like myself).  The industrialized education system, that is supposed to simultaneously socialize us and educate us, comes up drastically short in this.  It tries to do both but often fails; we get very intelligent people who have trouble fitting in and social butterflies who can't do the mathematics required for a checkbook.  

Though this isn't an anti-gun rant, guns do play a role in this.  I respect and appreciate the presence of guns in the world.  However, a lack of access to guns prevented me from substantively doing anything more than fantasizing.  That I would have to talk with others and track down a gun by some means was a significant deterrent for someone like me.  I can only think that is the case for a great deal of people in similar states of mind.  

All of this is in the far distance past--literally, half a lifetime ago.  In total, I have spent months of my life addressing and repairing those parts of me through a variety of methods and through a great deal of help from friends and loved ones.  All of which has moved me from a place of hopelessness to a place of hopefulness.  I'd no sooner take my life or anyone's now than I would decide to believe the world is flat; it's an utterly ludicrous idea in my head.  But it wasn't always.  In the mind of that young boy, filled with hate and self-loathing, isolated and disconnected from the world around him, wanting help but never quite capable of asking for it, it was a reality.  

The Sandy Hook shooting was but one of several tragic mass-shootings this year. It triggers a variety of responses.  Some are quick to lose faith in humanity.  Others quickly blame the guns.  Still, others point to failures to address mental illness in real ways.  Some just claim it is a "crazy person" and we can't account for such random acts.  People are wildly reactive and rightfully so, that's what happens when we are faced with trauma.  When tragedy hits, we want quick fixes and easy answers.   We regress to childhood and just want it to go away.  But as adults, we should know better.  There are no easy answers; life is a complicated mess and what happened in Newtown only emphasizes that.

I only wonder though if our failure to address the mental health and illness, the structure of adolescence, and the worship of guns in our culture don't make for the perfect formula for the repetition of these events.  When Columbine happened, like other tragedies, we said it must happen "never again."  But I knew it would.  Because in all honesty, what has actually changed since Columbine?  What can we say that has substantively addressed the issues that caused that event?  Draconian no-tolerance policies against bullying?  That's punitive but doesn't address and engage ways in which we talk about the pressure to create hierarchy in the school setting.  Little has changed because we're not having the right conversations--skip the music selection or the video game choices, those are distractions. Focus on the real issues.  Otherwise, we will continue to see more shootings like Sandy Hook, and grow increasingly fearful of one another. 

Recent Letter to the Editor: Response to violence requires honest discussion

So here's a recent letter to the editor that I fired off in response to an editorial earlier this week (Our View:  School shooting defies understanding).  I have a lot more to say about the event than what's in these 300+ words, but I'm waiting to hear back if another site or publication will be taking it up.  In the meantime, to get a sense of where I am with all this, try this one:

"To the editor:  If the Newtown shooting “defies understanding,” then you haven’t been paying attention. The motivations may never be fully realized and yet the ways in which help could have been afforded to Lanza or the signs recognized are numerous. However, in a self-reliant “we must be free at all costs” society, it’s up to you to take care of you. That doesn’t work out so well in reality; it didn’t work out for Adam Lanza and it didn’t work out for the community of Newtown. It won’t work out for future episodes of this show."

For the rest of the letter, follow on through to the Salem News.

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And That's a Year

So today marks the one year anniversary from when I started in my full time position as Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College.  To say the very least, it's been an absolutely wonderful year.  As I told a colleague this week, it's a year later and I'm still excited every day to go to work.  It's rewarding as much as it is (mentally) exerting.

I don't hesitate to count my blessings in many regards with this position.  I have a great team of colleagues who are also insightful (equally if not more so), enthusiastic and genuinely caring.  I get to work with an amazing group of faculty who continually teach me great things that I'm then able to share with other colleagues or my students.  My work involves thinking, learning, and sharing and for a nerd like me--that's paradise.  I feel supported and valued in myriad ways from the minute I was into work till well after I leave each day.  I don't mean to brag or ramble on; but in looking at the last year, I just feel grateful I landed at such a place. 

The past year has brought me some great things, professionally.  It's sent me back to blogging regularly (as my few readers can see).  Writing for my work's blog has only propelled me to write more on my own blog.  In a very profound way, it's further helped me practice patience, understanding, and perspective.  I continually need to step out of my habits of doing things and understand why and how others (i.e. faculty) do the same things differently as well as consider how others (i.e. students) might make sense of those actions.  It's continually spinning the collidiscope; knowing that your own view is but one possible perspective and rarely (if ever) the best one.  It's also helped me focus and work about half my way through my next master's degree (Masters of Education with a concentration on Instructional Design at University of Massachusetts, Boston).  The interplay of the degree and work has also stimulated a great deal of ideas about what I want to do (and can do) in my position and even in the classroom (I'm still teaching classes, of course).  I now have several projects for the next two years that have been deeply informed by these crossovers from the classes I'm taking to the work I'm doing. 

It's always strange to see where a short stretch of time brings one.  I was in such a different place; still doing the full-time adjuncting (and hating running) without clear thought of where I was going next.  Then, with a simple suggestion and nudging by a few friends, so much changed.  I couldn't have foretold it, but I'm certainly glad I'm here and hope that it's the first of many years and future successes. So here's to a year. 

 In a position that deals with helping faculty integrate technology into their classrooms or converting face to face courses into online courses, I'm can easily be perceived as the "technology" guy, trying to cram a bit or byte into every corner of the classroom and that this can be disconcerting to many.  So when interacting with faculty I really do have to step

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If Teaching Online Is Easy--Are We Doing It Wrong?

I have heard many people (including myself) claim that teaching online is easier.  When I inquire further, the person often highlights the fact that he or she can do it in their pajamas and even when he or she is sick.  However, I also hear from people as they talk about how much less work they have to do and this worries me about the nature of online education and the value of it.

When someone teaches a face to face class, they have a level of accountability and investment that has a strong possibility of being lessened in the online environment and I guess my concern is that many are offering a lesser quality product than their face to face counterparts.  There's a disparity here that's not really being acknowledged in online learning.  This isn't true of all faculty for certain, but there are faculty that conduct themselves this way and it worries about the nature of online education.  The following are some observations and concerns about opportunities and problems with online learning.

The online environment allows us to fill the course to the brim with content.  

Much of which is not our own, but just relying on other work out there.  Positive:  This means we can have much richer content and find ways of communicating the material in creative ways in which we may not have the time, skill, or resources.  Negative:  If it's out on the internet, then how is what we're offering as faculty, unique, useful, or somehow specialized knowledge?  If we as individuals aren't offering something unique through discussions, continually tuned and tweaked learning guides, or lots of deep interactions, then what are we in the online environment besides over-inflated assignment graders (and in some cases--even that is automated) or marginal curators?

Rather than reproducing the course notes, assignment explanations, rubrics, etc semester to semester as we do in face to face classes, they can be easily copied from semester in the online platform

 Positive:  This can save faculty an inordinate amount of time and energy in course preparation.  Negative:  It's ease of reproduction leads faculty to change and tweak it less than they might in their face-to-face courses.  Since they don't have to directly engage with the content, they are less likely to tweak it (sometimes even on a superficial level--such as changing/adding dates etc).  If you don't have to present your notes--just hit the copy button, are you more inclined to adapt them appropriately? 

Some assessments can be automatically graded through the learning management system and students learn their grades almost instantly.  

Positive:  This saves time (especially when coupled with the copying of the course) and provides immediate feedback on their work.  Negative:  It can often distance the faculty from the actual work their students are doing and as the course evolves, these questions need to be revised and redressed regularly.  Also, automatically graded tests come with auto-responses for scores which are largely the equivalent (no matter how nicely written) to the "We care about your call" messages we get when we call customer service.  Without direct follow up, it feels shallow. 

So what follows are some considerations about teaching in an online environment to bridge the game between the "easy" introduced by teaching online and the rigor of effort implicit in teaching.

Don't rely on automatic features of your LMS to engage with your students.  Make regular specific announcements about what has gone on in the past week(s), directly reach out to students to find out what's going on.  Make sure your presence is palpably felt through announcements, discussion posts, regularly directing relevant resources, and even holding online office hours or making yourself available through a social media environment (e.g. Twitter).

Reaching out to your students early and regularly.  Make sure they know you are regularly engaged with the course and their specific learning.  In an online class, we miss the opportunities to read body language and facial expressions to garner a sense of what's working and what isn't.  We lose that in the online environment and therefore, as instructors do need to compensate for it--otherwise, we're failing the ways in which we teach our students.

Recognize, just like your students, that you're recognizing that you've been allotted a certain amount of freedom (in the form of time), but you still need to follow through with responsibility (doing more than the bare minimum in your course:  grading papers, acknowledging (but not substantively participating in) discussion posts, corresponding in a reasonable amount of time.  That freedom of when still needs to be tempered by the amount of time you put into engaging with your students; the LMS is not a replacement for your "face time" with your students.  

Do not use the rhetoric of freedom or student choice to disregard your students and recognize that some may not really understand the nature of online education.  

In a face-to-face class, we can often given the student the benefit of doubt that he or she does not know or understand a basic component of our class (e.g. citing).  But we seem to lose that patience or fail to see how that is exacerbated in an online environment.  Students' lack implicit knowledge in online class.  They don't always know how to make sense of how to conduct themselves and instructors often fail to help in that regard because each course they step into is a very different maze than the last (in some schools, the set up and execution of courses drastically differs--leaving students hard to figure out the "right" course of action since it is different from what they saw previously).  I hear too many times, "well, they choose to take an online class and didn't do the work, so clearly it's their fault" (and to be honest, I've fell into this trap as well).  It's just not that easy.  Well, sure it is, if you make it so, but you do so at the point of alienating your students or failing to meet them where they're at and guide them to the endgame.  

The online environment allows us to automate much; we as instructors have to be all the more human and engaging or we're failing to give students the full value of their education.

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Interview with Dan E. Burr, Artist of Economix

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to interview Michael Goodwin, author of Economix.  In this follow up interview, we get to hear from the artist of Economix, Dan E. Burr.

Lance:  How did you get into comics and what are some of your favorite past projects?

Book cover for Economix by Dan E. Burr and Michael Goodwin
Dan:  I was exposed to both comic strips and comic books from a very early age. As a small child I lived with an uncle who was older than me (but still a kid) and I looked at all the comics he bought and brought into the house. He also liked to draw (as did many of the members of my family) so I was very naturally following the example I saw.

I'd have to say I've enjoyed (almost) all the past projects I've been involved in. Some of those include:  Kings in Disguise (graphic novel), a story for Graphic Classics:  Ambrose Bierce, stories for Grateful Dead Comix #3, 4, 7, & Vol 2, #2, and stories for DC's The Big Book of Series, including Freaks, Thugs, Losers; Martyrs, Bad; Weird Wild West; and The 70's.

Lance:  What are some of the comics that you read and who has been major influences in your style and approach to comics?

Dan:  Like the music that I listen to and the movies I watch, I'm mostly interested in the older stuff, primarily Golden and Silver age titles.  Comic book artists: a lot of guys whose last names begin with the letter "K" - Kurtzman, Kirby, Krigstein, Kubert, and Krenkel,  also Wood, Williamson, Eisner, Elder, Engels, Drucker, Davis, Ditko, Cole, Crandall, Barks and many more.  Many comic strips (and their creators) have also been a huge influence such as Peanuts, Prince Valiant, Pogo, Li'l Abner, Flash Gordon, and Alley Oop.

Lance:  So what were your first thoughts when you were contacted about making a comic about economics?

Dan:  It sounded unique, very interesting and very timely.

Excerpt from Economix by Dan E. Burr and Michael GoodwinLance:  What compelled you to work with Michael (I'm presuming a pay-check is certainly always a piece of that, but anything else about the nature of the project come to mind?)

Dan:  A mutual agent brought us together.

Lance:  How did you and Michael determine the balance of word density with smoothness of reading?

Dan:  Mike had a good handle on that balance. Occasionally I did feel crowded by words and let him know and he would make adjustments.

Lance: Did this graphic novel challenge you differently from previous projects?

Dan:  Yes, but I think I'll just leave it at that.

Lance:  Was the choice to use black and white your decision, Michael’s, or the publisher’s?

Dan:  As I wasn't there during the initial discussions about the project I can only speculate on the decision and I'm assuming that, at least in part, it had to do with financial considerations. Regardless of the reason, I think the decision was the right one.

Lance:  How did that choice improve and/or hinder certain parts of the book?

Dan:  I really can't see this book being in color and I think to have produced it that way would have created an unnecessary distraction. Full color can drastically change the mood and feel of a (graphic) reading experience.

Lance:  What styles and sources influenced your particular artistic style in this endeavor?

Dan:  Chiefly I just wanted things kept simple and funny.

Lance:  Were you reasonably familiar with economics prior to this and if not, did you feel you needed to be in order capture Michael's ideas?

Dan:  I certainly know more about economics now than I did before I started the book, but I really don't think having a knowledge of economics was necessary to do my part, which is mainly to support the script with appropriate and entertaining graphics.

Lance:  What challenges did you find with the layout and design of the book as a whole?  Did you find yourself having to scrap certain approaches and styles?

Dan:  Since the important thing to me was for it to be easy to understand and follow (keeping in mind that much of the audience for the book very likely would not be comic book readers), again, I believe it had to be kept for the most part, simple. So what I tried to do was communicate Mike's ideas as clearly as possible throughout.

Lance:  Were there challenges with representing historical figures in terms of how serious or caricatured to represent them?  Did you find there were certain historical figures you could easily caricature and yet others, you wanted to get a closer depiction?

Dan:  For me, caricature goes where it will go. Some faces accommodate severe distortion more readily than others, but recognizability is still the most important component of caricaturing. I do really enjoy the evolving process of "finding" an impression of someone.

Lance:  How much nonfiction work or conceptual/content-heavy work have you done with comics and what challenges do you find with that?

Dan:  Most of the comics I've worked on have been historically based. I guess at this point I've come to think of it as my specialty.  Those challenges that do exist I enjoy.

Lance:  What was the biggest surprise in the whole experience of creating and publishing the graphic novel?

Dan:  The biggest "unexpected" was that the book grew by about sixty pages in length during the course of its creation.

Lance:  What would you change or revise in hindsight about the book in terms of art, style, etc?

Dan:  I have had some thoughts about this but, as I'm still evaluating, I would rather keep them to myself for the time being.

Lance:  Current and future projects?

Dan:  The sequel to the Great Depression era drama KINGS IN DISGUISE, titled ON THE ROPES (also set during the Great Depression,) will be published in March.

As with the first book the sequel was written by my long-time working partner, James Vance, and we're both quite proud of the end result. Those who've only seen my work on ECONOMIX may be surprised at the stylistic shift in approach to art and storytelling.

For more about Dan and his activities, check out his author bio.  To find out more about Economix, check out their website and blog.

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Tales of Running: My First Relay

Yesterday, I participated in my first relay race; The Mill Cities Relay, which pulls together racing clubs from all over Massachusetts, New Hampshire and elsewhere for a 28.9 mile race in 5 legs.  I actually had a great time and scored a personal best in terms of my distance and time.

Mill Cities Relay icon on a magnet
After the 30K I did in September which was hosted by the North Shore Striders, I decided to join the running club.  I hadn't heard much from them since joining and hoped by spring that I would make it to their practices and trainings that they run. However, just before Thanksgiving, I got an email asking if I wanted to join a relay team for the club at The Mill Cities Relay.  I figured why not.  It would give me a chance to do something with the club, meet some other people in the club, and nudge me to do another race in December since I need nudging to run in the cold.  They have me a list of the lengths for the legs of the race; several were 4-5 miles, one was 9.5 miles, and a 2.8 (or so).  I said that I could do the 4-5 milers no problem but if they needed someone to do the 9.5 miles I could, but I don't think I'd be a good choice given that I'm generally slow and haven't actually ran that distance in a while (since my half-marathon in early October).  I had done a handful of 4-6 mile runs and was having trouble getting into the mindset to do something longer.

Unfortunately, I pulled the short straw (or would that be the long straw) and was given the 9.5 mile leg to run.  I was ok with this but felt bad cause I was likely to hurt the team's overall timing.  They didn't mind, so I was set to go.

Anxiously Waiting

Sunday morning came and I was a bit apprehensive.  The weather was drab; cloudy, misty and in the forties.  For some runners, running in the cold is a great experience.  While I don't hate the cold, it takes a bit for me to warm up to it.  The biggest hurdle I contend with is that I wear barefoot shoes.  These are not conducive to colder and wetter weather--it's practically an invitation to frostbite.  When I got there (about 1 hour earlier than the hand off--because I'm always early), it was probably in the high thirties.  I stayed in my car with the heat on occasionally.  Every time I stepped out, I ran back in.  I was smart in this race; it was the first I ran in layers.  I had two long-sleeve tech shirts on, spandex pants, shorts, gloves, and earmuffs.  I figured if I couldn't keep my feet warm, I would make sure everything else was kept sufficiently warm.  I also know from previous runs in the cold that it usually takes until mile two or three for my feet to feel fully normal, having worked through the numbness and such.
Lance Eaton's running number for the Mill Cities Relay

Sitting in the car watching the hand offs, I also got a bit intimidated by some of the runners.  Granted, these were the fastest running groups, but looking at the competition of 9.5 mile runners--some almost stripped bare and leg muscles that looked like chiseled rocks, I certainly felt less competent than previously acknowledged.

Soon enough my group leader showed up, gave me my number and introduced me to other people within the North Shore Striders.  She was very nice and welcoming, which was reassuring as were the others that met.  It made for a warmer start to the race.  Soon enough, my switch-off person was coming down the runway and I was being handed the baton to take off.  I started off at a decent clip and tried to keep steady throughout the race (which I surprisingly did).

On My Way

The route itself was by far the most beautiful run I've done.  Much of the run was along the Merrimack River and country roads or at least lightly trafficked roads.   For large stretches of the 9.5 miles, I was running along a river with the various buildings and scenery beyond lightly faded by a decent fog.  I wish I had brought a camera--except that it would have killed my time.  Given that long stretched of the run I was by myself, it was quite serene and enjoyable.  It most likely added in some way to my success as I continued to enjoy the landscape which distracted me from focusing on my watch or on any creeping coldness (at least early on--by mile 3, I felt quite warm).  I breezed through the miles, really only checking my watch about once every mile and less so towards the end.

Timing for the race
I've never been much of a fan of team-based sports.  I get why they are important and I get their purposes, but in my experience as a kid, they were largely negative places.  Most know that I played sports like football and baseball not of my own choice but out of coercion from my parents.  Thus the experience was disappointing and distasteful (as have sports been for much of my life).  But this was a sports team experience that I rather enjoyed.  The fact that others' success was in part dependent on me certainly kept me running at a quicker pace than I might otherwise if it was just for me.  That I entered it voluntarily and was welcomed by peers of all different levels, made it all the more enjoyable.

The final results of the race showed that our team (Dial 911--luckily, we didn't have to!) didn't win, but we did have fun.  I was excited by doing a personal best on a race at a distance I hadn't run in a while.   At the race's end, I didn't feel as exhausted as I have before and given my energy levels, I could definitely go a couple more miles.   I also think I'm likely to do some more relay runs in the future and participate more with the running club.

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Recent Post on LETS Blog: Interview with David Weinberger

Several months back, I had the pleasure of reading David Weinberger's book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.  (You can also find it in the Noblenet Library System to borrow, here). Rather than go on and on about the book, which I easily could, I lucked into the chance to interview him for this blog. Following up on his book, I got the opportunity to hear David speak and even the opportunity to interview him.  For more details about David, you can check out his brief bio on the Berman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

For the full interview, click through to the NSCC LETS Blog.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.