on “Waiting for José”, and Harel Shapira

In “Bowling Alone”, [Robert] Putnam’s diagnosis of America’s decline is rooted in the loss of civic engagement and the decline in associated life. What America has lost, Putnam argues, are institutions – ranging from churches to book clubs – in which people can come together and do things as a part of a collective, as members of a shared community; what America has lost are Americans who seek institutions; what America has lost is the spirit that is at the heart of our democracy. It is the spirit that Alexis de Tocqueville noticed in the eighteenth century and claimed as the source of America’s strength. The Minutemen agree. And the Minutemen have that spirit. What they lack is not a democratic ethos. They are what people like Putnam and de Tocqueville and our whole liberal democratic political tradition want out of citizens; engaged, active, concerned.

From “Waiting for José” by Harel Shapira.

I met Harel about a year ago. He was a student in a class I was teaching at KR Training. As far as I knew, he was just another student. Turns out that’s not quite the case. 🙂 He’s also an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Harel’s sociological interest is in guns, gun culture, firearms education, the culture of armed citizens, and the people within. He wants to understand why people join social movements, and a large part of that is the “doing” of those movements – and so, he seeks to immerse himself in the movements and “doing” them as well. He’s still an observer and tries to remain as such, but yet he must also participate. It’s quite interesting.

Harel wanted to speak with me (beyond class) on some topics. In part because of my role as Assistant Lead Instructor at KR Training, and also in part because of the incident I was involved in on January 5, 2015. More recently, we’ve started talking again regarding phase 2 of his research (which I don’t believe I can disclose at this time, but it’s a logical progression of his research). I have maintained I will always speak about that incident, because in doing so others can learn and perhaps the world can become a little wiser, a little better. We’ve had a few long lunches, talking at great length about all manner of things (and I truly enjoy our talks). But that’s not why I write today.

Harel’s PhD dissertation became a book: “Waiting for José – the Minuteman’s Pursuit of America“. Harel gave me a copy. On a long flight to Seattle I was finally able to read it – and I’m so glad I did.

The book is thought-provoking. It caused me to reflect. It made me think deeper, not so much about The Minuteman movement or guns and gun culture – but about modern society, and our humanness. For this alone, I think this book well worth reading by anyone, and hopefully they too can step back from the specific subject matter and consider the grander implications of modern society in the USA as well as that strange thing we call “human nature”.

The Minutemen

Briefly, the book chronicles a lengthy period of time Harel spent with the Minutemen. These are people who volunteer to sit at the US-Mexico border, watching for “José” to cross illegally, and work to assist the Border Patrol in their capture.

In the pages of everything from local to international newspapers were photographs of camouflaged men prowling the desert, seemingly a moment away from committing violence. You have probably read these articles and seen these images. The liberal media describes the Minutemen as “sorry-ass gun freaks and sociopaths,” while the conservative media characterizes them as “extraordinary men and women… heroes”. In some accounts these people are patriots; in others, they are lunatics.

One thing is certain, these men and women, whatever their given labels suggest, have come to play an enormous role in our country’s debates about immigration. The problem is that our standard judgements, whether damning them or praising them, sidestep the complex dynamics of who these people are and what they do on the border.

Liberal media accounts suggest that when it comes to immigration, what the Minutemen and their supporters lack is sympathy. If only they understood the plight of the people coming across the border, they would change their minds. But if we are to understand the Minutemen, we need to understand how anger and sympathy can coexist.

Harel writes direct from his experience – he’s the one telling the story. He tells of his experiences: his first arrival, his getting thrown out, his return and initial gaining of trust, the times going out on patrol, sitting in the comms room, and other stories of his experiences with these men and women. He works to analyze and understand why these people do what they do, and become the people they become as a part of this movement.

For example, he tells the tale of Gordon. Gordon was a man without the same background as so many other Minutemen – no military, no law enforcement. Just someone who felt a pull to the movement, had no idea how to participate, but had a burning desire to do so. Then how seeing Gordon over the course of two years, how Gordon grew, how he changed, and how being a Minuteman defined his life and gave him solid purpose.

It becomes very easy to dismiss these people because they are different from you. It’s not a movement you’d join, and it seems a little weird, right? So that must mean these people are weird too. And so, they are dismissed as weirdos and written off.

But what Harel works to do? To find and show their humanness.

Because they are human, just like you.

They want to belong. They want to feel worthwhile. They want to contribute. They want to make a difference. They want to be meaningful.

Just like you.

Sure, the specifics will vary – and they even vary within this grouping. But what I found compelling about Harel’s research – and remember, that Harel is very much an outsider in almost every way – is his desire to understand. Sure, he can’t totally remove his own bias, his own filters, but it’s that very lens that makes the book the worthwhile read. Harel is naive, green, ignorant of this world, with his own preconceived notions. Sure it’s interesting to read the picture painted about The Minutemen, but it’s also worthwhile to watch Harel’s own evolution through this experience.

For me, it was especially interesting to watch because the Harel I met and know is not the same Harel as in the book. So for me, it was neat to see that further backstory to enable me to better understand where Harel is coming from, and where he’s trying to go to with his continued research.

It all boils down to a simple thing: to understanding. Why people are as they are. What makes us human. And you will find that they may not be like you, yet you are more like them than you could ever imagine.

Beyond José

To that, Harel’s latest research (as of this writing) has been published in the March 2018 issue of Qualitative Sociology, entitled “Learning to Need a Gun”. I was a participant in the research, I’ve read his paper, and while sometimes it was a hard read, I felt it was an accurate picture. Hard read? Because there are aspects of modern gun culture that are hard to accept, but to me that just means there’s work ahead towards improving how things are.

If you want to go forward with Harel, I suggest you go backwards a bit. Here’s an interview he did with the UT Sociology department back in 2013 that explains a lot about where he’s coming from.

And for the record, there’s a number of things Harel and I do not agree on. But I’ve found him to be fair and honest, and earnest in his research. I’ve also found that I really enjoy our lunches together. He’s engaging, thought-provoking, and open. I greatly enjoy talking with him, even if we may not agree (what a concept these days, eh?).

I know a lot of people are into the work of David Yamane and his “Gun Culture 2.0” research. Harel and David know each other, and Harel presented at Wake Forest back in 2016. If you dig what David is doing, you should also be following what Harel is doing.

And a great place to start? Reading Harel’s book, “Waiting for José“.

Monster Hunter Vendetta

I finally finished reading Monster Hunter Vendetta by Larry Correia.

You see, I didn’t want to give a hoot about the Monster Hunter books. It’s just not my cup of tea. But TXGunGeek loaned me his copy of the first book, Monster Hunter International, and I did enjoy it.

So when I had to go to California a few weeks ago, I needed a book. I’ve found that when I fly, the best thing for me to do to pass the time is read. I can’t read technical or deep-thought books; I need light but engaging fare. It’s how I started reading the Harry Potter books. So while at the bookstore I was looking for the Dave Mustaine autobiography (which I enjoyed), but while waiting for someone at the counter it hit me that MH Vendetta was out. So why not… I picked it up figuring it would be good fare for the plane.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I don’t want to say too much and risk spoilers for folks that haven’t read it but plan to.

The book is certainly a good read. It’s enjoyable, action-packed. I reiterate that I think the Monster Hunter stuff could make for exciting viewing on the big screen (and again, Julie Strain for Julie Shackleford!).

I felt this book had more twists, more things to keep you on your toes. For instance, Agent Franks. I think there was more character development and more depth, but also a lot more to keep track of. I read half the book on the plane, then have been reading what I can when I can since then. If I stepped away for a couple days, I did find myself having to reorient and remind myself of the state of things, else I lost track of what was going on. It can be an involved read, but not heavy or demanding.

Certainly felt more suspense in this. A lot more “damn… how are they going to get out of this? thoughts… more “geez.. and I thought it couldn’t get any worse”. But it never felt forced or campy, at least, within the realm of sci-fi limits. 🙂   Oh sure, there’s still a lot of perfect far-fetchedness going on, Owen is still a super-human despite being merely human, but hey… suspend disbelief and just enjoy the fun.

No regrets about buying it. Very much enjoyed reading it.

And yes…. G-Nome. Couldn’t stop laughing. 🙂

Happy Bill of Rights Day

Happy Bill of Rights Day.

Go read it.

For more on Bill of Rights Day, there’s an article here and here.

Educate yourself about the basic rights that we US citizens are supposed to have, and that government is not supposed to limit (remember, these documents are supposed to limit government, not the citizenry). Alas, every day we creep closer and closer to losing them; that the limits are being put upon the people and the government runs rampant and unchecked. The first step to ensuring our freedoms are not taken from us is to learn about these documents and embrace their fundamental message.

Go read.

Movie Review – Where The Wild Things Are

The book Where The Wild Things Are is a favorite in our house. It’s been on our bookshelf for years, and of course with the movie now out the book found new life again. All 10 sentences of it, all beautiful artwork of it.

Daughter wanted to go see the movie, so we piled the family and some of Daughter’s friends into the car and went to go see it. Besides, time at The Alamo Drafthouse is always good. 🙂

Going in to the movie, we didn’t know what to expect. In discussing the movie with other parents, some expressed concern if the movie would be appropriate and/or too scary for the kids. My basic take was that of author Maurice Sendak:

Reporter: “What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?”

Sendak: “I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.”

Reporter: “Because kids can handle it?”

Sendak: “If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.”

[…]

Sendak: “I think you’re right. This concentration on kids being scared, as though we as adults can’t be scared. Of course we’re scared. I’m scared of watching a TV show about vampires. I can’t fall asleep. It never stops. We’re grown-ups; we know better, but we’re afraid.”

Reporter: “Why is that important in art?”

Sendak: “Because it’s truth. You don’t want to do something that’s all terrifying. I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child’s eyes. So what? I managed to survive.”

Granted, Sendak sounds rather gruff and irritated at the whole notion, and I’m not feeling that way about it. But I do agree with the basic sentiment. OOOO… the movie might be scary, we can’t let the kids see that! Must shelter our kids from all things negative! Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, don’t go see the movie. If you want to see the movie, then be prepared for whatever the artistic vision of the director and crew happens to be.

The book is not a “shiny happy people holding hands, living happily ever after” sort of story. Consider that Max starts out creating mischief — he is misbehaving and his mother gets angry with him and sends him to bed without supper. The first thing that happens in the book is the kid gets punished for bad behavior. It rolls from there. What is it doing? It’s exploring a child’s technique for coping with anger. And it so happens to have some chaos, some scary monsters, and even that those scary monsters do scary things. Sure the illustrations in the book may not look like something out of Fangoria magazine, but if you do look at their subtle expression and behavior and couple that with the text, especially when Max leaves the island, those monsters are doing some scary ugly things.

I won’t take my kids to see some truly scary slasher film. They’re certainly not ready for that level of suspense/horror type of movie (and given those aren’t my personal cup of tea either, I doubt we’ll be going any time soon anyway). But if there’s a little suspense, a little bit of “negative emotion” to have to experience, why is that so bad? That’s life. Better my children experience and learn about them in an environment where they can learn and be shaped and directed in a good way by their parents (you know, post movie viewing discussion), than for them to always be so sheltered and never really learn and thus become crippled and unable to really cope with the realities of life, warts and all that it brings.

That all said… how was the movie?

I enjoyed it. So did Wife and Children and Friends of Children.

I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil it, because the movie and the book are not the same. The screenplay is certainly based upon the book and follows it as best as it can. But hey, you’ve got a lot of time to fill from such a small and sparse book, so understandably a lot of artistic license had to be taken. That said, they did keep to the spirit of the storyline, just fleshed it out heavily. I think it was well done. Much of what was done prior to Max going to the island did a great job of setting the stage, down to small little details. The camera work was well done too (you’ll see what I mean); it delivers perspective.

Was it scary? I don’t think so. Yes, there were tense moments. There’s coping with anger, grief, loss, loneliness, sadness. There is a lot of lashing out… rage… just letting one’s emotions out, even if they aren’t politically correct “everyone’s a winner” sort of things. Will this hurt kids? I don’t think so. Granted, some very small children might be freaked out by the monsters. If you wonder if this might be the case, let your child watch the previews online or TV commercials… if the monsters freak the kids out there, don’t bother seeing it. But really, I also think very small children shouldn’t bother seeing the movie. I felt the intent of the movie was deeper than a 4 year old could understand. It’s not some Disney movie where there’s singing and dancing and even an infant can smile and giggle all the bright colors, action, and general superficial happiness. But slightly older kids (even upper-single-digit-ages) should be able to handle it alright. However your kids take it, I do think it’s good to discuss the movie afterwards. What they saw, their take on what the movie was about and the things that went on in the movie. Give your kids a healthy perspective on what they experienced.

Spike Jonze has come a long way as a director. I remember his first music videos and they were always cool. He did a great job here. I liked that the monsters were real (apparently made in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), and the only CGI was to help with their mouths and facial expressions. It really helped the warmness of the movie because Max and the monsters could touch each other and directly interact.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It explores darker emotions, but they are emotions that we all have. Better to acknowledge them and learn how to deal with them, than to ignore and avoid them.

How apropos

Linoge shares with us a couple passages from his current read.

“The woman with the earrings”. Indeed.

Oh, while at the bookstore last night, it was pretty cool to see a big display for Atlas Shrugged. A big “WHO IS JOHN GALT?” staring you down when you entered the store.

Kuk Sool action books

Check this out.

The Adventures of Mark and JayLee: Modern Masters of Ancient Skill

Came out just a couple months ago.

Interesting bit? Martial arts. Hrm. Korean tilt to things. Hrm. There was once a Master in Kuk Sool Won named Jay Lee. Hrm. He used to work for the Houston PD. Hrm. In fact, Marlin Sims (another former Kuk Sool Won Master) did some things there too. You know the infamous “pimp slap” video? That Jay Lee; in fact, in that video around 0:30 you’ll see a tall thin black man standing over the pimp, that’s Marlin Sims (note the Kuk Sool Won logo on the back of his t-shirt). Mark? Marlin? Close enough, especially since apparently Mark is the black guy on the cover. The white guy is JayLee… JayLee, Jay Lee, close enough.

Digging deeper I find: Selrauq Action Books

Even a blog about Korean martial arts.

Someone points out the name of the author. Selrauq is Quarles spelled backwards, as in Victor Quarles, 5th Dan Master in Kuk Sool Won teaching out of the Woodlands, TX.

In fact, their next book is going to be called Kuk Sool Saga.

I’m not sure why the pseudonym, especially if the little bit of sleuthing exposes everything. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting endeavor. I hope it proves successful for him.

Monster Hunter International – Finished it

I just finished Larry Correia‘s book, Monster Hunter International.

My early feel on the book bears out to the end. It’s a monster/sci-fi sort of thing, and while I can enjoy that stuff it’s not 100% up my alley. And yes, lead character Owen Pitt is the uber-hero. But by the time you get to the end, you see how it all fits together. I do see that Owen is given slightly more faults, he isn’t indestructible (sorta), but he’s still uber-hero. Then again, this also isn’t the deepest of books. Does there have to be any real character development here? There really isn’t and no it’s not really necessary. The book takes place over a short span of time and is pretty directed in what it’s trying to accomplish. That’s not really a bad thing… this isn’t high literature, but it’s decently written and sure damn fun.

And really, that’s the thing that surprised me the most in reading this book: how much fun I had in reading it. I did not expect it to be as much fun as it was. I found myself smiling a great deal. I found many nights where I’d be reading before bed and not wanting to put it down, only having to because my Wife found me falling asleep (not due to the book, just a long day and my body said it was bedtime). It was an enjoyable read. You can’t take it too seriously, you just suspend disbelief (and oddly, the whole “keep an open mind” thing is part of the story itself), and enjoy it.

I repeat what I said before. If this was made into a movie, I’d pay money to see it. It’d be a lot of fun. Get Julie Strain (NB: her website is NSFW) to play the role of Julie Shackleford. In fact, due to the events during the climax and given the book is told in the first person, I wondered if shooting the entire movie through Owen’s eyes (first person perspective, like a first person shooter game, which in so many ways fits) would be an interesting way to do it. Might be annoying to have it filmed that way, but the thought popped in my head that it could make for a way to do this. For reference, while I was reading the climactic scene I was thinking how Owen’s eyes were crusted shut… you would see what he sees: darkness, black, nothing. But you hear everything. Then when his eyes are opened, well, you’ll see it all again through those eyes. *shrug* I am not a movie maker.

Yes, Larry Correia is a gun nut. It’s so evident. Little gunny gems throughout the book.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book. I thank TXGunGeek for lending me his copy of the book. Now I suppose I need to enter the songwriting contest. 🙂

The Bill of Rights – Amendment 10

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Source: The National Archives and Records Administration, “The Charters of Freedom” exhibit.

The Bill of Rights – Amendment 9

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Source: The National Archives and Records Administration, “The Charters of Freedom” exhibit.

The Bill of Rights – Amendment 8

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Source: The National Archives and Records Administration, “The Charters of Freedom” exhibit.