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“.

When your past affects your future

Dude, that’s not just a funny bumper sticker about your weekend hobby. It’s also discoverable evidence about your mindset should you ever have to defend yourself.

Kathy Jackson, Facebook post.

Recently Kathy reposted it, and I privately messaged her about it. I went private because I didn’t feel like bringing it up in public. Kathy responded:

There are some excellent points in that, John. Wish it weren’t sensitive, because it’s the type of thing that needs to be said. Lots there to ponder. Thanks for sharing it with me.

So I thought about it, and I’m sharing it here. It is important and meaningful, just a little awkward for me to globally share. But that’s OK – if my experiences and my awkwardness improves things for the grander community. I’ve edited it slightly, for composition and presentation.

The Message

That post you just shared about the cute t-shirt, anger issues, discoverable evidence…

So back when my home invasion incident happened, my lawyer wanted my online presence to go dark (a reasonable thing). So blog went private, Twitter, etc..

As I looked back on it, I realized it wouldn’t really have mattered. First, the media already combed the Internets for everything they could – it was interesting to watch the things uncovered and reported about me in the hours immediately after the incident. So they had likely already exhausted my blog.

But that’s the thing – there was no dirt to be found. My blog isn’t full of stupid shit – well, except maybe for the Sunday Metal music posts. 😉 You read my blog and find that I like music, lifting weights, and when I do write about self-defense and guns and such, it may not be something you agree with but it’s not “crazy”. In fact, a lot of what I write is reasonable enough I felt it would help my case if in fact it did go to trial. It would be (then) 7-ish years of proof as to my mindset and stance on everything.

So yeah, it’s a good lesson in living your daily life. Because you don’t get to choose the moment your past becomes relevant to your future.

Beware Simple Answers

Beware simple answers. They are reassuring but may not achieve the desired results given our framework of government, practical realities, and the flawed nature of human beings.

I’ve been following David’s writing and research for some time. It’s compelling and interesting.

Understanding…

I’m still waiting for all the facts to come in before I comment on this event in specific.

But as a general comment, I’ll say this.

What people like this do will always “smell off” to people like you and me – people who have a normal sense of morals, of ethics, values and virtues. It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around their behavior.

For example, a cop friend of mine was relaying a story of an incident where 2 women were shoplifting, with their infant children in tow. When store security confronted the women, the women used their infant children to beat the security guards away. Can you fathom that? Using your baby as a cudgel?

To us? That’s unfathomable. To them, it was totally acceptable.

And we can’t understand how someone can do that, but yet they did.

You get paid by having a job. There are those that view burglary and robbery as their way to “get paid”. So it’s perfectly normal to them to commit crimes.

Every day there are stories and events of people doing inhuman and unimaginable things. This is why violence and crime are such hard things for many to understand – because those who commit it are so far removed from our sense of morals, values, ethics.

It’s very human to look for the motivations, to try to understand why; especially because we hope it will allow us to prevent it from happening again. It’s also important for us to accept some things we’ll never understand, and some people may not be worth understanding – just accepting they are out there.

(The above was a comment I made on a friend’s Facebook posting about the recent incident, slightly edited for grammar. I felt it worth sharing to a larger audience).

Hurricane Harvey – How to Help

The effects of Hurricane Harvey… it’s bad. I can’t find the words to describe how hard and heavy it hit and has directly affected millions of lives. And yes, it’s going to affect your life too. Maybe you know people directly affected, or if nothing else you better expect the price of gasoline and other petroleum-based products to rise. Houston’s a major city, and it being out of commission for weeks, for months, it’s going to be felt around the world.

The sooner we all pull together as Americans (and a world) to help our brothers and sisters get back on their feet, the better off we all will be.

So how can you help?

I put out a call, and friends, friends of friends, responded with a listing. This list is by no means comprehensive, it’s just a place to start. I cannot vouch for any entry on this list. The list is in no particular order. Please do your homework to ensure the group is one you want your money to go to. You can use a website like Charity Navigator to help you vet a group. Note that while Houston has been grabbing the headlines (and rightly so), coastal cities like Rockport and Port Aransas are devastated. Many smaller towns throughout south and east Texas have been hit hard by flooding. And many places in Texas that weren’t so harshly affected, like Austin, are receiving those escaping the flooding (including many pets and animals).

If you’re wondering what to give?

Money.

I know that feels impersonal, but it’s really the best option. Here’s a CBS News article that explains exactly why donating goods doesn’t always help, but money does. Yes, sometimes donating stuff helps. For example, when buses of evacuees arrived in Austin at the Toney Burger Center, it was suddenly hundreds of men, women, and children with nothing. Upon their arrival, donations of stuff like books, diapers, playing cards, clothing, toothbrushes, soap, towels, etc. can be useful. But after that, it can turn into a glut of supplies that cannot be used.

The donation of money allows those on the front-lines to provide for what’s best and actually needed. They know what they need, let them make the decisions. It’s the wisest way to help.

And remember: we’re all going to help in this immediate aftermath. But the pains and needs will go on for weeks, even months. Consider what you can do to provide ongoing help.

Finally, thank you for doing whatever you can do to help.

 

Hooray for modern technology!

I’m upstairs in my office working.

The dog goes off – obviously someone coming to the front door. Of course, I wonder who it could be.

A moment later? I see my iPhone light up with a notification from Amazon that my package (ordered just hours ago and delivered by Amazon and their same-day Prime service) was just delivered.

So now I know who Sasha was barking at.

Hooray for modern technology!

And as an iOS software developer, I actually take a moment to think:

  • Delivery person came to my door.
  • Scanned my package to acknowledge delivery.
  • Which went up to Amazon’s servers.
  • Registered through their whole shipping system.
  • Hit my account.
  • Which knows I have the Amazon app on my iPhone.
  • So it sent Apple’s Push Notification Server a notice.
  • And then Apple sent that to my device.

And I’m greatly oversimplifying. But if you step back and really think of all the things that go in here: the billions of lines of code, the hundreds or thousands of servers, the network infrastructure, the devices, the phone systems, the peripheral systems that support all of this (e.g. the whole DNS infrastructure), and zillions of electrons flying around – and how amazingly complex and involved is the thing that just happend… and happened in the blink of an eye.

It’s truly awesome.

Look for the good

Can you not see the good?

Does your hate blind you so intensely?

I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a posting by the wife of Slayer guitarist Kerry King. I forget the exact details but basically a dog had been hit by a car not 10 minutes from where they live, and she and Kerry left the house to go in search of the dog to rescue it. I don’t know Kerry at all, apart from his guitar playing and songwriting in Slayer. There’s lots of accounts out there that he’s an asshole. And maybe he is. But for him to disrupt his life to go in search of an injured dog to try to save it? That’s pretty awesome.

I’m no fan of Barack Obama. But I’ve seen many pictures of him with his wife, Michelle. The way he holds her hand, the way he looks in her eyes. This man truly loves his wife. So many people at that level of society have sham or failing marriages, but here’s someone that’s in one of the most pressure-filled jobs in the world, and she stands by him and gives him strength, and by all accounts their 25-year marriage is strong . His love for her is evident, if you just take a moment and observe. I think that’s pretty damn cool.

Can you do this?

Can you step back and look at the things you hate, and find something redeeming in them?

Find something human in them?

And if you can find one thing, can you find another?

This isn’t to say you should ignore the bad, but maybe if you spend just a fraction of time finding love as you do seething in hate, maybe that might help ease some of the pain and tension.

Life lessons from a weekend hunt

This past weekend I had the pleasure of going hunting with an old friend, Charles Coker of TacticalGunReview.com. We were able to harvest 2 whitetail does and a feral hog. From the 48-ish hours together, I took a few things from it.

Sometimes you have to be a little impulsive if you want to succeed in life.

I’m a planner. Deer and hogs don’t care about your plans. They’ll be here one moment, then gone the next. You may only have a few seconds of opportunity, so sure… plan so you’re ready when the opportunity comes, but the moment the opportunity presents itself, you better jump on it.

But on the same token, if you’re not totally certain, let it go; rushing in can lead to failure.

Suppressors are good things.

Suppressors, silencers, whatever you call them. They have this stigma of being some bad evil thing that must be banned or at least heavily regulated.

Why?

You know what a suppressor is?

A muffler.

Next time some dude on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle blares by you with his loud-pipes and rattles your dental fillings loose – those are straight pipes, no muffler. That’s how loud engines are, and why mufflers were invented. That’s how loud your car would be if you didn’t have a muffler on the exhaust.

See why mufflers are nice and desirable things?

Same with suppressors.

Good friends are those that put up with your shit, and still want to hang out with you.

Charles has invited me out hunting on numerous occasions over the years, and most of the time I have to say no because I’m busy (day job commitments, or KR Training weekend commitments). He gives me some friendly and well-deserved ribbing about it, but he understands. And despite all my turn-downs, he always keeps the door open and keeps asking me.

On top of that, he was a top-notch and most-generous host.

Those are the sort of people you cherish in your life.

Thanx, Charles for everything.

Have more, be more

I’m not one for doing things because the calendar turns, I think if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing RIGHT NOW.

So with that: have more understanding, more patience, more empathy, more unitiy, more humility, more love. Not because 2017, but because we’re all in this together and life’s too damn short.

Be bigger. Be better. Be love. Start now.

Goodbye, Grandma

Last night my maternal grandmother, SHIN Joung Nam, passed away. She was 91.

To me, she was always 할머니 – “Halmoni”, Korean for “grandma”.

There’s so many memories.

Watching her squatting down on the floor making kimchi.

Always offering me corn tea to drink.

Spending summers at the Pine Park Apartments in Omaha (which they managed), with her, my uncle, aunts, cousins. Such a silly time.

“Ha-mi, go be-bo” – which was “Halmoni, take me to the basement”. Apparently when I was a small child, it’s something I always said to her and wanted to do with her.

Of course, when I was small enough, she would carry me on her back, piggy-back. “Ah-bu-bah”.

Every year, receiving our blessing on New Years Day. And a little gift of money. I remember that first time I went from $20 to $50: it meant I was finally getting older and not really a child any more. 🙂 Oh, and the ox tail “new years” soup that she would make each year.

Of course, always sneaking me gifts and other things.  Especially food and treats.

Being at her house, and always smiling at the propane heater and how she always kept a tea pot on top of it.

When I was getting ready to go off to college, she took me to the Korean market and bought me a little 4-cup rice cooker to ensure I had rice to eat in my dorm room. 🙂

Her coming to my wedding, and the first time she met my “soon-to-be-bride” my older sister introducing them and encouraging my bride to “go on…say it..” and the laughter shared at my bride speaking her first Korean words to my grandmother.

And even tho her English was broken and my Korean horrible, there was always one clear thing that came through:

“John-a, I love you.”

I can hear her voice right now, saying that to me. She said it so much, how can I not hear it?

Seeing her smile. Hearing her laugh. I will always treasure.

I love you 할머니