The Real Tragedy Is In The Timing

“No one is more highly trained”,
And yet, he did it wrong
And so, instead,
A kid is dead
So runs the world along

Police Chief Wade is charged today—
His gun was unsecured,
Atop his vault—
He’s still at fault;
Or so we are assured

The boy who found it shot himself
Fifteen years old, he died.
Let’s make it clear:
Just one more year
And no crime could be tried

If someone wants to kill himself,
You know he’ll find a way…
But charge the chief?
Beyond belief!
So runs the world away

(Ok, I didn’t know until today that “so runs the world away” was anything other than a line from Hamlet. I’m a little bit pissed off at Josh Ritter for stealing Shakespeare’s google spotlight.)

Along the lines of Oh-so-close-to-responsible ownership, there’s a story today out of New Hampshire, in which a police chief will be charged with one count of negligent storage of a firearm (maximum penalty: $1000) in the death of a 15-yr-old boy who found the chief’s service weapon sitting on top of a safe in a closet.

Through the investigation, [County Attorney James] Reams said it was determined that Parsons set the gun down on a safe in a closet.

“The chief left to go run errands and didn’t secure his weapon,” said Reams, whose office will prosecute the case.

While Parsons was gone, the 15-year-old, who lived at the residence but wasn’t the chief’s son, went into the closet and grabbed the gun, according to Reams.

Tragic and horrible, I hope you will all agree. What grabbed me from the article, though, was the reaction of a selectman, Shawn O’Neil. Let me set up his statement, first. What Parson will be charged with is defined as follows (also from the article):

The statute states: “Any person who stores or leaves on premises under that person’s control a loaded firearm, and who knows or reasonably should know that a child (under the age of 16) is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or guardian, is guilty of a violation if a child gains access to a firearm and the firearm is used in a reckless or threatening manner; the firearm is used during the commission of any misdemeanor or felony; or the firearm is negligently or recklessly discharged.”

So, O’Neil’s reaction is, for the most part, completely understandable:

Danville Selectman Shawn O’Neil, board chairman, said Parsons informed him about the charge.
“He told me what transpired and that he was going to be charged with this. It’s a sad situation,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil said the board plans to take no action against Parsons in light of the charge.
“It’s an elected position. The board can’t do anything, but on a personal note, I will vote for Wade in the next election,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil questioned whether such a charge would have been brought if Parsons were not a police chief. He said he feels the county attorney’s office faced public pressure.
“I know Wade is personally hurting and this is going to live with him for the rest of his life. This is just one more sad component added on top of this. This is not going to bring Jacob back,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil said he still has confidence in Parsons.
“Deep down he’s a really good man. I have the utmost respect for this man. We all err as part of human life. Charging him with this is not going to make anything change,” he said.

And I do feel for the Chief. This is going to rip him apart. Of course, the “responsible gun owners don’t have these accidents” crowd would have to blame the Chief. I mean, really, the only other option is to put all of the responsibility on a 15 year old boy. And who would do that?

O’Neil added that anyone looking to harm themselves will find a way.
“If this kid was 16 years old this would not be an issue,” O’Neil said.


Yeah, a 16 year old dead kid would not be an issue, like a 15 year old dead kid is. I almost wish there was a bit more ambiguity in what O’Neil sees as the real issue.

In the comments, it is suggested that it would be just as easy to commit suicide with a steak knife. Thing is, I know someone who tried to commit suicide with a steak knife. I have seen the oozing wounds on her wrists. The only reason I can say this is, it is damned difficult to cut your wrists open with a steak knife. But pulling a trigger? Bullets, it would seem, travel much faster than the speed of regret.

Oh, and along the lines of Tuesday’s “He took all the precautions, he’s a trained law enforcement officer, trains with weapons all the time”, I give you today’s “”Nobody is probably more highly trained than a police officer,” Reams said.”

Atheism, Strong And Weak

Today, my friends, I’d like to speak
Of atheism, strong and weak—
Of godless views both weak and strong
Which might be right? Which may be wrong?

Weak atheists, they tell me, don’t
Believe in gods. They can’t. They won’t.
But still, they can’t and won’t insist
A god cannot, must not, exist

Strong atheists will make the claim
There is no god to call by name
They do not think it overbroad
To outright claim “there is no god”

But that’s the thing; the Christian horde
Believing in their Christian lord
Are atheists, cos what is more,
They strongly disbelieve in Thor

So, wait—do they believe, or not?
In just one god, or in the lot?
Belief, you see, is quite specific
While non-belief is, well… prolific

Believe in twenty, or in one,
But disbelief, you’re stuck at none
There really is no symmetry
In god belief or not, you see

So, yeah, I read yet another post somewhere (here, specifically) that used the “strong versus weak atheism” construction, which I despise. I don’t blame the site I read, of course–the strong/weak distinction is everywhere. I’ve complained about it before.

Strong and weak imply points on a single continuum; the positions labeled strong atheism and weak atheism are not stronger or weaker versions of each other. Both have precisely the same amount of god-belief: none. But a positive assertion (either belief or disbelief) is necessarily restricted to a given, particular god. We do not claim that “believers” believe in every god; their belief is specific to their particular deity. When they ask “do you believe in god?”, they are asking this for the case where god = their god. Active belief in their god is often (usually?) accompanied by active disbelief in other gods (or simply denial of those gods’ existence). Disbelief–even active, positive, disbelief–in any one god, then, is clearly not sufficient to label someone an atheist. There is a world of difference between one and zero.

The difference between strong and weak atheists has nothing to do with their comparative belief in a god or gods. Both are at zero. As for other beliefs… we all vary tremendously on a wide spectrum of beliefs. There is no set of beliefs that reliably separates two categories of atheists, without either overlap or leftovers, and without also covering a wide number of religious believers as well.

I posit, not for the first time, that the terms “strong atheist” and “weak atheist” are not useful, and indeed obfuscate where they intend to clarify.

Responsible Ownership–99.9999% Of The Time

He’s a best-case scenario, doing it right;
He knows it’s a gun, not a toy
The most dangerous thing in his bedroom that night
Was a visiting 4-year-old boy

You mustn’t be tempted to regulate arms
Which the second amendment forbids
It can’t shoot itself, so a gun never harms
But it’s clear—we must regulate kids.

Whenever the news tells us of an incident where a kid shoots someone, the comment sections are reliably filled with people noting the idiocy of whoever allowed that kid access to firearms. Such irresponsible people make responsible gun owners look bad–and the vast majority of gun owners are responsible.

Mind you, we don’t actually know some of the numbers it would take to make that claim–you might recall, the CDC is expressly forbidden from gathering and analyzing gun death information. Seems the NRA got to write the legislation. But in those comment threads, gun accidents happen only to irresponsible idiots, and normal, responsible gun ownership makes your family safer.

But this time, the gun owner is a well-trained Sheriff’s Deputy. And he wants to set things straight:

“I would like the viewers to know that officers of Wilson County do not make a habit of leaving loaded guns simply lying around,” he wrote.
“The door to the room the accident happened in stays locked unless we were sleeping or we were in it,” Fanning wrote. “This was the only loaded gun in the house other than my duty weapon, which was locked away.”
Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan said Fanning had been showing “another person that was there at the house some of his weapons he had locked in a secure gun safe,” reported CNN affiliate WTVF.
No one saw the boy enter the room, WTVF quoted Bryan as saying.
“Split second,” Bryan said. “We’re talking about seconds for that kid to walk in that room unbeknownst to them, grab that gun and it goes off.”
“He took all the precautions, he’s a trained law enforcement officer, trains with weapons all the time.”

This guy did everything right. And his wife is dead.

I can guarantee you one thing. His claims of gun safety and training will amount to utterly nothing in the comment threads; guns are safe in responsible hands, ergo he was irresponsible.

The Promise Of Spring (Yeah… Promises, Promises)

The trees are not budding
The grass is still brown
The remnants of snowbanks
Lay all around town
The flowers aren’t blooming
Except one or two
But there, in the distance,
A brief flash of blue?

There’s rain in the forecast
And that’ll bring mud
Some seasons are lovely
But this one’s a dud
It’s this way for ages,
A very strange thing,
But one—just one—bluebird,
And, suddenly… Spring!


Yeah, it’s pretty gray in Cuttletown. The green in the background is from evergreens, not new leaves. But this morning (it rained last night) it was as if the birds had all arrived at once. Songs I haven’t heard in months, old familiar friends back from points south.

The winter birds, with the exception of the jays and the cardinals, have been studies in black, white, and grey. Even the goldfinch was wearing winter colors, and barely recognizable. So when I saw this bluebird, I had to check to be sure it wasn’t a trick of the light and yet another junco. But no! Actual eastern bluebird! So Spring is here!

Which I’ll keep telling myself for a few more weeks until the leaves and flowers start arriving.

Science, Science, Science, Science, Penis Size, Science, Etc….

The papers were released online—
They numbered sixty-six—
So, how to make one paper shine?
The writers have their tricks.
A catchy title sure is fine
To pluck you from the mix
A subject could be quite divine,
But leave you in a fix….

See, that one wrote of saving wine,
But this one wrote of dicks.

I’m not a regular reader of PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), though I probably should be if I had the time… but I ran into a popular press story with a stop-the-presses title: “Science proves women like men with bigger penises.”

Past research has seemed to indicate that women, as a group, are drawn to larger male members. But those results have been disputed as sexist, or scientifically flawed, or both.
So Mautz and his team, working at the Australian National University, designed an experiment in hopes of settling the controversy. They created 49 unique, computer-generated, nude, life-sized male figures. Each figure varied in three traits: height, shoulder-hip ratio and flaccid penis size.

You can find more at the link, or at the other link, or probably by watching the evening news, at this point. I, myself, was amused that this paper, out of 66 that were published in PNAS today, was the one that merited 15 paragraphs at NBC.

My suspicion is that if a paper about penis size was not available, we’d all be reading about how global warming is going to effect wine production. Which it is–just check the other link.

And among 66 papers looking at ape parasites, hippocampal neurons, planetary basalts, noble-metal nanocrystals, antibiotic resistance transfer, and bovine viral diarrhea virus, we had a total of two titles that had potential in the mainstream media (when did I grow so cynical?). On a normal day, wine production would have been enough.

But not when up against penis size.

(BTW, one of my biggest and most reliable sources of hits on the old blog was a post about “the biggest dicks of all“–that is, about the frauds at enzyte who were marketing snake-oil. Hey. Posts about penis size sell. Apparently, even in the science business.)

National Poetry Month–Guest Poet 3: Callinectes

In my continued observance of National Poetry Month, I present for your amusement and edification a verse by reader Callinectes, which I find wonderfully illustrates a problem that a lot of my students have. Of course, it does so by way of metaphor:

In the land of Pyrûn, an exporter of lead
Ruled by a king (who’s extremely inbred)
Homeland of giants, but the giants are dead
So the towns are beset by a dragon instead

You can only burn down and eat all a man’s stuff
So many times before he’ll say, “Enough!
It’s time for the dragon to see that we’re tough,
Our knight will extinguish that piteous Puff!”

So out rode their champion, in gleaming steel armour
Bearing his shield with its heraldic llama
To be the right hand of the force they call Karma
(At this point it’s safe to assume there’ll be drama)

And drama there is, but you’ll have to click through to read it. Delightful, in my opinion. Enjoy!

The Joys Of A Level Playing Field

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”–Anatole France

Freedoms and rights are not delicate things
Cos inalienably, they exist—
They’re the rights of all men, whether peasants or kings
And I’m setting them down in a list.

Since rights are for all, there’s no need to be wary;
No need to be raising your voice—
And every gay man has the freedom to marry…
To marry the girl of his choice.

And freedom of worship’s another, you see,
Where concerns can be safely ignored—
Just quit your complaining, cos everyone’s free…
To praise Jesus, their savior and lord.

And poor folk oppose the inheritance tax
With a lottery win in their sights
And we’ll open the polls to Latinos and Blacks…
They can vote for their choice of two Whites.

The second amendment’s another example
Where needless debate will run hot—
The evidence shows (and the data are ample)
We all have the right to get shot.

A right, if it’s right, is for both or for neither
The same for each group we compare—
Men can’t have abortions, so women can’t either
And that’s how we know that it’s fair

Ok, clearly this is not a coherent verse; it’s really just a collection of thoughts that invaded my skull and would not leave until I wrote them down (at least, I hope they leave). Every damn one of these stupid examples is something I’ve seen argued on one or another news comment thread–“gays have the right to get married, same as I do–they are free to marry the opposite-sex partner of their choice!” or “everybody is equally free to worship Jesus, so what’s the problem?”

And the damnedest thing is, I know full well that the collection here is far from complete. And it is hugely USA-centric. And reflects the relatively narrow slice of the world that I have looked at recently, so there is a very good chance that you might think “why didn’t Cuttle write about this?”

There’s a cure for that… these are simple verses, so have fun in the comment thread!

National Poetry Month–Guest Poet 2: richardelguru

In my continuing observance of National Poetry Month, I present my second guest poet–too modest, but I am a sucker for a new verse form:

I’m more of an essayist, but I once (possibly) invented the Hairimeraku.
There are essays explaining the structure and the necessity of them fulfilling “both the exacting requirements of the Japanese haiku, and the even more exacting requirements of the Irish limerick… the best of them having both seasonal and salacious aspects as befits their combined ancestry” here and here, but I’ll add the verse here to save you the disappointment of visiting my site.

I’d visit anyway–it’s actually a pretty cool story of the invention of the verse… but since he added them, here they are: [Read more…]

National Poetry Month–Guest Poet 1: Kate Jones

It is, as I said earlier, National Poetry Month (here in the US, anyway). I am very happy to present my first guest poet, Kate Jones:

The two appended pieces were originally created for the bi-annual Gathering for Gardner (honoring Martin Gardner) in 2010 and 2012, the 9th and 10th such congresses of writers, thinkers, mathematicians, magicians, scientists and philosophers (and occasional rabble like me). I have presented these two pieces in various modified forms at other venues. The current embodiments have stripped all illustrations, leaving the essential text. Should you be curious to see the decorated editions, they are here:

I strongly urge you to visit–while I love these poems in the stripped down version below, it is even better to see them as originally envisioned–my own verses are only very rarely accompanied by any sort of visual… anything. It makes a difference; I am going to have to learn from this Kate.

For those too stubborn to click the links and see the poems as originally intended, the bare versions are after the jump: [Read more…]