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I'm opposed in general to the wide availability of firearms in the civilian population. But I was scared out of my teeth during this background checks vote. And it's a topic that's bound to return, and is as morbid a reality as it gets for the mentally ill.

To the facts. There's no generally agreed-upon definition of "mentally ill" as a legal matter; competence is judged on a case-by-case system with the support of medical specialists. On the other hand, the medical definitions of mental illness (ICD-10, DSM-IV) are expansive and wide-ranging, because they serve the need to treat, not the need to exclude and marginalize. Trichotillomania, the habit of pulling hair out when stressed out, is counted as a mental illness. So is anxiety and depression.

You may argue that the filtering of firearms should target so-called "serious" mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The problem is that there's no real scale of "seriousness", nor is a clear correlation between severity of certain symptoms and propensity to violence. All-out fried up schizophrenics may not have the judgment to plan a proper attack the way someone who has a bit of anxiety has. In actuality, while recent cases of inexplicable, gross violence have been pigeonholed into this or that medical diagnosis, no reliable source ever emerged, nor there are reliable correlations between ICD-10/DSM-IV diagnoses and criminal behavior.

Is this an issue of civil liberties? I hate that term, but it is -- we either set the same free-for-all chaotic conditions for all citizens with no criminal antecedents, or we establish a comprehensive gun control framework. My personal take is that individuals shouldn't be allowed more than a six-bullet revolver and a small allowance of munitions; that's enough for the kind of small-scale deterrence that civilian weapons can ever have. Hunting weapons belong to hunting grounds; they should be rented at the places were hunting is allowed and stay there.

The actual problem, however, is the unsealing of medical record. The very way America wants to frame mental illness to let firearms off the hook for firearm violence is diagnostic of a pervasive pattern of stigmatizing mental illness and the mentally ill in pop and folk culture that could be compared to how blacks were once said to be particularly prone to rape. For one, as the culture stands now in the western world, disclosing a mental illness in the workplace is very problematic. This is not a matter of laws only, which have been sluggishly advancing, but of the continual repetition of incorrect assumptions about how mental illness works and what's the extent of accomodation that the mentally ill really need. As a result, the mentally ill either go "stealth" -- and you can find them anywhere in the hierarchies of power -- or go "under", sometimes unable to exert enough judgment to keep in the treatment that would make them "sane" enough to work the kinks of social security and transient work.

I've been chatting with other mentally ill folk these days, and there's rational fear of widespread profiling. What happens when they decide mental illness is a terrorism hazard and the MI are added wholesale on the no-fly list? No one ever contests the no-fly list, and yet it's something that can ruin someone's livelihood, depending on what they do. (Standup comics, for one, live in fear of the no-fly list) At such a point, the stigma stops being "just" a matter of liberty, equality or dignity. It becomes an impediment to the pursuit of happiness. And doing this to the very people who have to fight to hell and back to keep their stuff together and keep moving forward is as morbid as it gets.

     I knew better than to argue or waste time asking questions. I sprinted back for the car, fear churning in my stomach. Nothing like this had happened before. Cooper had said that the ritual couldn't be interrupted, no matter what.

     I got to the Lincoln, ran around to the driver's side and and dove into the seat. Smoky was whining on the front seat, his paws pressed against the window. Before I could get the door closed, he'd jumped over me and was running towards his master.

     Cooper started to scream. His voice sounded like a band saw blade grinding against a rusty iron post.

     Should you run away like this? I cranked the key in the ignition and slammed the car into drive. Don't think. Just do it. Cooper knows this stuff way better than you do.

     The storm was gathering with alarming speed. Thunder rumbled. In the rearview mirror, I saw the wind whipping a dust devil around Cooper's rigid form. The sound of the gale was drowning out his scream.

     I hit the accelerator just as a massive bolt of lightning shot down from the sky.

     The earth around Cooper exploded. A shockwave whipped across the park, and I was thrown forward into the steering wheel as the back of the Lincoln jerked off the ground.

     Ohshitohshitohshit!

     The car tilted, and the gale blasted into the Lincoln's passenger side, lifting it and knocking it over onto the driver's side. I fell hard against the window, helpless as the car spun like a carnival ride across the grass. My clothes and the ferret flew off the dashboard. He scrabbled for purchase on my sweaty skin to keep from being hung on his leash.

     The car slammed into a steel-framed picnic bench bolted to a concrete slab beside the goldfish pond and stopped.

     I untangled myself from the steering wheel and set the frightened ferret on top of the passenger side headrest. I grabbed my scattered clothes and got dressed as quickly as I could. The ferret had left a dozen pinprick scratches on my side and hip. Once I was no longer in danger of being arrested for public indecency, I unrolled the passenger side window and stuck my head out to see how Cooper was doing, hoping against hope this would turn out to be just be another one of those funny little Babbling-gone-wacky incidents where he'd be standing there amidst smoke and debris with singed hair and a sheepish oops-did-it-again look on his face.

     No such luck. There was a steaming crater the size of a child's wading pool where he'd been. I couldn't tell how deep it was, but the charred sides reflected a bright red glow, as if from live coals or lava.

     "Cooper! Cooper, where are you?" I shouted, feeling sick bile rise in my throat.

     No answer.

     Smoky lay near the crater, his flanks heaving as he gasped for breath. His body looked strangely bloated.

     I bent down to make sure the ferret's lead was still secured to the stick shift. "You stay in here," I told him, my voice shaky, not certain if he understood. "I'll come get you when I'm sure it's safe."

     I pulled myself up through the window and slid down the curved door, landing lightly on the grass. Where was Cooper? Had he been knocked unconscious and thrown into the trees? Or was the crater all that was left?

     No, no, no. He couldn't be dead. He just couldn't.

     "Smoky?" I called. "Smoky, where's Cooper?"

     The terrier was trying to get to his feet, dragging his hindquarters as if he'd broken his back. Bloody foam flecked his muzzle. He saw me and started to howl.

     Oh, Jesus, poor thing, I thought. 

     The crater smelled like a gangrenous wound, like bad magic, and I was getting the same stink off Smoky.

     I stepped closer to the crater. And then it hit me: I was looking at an intradimensional portal. I couldn't have been more stunned if I'd put a cake in the oven, left it to cook, smelled smoke, and opened the oven to discover the cake had transformed into an angry firedrake. Actually, the cake-to-firedrake I could have explained away as a prank from the Warlock, but this?  This was off-the-chart bad and unexpected. How in the name of cold sweat and stomach cramps had we created an intradimensional portal from a simple storm-calling chant?

     After a couple of beats, my brain shifted out of shock and into more practical questions: where did the portal go? I had no clue, but by the look of it, it sure wasn't a beachside resort. Had Cooper been pulled inside? It seemed likely. I couldn't see any trace of him nearby. If he'd been blown apart in the explosion, there'd still be blood or -- I swallowed sickly against the thought -- scattered bits of his flesh. 

     My first instinct was to call Mother Karen and get her to send help, but I realized I couldn't just stand there and do nothing while I waited for the cavalry.  God only knew what might come through. Might come through at any moment. I realized I had to do my best to get that sucker closed, and fast.

”Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7

Imagine working at the same job for 19 years as a teacher in a well respected school in a so called “liberal city” in America’s heartland. You're well liked and held in high esteem by students and alumni alike.

Now imagine that your mother just died and in her obituary you had the audacity to thank your same sex “partner” for all of the support that she’s shown you during your time together and helping you cope with your recent loss.

Now try to imagine that a lone anonymous parent read said obituary after their kid came home from school and asked them to pray for you and your mom and they turned around complained to the local Catholic diocese that they were "appalled" about your so-called “immoral behavior”.

Then try to imagine that you’d get fired from your job when the diocese contacted your school and demanded your dismissal since your contract contains a loosely worded “morality clause” which they decided to invoke.

Well dear readers, you don’t have to imagine it because it’s true. I happen to know this because it happened recently at my daughter’s high school and while the vast majority of students and parents are against the firing, there’s little they can do other than sign petitions. Students are forbidden from discussing the topic (so much for being on the student council) while on school grounds and there’s now a police officer assigned to full time duty at the school. The principal is also receiving a police escort to and from the school until further notice.

I can only speculate that this rogue parent must have some pretty deep pockets or is otherwise highly connected or in cahoots with senior members of the diocese. I’m sure that there are plenty of other teachers employed by the school that have carried on extra marital affairs, been divorced or, God forbid, used some means of contraception. All of those, under Catholic doctrine are also considered “immoral” and if an investigation were to occur, I’m pretty sure the school would find itself extremely short on staff.

So far, alumni and the general public have been staunchly in favor of reinstating the teacher and there’s an on line petition established for the sole intent of doing so. Many of the alumni have gone so far as to threaten to not provide the school with any more donations until the teacher has been reinstated. I think my kid told me its garnered upwards of 40,000 signatures so far and while I’m not big on asking our user base or casual readers for favors, please take a moment and add your name to the list if you feel so inclined. If you feel even stronger about it, please forward it on to like minded individuals with the same caveats listed below.

You can find it here and if you do decide to take the plunge and wish to comment, please refrain from any profanity or overly emotional comments or threatening language. Take my word for it, it will only make the powers that be dig their heels in even deeper.

Note: If that link doesn’t work please /msg me, I think there’s another one floating around.

Thank you.

borgo & borgette

Update May 27, 2013

The petition I mentioned earlier has now garnered more that 130,000 signatures.

Managed to squeeze out another few hundred bucks from my paycheck, which means...yep, flight time. My CFI and I took the Arrow over to Providence, RI (T.F. Green airport) to give me more practice in the complex airplane as well as get both of us cross-country time. It's also been a while since I had to deal with medium-busy air traffic control, and doing that while also learning the faster and more complex flows in the Arrow are helping me learn. For this trip, my CFI took the radios when I was busy (working the new-to-me GPS, dealing with holding altitude, as it was VERY BUMPY, handling approach and landing checklists).

Anyway, the Arrow is fast, so it was a short trip! We saw a ground speed of around 156kts on the Garmin 430 with a 15-20kt tailwind. Leaving 7B2, I talked to Bradley Approach and requested VFR flight following. Oh yes, one much nicer thing about the Arrow - the pilot's transmit switch works! It wasn't so much full-on turbulent as just bumpy up there - clear blue skies, but bright sun and slightly chilly temps meant thermals, and strong winds meant updrafts from the panoply of low ridges that crisscross southern Mass, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

I spent my time not worrying about the radio so much as learning to hold altitude in the Arrow when the air is squirrelly. Managed to stay within 100 ft of intended pretty much 95% of the time, which was good! Also found that I'm okay at staying on course with the G430 display telling me where I am in relation to my direct track. Didn't really use the HSI much; the winds were variable enough that magnetic heading wasn't all that useful. I ended up using landmarks and the purple crayon on the G430.

When we got to Rhode island (what's funny is that this trip, under 80 NM, involved not one but two handoffs among approach controllers - Bradley approach handed us off to a different sector of Bradley approach who then eventually handed us off to Providence approach, who eventually handed us off to PVD tower) we were given a direct approach to a base leg for runway Zero Five and told to be cautious of wake turbulence from departing traffic. Woohoo, this is why I wanted to come here, to play with the big kids. Got my approach checklist and flow going, and my CFI volunteered to handle flaps (the flaps on the Arrow are a big manual handle between the seats; they look like a car emergency brake handle, and I was already using both hands for checklist and yoke since it was still bumpy). Finished my descent in good time at 1100 (pattern altitude), set electric fuel pump to ON and dropped the landing gear at 115kts. Got three green lights. At 95, on extended base, dropped power to 15" Hg and added in the first 10 degrees of flaps, checking the gear lights. Nearing the end of base, took flaps to 25 and checked the gear again; then turned final (a bit late; again, I'm not used to the faster airplane in the pattern yet), corrected and called for 40 degrees of flap. Checked the gear for the last time and moved the prop to FULL INCREASE and concentrated on landing. I did better, but still not wonderful - I started drifting left, and as I was considering whether to correct over to centerline (the runway was huuuuge) we started to sink. I concentrated on getting it on the ground, but was foiled again - my CFi has been training me to carry power down to the runway on the Arrow because it sinks like a rock if you dump power when it's slow, but I'm not chopping the power quickly enough when touching down, so any wind gust or high sink rate and the airplane bounces 25 feet right back into the damn air. Sigh. Still, got it on the ground eventually and turned off onto the taxiway and headed back to the departure end.

While I was doing the departure chores (GPS, radio presets, checklist) the tower said we could depart if ready, so my CFI responded in the affirmative and taxied us out into position, handing me back the airplane as we started the turn onto the centerline. I took it and went right into departure, mixture full rich, check fuel pump, prop on full increase, throttle to full. We picked up speed and lifted off - I held off lifting the gear until we were definitely too far down to reland on the runway if necessary. That took a while because again, huge runway. We were cleared to turn to 300 and climb to 2000 and await further clearance, so I concentrated on doing that (gear up before turning, pitch nose up for 90 kts/Vy).

Before we got to 2000, we were told to squawk our new code, talk to Providence departure and resume VFR navigation. We acknowledged, and my CFI flipped radio channels while I took us up to 4,500 feet while fighting the bounces. The trip home was even quicker, with a tailwind, and we got back into the vicinity of 7B2 around 90 minutes after we'd fired up the engine. I brought us into the pattern, descending a bit late, and ended up with excess energy in the pattern but got the checklist finished and got us lined up nicely on final.

And again, caught a gust, didn't chop power, and bounced the airplane. Damn it.

Well, practice helps, they say. And again, didn't bend it. So...more practice, when I can, I guess. Although I gotta fly the 172 to make sure I can still land that smothly!

Any day with flying in it is a good one.

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