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Monday, June 26, 2017

MAG40: an LGBTQ review

Back in February, I had the pleasure of attending a MAG40 class taught by Massad Ayoob himself. Since I am queer, I decided to review the class based on how friendly it was to LGBTQ students.
Disclaimer 1: I met Massad Ayoob before taking this class. I don't feel justified in saying that we are specifically friends -- for example, I've never hung out with the man, drinking beers and sharing stories -- but I feel it's safe to say that we are friendly with each other. We're on a first-name basis, and I hope that I can get to know him better. 
Disclaimer 2: I grew up around military people, so I am used to things like inappropriate humor, the "command voice", and things like that. If you haven't been exposed to these then they might shock you if you aren't ready for them. I didn't feel any of it was rude or hateful or needlessly aggressive, and no one was singled out. As an example, Mas says "You don't need testicles to 'have balls' or a vagina to 'be a pussy'." I don't consider this offensive. 
Disclaimer 3:  I attended the classes en homme, aka in drab. I had some pretty solid reasons for doing this, mainly because it takes me 2-3 hours to go from ugh to reasonably female-looking and the classes start at 8 am and go until 6 pm or later. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of dressing up and then maintaining my appearance while sweating off my makeup at the shooting field. I decided that I was there to learn and not to pass as female. However, please see Is the MAG40 course LGBTQ-friendly? below. 
Is MAG40 a good value for your money?
It absolutely is. I realize it costs a lot of money (if it hadn't been for an angel offering to pay my way, I wouldn't have been able to afford to attend the $800 course), but what you get out of it is AMAZING:
  1. 20 hours of firearms training by a highly skilled shooter and a greatly respected member of the firearms community and his hand-picked cadre of instructors. This is akin to getting training in "how to throw a football" by a quarterback whose team won the Super Bowl multiple times. 
  2. 20 hours of classroom instruction on when to shoot, when not to shoot, and what to do if you are involved in a defensive shooting, taught by a man whose resume includes such jobs as "police officer" and "expert witness". 
  3. A guarantee that if you are put on trial for murder or manslaughter in a self-defense shooting, Mas will look at the details of the case and, if he agrees that your shooting was justified, will testify in your defense. Not only is Mas an expert witness when it comes to guns and self-defense, but he can also testify to the training you had and therefore why you acted the way that you did. 
What if I can't afford to attend?
$800 is a lot of money, I won't deny that, and taking a 4-day weekend to get 40 hours of instruction may not be possible for people with busy jobs or lots of children. Fortunately, there is a solution: the MAG40 class is also offered as two blocks of instructions of 20 hours each separated into Classroom – Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement and Live Fire.

If you can only afford one -- and I strongly encourage you to take both -- then I recommend the Classroom portion. My rationale here is that any trainer can teach you how to shoot, but you can only get the Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement from a MAG class.

Is the MAG40 class LGBTQ-friendly?
It is. When I applied for the course, one of the requirements was to provide proof of a clean criminal record (in my case, this was accomplished by sending a copy of my Concealed Weapon Permit). The reason for this is so that Mas can ensure that his class is taught only to "certified good guys" and not by people with criminal records who are looking for ways to get away with murder in the name of self-defense. I understand and applaud this, but for those of us who are transgender yet haven't changed our legal name or gender marker, this presents an awkward if not embarrassing situation.

In the email where I submitted my paperwork, I included the following statement:
Also, you may not know this but I am transgender. I bring this up because I have not completed transition and my legal documentation is still under my biological name. I do not want any special treatment; I'm just letting you know so you aren't confused or surprised. 
This was the response:
Thank you for your MAG 40 registration material that I have received by email.  Your preceding email noting that your legal documentation is still under your biological name is also appreciated. 
Since the inception of Lethal Force Institute and MAG (MAG – Massad Ayoob Group is LFI’s successor organization), Mas Ayoob has insisted upon requiring incoming students to show evidence of a clean criminal history.  His stated intention is that he is not going to teach people how to “murder” other people and get away with it.  Thus the insistence upon some proof of current clean criminal record.  I have no problem with this requirement, in fact, I support it wholeheartedly and believe that you do also. 
Here is our problem (that is not a problem), and a suggested workaround.  I have received your registration material in good order in the legal name of [name redacted]. If it is OK with you, I will log your registration for the desired February 2017 MAG 40 class.  That registration will be logged in your legal name – because I have all the supporting documentation for clean criminal history in that name.  When you complete the MAG 40 class, we will be aware that you wish to have your completion certificate made in the name of Erin Palette.  That is fine with us, because we will know that [legal name] (for whom we have documentation) and Erin Palette are one and the same good person.  (My wife, who makes out name tags and neck tags for students, will make all your desk and range material as Erin Palette.  You will thus be addressed as Erin Palette in the class.)  
I hope that this workaround will be “workable” for you.  If it is not, please let me know.  
We look forward to seeing you soon.
I found this to be a perfectly reasonable response and was quite happy with the workaround.

Some of you may be thinking That's all very well and good, Erin, but you still appeared cisgender and your name is ambiguous, so you benefited from social camouflage. This is a true enough point and I won't refute it. All I can say is this:
  • I am rather sensitive to feeling singled out or picked out. Not ONCE did I feel like I was looked down upon or treated poorly for being trans by the instructors who knew my situation (which was most of them, and nearly all were male and more than half were what you'd consider "older white men.")
  • There was NO casual homophobia, racism or sexism. Not even an offhand use of "gay" as a synonym for bad. In fact, both Mas and Gail Pepin, his girlfriend, invited me to speak to the class about Operation Blazing Sword so I know they're comfortable with LGBTQ people and topics. 
  • While Mas and the rest of the instructors have no control over the behavior of other students, my gut feeling is that anyone who was rude to another student would disrupt the SAFE (Secure, Asshole-Free Environment) that Mas requires for his class and they would be given one warning to cut it out before being asked to leave. 
Therefore, I feel 100% comfortable in recommending the MAG40 course to all LGBTQ students. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #149 - I will hug you and pet you and call you George

True fact: Erin has been called a "cuddle slut". Make of that what you will.
  • Beth was in Washington for The DC Project: 50 women from 50 states talking to legislators about gun rights. Now she's back to tell us about it.
  • Two men are arrested for shooting a third to death. Sean takes a look at the suspects.
  • What do you do if your bank wants personally Identifiable Information? Do you just email it to them? You might be tempted to do just that, but Barron explains why that’s a terrible idea.
  • Have you seen the video of the angry woman burning down a house in Milwaukee? Miguel goes over some lessons learned in this horrifying video.
  • We welcome Special Guest Andrew Greene of the Grayguns Shooting Team to the show to talk about how competition shooting is his therapy for PTSD.
  • Tiffany is still on medical leave.
  • Have you ever wonder why Erin hugs everyone? So did she. It turns out that there's a good physiological reason for it.
  • In the wake of the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, the Loaded Conversations crew cut an emergency show to let everyone know how much they hate those who disagree with them. Weer'd has the audio fisk.
  • And our plug of the week is $10K for 2A. Erin has cooked up a plan to humiliate Sean at the Gun Rights Policy Conference. She just needs your help to raise $10,000 for pro gun charities to make it happen. Don't help her. Please
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
Hugs and Pettings 
If you’re like me, when something goes wrong for someone you care about, your immediate response is to give that person a hug. I make sense of this by saying “Well, I can’t fix the problem, but I can at least help this person feel better,” and so I offer hugs. But I’ve never really been clear on WHY hugs are good for calming people.

As it turns out, the answer lies more in biology than in psychology. There are several reasons why skin-to-skin contact is amazingly helpful in reducing pain and trauma. The first is that mammals have specialized nerves which fire pleasurably when they are touched. Because these nerves are a distance apart -- half an inch or so -- a nice long scratch or stroke is needed to trigger them in sequence.

This is why, for example, holding hands is nice and all that, but a backrub is SO much better: you’re triggering more nerves in sequence. This also explains both why humans love to pet animals, and why animals love to be petted: the long, slow strokes feel good to both the petter and the petted.

Tying this in with last week’s segment on disabling the rage pathway of the brain, petting an animal is another of those slow, simple, repetitive physical activities which activates the seeking pathway. Having a pet you can stroke and cuddle is doubly helpful for helping humans overcome anger, grief, and other forms of trauma.

Hugs are similar. It’s not just the squeeze that’s important, but the whole package: sliding your arms around someone’s neck triggers those nerve clusters, as does the release. This is why hugging someone else who is hurting helps you feel better, as well.

Skin to skin contact also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of well-being and promotes the creation of social bonds. When oxytocin goes up, the stress hormone cortisol goes down. This is yet another reason to form a prepping tribe: the presence of other humans to whom we are bonded reduces our stress and makes us feel better.

So don’t go it alone -- ask for a hug when you aren’t feeling well. Offer a hug to a friend when they’re having a rough time. And definitely have a pet you can stroke and cuddle, like a dog or a cat, because making them feel good will make you feel good.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Doctor Who: The Cruelest Downgrade

The day's wearing a bit thin. I spent most of it drinking and watching NXT Women's matches. If you haven't seen Asuka in action, you really should.

Spoilers beyond here.
This week's episode, World Enough and Time, which shares a title with a fan-produced episode of Star Trek famous enough to have its own Rifftrax commentary, certainly started with a hell of a teaser cold-opening, which was enough of a tease that it hardly needed the cliffhanger it gave us. A cliff-hanger which certainly didn't fail to deliver, but was still hardly on the level of the opener.
Seriously, how do you follow that opener? 
I have not been looking forward to these last few episodes. I've made no secret that Peter Capaldi has been an absolute revelation for me since Doctor Who relaunched in 2005. A cranky, grouchy old Scottish man who is completely out of touch and alien to the niceties of human society, a sort of "House in space" that sounds progressively more indecipherable the angrier he gets, he's been my hands-down favourite of the new series.

So last week's trailer definitely gave the impression we'd get a Missy solo/hero episode while the Doctor kicked back, much like the Doctor-Lite episodes of the RTD era, but it seems that wasn't the case, because as soon as things went pear-shaped in the 400-mile colony ship Twelve came bounding out of the TARDIS to save the day... only for Bill to die again. I swear, she's aiming to take down Rory's record for "Most times dying in a series". I did get serious shades of Red Dwarf from those beauty shots of the colony ship, though.

"Nardole, do something non-irritating." It's like Capaldi's reading my mind. 

The establishing scene was quite good, though, giving Missy a lot of time to show off. I was rather tickled by her early-series shout-out calling herself "Doctor Who" and referring to Bill and Nardole as "Thing One and the Other One" and "Exposition and Comic Relief." Missy seems as apt at breaking the third wall as Deadpool in this episode. 
Nice to see a familiar face. 
Science is pretty hard in this episode, what with the time dilation effect of the black hole the ship is trying to escape. I loved the little detail of the clocks telling two different times, one being only two days into the journey, the other being years, and the implication of the crew that went down to a lower floor never having reported back. For all we know, they're almost finished with their mission, but the bridge won't know for quite some time.

Erin says:  "Hard." Sure. Look, I like the nod to time dilation, but:
1) The clock said 365,200-something. 365,000 days is ONE THOUSAND YEARS. You expect me to believe that in a thousand years, the ship's engines kept going without breaking or running out of fuel? 
2) The engines are clearly spewing reaction mass OUTWARD with the nose of the ship pointing TOWARDS the black hole, and yet we're supposed to believe they're "reversing". 
Sorry, no. I'm not buying it. 

I know Erin had a problem with Missy not remembering the events of the episode, but I recall back to the ending of the 50th anniversary episode, where the War Doctor realized that, even though he'd tried to save Gallifrey, he wouldn't remember it, and would continue on to the PTSD-ridden Ninth Doctor when he regenerated, thinking he'd burned the planet in an attempt to stop the war. This is, of course, in reference the finale of the episode, where John Simm makes his return, sporting a glorious Master-goatee after his unmasking as Mr. Razor.

I readily admit that I was fooled throughout the entire episode, not realizing it was John Simm playing both parts. This was shocking, considering I'm a classic Who fan and should be used to the Master donning disguises for no real reason. The (Simm) Master is apparently unhinged from his own timeline (probably his own doing), leading to the meeting between him and Missy. My only question is where in his timeline is he? He mentions being Prime Minister, but his body was burned after the events of The Last of the Time Lords, and he didn't have the goatee when he returned in the specials. This must be after he forced Gallifrey back through the breach but before regenerating to Missy.

I think this qualifies The Master as a cosmic horror, as he is a thing that truly should not be, given that he's exhausted at least two regeneration cycles now: One during the classic series, transferring his conscious to another body in The Keeper of Traken, and again in the TV Movie, and then being resurrected by human ingenuity later on after refusing to regenerate. Keeping track of his deaths and timeline is something that's sadly even outside of my realm of ability. 
More sinister than you can pack in one picture.
The episode did a very good job of lulling us into a sense of false security with Bill, having her form a relationship with Mr Razor. Making us think she could be repaired after the prosthetics on her chest replaced her heart and lungs and then shocking us with the revelation that she was one of the first Mondasian Cybermen. For the uninitiated, Mondas was the planet the Cybermen were originally from. The majority of Cybermen that we've seen in the new series were offshoots of the Cybus Corporation from Pete's World. This may be the first actual confirmed appearance of the classic series Cybermen in the new series, and tying Bill into it makes it heart-wrenching, considering the telepathic "Wait for me" message the Doctor left in her sub-conscious. 

All in all, an excellent episode after last week's lull. A definite must-see. I am totally not looking forward to next week, as I don't want to lose Capaldi, but at the same time I can't wait to see what happens next. This is the first episode of the season that had me verbally going "No no no!" when the credits rolled. You cannot afford to miss this one.

Next week: "Will you stand with me?" 

Friday, June 23, 2017

This is why Operation Blazing Sword exists

Even though it's been a year since Pulse, LGBTQ people are still at risk in this country. Despite being a tiny portion of our nation's demographic - only 3.4% of all Americans - we still have a whopping 20-25% chance of being victims of violent hate crime. 

Attitudes like this are why:

Yes, you read that correctly: according to Mark Hagerman, all LGBTQ people are sexual perverts, and therefore all LGBTQ people are a danger to "normal people", thus preemptive attacks against LGBTQ people are "understandable."

That's right up there with "All men are rapists", for those keeping track. 

Now, I am practically a First Amendment absolutist. I am a huge fan of free speech, and so while I find Mr. Hagerman's voiced opinion repulsive, I will absolutely fight for his right to say it. This also means I don't believe he should be fined for it, arrested for it, or lose his job for it. 

Which puts me in the delightfully absurd position of respecting Mr. Hagerman's rights more than he respects mine. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Erin, make up a title for me

It's Thursday, so I'm supposed to be writing something.

Well, it's actually Wednesday night, and I'm in an incredibly foul mood still, so as far as Gotham Rain goes, that's on hold for now. At least until something shallow in my real world life inspires me to continue it.

Approximately two months ago, I was laid off. I got some severance pay, so I'm still safe for the time being, but the last four months or so had been so stressful that I have not made a serious attempt at finding another job in that time.

I did start drinking again. Not to the degree that I did the last time it became a problem, and not to the point where I can't hit 5:00 PM without trembling. And seeing the world all sort of fuzzy for a little while at a time is pleasant again. But I've been moving back down from that again as well.

I was in a relationship, of sorts, and now I'm not. I don't really have anything going on. Been finishing up a few games I've been meaning to, and have caught up on Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Agents of SHIELD, in that order. Shaved my head again. Will probably start claiming unemployment next week.

I sincerely cannot think of anything I feel strongly enough to write about, and I apologize for that. I feel like I'm letting Erin, and all of you that click on my face each week, down. I'll try and do better. I'm not linking my paypal again, as I didn't get any donations, but Erin knows the address for it if she feels differently.

In the meantime, please accept this as an apology.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I have been doing nothing but putting out fires all week

Or at least that's how it seems right now. There was a... let's say "controversial"... post on the Operation Blazing Sword Facebook page, and some people took offense at what they perceived was us taking a political position, so I've been dealing with that and it's worn me out.

Since I'm talking about it, let me go on the record right now and state the following:
Operation Blazing Sword is non-partisan and non-political. We simply happen to speak about things which are wrapped up in current politics, because (unfortunately) both gun rights and LGBTQ rights are political issues right now. We wish this were not the case, because rights are inherent and should not be politicized.

Talking about political issues is not the same as being political. Operation Blazing Sword neither endorses nor condemns politicians, candidates, political parties, or legislation.

Our purpose is, always has been, and always will be outreach and education. Some of that education is teaching firearms operation and safety to people. Other aspects of the education are bridging the cultural divide between cisgender and transgender, homosexual and heterosexual, liberal and conservative, so that each can learn about the lives and values of the other. You cannot teach someone without learning a little about them; education flows both ways. This is the mission of Operation Blazing Sword: to teach, to bridge the divide, to break the belief that "If you aren't one of us, you're against us."
I'm discouraged that making this statement is even necessary.

Speaking of discouragement, let me just say that the hardest part of running a corporation isn't the amount of work involved. It's that I can work for hours and hours on really important stuff, and only a handful of people can see the progress that I've made. To everyone else, it looks like nothing has gotten done. That is incredibly discouraging, especially since the brain rewards tangible progress with dopamine, and since no visible, let alone tangible, progress was made, there's no dopamine reward for Erin.

In better-if-vague news, one of these unseen projects is nearing completion. I am not yet in a position to talk about it, but when it pays off it's going to vastly improve both the reach and capabilities of Operation Blazing Sword. I look forward to being able to tell you all about it with breathless enthusiasm when the time is right.

But this is something that I can talk about:
Operation Blazing Sword is now transoceanic and intercontinental! Special thanks to Steve Smith of Wondai, Queensland for being our first Australian instructor!

Finally, if you have a job that matches your charitable donations, please sign up for that with Operation Blazing Sword the recipient. Our tax ID is 81-4230880, and we're already registered with Benevity. If your employer uses a different method for charitable giving, please let me know what that platform is and I'll get OBS registered there as well. Remember, not only are you funding a good cause, but also every dollar you give to us is a dollar you can deduct from your taxes!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #148 - Welcome to the Suck

People are the reason we can't have nice things.
  • Beth is on assignment this week.
  • A Gastonia grandmother is tied up and robbed at gunpoint. Who would do such a thing? Sean checks him out.
  • Barron explains how setting up a dedicated firewall will protect your network from WannaCry 2.0 ransomware.
  • Florida just enacted Enhanced Self Defense Immunity. Miguel tells us why this is a very welcome development.
  • For our Main Topic we have Special Guest Lucas Apps from Triangle Tactical Podcast. Luke explains what he thinks the biggest problem is with advancing our gun rights.
  • You may have survived your ordeal, but how do you survive being a survivor? Erin talks about ways to cope with anger, guilt, and PTSD.
  • Tiffany is still on medical leave.
  • It's now the final week of Weer'd's audio fisk of the Demanding Mommies' protest at the NRAAM!
  • And our plug of the week is a call to action. Get in touch with us! Like us on Facebook, send us emails, and donate or subscribe to the podcast!

Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript -
Coping with PTSD
This week is the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Massacre. Many people were traumatized by this; not just those who were injured, but also the friends and family of the victims. A loved one being injured or killed is itself a form of victimization.

Anger, grief, survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder: all of these are the brain’s way of trying to cope with the loss of something cherished, be it a person or a body part or your sense of self. Any or all of these can be taken away through accident or violence.

Last year, I did a series of segments on Lawrence Gonzales’s books Deep Survival and Everyday Survival. This year, I’m going to do a series on his book Surviving Survival, which deals with what happens to people after they’ve made it through their ordeal - being lost at sea, the death of a child, having a spouse try to murder them - and the difficulties they face as they try to integrate the new person they needed to become in order to survive into their old life.

Flashbacks are very common with people who have PTSD. This is due to what is known as a conditioned response, and it’s exactly the same thing as when Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.

In neurobiology, when two nerve cells fire at the same time, even if by accident, they will fire together in the future. The phrase is “Fire together, wire together.” They become linked into what is known as a cell assembly, and so when one fires, they all fire. And if they are assembled during a moment of high emotion, then it becomes difficult to keep them from firing - to effectively un-wire them - even if the things which are linked are completely separate.

This is how and why flashbacks occur. If you hear a particular sound or smell a specific scent when something traumatic happens, the event will become paired with that sound or smell in mind. So if you were listening to a particular song on the radio right before you were injured in an automobile accident, your brain will associate that song with pain and fear and auto accidents, and listening to it will cause a fear or pain response.

It is this association which explains why we become attached to people. Their presence causes nerve cells to fire, and at the same time the cells for us being happy because of something they do or say fire, and so we associate their presence with that emotional state. The longer we are around them, the more those cells fire and the stronger the response is.

There are also nerves in our brain which are called “seeking pathways”, and they allow us acquire what we need to survive. If we are thirsty, a seeking pathway helps us find water. If we are tired, a seeking pathway encourages us to find a safe place to sleep, and so on. But if you are thirsty and cannot drink - if you are tired and cannot sleep - your seeking pathways cannot complete their task and this results in frustration, which is another form of anxiety. It’s one thing to just be hungry or thirsty, especially if you know (even subconsciously) that you can easily remedy the situation. It’s another to know that you are unable to fix it, because the human mind has trouble soothing a frustrated pathway.

If left unchecked, this anxiety activates another form of path, the rage pathway, which is an essential survival mechanism among mammals. It’s why your initial desire is to lash out when you’re hurt, because instinct tells us that whatever is hurting us is a predator and we have to kill it before it kills us. And so, if your brain is telling you that you NEED something and you cannot have it, that anxiety registers as fear, and your body believes it’s being attacked, and so attacks back. Suddenly, toddler temper-tantrums make a lot more sense, now don’t they?

When you want something that was taken from you - a loved one, a limb, that sense of innocence or feeling of not having been violated you had before you were attacked - and you cannot get at it, the rage pathway activates. Sometimes it’s violent and destructive; sometimes it’s focused inward, and manifests at grief. But in all cases, the underpinning desire is the same: Something bad is happening to me and I don’t want it to happen. Go away, bad thing!

The brain is essentially dominated by just these two systems, the seeking and rage pathways. We are either trying to draw something toward us - even if it’s something abstract, like the pleasure of a job well done - or we are trying to push things away from us.

What’s interesting about this - and relevant to people who are angry, grieving, or suffering from flashbacks - is that these two systems cannot activate at the same time. If you want to destroy, you cannot create; and if you are creating, you have no desire to destroy.Just be aware of how quickly one can shift to the other!

But it’s this rapid shift that can actually be of benefit to people suffering from loss, because it enables you to overwrite feelings of rage, grief and anxiety by engaging the seeking pathway. A simple, repetitive, constructive activity - like knitting, or weeding the garden, or physical activity, or hunting or fishing or shooting - activates the seeking pathway and deactivates the rage pathway.

Perhaps this is because humans are predators: if we are hungry we need to eat, and so our focus on getting the meal precludes our fear of being eaten by something larger. And perhaps this is how humans became tool users: the seeking pathway rewards our brain with dopamine when we accomplish something (like acquiring food) and so the act of creating tools similarly engaged our seeking pathways and rewarded our actions with dopamine.

If you take nothing else from my segment today, take this:  if you are angry, if you are grieving, if you are anxious, then engage in a simple, repetitive task that rewards you for completing it. You will find that not only will it soothe the pain you feel, but you will also have something to show for your efforts

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