Archive for December 2019

Celebrating New Years With Friends #OpenBook Blog Hop   Leave a comment

December 30, 2019 Do your characters celebrate New Year’s and if so, how? I haven’t written a holiday scene (any holiday!) into my books. (Hmm, I should change that one of these days)…

Source: Celebrating New Years With Friends #OpenBook Blog Hop

Posted December 30, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Reflection Time   4 comments

December 30, 2019

Do your characters celebrate New Years’ and if so, how? If not, why not?

Fairbanks Sparktacular

Rules:

1. Link your blog to this hop.

2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.

3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.

4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.

5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

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A Word from the History/Philosophy Geek

As the world counts down to midnight, we’re turning our blogs toward the subject of the New Year and celebrations our characters might engage in.

Historically, the new year wasn’t always on Jan. 1, and still isn’t in some cultures.

The ancient Mesopotamians celebrated their 12-day-long New Year’s festival of Akitu on the vernal equinox, while the Greeks partied around the winter solstice, on Dec. 20. The Roman historian Censorius reported that the Egyptians celebrated another lap around the sun on July 20. During the Roman era, March marked the beginning of the calendar. Then, in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, which set the new year when it is celebrated today. That didn’t standardize the day. New Year’s celebrations continued to drift back and forth in the calendar, even landing on Christmas Day at some points, until Pope Gregory XIII implemented the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which was an attempt to make the calendar stop wandering with the seasons.

Though the selection of the new year is essentially arbitrary from a planetary perspective, there is one noteworthy astronomical event that occurs around this time: The Earth is closest to the sun in early January, a point known as the perihelion.

Nowadays, Jan. 1 is almost universally recognized as the beginning of the new year, though there are a few holdouts: Afghanistan, Ethiopian, Iran, Nepal and Saudi Arabia rely on their own calendars. Different religions also celebrate their New Year’s at different times. For instance, the Jewish calendar is lunar, and its New Year’s festival, Rosh Hashanah, is typically celebrated between September and October. The Islamic calendar is also lunar, and the timing of the new year can drift significantly (In 2008, the Islamic New Year was celebrated on Dec. 29, while it fell on Sept. 22 in 2017). The Chinese calendar is also lunar, but the Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Why does the start of the new year carry such special symbolism that its celebration is practically universal? Behavior this ubiquitous must surely be tied to something intrinsic in the human animal, something profoundly meaningful and important, given all the energy and resources we invest not just in the celebration but also in our efforts to make good on a fresh set of resolutions, even though we mostly fail to keep them. It may be that the symbolism we attach to this moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all: survival.

Human beings love to party and we seem to enjoy patterns. As our birthdays do, New Year’s Day provides us the chance to celebrate having made it through another 365 days, the unit of time by which we keep chronological score of our lives. Another year over, and we’re still here! Time to raise our glasses and toast our survival.

Resolutions are about survival, too—living healthier, better, longer? New Year’s resolutions are examples of the universal human desire to have some control over the future that is unsettling and unknowable. To counter that worrisome powerlessness, we do things to take control. We resolve to diet, exercise, quit smoking, and to start saving. Committing to them, at least for a moment, gives us a feeling of more control over the uncertain days to come.

There are hundreds of good-luck rituals woven among New Year celebrations, also practiced in the name of exercising a little control over fate. The Dutch, for whom the circle is a symbol of success, eat donuts. Greeks bake special Vassilopitta cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve started in China millennia ago as a way to chase off evil spirits. The Japanese hold New Year’s Bonenkai, or “forget-the-year parties,” to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a better new one. Disagreements and misunderstandings between people are supposed to be resolved, and grudges set aside. In a New Year’s ritual for many cultures, houses are scrubbed to sweep out the bad vibes and make room for better ones (which was also the connection to bringing evergreens into our houses back in the Celtic era).

A lot of evangelical Christians I know celebrate New Years with a “watch night.” They get together to eat massive amounts of food, play games, shoot off fireworks, stand around a bonfire and pray for their family, friends, community, state, nation and the world.

Everywhere, New Year’s is a moment to consider our weaknesses, mull over how we might reduce the vulnerabilities they pose, and to do something about the scary powerlessness that comes from thinking about the unsettling unknown of what lies ahead. As common as these shared behaviors are across both history and culture, it’s fascinating to realize that the special ways that people note this unique passage of one day into the next are probably all manifestations of the human animal’s fundamental imperative for survival.

First, not all my characters celebrate modern holidays

In Daermad Cycle, no, my Celdryans (descendants of Celts) do not celebrate New Year’s like Americans and Europeans do. Although the Romans (they call them Rawmanes) of their era would have celebrated something like New Year’s midwinter, they were not thoroughly romanized before they left Europe to somehow find their way to Daermad and found the kingdom of Celdryan. In thoroughly Celtic fashion, the Celdryans celebrate their “new year” in November and they call it Samhain. There are elements of Dia de le Morte in their worship – they believe the dead walk on Samhain.

The Kin (an indigenous people who live nearby) celebrate the winter and summer solstices and consider the winter solstice to be the start of their new year. Their culture is one of laughter, dance and community, so the solstice is just a larger gathering of laughing people and dancing, although they also use it as a time to record the year’s events and the memorialize prior year’s events.

What Happens in Kansas

Shifting my attention to Transformation Project — the story is set in modern America the day after tomorrow following a series of terrorism attacks that have devastated the government and much of society. I focus on a small town in the Midwest that keeps surviving by sheer grit, innovation and faith.

Of course they still “celebrate” the holidays they were used to. In Gathering In (the most recent book in the series) the Delaney family gathered for Thanksgiving and their annual tradition of saying what each person is grateful for in the midst of death and destruction took on new and poignant meaning. When 30 million people died around you recently, your definition of gratitude changes dramatically.

In “Winter’s Reckoning” (the next as-yet-unpublished book in the series) the family gathers for New Year’s Eve. They are a largely evangelical family living in a conservative town. Shane is an agnostic bordering on atheism and some of the adopted family members may not have as deep a faith, but the Delaneys are mostly church-going people. When they gather for a celebration of New Year’s, there will be a faith-based focus. The town is running low on food and medicine and their hopeful view from Thanksgiving seems misplaced. The Delaneys lost a family member at the end of Gathering In and a member of the household is recovering from serious injuries in the next room, so they keep it low key – a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, hot tea, popcorn and toast, and good company. Certainly they’re going to pray for their community and the larger situation. Will also they review the year past and consider the future? That would have been part of the watch night in previous years, but are they brave enough to do that in the midst of an overwhelming disaster? Do they want to consider how they contributed to it or what it’s going to take to recover from it? The characters haven’t told me what they’re going to do yet.

A Holiday Dedicated to Drinking

From the very first book in the series, I established Rob Delaney is a recovering alcoholic. It’s just a part of his life and it’s not central to the story. At the end of Gathering In, he might have been headed toward a relapse. As I write the story of that first New Years since the end of the world as they knew it, I pause to consider if Rob might struggle with a holiday dedicated to getting drunk. While those of us who don’t have a problem with alcohol thoroughly enjoy ourselves, we may well be torturing people who can’t safely participate.

Bright Lights & Big Booms

Fireworks are an amazing thing and here in Fairbanks, Alaska, New Years is the only time we can really enjoy them. Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day never get dark enough at night to do justice to brightly colored lights in the sky and we risk setting the forests on fire. But New Year’s Eve, we have a huge community-wide fireworks display and then tons of little ones done by ordinary people funding North Pole Christian School by patronizing its fireworks booth. The night is 18 hours long and fireworks don’t still have enough heat when they hit the ground to set anything on fire. We can enjoy in freedom and without fear.

I wanted to include some fireworks in the New Year’s celebration in Emmaus, Kansas, because fireworks are a quintessentially American way to celebrate New Years. And, truthfully, what are the use of fireworks during an apocalyptic situation? I suppose you could collect all that black powder into a massive bomb, but practically, their best use is to brighten a dark night make even darker by human evil to other humans.

I didn’t even know I considered fireworks to be a sign of hope until I started writing it, but I really didn’t know the side effect of fireworks. Yes, hope for those who don’t suffer PTSD, but when I get into the head of my characters, they tell me their stories. In Transformation Project, a few of my characters have been to war and when one of them said “incoming,” I was struck by what exploding artillery shells over your house roof must do to veterans.

A Timely Prompt

Sometimes a blog prompt will cause me to consider deeper questions than I might otherwise have thought about when writing a scene. This week’s prompt came at a time when I’m already thinking of New Year’s and so, more work for me, but a better book, no doubt.

I wonder what my fellow blog hoppers are thinking.

Posted December 30, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Four Seasons of Winter   1 comment

Posted December 29, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Little Known Facts in Education History   Leave a comment

aurorawatcherak

Meme Horace Mann

Horace Mann is considered by many to be the great champion of education. Is that true or is it just something we’ve been taught to believe?

For generations, children learned in their homes, from their parents, and throughout their communities. Children were invaluable contributors to a homestead, becoming involved in household chores and rhythms from very early ages. They learned important, practical skills by observing and imitating their parents and neighbors and engaged in hands-on apprenticeships as teens. They still managed to learn the 3 R’s around the fireside.

The literacy rate in Massachusetts in 1850 (two years prior to the passage of the country’s first compulsory school attendance law) was 97%.

The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that the Massachusetts adult literacy rate in 2003 was only 90%.

In advocating for compulsory schooling statutes, Horace Mann and his 19th century education reform colleagues were deeply fearful of…

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Posted December 28, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

The Myth That the US Leads the World in Mass Shootings   Leave a comment

It’s a slam dunk case except for one thing: it’s not true.
To understand the misleading narrative, we must look to the era of narrative-driven journalism and the politicization of society, both of which subjugate truth to ideology and politics.

 

If you asked me this morning which nation has the most mass shootings in the world, I would have said, with perhaps a flicker of hesitation, the United States.

This is a tad embarrassing to admit because I’m pretty familiar with shooting statistics, having written several articles on gun violence and the Second Amendment. Below is a basic overview of gun violence in America. While gun homicides have been steadily declining for decades in the US, mass shootings have indeed been trending upward.

This fact alone probably would not have led me to believe that the US leads the world in mass shootings, however. An assist goes to the US media and politicians.

“Let’s be clear,” President Obama said in 2015 after a shooting in North Carolina. “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Sen. Harry Reid echoed this sentiment. “The United States is the only advanced country where this kind of mass violence occurs.”

Media headlines have left little doubt that the US leads the world in mass shootings. In fact, according to CNN, it isn’t even close.

The comments and data seem to conclusively say that the US leads the world in mass shootings and the violence is unique, a product of “America’s gun culture.”

It’s a slam dunk case except for one thing: it’s not true.

Statistics on global mass shooting incidents from 2009 to 2015 compiled by economist John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center show that the US trails many other advanced nations in mass shooting frequency and death rate.

As Investor’s Business Daily noted on these findings, “Yes, the U.S. rate is still high, and nothing to be proud of. But it’s not the highest in the developed world. Not by a long shot.”

If this is true, how did the narrative that the US leads the world in mass shootings become the conventional wisdom? The myth, it turns out, stems from University of Alabama associate professor Adam Lankford.

Lankford’s name pops up in a montage of media reports which cite his research as evidence that America leads the world in mass shootings. The violence, Lankford said, stems from the high rate of gun ownership in America.

“The difference between us and other countries, [which] explains why we have more of these attackers, was the firearm ownership rate,” Lankford said. “In other words: firearms per capita. We have almost double the firearm ownership rate of any other country.”

Lankford’s findings show that there were 90 mass public shooters in America since 1966, the most in the world, which had a total of 202. But Lott, using Lankford’s definition of a mass shooting—“four or more people killed”—found more than 3,000 such shootings, John Stossel recently reported.

Who is to say Lankford doesn’t have it right and Lott is wrong? There’s just one problem: Lankford isn’t talking.

When findings do not mesh, scholars, in pursuit of truth, generally compare notes, data, and methodology to find out how they reached their conclusions. After all, who is to say Lankford doesn’t have it right and Lott is wrong? There’s just one problem: Lankford isn’t talking.

Lankford refuses to explain his data to anyone—to Stossel, to Lott, to the Washington Post, and apparently anyone else who comes asking, including this writer. (I emailed Lankford inquiring about his research. He declined to discuss his methodology, but said he would be publishing more information about mass shooting data in the future.)

“That’s academic malpractice,” Lott tells Stossel.

Indeed it is. Yet, it doesn’t explain how one professor’s research was so rapidly disseminated that its erroneous claim quickly became the conventional wisdom in a country with 330 million people.

For that, we must look to the era of narrative-driven journalism and the politicization of society, both of which subjugate truth to ideology and politics. Media and politicians latched onto Lankford’s findings in droves because his findings were convenient, not because they were true.

This is an unsettling and ill omen for liberty. As Lawrence Reed has observed, the road to authoritarianism is paved with a “careless, cavalier, and subjective attitude toward truth.” Yet that is precisely what we see with increasing frequency in mass media. (Need I reference the Covington debacle and the Smollet hoax?)

More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Lankford’s erroneous research had free rein for two years and was disseminated to tens of millions of viewers and readers before the truth finally got its shoes on.

Twain’s quote remains true even in the age of the internet. Lankford’s erroneous research had free rein for two years and was disseminated to tens of millions of viewers and readers before the truth finally got its shoes on.

If you ask most Americans today which country leads the world in mass shootings, I suspect a vast majority would say the US. And there’s always a price for the erosion of truth.

Source: The Myth That the US Leads the World in Mass Shootings | Jon Miltimore

Posted December 27, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Gun control

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Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here's What the Data Say   Leave a comment

From Parkland, Florida, to San Bernardino, California, the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle and its variants have seemingly become the weapons of choice for mass shooters in the United States.

Many people simply cannot believe that regular civilians should be able to legally own so-called “weapons of war,” which they believe should only be in the hands of the military.

According to Pew Research, for example, 81 percent of Democrats and even 50 percent of Republicans believe the federal government should ban “assault-style rifles” like the AR-15. Given the massive amount of carnage AR-15s and similar rifles have caused, it makes sense that the civilian population simply cannot be trusted to own such weapons, right?

Perhaps, but is it really true that the AR-15, a popular firearm owned by millions of Americans, is a unique threat to public safety, so dangerous that it deserves to be banned or even confiscated by the federal government?

It cannot be emphasized enough that any homicide is a tragedy, but in order to get a sense of how dangerous to public safety “assault-style” rifles are, it’s useful to compare their usage in homicide to other methods.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are the two authoritative sources for homicide statistics in the United States.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the CDC reports “produce more accurate homicide trends at the national level” because they capture less under-reporting than the FBI statistics.

However, the homicide data recorded by the CDC includes all homicides committed by civilians regardless of criminal intent. The FBI data instead focuses on intentional homicides (i.e murder) known to law enforcement and excludes non-negligent homicide (i.e manslaughter.)

According to the BJS, the FBI data is “better suited for understanding the circumstances surrounding homicide incidents.” This is especially true given that the FBI, but not the CDC, records the type of firearm used in a given homicide. For the purposes of this analysis, the data from the FBI will be used.

There are two further limitations of FBI data worth noting.

Firstly, the FBI reports do not look at “assault-style” rifles specifically, but rather, murders involving all types of rifles, whether they are committed with an AR-15 or a hunting rifle.

Between 2007 and 2017, nearly 1,700 people were murdered with a knife or sharp object per year. That’s almost four times the number of people murdered by an assailant with any sort of rifle.

Secondly, each year there are a few thousand homicide cases where the type of firearm used goes unreported to the FBI. This means that some murders listed under “unknown firearm” may, in fact, be rifle murders.

To account for this under-reporting, we will extrapolate from rifles’ share of firearm murders where the type of weapon is known in order to estimate the number of “unknown” firearms that were in actuality rifle homicides.

If we take the time to look at the raw data provided by the FBI, we find that all rifles, not just “assault-style rifles,” constitute on average 340 homicides per year from 2007 through 2017 (see Figure 1.). When we adjust these numbers to take under-reporting into account, that number rises to an average of 439 per year.

Figure 2 compares rifle homicides to homicides with other non-firearm weapons. Believe it or not, between 2007 and 2017, nearly 1,700 people were murdered with a knife or sharp object per year. That’s almost four times the number of people murdered by an assailant with any sort of rifle.

Figure 1. The Relative and Absolute Frequency of Rifle Homicides 2007-2017

 

Figure 2. Homicides per year by weapon 2007 – 2017

In any given year, for every person murdered with a rifle, there are 15 murdered with handguns, 1.7 with hands or fists, and 1.2 with blunt instruments. In fact, homicides with any sort of rifle represent a mere 3.2 percent of all homicides on average over the past decade.

Given that the FBI statistics pertain to all rifles, the homicide frequency of “assault-style” rifles like the AR-15 is necessarily lesser still, as such firearms compose a fraction of all the rifles used in crime.

With an average of 13,657 homicides per year during the 2007-2017 timeframe, about one-tenth of one percent of homicides were produced by mass shootings involving AR-15s.

According to a New York Times analysis, since 2007, at least “173 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States involving AR-15s.”

That’s 173 over a span of a decade, with an average of 17 homicides per year. To put this in perspective, consider that at this rate it would take almost one-hundred years of mass shootings with AR-15s to produce the same number of homicide victims that knives and sharp objects produce in one year.

With an average of 13,657 homicides per year during the 2007-2017 timeframe, about one-tenth of one percent of homicides were produced by mass shootings involving AR-15s.

Mass shootings involving rifles like the AR-15 can produce dozens of victims at one time, and combined with extensive media coverage of these events, many people have been led to believe that such rifles pose a significant threat to public safety.

However, such shootings are extremely rare, and a look at the FBI data informs us that homicide with these types of rifles represents an extremely small fraction of overall homicide violence. Banning or confiscating such firearms from the civilian population would likely produce little to no reduction in violent crime rates in America.

Image courtesy of Gun Holsters and Gear.

Source: Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here’s What the Data Say | Being Classically Liberal

Posted December 27, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Gun control

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Newbie No More   Leave a comment

Magical World Web

December 23, 2019

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m completely not on top of things right now. And you know, that’s a theme for me with writing. Publishing my first book didn’t really change my process of writing. But my second? Totally. Here’s how I changed while I was writing and publishing my second book:

  1. I realized that getting good feedback is a hard job in itself. When I wrote my first book I got zero responses back from people. That didn’t stop me. I persisted until I finally found somebody in the UK who was kind enough to praise my book and give me some pointers. Seriously, I had to jump the pond to find feedback. I also had to jump the pond to find other writer friends in this world. It’s just been more recently that…

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Posted December 23, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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