Morgantown Offers User Fee Refunds to Some Workers

Morgantown Offers User Fee Refunds to Some Workers

Some area workers have been charged Morgantown's user fee in error, but the city is providing a way to get that money back.  Listen to the story here.


If you believe you have had the user fee deducted from your paychecks in error,
you can fill out the MSF-4 Refund Claim form on the last page of this PDF.

No, WV Firearm Fatalities Did Not Climb Last Year

No, WV Firearm Fatalities Did Not Climb Last Year

Last year, West Virginia adopted “constitutional carry” legislation, allowing people to exercise second amendment rights outside their home without having to pay the state a licensing fee or prove they had taken a state-approved class.  In late October, The Herald-Register and The Daily Athenaeum published an (identical) article asserting that this led to a "staggering" increase in firearm fatalities.

Fortunately for everyone, this is absolutely not true.

Here is the authoritative list of West Virginia's firearm fatalities, as kept by the state's Health Statistics Center:

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Without going into too much detail, it is clear that over the past year, homicides have dropped by 25%, accidental firearm deaths have dropped by 33%, and suicides have dropped by 11%.

It's worth nothing that the number of gun homicides in the entire state never even hit 75, in any year.

But the sheer wrongness of these articles goes far beyond mere statistical error.  I almost hesitate to address the problems in detail, but as a writer who is extremely concerned with all civil rights in my community, I begrudgingly do so.

Miniscule Changes, Big Fears

One of the most perplexing things about writers who find constitutional carry in West Virginia so terrifying is that it changed very little at all, other than removing financial barriers for the exercise of a civil liberty.

Gun owners have always been allowed to carry a firearm openly on their person in West Virginia with no permit. This is standard throughout most of the nation (31 states). In fact, over the past three decades, the vast majority of states have dramatically loosened gun regulations while supply and accessibility of firearms skyrocketed. The result:

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With every one of those hundreds of legislative changes favoring gun rights, gun control advocates penned articles predicting massive body counts, the streets running with blood, and (my favorite) the old cliché of traffic problems turning into Mad-Max-like shootouts. (The article in question actually included this latter bit.) Over and over again these predictions proved false as the gun homicide rate continued its long, steady decline, but gun control advocates (both in the media and outside of it) didn’t seem to notice.

Nevertheless, you would think West Virginia media might ask itself about the new law:

“Why would people who could openly carry a firearm legally in the first place suddenly start killing other people in their community because they can now wear a jacket or an untucked shirt at the same time?”

This question is never addressed.

Any argument that violent criminals didn’t dare to carry concealed until it was legal is so confused about the nature of both violence and criminality as to be excluded from rational conversation.
 

Random Narratives

The articles in question feature several stories, none of which is linked to the legal concealed carry of a firearm in any way. The opening scene is a perfect example: A police officer arrives at a home on a domestic dispute call and is shot by a resident.

Of course, no one has ever needed a permit to keep a gun inside their home (it is, after all, a civil right equal to freedom of speech and assembly), and the incident has nothing to do with carrying a firearm at all. It also has nothing whatsoever to do with the legislation that the article blames for the shooting, and no explanation of a way that the two might even possibly be connected is attempted.

[After years of writing about representations of guns in the media, I have learned to keep an eye out for this sort of disconnect between fact and policy: either the stories don’t connect to the policies under discussion, or the policies under discussion could never have prevented the events in the story.]

Even if the shooter had not opened fire on a police officer – and had instead been arrested in the most peaceful and cooperative way imaginable – he would have permanently lost his right to own a firearm for the crime of domestic abuse, yet another testament to the “common sense gun laws” that we already have on the books.


It’s the Training, Stupid”

The first quote from Charleston’s Police Chief Steve Cooper in the articles in question seems to display his concern with accidents rather than aggression: “We’re concerned with what is likely a larger number of people carrying concealed weapons who have no training or experience with those weapons.”

The most basic question that might have been asked of Chief Cooper by anyone researching whether his concern was valid:

How much did accidental firearm deaths rise since the law passed because of this supposed mass of untrained people carrying?

As I have pointed out, we know the answer to this question: Accidents actually dropped even closer to zero – there were two in the entire state.

X-Ray Vision and Other Absurdities

One of the stranger sentences in the articles reads this way: “Before the law passed last year, police were able to stop and question people who were concealing firearms.”

How does that work, exactly? By legal definition, a concealed firearm is hidden from sight. No explanation is offered for this (literally impossible) claim. The authors might have asked Chief Cooper, “How many arrests were initiated by a demand to see a concealed carry permit in the year before the law passed?" but opted not to do so.

The real issue at stake for Chief Cooper is not accidental gun deaths, but an embattled court ruling that gives him the power to search anyone who exercises their second amendment rights outside of their home at any time. I covered this in an article I wrote for the DA titled Do Armed West Virginians Have 4th Amendment Rights?

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is part of a Supreme Court appeal against Cooper’s pet policy, saying that the law “predicates the exercise of one constitutional right on the surrender of another, a condition this Court has previously found to be unlawful. It also disproportionately burdens certain groups, like women and members of minority communities, that may especially benefit from the right to bear arms but may also be more sensitive to frisks by law enforcement.”  I strongly suspect that the legal challenge will succeed.

Numbers Games

The article is chock full of familiar statistical claims that seem true, but are wildly simplistic.

Case in point: its assertion that states with tougher gun control laws like California "saw fewer firearm fatalities [per capita] than states with less restrictive laws". If the reader is tempted to believe this might be a relevant fact, observe this map of the concentration of gun homicides in the United States:

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As you can see, the most homicidal place in the country is Los Angeles County, and as anyone who has read about gun violence might expect, other gun homicide hotspots are in and adjacent to cities with equally strict gun control measures – D.C. and Chicago, to be specific.

The issue here is that 68% of all gun homicides occur in just 5% of the nation’s counties; more than half occur in just 2% of counties. Those counties are all centralized in urban centers where rates of gun ownership are much lower than the rest of the nation. Even within those hotspot counties, the concentration of homicides is in small areas.  These are truly staggering statistics that say more about gun violence on their own than most entire articles on the topic.

So is it accurate to say that California has “fewer firearm fatalities” per capita than some states with relaxed gun laws? Technically, yes. But only because more than 10% of the entire US population lives in the enormous state, which makes its gun homicide per capita average drop considerably. This is convenient for gun control advocates (and journalists who don’t understand the complexities of the issue), but is counterproductive in meaningful discussions about policy.

Be Critical, Please

In summation, I hope West Virginia writers are willing to ask questions that directly investigate the claims of authorities the next time they are emailed a press release. We all make honest errors in reporting (I certainly have), but it is incumbent upon those of us who deign to inform the public that we at least engage in critical analysis, especially when discussing fundamental liberties specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Morgantown (Finally!) Gets a Roaster & Specialty Coffeehouse

Morgantown (Finally!) Gets a Roaster & Specialty Coffeehouse

Check out this 2-minute profile of Quantum Bean, South Park's new roastery and specialty coffee shop!



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"We would ask certain cafes and roasters when their coffee was roasted and we would get glazed looks, like, 'What are you talking about?  What does that matter?'"


Fifteen-Mile Hustle: The Extraordinary Work Ethic of Rachel Parrish

Fifteen-Mile Hustle: The Extraordinary Work Ethic of Rachel Parrish

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Rachel Parrish confidently moves a grooming brush across the horse’s mane, releasing tangles and bits of hay.

“His name is Fat Boy,” she says with a smile.

Despite her casual manner, Rachel’s responsibilities are pressing.  She is a worker here at WVU’s Equine Education and Resource Center, a full-time veterinary assistant, a part-time WVU student, president of the WVU Collegiate Horseman’s Association (CHA), and the secretary of the national CHA organization.

At 23 years old, she has already dedicated more than a decade to working with animals.  It started with a single horse.

Falling in Love

Rachel was born near Richmond, Virginia’s busy highways, train trestles and cobblestone streets.  Fifteen miles south, the landscape opens up into fields, forests and streams.  It was here, in the town of Chester that Rachel first got in a saddle.  She was 12 years old.

“It was a white mustang,” Rachel said with a glint in her eye.  “I loved it.”  The ride had been given to her as a gift from a family member.  “If I had to thank somebody for starting it all, it would be my uncle, because he’s the one who paid for that first horseback riding lesson, and it just took off from there.”

Her uncle, Russ Baker, was simply giving a gift that he had enjoyed at her age many years previous.  And trying to keep her out of trouble.  “I thought maybe a horseback ride would give her something to concentrate on besides boys,” Baker said with a laugh.  “And it worked! She fell in love.”

Rachel concedes that a periodic fascination with horses is almost stereotypical for girls.  “A lot of people think it’s a phase and they’ll grow out of it,” she said.  “I didn’t.”

The night after her first lesson, Rachel told her parents that she wanted to go back.

A Passion Expanding

Unfortunately for Rachel, horseback riding lessons were (and are) expensive.  But rather than allow the newfound passion to fade into a cliché of youth, she approached Elaine Wilson, the barn manager who owned the mustang, with a proposition: she would work in the barn in exchange for lessons.  Wilson agreed, and Rachel showed promise instantly.

“She’s just got such a nice way about her that the animals really responded to her,” Wilson said.

Rachel’s early work was not glamorous.  She began learning the basics by mucking stalls and feeding the horses.  But this early in Rachel’s working life, Wilson could already see the concerted work ethic that would stay with her into her time at WVU.

“We’ve had other kids who don’t really want to work, but I never had a problem with Rachel,” Wilson said.  As if to emphasize the point, she repeated, “Never.”

When Rachel learned that one of her riding instructors was the leader of the barn's 4H club, she began working with that organization as well.  This involved a wider variety of projects, from community service to fundraising campaigns for horse show competitions.

By 2015, Rachel had graduated from a junior college.  Though horses were still a passion, by then she had realized that her interests extended to the entire animal kingdom and was working part-time with a local veterinary clinic.  She didn’t necessarily want to be a vet, but she knew that she wanted to complete a bachelor’s degree in a field that involved working with animals.  One evening, she found herself on the phone with a friend who was already attending WVU, discussing her options.

“While I was on the phone with her, we were looking at WVU majors and I saw that they had an equine studies minor,” Rachel said.

She applied that very night.

Ambassador

In August of 2015, Rachel started working at Morgantown’s Hillcrest Veterinary Clinic, where she is still employed.  Hillcrest offers her opportunities that she couldn’t have at home.  Virginia’s veterinary services are heavily regulated, requiring technician certifications to perform important tasks like drawing blood, running bloodwork, and giving injections.  In West Virginia, certification is not required, allowing her to to get more hands-on experience with treating animals.

Spending this much time around pets gives Rachel a surprising glimpse into human nature as well.  Some of it is encouraging. “Around Christmas time, I can’t tell you how many clients will bring homebaked goods and candy and cookies just to thank us for all the hard work that we do year round,” Rachel said.

On the other hand, it can also be disheartening.  “I try not to judge, but when you see someone come in with their pet and it’s been sick for a week, and they come up with a million excuses about why they couldn’t bring their pet in sooner, that kind of changes my view on people.”

The suffering of animals seems to be an animating force for Rachel. She thinks of her work as ambassadorship for the pets she’s treating.

“This may sound kind of ridiculous to say, but the point of being in the veterinary field is that we’re advocating for them,” Rachel said.  “People can speak for themselves. We’re speaking for the ones who can’t speak.”

Not long after she began working at Hillcrest, Rachel began working toward her Animal Nutrition Sciences major at WVU.  She was unsure what the university had to offer, but was soon introduced to the WVU Collegiate Horseman’s Association (CHA) in one of her equine studies classes. She started attending the club right away.

By her second year, she was the secretary, and by the following semester she was serving as president of the WVU chapter and secretary of the national CHA organization.

Heavy Load, Even Keel

Fifteen miles east of WVU’s crowded downtown campus, Rachel walks Fat Boy down the stable corridor to turn him out into a field. She makes the 25-minute drive to The Hazel Ruby McQuain Equine Education and Resource Center (which she just calls “the farm”) often.

“I typically don’t have weekends,” she says.  "There may be one weekend every 2 or 3 months that I don’t have to work at either the farm or the clinic.”

Nothing about Rachel suggests that she is bitter about this.  On the contrary, all of the work seems to continually drive her toward her eventual goal: leading a team of people as a farm manager.

As she removes Fat Boy’s lead and lets him wander into a field with the other horses, the air feels cool, the sun warm, the day leisurely and serene.  A fifteen-mile drive home awaits.

 

Paddleboard Yoga Comes to Cheat Lake

Paddleboard Yoga Comes to Cheat Lake

Canyon Gorge

Canyon Gorge

Canyon Gorge is a rutted, one-lane road that winds down a hillside to the bank of Cheat Lake. It’s short, but it feels like West Virginia.  Just to the left, overlooking the water, you’ll find the beautiful home of Joelle Cameron.

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On Saturdays and Sundays, Joelle teaches stand up paddleboard (SUP) yoga out on the water. The positions and movements are largely the same, but as the name implies, they are performed on a 10’ floating platform.

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She started practicing three years ago here in Morgantown at Suncrest Yoga. Eventually, she took an instructor class, and everything took shape from there. 

On this particular morning, Joelle has two students, Kaitlynn and Jamie. Kaitlynn drove all the way from Pittsburgh.

“It wasn’t too bad, only an hour. This is way prettier than Pittsburgh,” she laughs.

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Everyone seems to agree that the surroundings are a big part of what makes the class experience so unique. “It’s so peaceful on a Sunday to come out here and be on the water,” Jamie tells me.

Joelle agrees wholeheartedly. “We’ve got the best spot on the lake. We go right over to Quarry Run and there’s a waterfall in there. It’s nice and quiet. You don’t have to paddle too far to get there. It’s just beautiful.”

Joelle shows Jamie and Kaitlynn how to size their paddles

Joelle shows Jamie and Kaitlynn how to size their paddles

What sets SUP yoga apart, aside from the scenery, is the fact that the support itself moves beneath you. The idea can be intimidating for people new to the practice, but Joelle says the board serves as a feedback mechanism for learning how to get better at yoga.

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“On a stable platform like the floor, you could be uneven the whole class and not know it. But on a paddleboard, it’s going to tell you. Your weight will shift one way or the other.”

As the body counters and balances those shifts in weight, it uses fine muscle control that is rarely employed anywhere else. Which means that it’s a great way to strengthen untapped muscle groups.

“I’ve heard people say that they use muscles that they’ve never used before, and they’re either semi-sore or very sore after class,” Joelle says. “I think it’s a whole body workout.”

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After some basic instruction, the girls paddle a short distance across the lake. They anchor in a shaded cove and begin the class. The small waterfall Joelle mentioned emanates a gentle white noise, occasionally cut by the sound of a boat in the distance.

Before the day is over both students will have tumbled into the water once. Each time they laugh it off and continue.

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It would be disingenuous to say that paddleboard yoga looks easy. But perhaps there’s something to be said for a particular discipline when failure means swimming in the lake on a summer morning. Some of us were going to do that anyway.