Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Objections to New YouTube Firearms Policies


Kenneth turns 10, and gets a .22 rifle


Recently, YouTube was in the news because a number of channels featuring firearms info were given warnings, and even suspended, without just cause. After a short amount of squabbling, they said it was because they had recently put a bunch of people on screening duties who weren't familiar with community guidelines. And, they removed the strikes against the affected channels.

No sooner than THAT was over, and I'm talking about a period of a week, maybe, they posted some regulations regarding firearms content that they would no longer permit. Gun channels became upset, even the calm people.  I THINK some of the problem was just that the policy was poorly written; there were enough ambiguities that it could mean whatever they wanted it to mean. However, other aspects were clear, and ridiculous. Yes, there were some common sense items, too, but they were overwhelmed in the garbage. The following is the post I made on the YouTube Help Forum. I THINK you can find it, and comment, here.

YOUTUBE HELP FORUM POST STARTS HERE: 

The firearm policy is stated here ; there is a letter stating it will go into effect in 30 days, but I've lost my path to find it. I have DESIGNATED the text that concerns me.  NOTE: I am a citizen of the United States, and it is from that perspective that I speak.

Policies on content featuring firearms

YouTube prohibits certain kinds of content featuring firearms. Specifically, we don’t allow content that: 
  • 1. Intends to sell firearms or certain firearms accessories through direct sales (e.g., private sales by individuals) or links to sites that sell these items. These accessories include but may not be limited to accessories that enable a firearm to simulate automatic fire or convert a firearm to automatic fire (e.g., bump stocks, gatling triggers, drop-in auto sears, conversion kits), and high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds).
  • 2. Provides instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazinehomemade silencers/suppressors, or certain firearms accessories such as those listed above. This also includes instructions on how to convert a firearm to automatic or simulated automatic firing capabilities.
  • 3Shows users how to install the above-mentioned accessories or modifications.

Why these items are a problem.

A. (e.g., private sales by individuals). If the sum total of the concern YouTube has is preventing a private-party-to-private-party transaction, then SAY SO EXPLICITLY. The way this first paragraph is written (except for the highlighted parenthetical statement), it appears that legitimate companies doing business in accordance with ATF regulations may neither post videos, nor may links be provided to these legitimate businesses. HOWEVER: If it IS your intent to prohibit these businesses from posting videos or being linked, then make THAT explicit. The way it's worded is both confusing and disheartening.
 
B. and high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds). There is NO existing nationwide prohibition of magazines in excess of 30 rounds, nor is there any prohibition of belts holding more than 30 rounds. It is true that certain STATES and smaller jurisdictions have these restrictions in place, but for the majority of the country, these are perfectly legitimate.

C.  Provides instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazine. Taking these individually: Manufacturing a Firearm. The ATF has specifically stated that a manufacturer's license is ONLY required for a person who is in the BUSINESS of SELLING firearms. It is completely legal for an individual to manufacture a firearm for their personal use, or as a hobby. A substantial and totally legal business has sprung up to provide parts and instruction for those who choose to manufacture their own firearm, and there is ZERO evidence that these weapons have been used in the United States to commit crimes. Manufacturing Ammunition.  This is not a restricted or prohibited activity in ANY jurisdiction, as far as I know; I am one of the millions of hobbyists who reload ammunition. YouTube has served as an excellent resource for fellow hobbyists and competition shooters, and I would very much like to hear the justification for banning these instructional videos. Manufacturing high capacity magazines.  As stated above, these are NOT a restricted item except in a few areas. Again, I would very much like to hear the rationale for banning instructional videos on this topic. (Note: I've never heard that this is an issue)

Shows users how to install the above-mentioned accessories or modifications. Part of the problem here may be lack of clarity. It is absolutely the case that channels exist which demonstrate how to insert the completely legal high capacity magazines, which would be prohibited under this policy, and historical channels that demonstrate the operation of firearms which are belt-fed, also prohibited under this policy. This MUST be addressed. 

What ISN'T a problem.

A. Bump stocks.  Currently, bump stocks and other devices that increase the rate of fire vis artificial means are completely legal in most areas. However, legislation is pending which may change that. Therefore, I can understand YouTube's reticence to promulgate information about these devices. I think it's ridiculous for YouTube to take this action, but it is something I understand.
B. Homemade silencer/suppressors and conversion of semi-automatic firearms to fully automatic firearms.  The procedures for manufacturing items covered by the National Firearms Act are addressed here. Failure to comply is a felony, and thus I believe YouTube has a responsibility to take the common-sense step to prohibit dissemination of information which would lead to a criminal act.

SUMMARY
YouTube clearly states its' mission and values, founded on Four Freedoms: Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Opportunity, and Freedom to Belong. The Policy Regarding Firearms violates the second and fourth of these freedoms. By refusing to allow videos featuring activities which are not harmful or illegal, YouTube has capriciously hindered the Freedom of Information, thus causing potential harm who are in need of that information to safely engage in the shooting sports. While the information might be available elsewhere, that in NO way changes the fact that YouTube has palpably violated a foundational freedom.
Secondly, by implementing this policy, IMMEDIATELY after allowing poorly trained individuals to assign unwarranted strikes to gun channels, which action YouTube has apologized for and attempted to correct, YouTube is sending a message to the gun channels that they are not wanted in the YouTube community. I see no other way in which the gun channels could interpret these actions; the similarity in outcome, and the close proximity of time, speak of a plan, not an accident. In doing this, YouTube has clearly violated the Fourth Freedom, Freedom to Belong.

I call on YouTube to immediately suspend plans to implement the new policy, and to initiate meaningful dialogue with owner/operators of gun channels, in order to recover lost credibility. Failing that, I caution owner/operators of other channels that they, too, may be at risk for summary execution at the whim of YouTube leadership.

Well, that's the end of my case.  Don't know if it will have any impact. It did, at least, prove to me that I could write a bit, which has been a concern of mine for the last few weeks. I hope to get back to reading and reviewing soon.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Assassin, By Kacey Ezell and Marisa Wolf: CHARACTERS!



I reviewed "Assassin" on Amazon, and you can read it and vote on it HERE. The same review is also on Goodreads, but Amazon reviews need votes, because books need to be sold, so authors get paid.
(In the interest of supplying all references, you can read my review of "A Fistful of Credits" HERE, and my review of "The Good, the Bad, and the Merc" HERE.)
Developing a Character

I loved "Assassin" (loved them all, really), and you really need to read the review to know why. In my review, however, there were some things I left out, or only hinted at, and I'm gonna try to make those explicit here.

And I'm ALSO going to try to avoid spoilers. However, I'm going to consider as fair game the three prequels; I'm not going to TOTALLY give away all of the plot points on purpose, but if I have to in order to get my point across, I'll let you know in advance. With respect to "Assassin," however, I will strive to keep the secrets.

Umm, I would like to point out, however, that a reasonably perceptive reading of the prequels and the book will make some non-explicit plot points REASONABLE, if not evident. And with respect to my own perceptiveness, I must appeal to the Bard: "When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw" (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2). Now, because I feared I wasn't already being pretentious enough, I just googled the phrase so I could cite the reference. I hope you appreciate the effort. 

The three prequels. You really need to get these, by the way. In order of appearance:

In the Four Horsemen Anthology, "A Fistful of Credits," we are introduced to the hopeless gutter addict, Susan; the catlike alien race known as Depik, and a particular Depik assassin. We learn she is known as Reow (best approximation), and that she has a new litter of kits: 'Gilded Cage,' by Kacey Ezell.

In the anthology "The Good, The Bad, and the Merc," we get the backstory of Reow, and it's a doozie: 'Lessons,' also by Kacey Ezell.

In the same anthology, we are introduced to another Depik clan (Whispering Fear) and assassin (Arow): 'Under the Skin,' by Marisa Wolf.

The character of Dr. Susan Aloh. I was so struck by "Gilded Cage," that I devoted an entire blog post just to this one short story. Ezell describes the depths Susan has reached as a result of her addiction with breath-taking brevity; in fact, that MAY be the reason that others seem to have missed the horror in the story, and instead remark upon the intriguing nature of the Depik. But, look at this:

"I’d lost a lot of blood there at the end, when things had gotten really wild."

and

"I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my wasted hands underneath my armpits, letting them hide in the nest of rags that was all Ghat’s party guests had left of my clothing."

Two sentences, about a half page apart, and both of them qualify as "Wait. What?" intrusions on your reading. When I pull them out of context, and use bold-face type to highlight the worst elements, it's evident that this person is living a horror-story kind of life. I can't think of a better word than 'brilliance' to describe Ezell's craft, in the way she makes these throw-away lines (in the acting sense) by including them, without emphasis, in her description of the character and the scene. It is PRECISELY because these things are presented so matter-of-factly, and the character ACCEPTS them matter-of-factly, that we get the full impact of what has happened to her in the course of her addiction. "Sure, they ripped my clothes to shreds, then ripped my body to shreds, but what of it? I got some Good Stuff."

We discover, a little later in the story, that this dirt-encrusted gutter bum had once been one of the Earth's foremost authorities on xenobiology. In the Four Horsemen Universe, there can hardly be a more important role. The Alpha Contracts demonstrated that our existing war technology wasn't able to get the job done. We did not know even the most basic facts about the nature of our enemies, and if we had military tools that worked on them, it was strictly by accident. Earth's continued existence, and any possible prosperity, depends on the Mercs, and the Mercs REQUIRE the intelligence provided by Dr. Aloh and her colleagues.

SO: from essential person (although perhaps this isn't fully realized at the time), to hopelessly degraded addict; that's a pretty significant amount of character movement, isn't it? People at her stage of addiction have only one priority: ensure a supply of the drug. Death is not far away, and the idea is welcomed as a release from the constant struggle to secure a fix.

Had she been given a choice between life and death at this point, she would almost certainly have chosen death. However, a much more difficult choice is imposed on her: she is given advanced medical treatment which returns her to an optimal level of heath, detoxes her from her addiction, and THEN she is given a choice. At least, that's what it looks like on the surface. In fact, she is still impaired by her long-term addiction, a fact her captor later admits. So, while she is still without the ability to choose, she if forced to do so: she can live as a pet/slave/nanny, or she can die a painless death. She chooses not to die.

NOTE: Choosing is what people do. It's one of the primary features that defines adults, the ability to make a free choice, an informed decision. We don't allow children, or those who have been adjudicated incompetent, or people who are under the influence, to enter into contracts, because they are not capable of making an informed decision.

And neither is Susan, at this point. Although the drug is not in her system, and she is not suffering withdrawal, she has the long-established habit of being driven by one desire above all else: procuring another fix. She in no way, then, establishes herself as a 'real person' by this decision. The drug made her a slave, and for years, she thought the thoughts of a person who was a slave, and the removal of the drug from her bloodstream has done nothing to change her thinking from that of a slave. (***) And so, she chooses slavery. She is renamed Susa, and is presented to the kits, wearing the sigil of the clan.

But, her story doesn't end there, and it doesn't end in slavery.

By the time of  'Assassin,'  Susan/Susa has transformed her existence.  If you hold your head right, and squint one eye, and choke off most of the oxygen going to your brain, you might believe that because her living arrangements remain the same, she, therefore, remains a slave. However, the narrative does not support that interpretation. Her service to the clan no more makes her a slave, than her devotion to a task she loved as a respected professor of exobiology on Earth,  Without making things so sweet that we want to throw up a little, Ezelle and Wolf tell the story in a way that makes it clear that she is no longer driven by fear of punishment, or by a desire to fend off withdrawal, but is drawn by her love for her new family. This isn't a creampuff concept; it is strong enough to be, literally, liberating.

(***) Three weeks have passed between the asterisks. I hit an amazing block in my ability to write, or even read. Such is life. Not to worry,  I'm reasonably healthy, and regard it as just one of those things that sometimes happens.

However, I DID have a similar analysis planned for the character of Arow, the enigmatic Whispering Fear assassin, but today, I decided that I'm much better off if I simply refer you to the source material. It's much better writing than my analysis was going to be, anyway.

Along the lines of the liberating power of love, I find that I must point you to the excellent short story by David Burkhead, "Oruk Means Hard Work." The link to the book is at the top of this post, and you can find my review HERE.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nobody Talks Back To Me: SHORT!

Do they not hear and see, or just not talk?

Would those of you who have lively blogs explain blogging success to me? This is almost a request I would feel comfortable posting at Mad Genius Club, except it's not concerning income-producing writing.

I started blogging FIVE years ago, today. My first post had 18 hits. (They dropped off after that, but I was sporadic about posting for quite a while.)

Some devoted friends have subscribed to my posts. I can usually count on at least 50 hits.  Usually, if my post is interesting or amusing or relevant, I'll get 100+ hits. Anything above that is rare; my top five, without any undue promotion, were in the 500+ hit range.

I am utterly cool with this, although I do think my posts are mostly brilliant and more people would enjoy them if they read them. However: It is RARE that anybody ever comments on a blog post!

This was brought home to me in startling fashion after the hits started coming in for my blog post about my workable solution for prevention of school shootings. That's one I DID push, hard, by asking prominent people with popular blogs and columns to promote, and that worked. As of right now, it has been viewed 3594 times, which is well above an order of magnitude greater than the average number of  hits my blog receives. (And by the way: I'm not gonna push my future posts in the same way, unless I once again I come up with a solution to one of America's greatest problems.)

But, comments? Not so much. If you read all five of them, you'll see what I mean.

I ain't fussing; I'm just perplexed. It seems to me that I'm not really engaging the audience I do have. 

Maybe I should give away a toaster.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Solving School Shootings: I Did It

After it's over, massive services are available.

Unless we were lucky, we went to bed on Valentine's Day 2018 with another mass shooting on our hearts, instead of  images of flowers and candy. 

After I heard the news around 6 PM, I did enough research to get the basic facts straight, and then stopped reading and listening. The rumors and allegations were already starting to fly, and there wasn't going to be any more substantial and accurate information out there for some time. What I got was that a 19 year-old former student had killed 17 and wounded others; that he had been expelled from the school for disciplinary issues; that he had been banned from carrying a backpack on campus after making threats to other students; that he had numerous social media posts of himself with guns and knives, some of which included threatening language.

Since then, the only relevant information that has come forth is that he and a younger brother were adopted by a couple from New York when they moved to Broward County; that the father died 10 years ago of a heart attack; the mother died last November of pneumonia; that the firearm he used in the shooting was purchased by him legally.  Less relevant is the fact that he was living with the family of a friend from the high school; that they had the rifle locked up in a gun safe; that he was working and had gone to adult education classes.

There are MANY things on here I could comment on with knowledge, but I'm going to limit this blog post to the most important issue, which is that I KNOW how to solve the problem of school shootings, BECAUSE I HAVE DONE IT BEFORE. Not by myself, certainly, but I provided the person responsible for implementing the program with the necessary understanding of the problem, and the steps needed to provide a reasonable guarantee of safety.

Let me state the obvious: if the person who is responsible for making the safety arrangements does not know about the problem, they can't fix it. Yesterday, I saw that the school superintendent of Broward County stated he had not been aware of any problems with the student before yesterday. There is NO reason that a school superintendent SHOULD be aware of an individual student's record; there are 324 schools in Broward County, with an enrollment of 217,517 students. That's not where the responsibility lies for an individual school's safety. That rests with the building-level administrator, the school principal.

According to statements by students and teachers, they were well aware of the shooter's previous threats, and students at least knew of his bizarre and threatening posts on social media. Sometimes students know things, and they don't tell adults. However, in MOST (but not all) cases where something bad is brewing, as adult will know. Whether that is communicated to an adult who can do something about it is a function of effective communication between school, home, and community.

Here's what I did to prevent school shootings:
I was a middle school counselor, but my background was as a marriage and family counselor, and I also had extensive experience in working at mental health facilities. Based on my experience, I submitted a progressive plan for dealing with the lethal issues of suicide and homicide, based on the fact that there are four stages of potentially lethal thoughts; for convenience sake, I'm going to discuss the topic of suicide, but these apply also to homicide, with some modifications in the cases where authorities must be consulted. This was part of an overall Crisis Plan, which was developed over time with input from administration, counselors, teachers, community members, and outside agencies. 

FOUR LEVELS OF SUICIDAL CONCERNS
1. Ideation. Everybody, at some time, has had the thought that they wished they didn't have to live any more, even if it's only expressed as 'I wish tomorrow wouldn't come.' It's an expected part of being a person with emotions. This ISN'T something that needs a massive over-reaction! People need to be able to talk, and that was my job as a counselor. The intervention in this case was to provide an opportunity for the student to discuss their situation, help them find alternatives, and assure them that what they were feeling was normal, and that they weren't crazy. I also encouraged them to develop additional trusted adult resources. I notified parents, usually with the student present, assuring the parent that the student had not given me any reason to fear for their lives, but that this was something that they should talk about together, and seek help if they felt it was warranted.

2. Intent.  This is a statement by the student that they have a plan to kill themselves, and is much more serious than just thinking "I wish I was dead." This is NOT universal, and should ALWAYS be taken seriously. Safety has to come first, and the safety plan in this case is to contact the parent, and have them come pick the student up at school. They are to take them to a licensed mental health professional, and have a formal suicide evaluation done. THIS EVALUATION IS NOT WITHIN THE PURVIEW OF THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR, even if the counselor has professional credentials, and that must be understood by all concerned. The student is excused from school, and will not be re-admitted until the school receives a clearance and appropriate guidance from a mental health professional. 
Modifications for homicidal, instead of suicidal intent: a lethal threat against another person, particularly when accompanied by the means to do so, is a crime. Therefore, in addition to the steps taken for a suicidal statement, legal authorities MUST be notified. In addition to this, it is likely that the school will take some disciplinary action as well, based on the specific circumstances. HOWEVER, school discipline is NOT a substitute for notification of the appropriate legal authorities, nor for an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional.  

3. Attempt.  Safety first! In the event that a student makes an attempt to commit suicide at school, secure the area, and emergency services are notified first. As soon as practical, parents are notified, and the provisions stated above in #2 are also implemented.
Modifications for homicidal attempt, rather than suicidal: again, safety first! Secure the area, notify the police and emergency services. Implement provisions stated in #2.

4. Completed act.  Grief and support services will be required, for students first and for faculty and staff as well. Crisis services as detailed in the school plan will be implemented based on the special circumstances. A written statement, appropriate for grade level, will be provided to all faculty and staff, and read to the entire student body by the building level administrator or their designated representative.

This system will effectively deter the majority of school shootings from taking place. (It cannot completely guarantee safety, and if someone tells you of a plan that can, they are trying to sell you something.) At the time we implemented this plan, I studied the responses of other school districts that had experienced school shootings, and in every case, one or two of these steps had not been implemented, usually failure to contact legal authorities and failure to require a mental health screening, prior to re-admission.

 It REQUIRES active support from the building level administrator first, and the backing of system-wide administrators second. My experience has been that MOST parents will comply with the requirements to have their child be evaluated, particularly when the school can offer a list of service providers, who will do the evaluation at no cost to the parent. However, SOME parents will resist, at which point the firmness of the building level administrator is essential. If necessary, it must be pointed out to the parent that failure to follow through with a required mental health examination is neglect, and must be reported to the Department of Family and Children Services. Very rarely, I have had to have the Sheriff's Department transport a student to the county mental health facility for an evaluation. If the building level supervisor is not fully supportive, or if system-wide administration prevents it, this drastic step cannot be implemented, and without this as a final option, the entire system falls apart. I had the great good fortune to work under a series of strong, proactive administrators for most of my career, with only one weasel in the bunch.  

There are other things required to maximize school safety. Restricted access to campus is important, but that isn't enough. There MUST be an armed presence on campus to act as a quick reaction force. People who have suggested metal detectors seem to be unaware of the 1998 killing of two police officers at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, where the gunman shot his way past the checkpoint. I operated a metal detector station during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and cannot possibly imagine a way to apply that technology reliably to the influx of a thousand students into a building over any reasonable period of time; in addition, the presence of metal detectors completely ignores the fact that a PERSON is required to intervene if a weapon is detected. 

There are other issues which I would like to address, such as the failure of our mental health system, and the futility of calling for additional gun controls. However, I've stated my main case: I KNOW of a plan which requires ONLY resolution on the part of school administration, and does NOT require any additional funding. And it works. 

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Entry in an Old Baen Contest

 

Dearest internet friends:

Despite giving you TWO clickable links, this blog post will contain no book reviews in the body of the post, although the review links are provided;  you may read (and vote for) my Amazon review of 'The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley' here, and read (and vote for) my Amazon review of 'One Jump Ahead' here.

Instead of including sections of my book reviews, what follows is my entry in a some-time-ago Baen Contest, which they run on a regular basis because they are delightful people. The current one allows you to make your case before the Council of Aliens about why we should be allowed to the stars.

Alas, I must give the BRIEFEST of background information, or this story will not amuse.

First, the literary hobby called Killing Joe Buckley. 
Joe Buckley is a real person with many skills and delightful characteristics. One of those skills was his ability to proof-read manuscripts for authors. The way I understand the story, then-unpublished author John Ringo was sending Buckley chapters of his new novel as it was being written, and Buckley was was returning them with corrections. However, one day he accidently sent Ringo the entire file, instead of the most recent corrections, and Ringo thought he had re-worked his entire novel.
So, he killed him.
On paper, as one of his characters, that is.
And from there, it caught on. Before long, LOTS of people, most of whom had never met Joe Buckley, were cheerfully killing him off with abandon, in the most grisly way possible.

Now, I doubt I was the first, and I CERTAINLY wasn't the only, but I DID make the suggestion in that den of iniquity known as Baen's Bar that all of the Buckley death's be collected into a single volume, and it happened. And ALL of the profits from the sale of this book are donated to charity, either to provide ebooks and readers to the military, or to give access to the Baen catalog to disabled readers.

Second, the John and Lobo series. In 2007, Mark L. Van Name erupted on the scene with a new series which combined hard science fiction with the best of the exploding-spaceships genre. The two main characters are Jon, a human, and Lobo, a space-to-ground assault craft. What makes Jon different is that he was horribly tortured for science as a child, leaving him deeply emotionally scarred, and with the hidden ability to communicate with machine intelligences. What makes Lobo different is that due to 'irregularities' in his construction, he has developed self-awareness. And just as Jon kept his ability to communicate with machines hidden, so as not to undergo further scientific tortures, Lobo has kept his awareness a secret, for fear he will be similarly disassembled. When they meet, it's a matter of a perfect complementary relationship. They set out to seek certain lost elements of their past, BUT, because each bears such trauma from their background, every time they encounter a helpless victim of oppression, they HAVE to rescue them.

It's a beautiful thing, really.

So, maybe five to ten years ago, as van Name was presenting a new book in the series, Baen's monthly contest was to write a story to tell what you would do, if you had the intelligent and deadly war machine, Lobo, at your service for a day.

This was my entry. It didn't win.

Habakkuk's Choice

I won a day's ownership of Lobo from Jon in a poker game.

Short-term, it added to the self-hate Jon crucified himself with constantly. That was knowledge I would rather not have, but the slight empathic powers I possess made it impossible for me not to see the consequences.

Jon had never taken advantage of the sybaritic pleasures Lobo could offer; indeed, he had never even been able to completely be open with the closest analogue of a friend he would allow himself to have.
He had made the decision to devote his life to liberate children from the hands of those who exploited them, and that meant he had to pay the emotional cost of inflicting death on the evil-doers. Whether that was the result of unleashing the hellish power of Lobo's weapon systems, or by using his own nanites to bring death to the perpetrators, the emotional cost was the same.

It was obvious that his chosen life was taking a toll on him. After all, what else but some form of temporary insanity would drive Jon to play so amateurishly in a high-stakes poker game? Particularly when short-term chattel slavery of a friend was the consequence?

I suppose you could chalk it up to his childhood as a mental defective gnawing rats, or to survivor's guilt from living through missions that had taken his teammates. Regardless of the cause, it was, in fact, the way that Jon acted. I cared for him, but I was not responsible for him. He had, on many occasions, refused my offers to provide safe haven and counsel.

With respect to Lobo himself, I knew intuitively that he yearned to be more than a destroyer; that he craved an outlet for what would be described in a flesh and blood person as affection, even love. That Lobo was a person, I had no doubt; that his circumstances forced him to show NOTHING to outsiders, and only sarcasm and competent mayhem to Jon, was equally clear to me.

And, just as Jon's personal demons drove him to seek to set captive children free, mine drove me to seek to heal the spiritually sickened. Thus, when Jon failed to fill his inside straight against my three kings, and I knew Lobo was mine for a day, my plans were already half-formed.

For some time, I had my eye on the shell-shocked victim of countless cruel tortures. Driven from humanity to live in a hovel on the outskirts of a squalid spaceport, this pathetic creature spent his days pawing through garbage for bits of dry bread and wilted vegetables. I had only been able to approach him once, and that by making a silent approach as he distracted himself by scratching at his vermin-ridden beard. I left a small package of personal cleaners and ration bars behind, hoping to make contact again later.

With only a day to work with, my healing tasks seemed impossible. However, Lobo could experience much more in 24 hours than human people could. If I could persuade him to offer care for another, I should be able to break through his prickly facade, and reach his innate compassion. Treating a poor creature, in much worse condition than he, with compassion instead of bombs and lasers, would begin to work healing in Lobo.

And then, Lobo in turn would have the many years ahead to work on Jon.

When I explained my plan to Lobo, that I wished to use his power to help a poor wretch recover from misery, he was at first reticent. Then, I asked him to come up with suggestions as to how he could use his facilities to bring a life-changing experience to this pitiful human, and almost instantly, his entire persona began to change. Slowly at first, then gushing forth, came his ideas of soothing music, bubble baths, massage, wonderfully nurturing holographic experiences, and I knew Lobo had caught my vision of healing.

I do not like to use my empathic gifts to overwhelm the will of others, but I could see no alternative; I had to get the pitiful survivor out of his hovel, and into Lobo's living quarters. I spoke soothing words, but the poor man was still trembling with fear as he emerged from his hut. He cast one last look at his garbage pile, as he tottered into the warm and glowing interior of Lobo's shell.

Lobo smoothly and swiftly arose miles into the sky, and then ejected the wretch from the airlock.

In shock, I cried,"Lobo! Why have you done this?"

"I don't know, Habakkuk," he replied. There's just something about Joe Buckley that pisses me off."

Peace be on your household.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Games for Flu and Pneumonia

Dear friends,

I had something else planned, but I ran into obstacles. Rather than not post at all today, I thought I would share this short bit. It's something I wrote a few years ago, when a friend and I both had pneumonia at the same time.

These are games to be played in a group setting, where the actors are afflicted with more-or-less awful cases of upper respiratory infections. The contestants are friends and family members. And now, here are the games!

"What's On My Mind." We start a sentence, and the audience has to guess what we are trying to say, based on the first few words we are able to utter.

"Name that Praise Chorus." Same basic idea, but with music. We sing all we can of a chorus, and they have to guess what the chorus is.

"The Rainbow Disconnection." Each of us is given the care of an active two or three year old, and the audience identifies the colors we turn as we chase them around the room. Extra points are awarded for guessing what color(s) we will be when we actually loose consciousness.

"Sweating To The Oldies." After taking our medication, we sit down and sweat while oldies music is played. (This is actually a pretty boring game.)

"Crackle, Rattle, Rustle, and Wheeze." Players get a bingo-type card with types of sounds and locations in the respiratory system. Our respirations are carefully monitored, and when a sound and location is identified (for example, "wheeze, right lung"), a marker is placed on the appropriate block. First one with 5 in a row wins.

And finally, a rather dubious game, but still one with lots of possibilities: "Assault, or Apology?" Players in this game are either healthy, or ill people who have been taking prescribed steroids.  The healthy players engage the sick players in conversation, attempting to score points based on the fact that steroids make some people extremely emotionally volatile. They will attempt to aggravate the ill players until the ill player responds with anger. Points are awarded based on rules determined prior to the start of the game. The only fixed rule is that bloodshed requires a forfeiture of points; which party forfeits the points (the bleeder or the non-bleeder) is determined at the time of the game. 

Okay, that was easy. I may have to dig MORE stuff out of my files!

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Apology And A Bit of a Rant

First, the bit of a rant.

And this has a high likelihood of aggravating some of those I admire and consider to be friends. Well, don't worry. I will continue to review your books based on their own merit.

I just want to draw your attention to the topic of:

Money.

People who are barking about how the private sector always innovates, and about wicked and incompetent government agencies (wink wink nudge nudge let's bash NASA some more) are just frappen missing the point: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.

SpaceX did wonderful things, because it had: money.
NASA did wonderful things, too, when it had: money.

Those who yarp and scrank about a supposed failure of NASA to innovate are essentially like the farmer who daily reduced the feed to his horse as an economy measure, and then complained that just as soon as he got his horse to get by on no feed at all, the horse died.

Of COURSE NASA had limits shortly after The Eagle landed at Tranquility Base. Their FUNDING was cut. No bucks, no Buck Rogers. It's THAT frappen simple. There was no institutional conspiracy on the part of evil NASA people to keep us on the ground. Instead, there was a sustained choice by a government, freely elected by the citizens of the United States, to do something else with that money.

Edison is quoted as saying that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and that's true, but that only accounts for the THEORY.

Listen, because this is important:

The ENGINEERING part requires both of those components, plus a gigantic stack of Benjamins.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had some pretty brilliant ideas, and designed this spacecraft:
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's first spacecraft design

Alas, Tsiolkovsky's spacecraft was never built or launched. It was, by the way, designed about half-way between the Moon novel of Jules Verne (1865) and that of H G Wells (1900). You could look it up.

The fact that he lived in a log cabin way out in the sticks in pre-revolutionary Russia at the time, may also be considered a factor, but once again, it comes down to this: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.

In America, Robert Goddard did some AMAZING stuff on his own hook, because he had a whole lot of genius and poured out a whole lot of perspiration. However, he got stuck building stuff, until he was able to persuade the Smithsonian to give him a grant. You could look that up, too.

When he GOT money, Goddard did some even MORE amazing things, in addition to the things school kids read about. The bazooka? That's Goddard's work. He built a JATO unit that could be turned off and re-started, and had an adjustable throttle. And there is pretty good evidence that the rocketry work he did, particularly with respect to his innovations with liquid fuels provided a significant head start to the German V2 program after German spies von Boetticher and Guellich were able to steal results from his research.

And after THAT, the reason the Germans got ahead of us in rocketry is because they devoted the bucks (and slave labor) to the effort, and the Americans essentially ignored it.

NOTE: Considering the time, the Nazi decision to launch rockets, and the US decision not to, worked in our favor. I've seen estimates that said the Nazis spent about a half billion dollars on the rocket program. I leave as an exercise for the reader the implications, had the rocket program funds gone to producing the Panther and Tiger tanks, which were superior to the American M4 Sherman.

Wow, it's easy to get off on a rabbit trail when talking about guns and butter. I'm like, WAY off. Since I wrote the last sentence, I've read articles on American tanks, German tanks, Lyndon Johnson's presidency, and economic policy, and THAT'S pretty bizarre. As far as I know, I currently hold the record for the lowest grade in economics ever awarded to a doctoral student in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Business. So, for me to read an article on econ shakes me up to the point that I need the spell checker to see how to spell the word 'article.'

Ummm, somewhere in there (and between trying to fight my fat black Manx cat SugarBelly for control of the keyboard) I sort of lost the steam to make a good rant. That's okay with me. It wasn't that much of a rant, anyway, since it wasn't my ox that was gored.

But, now, let me start with my apology. And this one is sincere, and from the heart.

I am 64 years old, born in 1953. I DO remember those early days of the space race, when we couldn't get into orbit. My step-father was a pilot, and he wanted to become an astronaut so bad he could taste it. He had no college, though, and he hadn't been a fighter pilot, and was long out of the military, so...no go.

He had the Right Stuff, though. His personal flight log, which I have seen and held in my hands, show in excess of 20,000 hours when he died, most of it as command pilot.And if you aren't a pilot: that's a LOT of flying hours.

I remember when we finally got the chimp in space.

I remember watching, at home or in school, the Mercury astronauts lift-off on live television: Shepard and Grissom and Glenn, and all the rest. I remember how we all were practically holding our breath until the capsule and astronauts were safely aboard the aircraft carriers.

I also remember going to see a Disney movie about a beautiful space alien who persuades an astronaut to cover his capsule with a special paint to protect him from 'proton rays.' (Note: we never found any beautiful space aliens, but I wanted one. No proton rays, either.)

I remember seeing those ASTOUNDING pictures being sent back from the Moon by Ranger 7, and how everyone in the room gasped at the last picture before impact, and then broke into cheers.

I remember the walks in space, and Walter Cronkite's excitement.

I remember the day I found out that Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee had died in a launchpad fire during training.

I remember watching the fuzzy picture in the middle of the night, as Neil Armstrong descended from the LEM.

I remember, I remember...

...and so I am without excuse, when I admit to you that I, too, had ignorant thoughts, some time after we watched the immaculate, parallel touchdowns of the Falcon side cores, and saw the pictures of the Tesla in space.

"Why couldn't NASA have done that" wasn't the first thought, nor the second, nor the third; but SOMEWHERE in that fit of childlike geekiness that was driving this late-middle-age body, I had a moment in which I was aggravated. And, I said the wrong things. And I thought the wrong thoughts.

It wasn't NASA that failed me. In fact, I'm not even sure that I have been failed at all; and if I have been, it was by the constitutionally elected government of this country, not by one particular agency.

They made an easy target, though. Particularly as they were also (figuratively) standing there beside me, staring off into the sky, dreaming about what could have been, and what might yet be.

So, it was brutally unfair of me to entertain the thought, even for a second, that they had somehow failed me. They did more than dream; they made it happen. It's easy enough to identify the pioneers; they're the ones with all the arrows sticking out of their backs. And that seems to describe NASA at this point.

So, to my old buddy down in Randolph County, who was an engineer on the Apollo program, and to all of the others who put skull sweat and wrench turning to good use:

I apologize.

Please forgive me for what I (briefly) thought. You didn't take the stars away from me; you gave me the bit of the stars that I have. Thank you.

Peace be on your household.