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. 

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:


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, 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.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Got Them Ol' Influenza & Can't Read Blues, Mama

You can BUY this book from Amazon by clicking on the link above, or you can do what I did, and get the Gutenberg Australia version.

My Amazon review of the book is found here. It has no significance whatever, except that Amazon didn't lose it for a week, as it did two of my last seven reviews. This time, they posted it up in a hurry. Good for them.

My daily routine involves reading, and reviewing what I've read. The VAST majority of my reading is of novel-length works, and frequently those are installments in a series.
To do them justice requires first wakefulness, and then concentration.
Plot lines are often intricate; characters are well-developed.
The authors pour a great deal of themselves into their work, and I owe it to them, and to the reading public, to reflect their professionalism in my reviews.
I take my duty seriously; it's just the kind of job I hoped to get as a stripling youth.

And then, I got the flu.

I did not recognize it as such at first, so concentrated was I on my work. In fact it wasn't until I had spent most of one day entirely asleep in my chair that I had a clue that something might be off. For some strange reason, my reading material wasn't keeping my attention.

Then,  I woke up nauseous, and before the day was out, I had made a list of my symptoms, and SHAZAM! realized It Had Happened. I am reasonably certain that I was infected during my trip to the emergency room on January 31, which is documented in my blog post of February 1.

Among other things the flu did to me, I couldn't brain correctly. No ability to concentrate. Tried  watching movies, but SHORT youtube videos were about all I could tolerate. It wasn't so bad for the couple of days that I just slept all the time, but as I began to feel better, I HAD to  have SOMETHING to read.

There are a couple of sources of free literature out there. Of course, Kindle Unlimited isn't really free; I pay for the privilege of accessing these works, along with a LOT of other people. In fact. the most recent monthly Kindle payout to authors was $19.9 million dollars. But, having budgeted for KU, it's ALMOST free. Still, I couldn't brain, so I turned to Gutenberg and Gutenberg Australia. I love Gutenberg; not only can you get great literature which has passed into the public domain, you can also find such wondrous works as The Square Root of 4 To A Million Decimal Places by Norman L. De Forest.  But I digress.

I picked Damon Runyon, because I was looking for something else, and in my not-braining mode, that's what I got. I was actually looking for some Mickey Spillane or some other hard-eyed tough guy literature, figuring that braining would not be required. Runyon turns out to be a GREAT solution.

For folks of my age, it is not unusual to remember movie classics like 'Guys and Dolls" or "A Pocketful of Miracles," both of which were based on Runyon's work. But, for those a generation older, there was something even more charming in store; one of Shirley Temple's very first starring roles in movies, was "Little Miss Marker," adapted from his short story by the same name. Her talent was outstanding, but I think the movie falls short of the short story.
Shirley Temple, approx 1934

Now, most of these stories fall into the 'cute' category, but there is plenty of pathos as well. The characters with the distinctive names commit mayhem on each other without regard to social amenities. 'Live fast and die young' may not exactly be a RULE of the stories, but one particular victim is initially spoken of as being dead of old age, at 50. Usually, bad guys and dolls do good things, but not always without bad consequences. If anybody lives happily ever after, that is not featured in this volume.

Part of it is the insane societal pathology that is known as Prohibition. Two of the twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution were devoted to this particularly poorly-conceived attempt to drive the United States into the blessed arms of sobriety; instead, it was an instant cash cow that was milked by the bootleggers, and funded by millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens legislated into law-breakers. Why we cannot TODAY learn from this experience, and implement a rational recreational drug policy, I do not know. Until we do, dollars are going into the coffers of criminal organizations, instead of swelling the Treasury.

But, I digress.  Digression is to be expected when one is recovering from influenza, and also has a fat black Manx cat sitting on his left wrist, staring at one's roast beef sandwich. 

And the Amazon review is posted, and I still am depleted. This is what you get when I am depleted.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

"MAGA 2020 & Beyond," by the Usual Suspects

My Amazon review, which needs votes, has yet to be released by the Amazon crew, after 22 hours.
Coincidence, or conspiracy? You decide!

The review is on Goodreads as well. Goodreads can, at least, reproduce a graphic on Facebook, which Amazon no longer seems able to do, but there is no discernable ranking system on Goodreads. (That's why I usually only provide the link to the Amazon review. But, they haven't released it yet, and I've GOT to get this post out!)

I received a review copy of  the book in Kindle format.

Anthologies are some of my favorite things to read, but gracious, they are hard to review!

In the first place, if the anthology has a LOT of entries, as this one does, I essentially have to read the book twice; first pass through is for the joy of escapism, second pass through is to recall in each story what makes it unique, so I can mention that in the review.

In the second place, some of the very best short stories often turn on a gimmick, a reveal, and that's the whole point of the story. The preliminaries are just there to set up the opening of the lid, when the old man says 'SURPRISE!' Well, in a review, you HAVE to give SOME hint of the story, but you can't give the plot away with a spoiler. It's difficult, especially with the shortest works.

In this case, though, the reviewing task is somewhat easier, although it still requires a great deal of work. What makes it easier is that all of the stories have a common theme: the vindication of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, extended into the 2020 election and beyond. (Hence the title.)

These are not, by and large, intended as well-reasoned political positions, intended to educate the masses about the complexities of the Trump Presidency, his vision for the future; these documents (with perhaps one exception) will not be introduced as reference material in any classroom, from grade school to graduate school. That is not meant as a criticism; it's just a description.

Instead, with the exception of John C. Wright's thoughtful essay, these are the raucous proclamations of the face-painted fans of the winning team, swarming through the streets, blowing air horns, and screaming "WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!" These are not rhetorical exercises designed to persuade opponents, or even to sway the uncommitted; this is the celebration of an underdog team that won the World Series in an upset. Accept it in that spirit, and allow for excesses born out of exuberant good spirits.

Under normal circumstances, I might leave these out of the blog post, and just refer you to the Amazon review. This post would contain only the supplementary material. This has been suggested to me as a format, and there is much to commend that approach. However: NOPE nope NOPE. With Amazon's dilatoriousness, I have to include each review here, because I don't have any way of knowing how much traffic my  review on Goodreads gets.

I  have some brief commentary at the end of the reviews.

Foreword by Milo Yiannopoulos. I'm not a follower of this young person, and know very little about him. I do know that he has managed to aggravate certain progressive factions by his refusal to follow the prescribed script for gay men. Here, he reflects upon the failure of literature written by progressives, unless they adopt traditional middle class values in their stories. I wish he had mentioned Eric Flint, one of my favorite writers, and an unapologetic socialist.

Winning is What We Do by Jon Del Arroz This is a LOVELY adventure story, featuring young Barron Trump as the hero, urged on and inspired by his father. MECH WARRIORS!

Father Cincinnatus by Ivan Throne Not a story, but a speech, just perfect for performing in front of a screaming crowd of thousands. A somewhat spooky re-imaging of Trump as a father figure.

The Last Hippie by Scott Bell  In the distant future, those who cannot or will not accept the MAGA dream are offered their own island, and provided supplies through air-drops, to build whatever society they desire. One doesn't want to go. He has a bomb.

Cleaning the Rolls by P. A. Piatt I don't know HOW old the joke is about elections being won by the cemetery vote, but it's been around for a LOT longer than I have. This story offers a nice twist, and it also manages to toss in a dig at a certain person notorious for Asian 'influences.' 

M.A.G.A.I. by Arlan Andrews, Sr. A progressive hacker working for DARPA fails to close out a file correctly, and causes the AI overseeing the system to take unexpected action. Delicious mayhem ensues in tiny little bits of time.

On Greatness by Alfred Genesson. Genesson takes a close look at the word 'Great' as applied to world leaders, selecting Alfred the Great as his example. He then lists the achievements that resulted in that appellative, and considers whether Trump will rise to the standard.

An Afternoon with Grandpa by Daniel Humphreys. This is one of the 'gimmick' stories, although the clues are given from the beginning. A little girl is forced to spend time with her grandfather, a pleasant old gent who has seen all his dreams turn to ashes.

Dolus Magnus: The Great Hoax by Monalisa Foster. A climate scientist discovers that when he refuses to toe the line, everything is taken from him. Fortunately, he has a friend who is an engineer.

An “Out”-standing Chanukah by Marina Fontaine. It is a tradition in this family that you can say anything you want as a part of the Chanukah celebration. It is time for one young person, supported by an older relative, to take advantage. Fasten your seat-belt!

The Man in the Bubble by Elaine Arias. The man in the bubble is a big-name Hollywood power broker. You may recognize him from the description, but that isn't one of my knowledge areas. I do, however, recognize the utter cluelessness and ignorance of life beyond his narrow circle that afflicts this person.

Free Falling by Justin Robinson. The US in the MAGA universe has become a place of freedom and rational laws. Just north of the border, however, insanity reigns, as a result of privilege policies. Some people will do anything to escape.

The Magic of MAGA by David Harr. A fantasy story, in which the good guys are truly good, but over-powered by the forces of evil. The MAY be some Biblical allusions in here; it's not made explicit, but there is a somewhat parallel scene. Can freedom cross dimensions? Is John Moses Browning a force to be reckoned with everywhere?

Six Grandfathers by Dawn Witzke. This is a WONDERFULLY written fairy tale! It brings primeval beings alive, and allows a child to speak to them, and...nah, read it for yourself. It's GREAT!

The New Wall by Molly Pitcher This story also tells of the days when as a result of MAGA policies, Canada closes the border to keep it's people from escaping. People still escape.

The Downfall of Delusional America: Assessing the Legacy of Trump by John C. Wright. Of all the stories and essays in the book, this one is likely to resonate with the most people. Wright analyzes the issues leading up to the 2016 election, and identifies something that has bothered many of us for quite some time.

45 by Brad Torgersen. It's a time- travel story with a twist. Secret Service Agent Cobbler discovers a probable assassin when she pops into existence in front of him. She believes she has to kill Trump in order to prevent a civilization-ending war. Where does his loyalty lie?

Insurance for Life by Tamara Wilhite. If we aren't going to have socialized medicine, can we have ANYTHING that resembles adequate, compassionate medical care, that doesn't impoverish the usaer of the service? Here's an idea!

The Great Joke by Alfred Genesson. When some people just couldn't bear the idea of Trump becoming President, they revolted. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Works globally, too!

Equality by Monalisa Foster. The axiom states 'a conservative is a liberal who has been raped.' But what if the rape is prevented?

Scales in the Balance by Dawn Witzke. Witzke identifies PRECISELY the branch of government where MAGA will have the greatest impact.

Infected by Sandor Novak. Out of the blue, perhaps from Andromeda; all of a sudden, more and more people are compelled to tell the truth.

 Winning the Internet @Kaijubushi. Stupid frappen reporter questions deserve scathing answers. While Trump has been known to boot someone out of a press conference, THIS particular response came from elsewhere.

Pitch Session by Chris Donahue. Fat Slugs in Hollywood don't get it; they are NEVER going to get it. And when the consequences hit the box office, they have to come up with alternatives.

Auntie’s Magnificent Bricks by Christine Chase. Strange things can happen to a young person. After all, authentic heroes have to be SOMEBODY'S aunts and uncles.

Mad Dog Moon by Declan Finn Okay, this story is just fabulous! Mad Dog Mattis, the Warrior Monk, not only kicks bureaucrats around, he still likes to get his fingers dirty. NEEDS to, actually.

The Many Faces of Trump by Dawn Witzke. This is particularly hilarious to me, because I have shepherded a crowd of middle schoolers around an art museum. Paintings by Old Masters on the walls, and the kids are playing tag between the lamps and chairs and tables. Yeah, it will be like that in 100 years, too.

Exile by Marina Fontaine. I spent an afternoon in East Berlin in 1975, before the wall came down. I was SO glad to get back across Checkpoint Charlie to the freedom of West Berlin! I've seen what people will do to get themselves and their families out of a repressive society, sacrificing everything. But I've only seen it; the author has lived it. And we are glad she is here, and can write stories like this. It's by far the grittiest story in the book.

A Day in the Life by Richard B. Atkinson III. This is neither the Beatles' song, nor the story of Ivan Denisovich. Instead, it's a scene at a cocktail party celebrating an election, after the first battles have been won, and the progressives have (mostly) moved on.

The Pope’s Vision by L. Jagi Lamplighter. It's a FUNNY story, although I shudder somewhat when I see the lines blurred between political deliverance and spiritual significance. But, even after the shudder, it's a FUNNY story!

Afterword: Moral Rights, An Essay. The origin of this collection! Oh, how I LOVE backstory, and this is a PARTICULARLY great backstory!

As I stated earlier: take this as the cries of the drunken revellers, carousing through the streets of the city after the underdog team won the championship, and you'll love it.

Unless you are a fan of the other team.

BRIEF GLOBAL COMMENTARY: I have no clear idea of how I found myself in the conservative camp, much less the libertarian. I suppose it's because I don't trust bureaucracy; I have found INDIVIDUALS within various government and corporate entities who have been competent and compassionate, but the organization itself has almost always been characterized by inefficiency and hardening of the arteries.

I don't FIT into any of the the standard molds. I certainly don't fit into the extreme, cartoonish caricature of any of the Alt-Right movements. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, would cheerfully beat my furry white butt if she were to find me installing a White Power flag in my man cave. It's not a fit for me.

On the other hand, I AM an enthusiastic supporter of the Second Amendment, and I own and operate a growing number of firearms, to include handguns, shotguns, and rifles. I'm a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, and I have a concealed carry permit, and I am amed anytime I leave the house.

However, I am a staunch supporter of public education, and I am against a voucher system to fund private education. I am against capital punishment, but for conservative reasons: I don't trust the system to get it right,  and death penalty trials and appeals cost too many tax dollars.

I have numerous other aberrations, most of them traced to Mind Your Own Business.

So, as I stated earlier, I don't think I fit into any off-the-rack categories, and I'm good with that. It gives me perspective, I think.

And that brings me back to my encouragement that you regard these stories and essays as expressions of fans of a winning sports team. There were losers, too, and I think most of us were shocked by the extreme expressions of loss, too often accompanied with violence to property and person, that followed the transition of government. I'm hoping that will die down, on both sides, and we can be left to tend to our own private lives again.

Right now, though, I'm reminded of a scene in "The Last Battle," by C S Lewis. The rebellious dwarves have been removed from the battle, and are seated on a lush green lawn. However, they aren't able to perceive that. They crowd together, and grumble about being tossed into a donley's stable. They are provided with delicious food and wine; they perceive it as water from a donkey's trough, rotten turnips, and dirty straw. Then, they get to fighting over who has the better bit of turnip, until the feast is thoroughly spoiled. And we leave them in this predicament.

I fear that unless more people in this country open their eyes, we will be in the same position as the dwarves, surrounded by plenty, but huddling over little bits of nastiness. It's our choice; and, alas, I am pretty strong about allowing people the freedom to choose. 

Peace be on your household.