Saturday, December 26, 2015

Being There, for Daughters: A Meditation for Fathers

This is a post about LIfe, the Universe, and Everything, although not so much about 42. It's not really about books, although that's what got it started about a year ago.
Brad is just this guy, you know. He happens to be stuck in Yemen at the moment, because he's one of the many young men and women who signed up for the Reserves or National Guard, and then got mobilized. And, as is the case with lots and lots of the young men and women, when he shipped out, his wife and family were left behind to manage as best they could. I know of this experience, personally. I know of no way to measure the total amount of suffering in the universe, but if there is such a measure, it blips upward when units deploy, and wives and husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers are separated from each other, for periods approximating a year.
Modern communications being what they are, even though separated by thousands of miles and the constraints of OPSEC, Brad learned from his dear wife that his daughter had reached that developmental milestone that marks the transition between girlhood and womanhood. From being a bit of news, it became a symbol of all the things he was missing while on deployment, and he had to take time to grieve.
Naturally, when he shared his news with his online support community, we responded with words of support, shared experience, and insults and innuendos, because that's the way we roll. I sent one message of the sweet pain of raising daughters, and was preparing a second, when I had a moment of clarity.
See, my second message was going to be a witticism about the importance of the developmental milestones; I was going to make a crack somewhere in the vicinity of 'Well, after all, you were there for her conception, and that's the milestone that really counts.'
Ha, ha. Look, he hinted at nudge nudge wink wink.  Snicker snicker. Only, then it hit me like a punch in the chest:
No, you dope. The kind of people who believe that, are the OPPOSITE of a good father. The kind of people who believe that are the kind who are always trying to score, and brag about that, and they are contemptible human beings. That is not a fit for you, and it certainly isn't a fit for Brad, and so shut up and spend some time thinking about what being a father to a daughter means, and then write about it.
I actually do know how to be a father to a daughter. When I was 35, and had been sober for one year and five days, my daughter was born: at home, under the supervision of a midwife, who was paid by our church. I cut the cord, and when she had been cleaned off, I held her in my arms and rocked her and sang to her of my love. In a week and a half, she will turn 27, and I have been there for every single major milestone, except for the last two; and my absence from those last two is a function of my being there for her as a father. It was her choice that I not be there for the birth of her firstborn son, and for her wedding, and that's because she wanted her mother to be there. Frankly, I saw no problem with us both being there; when our marriage ended after 32 years in 2010, I had anticipated that we would still have a connection through our children, and that over the years, we would share graduations, weddings, births, and funerals. But, my daughter decided otherwise, and, since it was her life event, I stayed away.
Now, at the precise moment I was meditating on this, it was Christmas morning. I was driving home from a visit to the jail. The young man I was seeing is the husband of a young lady who is eight months pregnant. I was not there for her conception; for the doctor's prenatal visits; I was not there for her birth. Nor her first tooth, the nights walking the floor with her, the first day of kindergarten. I did not see her graduate from high school, nor did I see her off to college.
But it struck me, that at that moment in Marietta,  I was all the father she was likely to get.
Five years ago, I had one daughter. Now I have six; five of them are adults, the sixth is in the fourth grade. For every one of them, I am all the father they are likely to get, and it simply doesn't matter to them where the fathering comes from. It doesn't matter to the fourth grader that I am, technically, her step-grandfather. What matters to her is that today, I am the one who reads to her. I am the one who she asks to go to the Daddy - Daughter dance. I'm the one who shows up for the meetings with her teacher. The issue of who was there for her conception really isn't important for her.
Now, the single daughter I have who is closely biologically related to me (the others may be distantly; who knows in America, right?) is still in love with me. We correspond frequently; I thrill when I see pictures of my grandson, as he rides his first tricycle around the house, pushed by his daddy on Christmas morning. She's always going to be my Beautifuful (yes, I meant to spell it that way) Princess. When I used to put her to bed at night, our routine always ended with  (condensed version) "Why do I love you? Is it because you are smart? Or pretty? Is it because you are good in school, and do the right things? NO! I love you, because you are my daughter, and you will always be my daughter, so I will always love you. " When I think 'daughter,' she's the one who will always immediately come to mind. But the four other adult daughters, and the single little one, are my daughters by choice. I have chosen to stand in that role for them, as much as they will permit and is appropriate. (Your needs for a father change as you age, but I don't think that need ever goes away.)
I don't have a great and happy ending for this, because this is one of those times there aren't any easy answers that solves our existential angst. Sorry, we just have to walk in the light that is available. So, here's my conclusion to this meditation: for all of the fathers who can't be with their daughters in a geographic sense because of circumstances beyond their control, you have my support. And for all of the fathers who are standing in the gap, raising daughters not born to you, you have my sympathy and affection. Men, in whatever way is possible for you, be there for your daughters. Do the best you know how to do. Love the best you know how to love. And trust that love will cover all of your many failings.
I think that's the way it works.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Apology to Vox Day

If you are one of the few non-science-fiction crowd who reads my blog, this one isn't going to make any sense to you because you don't have the context. I know that from time to time, non sci-fi people DO read Papa Pat Rambles; that may be only one of my family members from time to time. I KNOW my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA doesn't read the blog on any regular basis, but she has done so. Honey, this one isn't going to make sense to you. That was a fair warning!

My blog posts are maybe half book reviews, and half my observations on Life, the Universe, and Everything. And this one is half both. Or half each. Whatever.
It's different from my observations posts in that it was set in motion by a book I read/reviewed, and it's different from my book reviews in that I'm not linking to the book. If I can remember to do it, I might link to the review.

Oh, heck, this is easier: I'll just reproduce the review here.

Ummm, no. I'll just link to it. Here's the Amazon review.

Now, you must understand that I have much the same affection for my reviews as authors have to their books. It's just that whereas their literary offspring are elephants, mine are mayflies; but, we love our children regardless. If you really want to understand how I feel about my reviews, read this. It describes my moment of revelation last year when I understood how important my reviews can be to the authors I review, because they crave feedback. I think, in fact, that feedback may be a more powerful reinforcer than paychecks in terms of generating creativity. YMMV.

At any rate, I want my reviews to be honest and fair. And I don't want to review a book just to slam it; if I find problems I can't tolerate, I contact the author and discuss it.

Moving right along: in the review linked above, I assign one of the three stars to the book because the author provided a bit of data I did not have before:  Vox Day was expelled from SFWA because of his misuse of an official SFWA Twitter account. After publishing the review, several people contacted me and said that the reason for Vox's expulsion from SFWA was not, in fact, related to his use of the Twitter account. So, I decided to check it out with Vox, amend if needed, and offer an apology if that was called for. Here's what he told me:
Hey Pat,
First, you don't owe me an apology. Second, yes, you should amend your review. What I actually did was tweet a link to a blog post that replied to an attack on me by an SFWA member through a non-SFWA Twitter account called @sfwaauthors. That was all.
It was a violation of the stated policy, since I was not promoting my own books. The penalty for that was to have my privilege to use that non-official account suspended. Which penalty was imposed and which I accepted without complaint.
Later, they falsely categorized the Twitter account as "an SFWA space", which was not true, as the official account is @sfwa. They also falsely claimed that the tweet contained an attack on an SFWA member, which was not true. I have many, many documented examples of SFWA members attacking me in an SFWA space; if they had expelled me for that, they'd have had to expel dozens of other members, including four Board members.
The real reason the SFWA Board voted to kick me out was because John Scalzi and Patrick Nielsen Hayden both stopped paying their dues and said they would not renew their memberships until I was kicked out. So, the Board voted to expel me and pretended that was sufficient to expel me from SFWA. It was a charade; they needed to hold a vote of the entire membership to expel me and that vote was never held.
I am still a Life Member of SFWA in good standing. SFWA has never publicly stated that I am not. The announcement that the Board voted to expel an unidentified member was true. But that is all.
Best regards,
So, I suppose the title of this blog post is a bit inaccurate, since Vox doesn't feel that I owe him an apology. However, I DO have to think about how many reads I'm going to get, and 'A Non-Apology to Nobody' doesn't really resonate, does it?
Now, my amendment to the review is going to take the form of a reference to the comments section, and the comments section is going to reference this blog post. BUT, I'm not changing the three-star rating I gave the book, BECAUSE the the reason for STAR ONE is essentially unchanged: the book did provide me with a bit of data I didn't already have. It also provided me with the incentive to get more information. Information is good.

I fear I must close this blog post with that sub-brilliant observation. I strive for brilliant witticisms and sparkling commentary, but there really isn't any way to make that happen with this topic. The best I can do, and I hope I've done that, is to be reasonably fair and somewhat honest, within the limitations imposed by my warped personality and attempting to write with a fat black Manx cat named SugarBelly determined to sit on my left hand as I type.

Friday, November 20, 2015

No-show for the Saturday get-together

Dear sisters and family in Macon:
We aren't going to be able to make it to the pre-Thanksgiving get-together tomorrow. I'm sorry, but things just didn't work out, and it's mostly the fault of architecture.

Our house was built in a time when architecture favored lots of roof lines. I don't know why; maybe it was to confuse the lightning.
At any rate, it has made for MULTIPLE leaks since I've been here (November of 92) and there is extensive evidence of repair prior to that, which is a truly bad record for a house built in 1977.
At any rate, we've had a lot of rain last week, and thought we were going to have MORE roof repaid done. However, a neighbor, and a gentleman who Knows Such Things, said that most of my problem was because my gutters were packed full of pine straw.He pointed out how the mounds of pine straw on the roof accumulated blah blah blah I lapsed into a coma at this point.
See, EVIDENTLY, those gutters have to be cleaned out. I have no objection to that in principle, but naturally figured that since I was retired, it was someone else's job.
That turned out not to be the case.Seems the guy who is supposed to clean out the gutters me.

Well, fortunately, I have all the necessary tools: 40 foot ladder (only needed 8 feet of it, but hey, it was there), an industrial strength leaf blower with a 60 foot extension cord, a pair of nitrile gloves, and an eleven year old boy to climb on the roof with me, a fat black Manx cat named SugarBelly who is interested in everything, and a nine year old girl to hold the cat in between watching Dr. Who episodes.
Even though it was a pleasant 72 outside, moving tons of pine straw is hard work. I wish that was my job, so I could quit it. That homeowner thing, though...
I cleared the back gutters and the roof over the great room while Kenneth was throwing pine cones at the ground. That kid is a modern day Davy Crockett: I don't think he missed with a single pine cone!
Any way, I was almost finished with the back section when he screams (yeah, it was a scream, not a shout or a yell) "PAPA PAT! THERE'S A SNAKE UP HERE!"
It's hard to run on a pine-straw covered roof. Particularly when the pine straw has been up there for six or seven years and is wet & soggy and sitting on a slimy bed of moss. 
Oh, yeah, being crippled and obese : that represents what those of us who are social scientists refer to as 'confounding variables.'
And finally, dropping the blower so it didn't fall off the roof, staying clear of a 60 foot long extension cord, and simultaneously trying to draw a S&W snubbie sort of made the whole thing complete.
So, I get around the corner of the roof, and see Kenneth intensely focussed on a mess of leaves, pine cones, and sticks that have collected in this poorly designed roof trench. Much to his dismay, I make him leave the roof (he wants to stay and catch/play with/adopt the snake) and go back in the house where he will be safe with Alicia & SugarBelly, sweet Liz the Pregnant Lady, and Vincent, her consort . However, when Kenneth screamed, Alicia heard him and jumped, and SugarBelly took the opportunity to escape. She made her escape more extensive when Kenneth came into the house, by going out the door he used to come in. And then, somehow, she got on top of the roof. No, I don't know how she did that. She may have climbed the ladder; heck she may have teleported. Anyway, she set out to see what Papa was doing.
And what I was doing was VERY CAREFULLY sneaking up on that small pile of brush on the roof. I was very glad that it was in the front of the house; the roof is only about seven feet above the deck at that point, so I knew the fall wouldn't kill me, but I still preferred to avoid the drop. And I also preferred not to be bitten by the snake.
HOWEVER, I did make the decision to holster the .38. I'm a pretty good shot with that snubby, but I doubted that the snake was going to be any wider than a pencil, so the only thing I felt SURE of hitting was the roof. And since this entire thing started as an attempt to stop a roof leak, it just seemed inane to poke more holes. I replaced the snubby in my pocket, and picked up a wrist-sized branch that had fallen on the roof sometime in the last ten years or so.
Still HIGHLY focussed on the pile of brush.
And that's when SugarBelly showed her endorsement of my actions, by giving me a comforting lick on the arm. Which I translated as "THE SNAKE JUST BIT ME!!!"
Faster than lightning, I processed all the data, assessed the situation, debated my options and implemented my plan. Really, that's what I did.
It only LOOKED like I screamed and jumped off the roof and knocked myself out.
UMMM....evidently to Liz and Vincent and Kenneth and Alicia, it looked like the snake bit me, making me scream and fall off the roof. 
Vincent ran to my crumpled form, lying on the front porch among the broken flower pots and pieces of the front door, and determined that for the moment, I was still breathing, (although not talking). Liz called 911. Kenneth and Alicia ran and hid, SURE that somehow, this was going to be their fault.
The fire department is less than a mile away from the house, and their response time is incredible. Apart from a minor cut on my head, there was no bleeding, and I was breathing, but the strapped me to a board just in case, and prepped me for transport. The senior EMT was trying to get the story, which required Kenneth to get out from under the bed, so he came out the front porch as they were carrying me down the stairs, and explained the bit about the snake.
What did the snake look like? The EMT asked.
'THAT'S IT RIGHT THERE!' Kenneth shouted (okay, this was TOTALLY a shout, and not a scream. I don't think it was a yell; too much information content for a yell. Definitely a shout).
And he was right, as the harmless garter snake dropped off the gutter and onto my stretcher board. Everyone other than the snake screamed, and only I maintained any contact with the stretcher (because I was tied down). The sidewalk abraded my forehead. The first step split my lower lip. No other manifestations were documented during the next 24 hours at the hospital.

So, that's why we are no show for this Saturday.

Ummm...hardly any of the above is true, but I thought you might need a laugh.


The Chattahoochee Way Pattersons 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are my sons the only weapons I have against terrorism?

This blog entry is inspired in part by the excellent column written by my dear brother Peter Grant. Read it.
When the Twin Towers fell, my first-born son was a freshman in college. On Thursday of that week, President Bush gave a speech in which he stated that the war ahead was going to be a long one. He was correct. In 2013, my son, just turned 30, married,  and with a new son of his own, went to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit. He was medevac'ed home two months later after being wounded in a rocket attack.
Today is my youngest (adopted) son's 11th birthday. I bought him a used video game system, and he and his buddy Jacob are in the next room playing Halo 3.
How do I break the news to him?
Son, there is a war going on, and it will still be going on when you are a grown man. Your father, your uncles, your grandfathers, and your great grandfather all wore the uniform. Because of that tradition, the odds are good that you will be in uniform. 
Here's the funny bit: it won't bother him. He's 11 years old, and to him, the idea of being in the Army is all gravy. He adores his uncle Jordan, he adores me, and he wants to be just like us; and to him, it's just a great adventure. I get that; that's the way I thought about it, too, when I was his age, and that's the way I thought about it on the day I walked into the recruiter's office.

But: is that all I can do? Is my only weapon against the terrorists to have sons. love them, raise them to be men of honor, and send them off to another country with a rifle in their hands? Here are some of the years that members of my family answered the call: 1917. 1943. 1944. 1951. 1964. 1966. 1968. 1972. 1993. 2011. Is preparing Kenneth to step forward sometime around 2024 the ONLY thing I can do to bring peace?  Must I also be prepared to send off grandsons Heath (almost three) and Joshua (one and a half) as well?

Dammit, that CAN'T be all. I'm 62 years old, and my body is no good in a combat zone any more, but surely there is some rationale exercise of power I can make in order to bring an end to this incessant war. Other people, just as driven by a sense of duty and a history of service as I am, have paid an even greater price. Is it for NOTHING? Is there no end to this? At some point, I do believe I might be willing to support genocide, if the alternative is to continue the mindless expenditure of the lives of my sons.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Not disaster. Just...eventually amusing.

A couple of years ago, I bought a great little printer, HP F4440. After using up the ink supplied with the printer, I bought re-cycled cartridges from eBay. Worked great for a very small amount of money, compared to the new HP cartridges.
But THEN!~ I upgraded to Windows 10. And had to get new printer drivers. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that the new printer software INSISTS on genuine HP ink. It wouldn't print for me.
At all.
No REAL problem; I rarely print anything anyway, other than my tax forms. And since I usually don't file my taxes until they put a lien on my bank account, that really isn't an every year thing. Maybe every five years. (I'm not a tax rebel, I have ADD.)
But last night a friend asked me to arrange and print some song lyrics for a performance he is going to lead, so I knew I would need to get some genuine HP ink today. I agreed to print out what he needed, then meet him at his house for lunch and proof reading by 12:30.
No problem. I had to go out anyway.
See, about two weeks ago, I went to the stomach doctor, and complained about stomach pain and heartburn. He put me on an antibiotic, and told me after I had finished it (only five days) I would need to submit some stool specimens. The antibiotic tore my stomach to pieces, and killed everything that was alive in there, and after I stopped crying like a scared little girl (which took a week or so), I went by the lab to pick up the stool sample kit.
Found out he ordered FIVE tests, which called for EIGHT tubes. They gave me the tubes and plastic bags and this little plastic hat. Poop in the hat, scoop out the poop, put it in the tube. Seal the tube. Put the tubes in the plastic bags. Seal the plastic bags. Return everything but the plastic hat to the lab.
It is a demoralizing process to take your own stool samples. How much is going to be enough? I've got eight tubes....
And what if the plastic hat slips?
No easy way to do this.
At least the cat didn't try to come in while I was sitting on the bathroom floor. She already thinks I'm strange because I empty her cat box. If she saw me scooping up my own poo with a little plastic spoon and sticking it into a tube, she'd call the cops. "Arrest this man! He's playing with his poo!"
So, I had to go out today, to take the poo samples back to the lab. Therefore it was no problem to make a SECOND stop and buy ink.
And my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA is serving on a women's retreat this weekend, and she left this morning, so I decided that was a good time to make my poo and ink run.
Now, I'm fat and crippled, and I have a bag of poo, so I decided to take the motorcycle. Just something about the rebellion associated with being a biker; I needed that additional personality reinforcement to make up for carrying a poo-bag.
Except I couldn't get the bike started. I hadn't ridden in weeks.
So I fooled around with the carbs, and put the battery on the charger, and by carefully handling my tools, I was able to make the bike fall over. So that was good. It's not a little bike; it's a 1985 Honda V65 Sabre, and it weighs around 500 pounds or a ton or something. Anyway, I can't pick it up by myself.
So I left it, and took the truck. I figured that way I would have enough time to drop off the poo, buy the ink, get back home, and print off the songs in time to make it to my friend's house by 12:30. If I tried to pick up the bike and get it running, no way.
So, in plenty of time, I pull up to the lab, and walk in with my bag of poo. "I need to drop off these stool samples," I tell the receptionist.
"Okay, go ahead and sign in, and I'll have someone see you in case you need blood drawn."
"No, I don't need any blood drawn, I just need to drop off these stool samples."
"Well, you may need  to have some blood drawn, so just have a seat, and I'll have the technician look at your paperwork." And she makes me sit down in this crowded office. And I was holding a bag of poo. And everybody in the office KNEW I had a bag of poo, because you could hear everything that went on. I knew this was the case, when I heard the receptionist tell a technician that there was a Mr. Patterson who was sure he didn't need blood drawn, but that there were other people ahead of him.
So, I sat in the office holding my bag of poo while millions of people who needed blood drawn went ahead.
Now, there is NO WAY that there was any odor coming from the bag: the poo was inside a sealed tube, inside a plastic bag, inside another plastic bag, inside a big honken plastic bag that said "CAUTION! POO!!" No, it didn't say that, it said SPECIMEN or SAMPLE or something. But the point is, no way was there any odor. But that didn't stop me from smelling poo, and imagining everyone else in the waiting room smelled poo, as they looked at the fat crippled biker sitting on the edge of his chair. Took about a week subjective, maybe fifteen minutes Earth time, before the tech called me back.
She wanted me to sign in again, so I did.
Then she finally accepted the bag of poo. And she wanted the paperwork (which would undoubtedly show that she would get to draw blood from my grumpy hairy arm. I pointed out to her that the paperwork was in a special side pocket of the poo bag. She took it out, and then said she needed my insurance card. There's a copy of it in the papers in the poo bag, I replied.
No, there isn't (you dumb butthead), she retorted.
So, I reached through the window, rearranged the papers for her, and showed her the copy of my insurance card.
And they then grudgingly let me leave without taking blood. I decided on my own that I would perhaps LATER have a nice day, but that her parting words would not influence me in any way.
And then I walked through the crowded waiting room, all eyes on me, as I reeked of poo and had big green horseflies buzzing around my head.
Ten minutes later, I'm at BJ's Warehouse to buy ink for my HP printer. I need one black cartridge and one color cartridge. Cost: $90.
That bothered me.
I strolled down the aisle, until my eyes discovered a Canon Pixma  MG6620 printer (Wireless-print-copy-scan-cloud link) on sale: was $150, now $60, new in box. Did it have starter ink cartridges? Box doesn't say, so I go off to Customer Service. Yes, after talking to someone on the radio, they let me open the box, and the nice lady helps me discover: TA DA!!! INK!
So, I'm still okay on time, and will make it home, install the new printer, properly format the song sheet, and get it to my friend for 12:30 lunch.
That's before I discovered a cement truck had dumped its' load on Highway 92, reducing lunch hour traffic to one lane.
I make it home at 12:30, scramble inside, unbox the printer and start the setup. My friend calls at 12:45. I decide to psych him.
Hey, Tony, where are you?
Silence. A moment of profound, deep silence. Then:
Umm, I'm at my house, where you are supposed to be.
Yeah, I knew that, I was just messing with you. I had to buy a new printer. Why don't you come over here?
So, by the time Tony arrives, I've got the printer installed on my wireless network, and the song sheet formatted, and he loves it. He makes a couple of changes, and I print off the pristine original in clear, crisp, 18 point type, and even have a folder to keep it from getting messed up.
And before he leaves, he helps me pick up my motorcycle.
See? If you have FRIENDS, life just is a whole lot better. Cats are okay, but they won't help you pick up a motorcycle.
On the other hand, I don't know how comfortable it would be if Tony sat in my lap. So there's that.
I hope this doesn't have any typos, because I'm just going to publish it without proof-reading. Bad habit, I know, but it's 9 PM, I haven't eaten anything, and I'm tired.
G'night. y'all!

Scout's Duty, by Henry Vogel, is now on Amazon

I reviewed an advance copy of Scout's Duty here on my blog on March 3. Henry has just added this third volume of the trilogy (Scout's Oath & Scout's Honor) and I hope he sells a million.
Yesterday was the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly picked as a destination in the Back to the Future franchise. That was a good opportunity for the family to binge-watch all three movies, so we did.
(By the way, I hate watching movies with the family. I'm a grinch.)
The watching family, in case you care, consists of my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA; 10 year old Kenneth; 9 year old Alicia; adult daughter Elizabeth; son-in-law Vincent; and intermittently, the fat black Manx cat SugarBelly. And me. We have a big TV; it's ridiculously huge, something like six feet across or thereabouts. I don't know fer shure, I just paid for it, I don't watch it.
Anyway, one SPOILER ALERT scene where George McFly has an awesome day in the new and updated 1985 is the day his ....FIRST BOOK IS PUBLISHED!!!! And by the looks of things, must have gotten a huge advance, too, because there are lots of toys and cars and things at the McFly house.
I'm hoping that will happen for ALL of my friends who write, not just Henry; millions of bucks in advances to afford shiny cars and people who keep them shiny...
But, here's the recycled review from six months ago with minor edits for continuity. Or something.:

David Rice is a Scout, First Class. He's many other things as well, but being a Scout goes to the core, and has an impact on the kind of friend and the kind of husband he is. When he was a little boy, and later on an older boy, he loved listening to the stories of an old, retired Scout who lived across the street from him, so every thing he does is a culmination of a lifetime dedicated to the concept of duty.
In this book, David starts off at what most would consider the top of the heap. He's married to the beautiful Princess who is destined to rule her kingdom, and there is really only one other superpower on the planet. So, David could be content either to rest on his laurels, or set about a conquering the Tartegians and then ruling the entire planet. To his credit, neither course of action seem to appeal to him.
The outside world intrudes, through the wormhole in a crippled ship, David, being a Scout, goes to rescue them. And we get to meet the really, honest, no-kidding nasty bad guys, because that's no ordinary ship: it's PIRATES!!!
For a Juvenile/YA book to be good, in the Heinlein tradition, certain things HAVE to happen. The hero can't just stand off and give orders. He has to give the bad guys a fair fight. And, he has to win, in the end. And THIS is a good Juvenile! There's not a thing in here that would make me uncomfortable if I was reading it to my 10 year old, Kenneth. The pirates have tortured and tormented a young boy to make him into a cruel cyborg; David kills the cyborg, but not without a pang, as he considers that the boy was a victim, too. He refuses to lie to the bevy of gorgeous babes, scantily clad slaves forced to be entertainment for the captain: nope, he gives them shirts, and promises to do his best by them.
Okay, let's sum up: this is the best of the trilogy, in my opinion. It's clearly an excellent juvenile. It's also well written enough that I enjoyed reading it as well, and I am NOT a type who reads at the level of see Spot run! While you would benefit from reading the other two books (Scout's Oath and Scout's Honor), you don't have to read them first to enjoy this book. Give it some good cover art, and I'd be happy to see this in every school library in America.
How's THAT?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why I Never Talked to Stanley Kubrick Again

This is a story I made up to amuse myself last week, in a mildly expanded form.

The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" recently appeared on Netflix. I never saw it when it appeared in theaters, and ignored all the media hype about it, with one exception: I did read the MAD magazine spoof, called '201 Minutes of a Space Idiocy.' That might seem to you to be a particularly ignorant decision regarding a ground-breaking sci-fi epic, but I have an excuse: I actually worked on the film.
My name doesn't appear anywhere in the credits, which is a demand I made when I stormed into the Shepperton Studio offices after my last day on set. They were disturbingly untroubled by my little tantrum, which I recognize now as being due to the fact that under no circumstances would my name have appeared anyway, since I was just an unpaid production intern. In my defense, I had just turned 23 in 1966, and I suppose I had that old I-am-the-center-of-the-universe thing going. It took years to be free of that particular delusion; perhaps my decision to finally watch the film denotes final liberation.
But I get ahead of the story.
In case you don't remember, the movie starts out with animals. Specifically, the initial scene involves hominids, portrayed by people in make-up, with a few chimps mixed in for variety. The make-up for the hominids took four hours each, and involved lots of glue and hair, and the results looked good, but smelled AWFUL because of the glue. My first task was to cut yards and yards of long black hair (probably harvested from hundreds of young Asian women), into variously sized bundles for use by the make-up artists. It wasn't a particularly intellectually challenging job, but it did require intense concentration and attention to detail. Human hair is amazingly resilient to being cut in large bunches, as I suppose any barber could verify. I had to stop and sharpen my scissors about every fifteen minutes or so, or I'd get things into a terrible mess.
Everything was filmed in the studio, except for the last shot, and the lights made the stage almost intolerably hot for the actors in the suits. Kubrick said it brought realism to the set, because the actual environment would have been around 90 degrees F in the shade, but I think he just didn't want to front the money for the air conditioning. Even the people behind the lights had to work at it to stay hydrated, and the suited actors couldn't stay in the suits for more than 20 minutes max or they would pass out from the heat.  Between the hot human smell and the hot glue smell, it was like working in a rendering factory in a tropical rain forest. In fairness to him, Kubrick DID suffer under the same conditions as the rest of the crew. except that he wasn't in a suit, and he had a personal assistant to spritz him with water and keep a fan on him.
The script called for warthogs in the initial scenes. They were first to be shown as competitors with the hominids for the scant mountain vegetation, and then as a new food source after the monolith taught the hominids how to use a bone as a club. It's an essential concept, but we had severe problems from the beginning. In the first place, warthogs are mean as hell, and bit anything within range of their beady little eyes. That meant we couldn't get insured unless we provided protection for the actors in the hominid suits, and the humane societies were refusing us any aversive controls on the little crap-toads (and I mean the wart-hogs; not even Kubrick suggested using cattle prods on actors.).
So Kubrick says, get tapirs; tapirs are gentle. Right. I don't know what arcane BBC nature documentary he got his info from, but tapirs are NOT gentle. They would knock the hominid actors down to get to the freshly planted vegetation we'd put out as a supposed food source, just shoulder them right out of the way. Then they developed some sort of fascination with the hominid costumes. They've got these little prehensile noses they use to dig in the dirt, and they started pulling out the damn monkey hair that took so long to glue. None of the wranglers could figure that out; was it a tapir vs. hominid thing, or did the scent from the stinky glue combined with people sweat trigger it? We never knew what went wrong. All we knew was that in sixteen days of trying to get 15 seconds of film of tapirs and hominids interacting, we got nothing except tapirs pulling out monkey hair.
Fortunately, we lucked into a pretty smart veterinarian who pointed out that while warthogs are mean and tapirs are stupid, pigs are both smart and trainable. So, that's what we went with. We took his advice and went with French Pinks, because we had to paint them purple/grey to match the few seconds of usable film we had already shot, and they all had to be fitted with prosthetic noses to resemble the never-to-be-adequately-disdained tapirs.
With pigs on set, we did great. They were naturals, and took what little direction Kubrick needed to give them very well indeed. Shot after shot, even with the multiple retakes Kubrick was known for, those pigs handled it like professionals. All Kubrick had to do was make some rudimentary gestures with his hands, and the pigs came through like champs. I can't begin to tell you how much we appreciated that, because up until that point, we thought we might have to rely on "artist concept" imagery or stop-action to get the footage we needed.
It all came to a screaming halt with the money shot, the scene where the hominid hits the pig on the head with a bone and it falls over. The BSPCA was absolute death on the idea of us actually whacking a pig on camera, even if it was done by the most humane methods. Kubrick and the veterinarian and the pig farmer spent hours together, trying to come up with a solution, but there was simply nothing that would make a pig fall over like it was conked on the skull, except for conking it on the skull.
Fortunately, Kubrick put an amazing amount of time with the pigs. He had always liked talking with actors during filming, and as far as he was concerned, the pigs were no less actors just because they had twice as many legs. He had a small curtained-off area built just off set where he and the pigs could hang out together between scenes. It was all a part of his directorial style, the way he immersed himself in the movie. And that's how he discovered the solution.
Music defines how Kubrick's films are remembered. The obscure 'Also Sprach Zarathustra,' which became an icon at high school football games due to the pounding drum mix and easily taught horn intro, wasn't even considered as theme music until post-production began in 1967. At the time of filming, Kubrick was leaning toward a folk-pop mix to contrast with the images of the primitive hominids, and had selected Donovan's hit "Sunshine Superman" as the perfect complement to the revelation of the monolith. Donovan was recording nearby during the filming, and was a frequent guest on stage and would often join Kubrick and his wife Christiane as their diner guest. When Donovan was arrested for pot possession, it was Kubrick who put up his bail and arranged for his lawyer, as Donovan's record agency tried to disassociate themselves from the scandal.
That's how we discovered that pigs react to cannabis much in the way that humans do. After filming had stopped for the day, Donovan, who was deeply disturbed by his arrest, would join Kubrick and the pigs for some conversation and food, and at one point, a particularly inquisitive porcine ate the greatest part of Donovan's marijuana stash and became intoxicated. It was such a tension reliever, that Kubrick asked me to provide the pigs with pot each day, and they developed a real affinity for it. Thus we discovered, quite by accident, that past a certain point of intoxication, pigs tend to fall over quite frequently without any outside assistance. In fact, we soon discovered that left to their own devices, the pigs would become falling-down stoned very early in the day, and my primary task was to regulate their intake. None of that is evident in the final cut, however. At least, after a gap of fifty years, I couldn't spot anything.
Being a procurer for pigs wasn't what I'd spent four years at Oxford for, but I could accept it as a necessary evil in my advancing my career. What I found unacceptable, however, was Kubrick's surprise decision not to provide any after-care for the pigs following the completion of the shoot. At the time, it was widely accepted that marijuana was highly addictive, and I feared that I might have created a pack of hogs doomed to a life of degeneracy. (As it happened, there was no negative fall-out. In fact, the pig farmer commented that his pigs were fattening up very nicely on whatever it was that I was feeding them. I did not have the courage to discuss the munchies with him.
But I never worked with Stanley Kubrick again. He simply knew too much about making films, but almost nothing about drug education.

Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11: "It's going to be a lovely day" is a statement of faith, not fact.

I had completed 10 years as a middle school counselor. That fall of my 11th year, as a matter of good mental health, I knew that if I were to have the proper attitude at work, I was going to have to choose that attitude and have it in place before I parked my truck in front of the school.
It wasn't going to come easy. On the home front, my much loved first-born son was gone away for college. I was just coming off a spiritual high, from leading a team of well over  one hundred men in an intense weekend of spiritual self-examination in a Christian renewal retreat. As often happens, when you come off the mountain top, aggravations present themselves; My first piece of mail upon my return home was a notification that my check had bounced at my son's college book store.
But the point that I was clear on was this: if I allowed the joys and frustrations of working with 1100 young men and women  in the 7th and 8th grade, their parents and their teachers, to determine my attitude, I was toast.
So, that August, during the week of teacher planning before the students arrived, I turned to American gospel hip-hop singer Kirk Franklin. He had recorded a cover of Bill Withers' most excellent song "Lovely Day" which was adapted lyrically to be a love song to the Beloved, Jesus, rather than to the beloved, your significant other. The music line had a perfect part for my bass voice, and with a bit of experimentation, I determined just where I needed to start the music so I would be singing through the rest of my commute, with the song ending as I pulled my truck into a parking place. Then, at the end of the day, I'd replay the song, so I was returned to my little family with the stresses of the work day cleared out of my mind. It was a great technique.
And that's the way it worked, every day! I would energize myself in the morning, and re-energize myself in the afternoon, and I was able to handle all the hassles that come from pulling hundreds of pre-teens from four different elementary schools, out of their accustomed relationships and making new demands on them. It worked!
And the last time I played that song was a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. September 11, 2001, as a matter of fact.
I had an awful day that day. I had developed an expertise in school crisis management, and I used every bit of it that day. I won't go into the details; you all had to live through that day and you know what you had to do to cope. As the school counselor, I had the task of helping teachers and students process the intolerable unbelievable. And finally, the interminable school day was over, with two planes into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, and Flight 93 in a field in Western Pennsylvania.
I had been carried along by my duty, until I got in the parking lot, and then it was just me. I didn't know, none of us knew, what that day was going to mean to us, but the first thing I found out was that my discipline of singing, and believing, 'It's Going to Be a Lovely Day' just wasn't going to work. And I put away that cassette tape, stuck it into the glove compartment, and drove home in a silence broken only by my sobs.
But we all have ways of signalling when we start the process of healing. For me. that day came a year later. I had found the Kirk Franklin tape a few weeks earlier, while looking for something in my glove compartment. I wondered, even then, if I was ever going to be able to listen to the tape again. Some liquid had spilled over the tape at some point in the year, and I wasn't even sure it would work. So I decided it was time to get better, and I went out and bought the album on CD.
And on September 11, 2002, on my way into work, I played "It's Going To Be a Lovely Day" on my way in to work, and sang along with it, and let the tears come when they wanted.
Lots of bad stuff has come my way in the days since, but I have found nothing that would disprove the idea that the greatest single factor in my attitude is my choice. YMMV. Peter Grant introduced me to The Lonely Libertarian, and her Friday, August 28 blog post includes a cartoon which demonstrates my attitude toward those who ask us to cheer up in the midst of disaster, without regard for what we are experiencing. I TOTALLY understand that. And yet, I'm a firm believer that it's not what happens to us that determines our character, it's how we respond to the happenings.
And so I sit, old, fat, crippled, and loved. And today, September 11, 2015? It's going to be a lovely day.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Civil disobedience: does it cover County Clerks?

So, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is in jail for refusing to issue a marriage license for a gay marriage. She says it is against her religion to do so.
In her absence (she's been in jail for a day) the marriage licenses were issued by a deputy clerk. From jail, she proclaimed that those licenses weren't worth the paper they ere printed on, because she is the only one who has a right to issue the licenses, and she's not going to do it.
The question it raises for me is not whether a person can choose not to comply with a law they find to be inappropriate, but whether a person in a position which provides a public service can choose to gum up the works.
I took a QUICK look at the concept of civil disobedience. I discovered that one of the earliest written expressions of the concept is in Sophocles' play Antigone, written around 441 BC. In the play, the woman Antigone chooses to flagrantly disobey King Creon's order to leave her dead brother unburied, even if it costs her life. There are all kinds of tricky Greek issues, if I remember correctly from discussion in philosophy class in 1971-2, but the idea here is one of 'who should we obey? The law of man, or the law of the gods?'
Now, it was pretty evident (to me) that the context of those philosophy lectures was primarily one of promoting resistance to the draft. As college freshmen, we were particularly tuned in to the draft lottery; it was all we could think about or talk about. I lucked out; my number was something ridiculous, like 356. Others in my dorm were not so lucky. It became a moot question for me, personally, as after a year I had worn out my welcome with the institution, and they invited me to discontinue my enrollment. I looked at other options, and in a fit of contrariness, I enlisted in the Army. It was a good choice for me.
But, I had a year of campus rebellion and a philosophical foundation, and so the concept of civil disobedience stayed with me. Fortunately, I came of age after the primary legal and judicial barriers to civil rights had been breached, and my protests were limited to picketing the Georgia Farm Bureau for migrant farm worker's rights, and another protest at a nominating convention for the Georgia Democratic delegates to the '72 convention. Ummm....I really don't know why I was in that last one...
But in neither case was I ever at risk of arrest, because what I was doing was protected under the laws of our country.  
My civil disobedience activity since then has been limited to an article in the veteran's newspaper at the junior college I attended after discharge from the army. In the article, I stated that not only did we have a right, we had a responsibility to disobey laws we found to be unjust. And, of course, I referred to Thoreau.   (I'm going to ignore the work by Shelley, because I think he was a jerk.)
Here's what Thoreau advocated, in part: you must refuse to support the laws which are immoral, and that includes non-payment of taxes, which go to the government which instituted and carries out those laws. Furthermore, you have an obligation to clog the system. Make them put you in jail.
Now, here's the government's position: "That's all well and good, Henry, but we have a country to run. You see, Henry, you and your fellow man are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights., and to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving just powers from the consent of the governed. So, when you refuse to pay yer frakken taxes, you are preventing us from securing the rights of yer fellow man. So shut up. Go to jail? If you MUST, but get out of the way, in any event."
So, how does this apply the the Rowan County Clerk? You cannot DEFY the government and be a PART of the government at the same time. The options for you are these: do the job you were elected to do, or resign. No one is MAKING you issue those permits. You don't HAVE to. BUT: you do NOT have the right to overturn the positions established by duly appointed judges, appointed by duly elected officials. If the matter is that offensive to you, then raise up a standard, get a constitutional amendment, but do not abuse your position.,
And have a nice day.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Alma Boykin's 'Elizabeth of Donatello Bend', and Life Isn't Fair.

I am gradually developing a book review/blog format. I have to separate those two things, because I talk about stuff in my blog that don't really appropriately fit into a book review. Here's what I think is the best format: I review the book on Amazon first, then I copy that review into my blog. However, the blog-specific material, I add in FRONT of the Amazon review. Umm, that's what you are reading  right now, by the way: the non-review stuff. Warning: minor rant ahead.
The other day on Mad Genius Club, the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess talks about the split between popular, escapist books and books which feature nasty people doing nasty things without retribution. In that essay, she points out that authors do not have a captive audience.
That's not fair. I WANT a captive audience. I want a HUGE captive audience. Why don't I HAVE a huge captive audience? Well the answer to that last is simple: the 'captive' part doesn't exist, and the huge part is theoretically possible, but my writing is not known outside of we few. The most popular blog post I ever made gathered 510 hits; there were two more, on controversial topics, that were in the 300 range, and one, on a topic that tore all of our hearts out, that was in the 200s. I have lots in the 100+ range. But mostly, if it's on a topic I'm not pushing on other people's facebook pages, I get 50 pageviews on a good day.
I've got to go further, though, and explain WHY I want a huge, captive audience:  I am reviewing WONDERFUL books, with great characters, great storylines, marvelously well written, and (gulp) in a lot of cases, nobody appears to have heard of them, either.
This is ridiculous. Haven't you ever found yourself thinking 'there's nothing for me to read?' Now, I always have SOMETHING to read. I've got a downstairs book, and an upstairs book, and I keep an ancient copy of 'Profiles In Courage' in my truck. But there have been times when I wanted something NEW to read, and didn't have anything. If you are a conspicuously consuming reader like me, then you know the joy of discovering a previously unknown-to-you writer, who has written prolifically. Book after book after book, just waiting for you! CHRISTMAS TIME, BABY!
Well, see, THAT'S why I want a huge captive audience. I'm finding these GREAT books, and as far as I can tell, based on the number of Amazon reviews, they just aren't selling a lot of books. THAT'S NOT FAIR!
Let me give you a couple of examples:
John Van Stry. Now, fortunately, he IS getting a bit of attention now, but not nearly enough. I count 12 books, and only four of them have what I would regard as a decent number of reviews.
Laura Montgomery. Four books, and they are all EXCELLENT, and her max # of reviews? 19.
Sabrina Chase. Thirteen publications, by my count, and only ONE of her books has hit 51 reviews.
JL Curtis. Three books. Now, his AVERAGE is a little better, but maybe that's because his genre is different, I don't know. What I do know is that everybody who ever enjoyed watching a Jimmy Stewart Western  would love the Grey Man.
Look, I could go on for pages of this. But here's my point, once again: IT'S NOT FAIR!!! These writers should be having to open up new BANKS to keep up with their pictures of dead white men on green paper.
Sigh. I've got to write more. Maybe I could do what George r r Martin did, and include a mention of wimmin with nekkid boobs in every blog post, and then kill their family.
And now, here's the Amazon review a GREAT example of WONDERFUL work thus far ignored:

In my review of the first book, Elizabeth of Starland, I pointed out that the author has made me aware of two  conventions when writing about hero-women by violating them.
In the first place, Elizabeth isn't drop-dead gorgeous. She has a big nose and no chin, and she keeps her mousy brown hair chopped off short. In the second place, she has a really rough time with her menstrual cycle.
I haven't yet decided whether her plain features are a real problem for her or not. She has adamantly refused to develop an infatuation with anyone, and that might have been more of a problem if she had hordes of suitors.
As a landowner with demonstrated military skills, Elizabeth has to raise and train the men on her land to be militia, and then to lead them into war. That's when her cramps hit, it seems.
Both of these characteristics serve to make her a real person; someone was commenting about growing tired of the 'hero-engineer' who can fix anything and invent anything; that's not Elizabeth. However (!), she DOES know how to read a map; she also knows how to provision an army in the field, and she knows how to select competent subordinates who can provide training to her troops. She also keeps in mind always that her troops are primarily farmers, and she owes them the right to return to their homes and families so that the crop can be gotten in.
She encounters all sorts of resistance from her peers, who refuse to even consider placing themselves under her command. In one case, the artillery commander has near-fanatic religious beliefs about artifacts from the Landers, who colonized the planet from Earth. That causes him to explicitly forbid Elizabeth from establishing sentry posts near some lander ruins, and it costs them when enemy snipers attack.
The most stinging and unfair treatment of Elizabeth comes at the hands of the son of her neighbor, an impetuous young man who has never been in combat, yet fancies himself to be a great warrior. Will he get his comeuppance?
There is more than a hint that Elizabeth may have a suitor, despite her unfortunate appearance. Nothing is ever made explicitly clear, but the emperor's younger brother, the Archduke Lewis, is certainly in her vicinity a lot, and he writes her a lot of letters.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Blogging Under the Influnce(s), and why that's important

This post is about blogging under the influences, but let me first recap for you.
Prior to sometime in May, I was blogging almost every day. Most of the blog posts were based around book reviews, but there were some exceptions. For example, I reviewed a book called "Dirty Money: Confessions of A Stripper," but that was not so much a book review as an attempt to find meaning in the death of a friend of the family, a beautiful young girl who worked as a stripper, and who died from a form of pneumonia that attacks people with impaired immune systems. I also wrote a three part series about tolerance, some Hugo posts, and a couple of Amazon-related posts.
And then my laptop croaked. And then my back-up laptop became unusable. If there is ANYONE who regularly writes a blog with the virtual keyboard on a tablet, you have my respect, because I can't do it. I ordered two NEW laptops, only to find that they were such a hot item that they were backordered. So, I canceled the order, bought a wireless mouse and keyboard, and have been using that since then. BUT, I'd lost my rhythm.
Now, I WAS doing more than sitting at home and not writing. We took a wonderful mini-vacation, and I read to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock,GA, while she drove. She found out that she loved the writing of Dave Freer in 'The Road to Dundee,' but was even MORE surprised (I was too) to find that she absolutely LOVED Amanda Green, writing as Ellie Ferguson, in the Hunted series. I wrote that last review-blog post on July 25.
NO reviews after that, although I was still reading. And only four blog posts, for the entire month of August.
Now, I am not like the I. L. O. E. (Insane Ladies Of Evil, a title I just fabricated),  a group which includes Sarah, Amanda, Pam, Cedar, and Kate, who have full time jobs, run a household, go to school write books, and plan to take over the world and ruthlessly leave it alone. My work-outside-the-home days are sadly over, due to incapacitating illness. I do have some minor human-related tasks, such as raising grandkids, and being head-over-heels in love with my wife, but my only REGULAR scheduled activities are going to church and medical appointments. I have no excuse for not filling the time productively by writing, and, as I said in my brilliantly incisive post of Tuesday, March 3, this is a highly meaningful task for me. It allows me to use my talent for writing, and help authors by providing feedback.
So, if all I have to do is write, and if it is so important to me, why am I not writing?
The only thing that matters is how I fix it. And, thus we come back around to the title: Blogging Under The Influences. There are four, and I'm going to list them in order of ascending importance.
1. Dexedrine. I was diagnosed 23 years ago with attention deficit disorder. Once I researched the topic, suddenly an awful lot of my past behavior made sense. Once I had the diagnosis, I could then proceed with treatment, which was stimulant medication. I also was able to fully implement any number of coping strategies that I had learned, but had been able to use only partially, And it made a difference. I was 39 years old when the world changed for me.
After I was forced to retire in 2007, I stopped taking my ADD meds. It no longer made sense to do so, since, at the time, there was literally NOTHING I had to do. Why be focussed on doing nothing? So, I quit. Last year, I started taking the meds when there was something I needed to do that required alertness and focus, such as go to church. And today, because I need to blog again plus do two other things, I took the med, and sometime in the next 30 minutes, it will kick in. That's the least important influence.
2. Caffeine. Do I REALLY need to talk about how caffeine is a needful influence for writers? I thought not. Now, due to some other medical issues, I'm a one-cup-per-day guy. So, I want that one cup to be the best cup ever made in the world. Why waste time on cheap crummy coffee? Alas, Vanessa occasionally falls into the trap of buying stuff on sale; I have no objection to saving money, but I do so hate to waste my single cup on thin, bitter brew. I can buy a pound of Jamaica Blue Mountain for $51.99 that will last me a month,:
That's only $1.70 per day. I think I'm worth it. So, that is the second influence, and it's also trivial. Now we get into the heavy stuff:
3. Authors. The reason I started writing reviews, and the reason I revived my blog, was primarily to provide authors with feedback. I have an old crappy story about how I submitted a short work for review to an online group and my only feedback was 'Looks fine.' Yeah. That was it. For all I know, I may be the greatest American writer since Mark Twain, but we'll never know that, will we? Because I don't HAVE to be in order to make a great contribution, and my contribution, until my mind is changed forcibly, is to review the work of others. Listen: if you read a review of mine, you'll be reading a positive review. You know why? It's not because I like every book I read, and it's not because I'm incapable of doing slash work. It's partly because if I read a book I don't like, I stop reading it and go to something else, but mostly it's because if I come across something that just isn't my cup of tea, I contact the writer and hash it out. Sometimes it's a simple matter of preference. Sometimes it's because the work sucks. I spend more time on a work that is awful than I do with a work that's good. It's because I feel it is essential to give the author clear and concise feedback, and give them a chance to respond. Of the four influences, this one is a constant. And now to my last influence:
4. My home group at church. In the ancient Methodist Church (late 1700- early 1800) these were called class meetings. It's rather like a support group; it's a small number of people who get together each week apart from the service for study and fellowship. They are also who I have elected to be accountable to, when I'm not doing something that I need to be doing and want to be doing. So, next Sunday, they are going to ask me three things, which I have asked them to hold me accountable on: Did you write? Did you get the emissions certificate on your truck and get it registered? Did you make it to the gym? There are no sanctions imposed by the group; this is just like the accountability exercise in the writing group Amanda wrote about . So,now that I can say that I did my writing for the day, it's time to go get that emissions certificate on that raggedy old truck.

Hey, I just noticed the date! I got out of the Army 40 years ago today! Woot!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Something I wrote for a Hit Record assignment

(this was written as a Weekly Writing Challenge (Week #44) on The story had to contain the following three elements: Tinder profile; barbershop; jug of milk.)

The Assignment

You never forget the first thing you did to make money. Gordon applied the polish to his boot with a rag, and worked it into the leather. Forty nine years, he thought. I've been shining shoes for forty nine years.

He was in the eighth grade when he took the job in the barber shop. 10 minutes of instruction from Buddy, the lead barber, and then he was on his own. He took home four dollars and fifty cents that first day: nine shines and no tips. That was good money for a 13 year old kid in 1966. The most important thing he learned wasn't about shoe polish; it was “never tell a customer this is your first day on the job.”

Buddy told him, “If I was to tell a customer this was my first day cutting hair, he'd get up out of the chair and walk away.” Gordon hadn't thought of it like that then; he was just making conversation. Later, much later, he learned the harder lesson, that the customer doesn't want to hear your conversation. If they want any conversation at all, they want it to be theirs, but mostly, they don't want to talk to the shoe-shine boy.

Putting the rag away, he got out his brush, and began the slow, soft process of buffing up a shine. The spot on his left boot where he engaged the shift lever with his toe resisted as always, and as always, he gave it a few extra stroke to heat the polish and let it soak into the leather.

Forty nine years of shining shoes. He'd only gotten paid for doing it for a few months, until his report card showed two Fs and his mother made him quit. It didn't help his grades at all; he'd made three Fs the next time, passing only science. If he had been talking to anybody, and if anybody had been asking the right questions or even listening, they would have found out that shining shoes was about the only thing he looked forward to. He was getting his ass beaten, or at least threatened damn near every day, on the bus, and in the halls, and on the field where the students went after lunch. There was no place safe at school, except in the classrooms, and the dive in his grades even took that sense of security away. He was just tired of being lectured. He'd found out that if he turned in his work, the teacher would lecture him about how messy it was, but if he just didn't hand it in, she didn't notice. He knew it was going to cost him later on, but that was later. He just wanted to be left alone; he'd given up on things being pleasant.

Both of his boots gleamed softly, and the heels and soles were in good shape. He tugged them on, and pulled up on his socks so he didn't have a blister-forming crease develop. Riding a motorcycle was rough on footwear. It was rougher on feet and ankles, which was why he always wore boots to ride. Boots were also a good place to carry small items you didn't want in your pockets, like his wallet, which he slid into his left boot, and his Airweight S&W .38 into his right. It wasn't the perfect location if he needed to bring it into play, but it was the best solution he had until the cold weather came and he could  wear his leathers.

The weather was forecast to be clear, so the extra attention he'd paid to get polish into the seams of his boots probably wasn't going to be needed for water resistance. There had been plenty of times  he'd had that need, though, and he always tried to do those things that gave him that little extra edge. He didn't always need it; cream rose to the top, and Gordon knew that in the scheme of things, his particular skill set made him the cream of the crop. You had to have luck, too, and it was amazing how often the people who worked hard to get the extra edge also got the extra luck.

Keys, handkerchief, helmet, gloves, glasses, knife. He slipped the Spyderco folder into his right back pants pocket, where another man would carry a wallet, and where its' clip kept it flat and unobtrusive. If he were accosted, he could act as if he were reaching back to get his wallet, and have the blade out in the blink of an eye; he knew he could, because he had practiced the move until there was no wasted motion, and nothing to tip off a mugger. Standing in front of the mirror, with his helmet in his left hand, he mimed reaching slowly back, slowly so  as not to alarm an attacker, slowly until he had his hand on the case of his blade. Seeming to fumble, he dropped the helmet, and faster than his own eye could follow, he had the Spyderco out, positioned to slice a piece of skin and muscle off an attacker's forearm. It was a good tactic; he knew, because his trainer had beaten him with it every time they practiced together. Hank had been in his eighties when he died, but he was still the best man with a blade Gordon knew, or had even heard about. Yeah, if the cream rises to the top, and it did, Hank had been at the top for sixty-odd years. He'd never have Hank's speed when he was in his prime, but the element of surprise was his friend. And so was luck. Anything to get the edge.

Hank had a story – Hank always had a story – about a woman who applied for medical school.  At that level of competition, with something like twenty applicants for every opening, it was ALL cream. The  people without the brains and the drive never made it to the interview, and it was a matter for the committee to send home most of the candidates, even though they were qualified.  Hank knew this one woman who was applying for admission to medical school, had the grades, background, and test scores that she needed, but she knew her interview had just been okay, nothing to put her at the top. So, for her, it all came down to the last question they asked her, which was “Have you got any hobbies or special interests?”

And she did. She could balance pencils on her nose; not horizontally, but vertically. And she showed them: she wiped the end of her nose, to remove any slippery cosmetics or oil, put the pencil eraser on her nose, held it upright for a moment with her hand, and then let go. She put on a two minute demonstration, sitting, standing, walking around the room, and not once did she drop the pencil, and by the time she was finished, the committee applauded her. She had showed them, using a pencil, that she had the concentration and poise, even in a high consequence environment, to carry out a difficult task, and the committee agreed that those were qualities that were desirable in a physician.

Cream rises to the top. Gordon knew that to be a literal truth. When he'd been in his thirties, he'd lived in the country, and befriended a Mennonite dairy farmer. Every couple of weeks, he'd bring the farmer a gallon jar, and he'd fill it with the REAL stuff, fresh from the processor that killed the bacteria. At first, the cream was mixed in with the milk, but after he left the jar in the refrigerator for a while, it would start to float to the top and separate. Gordon would ladle out about a half-pint of the pure cream, and put it in a smaller jar with a lid that sealed tightly. And then: he'd shake it. Not fast, or even particularly forcefully, but back and forth, back and forth. And then there would form a little white lump of pure, sweet butter, and what was left was skim milk. Gordon could almost taste it, spread on a piece of home-made bread, hot from the oven.

He fastened his helmet, patted down his pockets again to make sure he had everything; took a final look around the apartment. Lights out, out the door, lock it. Down the stairs, out into the parking lot. Climb on the bike. Settle into the seat, tap his sunglasses to settle them firmly on his nose. Pull on the riding gloves, key in, switch on, crank the bike.

He allowed his thoughts to drain out of him, like used oil from a crankcase. Nothing exists, except for this ride. No thoughts about what waits at the end; it's not the time for that. He gradually took inventory  of his body: a pleasant tightness in his neck, the air whipping around the windscreen and providing all the cooling he would need. Vibrations in his fingers and seat and feet. The tightness around his right ankle, where his snub-nose revolver rested, five rounds of Winchester PDX1, 130 grains each of jacketed hollow points. Each one would expand upon entering the human body, and produce a hole bigger than a half-inch across.

You can do this, he thought. You are prepared. You are powerful. You are lucky. He took deep, calming breaths, determined to see this through.

He was at his destination, a single family dwelling on a cul-de-sac. The two car garage was empty. He had a few moments, then. A quick glance at his mirrors told him there were no other cars on the street. He quickly pulled his motorcycle into the garage, parking it so it would not be visible from the street, backing it in so he could ride straight out.

A car was coming. This was it. His heart was racing, and he felt sweat form in the palms of his still-gloved hands. He took a deep, calming breath, and then another. Calm, Gordon, he thought. You can do this.

The car pulled into the driveway, and climbed the slight incline to make the turn into the garage. The driver, a young woman, stopped short as she saw him standing there. She opened the door, and exited the car, a questioning look on her face.

Gordon spoke for the first time.

“Can you help me?  I need to put my profile on Tinder, and I don't know how to do it.”

She laughed. “Sure, big brother, I'll be glad to. Help me get these groceries inside and put away and we'll have you fixed up in a flash.”

“Thanks, Karen. I'm sorry to bother you.”

“No problemo! That's what families are for!”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

No, I am still not a college student

I wanted to ride my motorcycle to campus so I could register for classes as a senior citizen. It took me a half-day to get the bike in running order, but I got that done. I wanted to make a statement: old, but still truckin' along. And I made it there, in time for late registration.
However, I did NOT get registered for classes as a geriatric student at Kennesaw State University for the fall semester. There were two obstacles left for me to overcome, and I only was able to accomplish one of them.
That particular obstacle was a stupid, stupid, stupid obstacle. (The first time I wrote that sentence, I only used two 'stupids,' but added a third upon re-write. That's the very, very nice thing about using a monitor and keyboard to write; those of you who go back to the age of long hand writing and typewriters will appreciate that.) It was in place due to a ruling by the Board of Regents that students had to demonstrate 'Lawful Presence.'
That sounds easy enough. I was born & raised in Georgia, blah blah blah.
Nope. Not even close. And therein lies a story. It's not a very interesting story, unless you like hearing about things that are a little bizarre and frustrating. A number of things had to occur, in order for the not-very-interesting story to emerge, and here they are.
The FIRST thing that happened, back in 1975:  I get a free driver's license because I am an honorably discharged veteran. It's a nice little benefit from the State of Georgia. Didn't expect it, but it was nice. The benefit was made nicer, when I was issued a license (by mail!) which didn't expire until my 65th birthday, which is in 2018. Didn't expect it, but it was nice.
Here's the important bit, for the purposes of the story (and it's really NOT that good of a story. Honest.): the license was issued to me with a date of 1/16/2007.

Got that? Because I am a veteran, I get a free license, and in 2007, they extend it until I'm 65.

Here's the SECOND  thing that happened: in May, I turned 62. Now, way back in 1980 or thereabouts, the University System of Georgia said that if you were a Georgia resident, 62 years of age or older at the time of registration, you could go to college for free, with some minor exceptions for things like lab fees. I was working at Georgia State University at the time that went through, as well as working on my M.Ed.  Despite temptation, I did not defer my education for 30+ years to take advantage of this bonanza, but I was aware the program was in place. So, being aware of it, I've really been looking forward to doing it, especially since I was forced to retire due to being bughouse nuts from  insomnia and other side-effects of the meds I was on for a chronic pain condition. Retirement was in September of 2007, so I've been waiting on this program for eight years. On my birthday, I applied to Kennesaw State University, just to take classes, not to get another degree.
The 62+ program is not very well known, and I had some erm, amusing interactions with admissions people who wanted my high school transcript, and later wanted all of my college transcripts, not just the transcript showing my degrees. Fortunately, I was able to get all that fixed with a contact made to persons higher up on the food chain. And, o beauteous day, o joyful morn, on July 7, I was admitted to KSU.

Because I am 62 years old, I am eligible to attend college for free!

But there's this thing they are worried about in Georgia. It's called 'lawful presence,' and I don't know why it's a problem. I don't know if they are afraid terrorists are going un-noticed, or if migrant farm workers are attending college when they are supposed to be pickin' the dam' cotton. Regardless of the original problem, though, there has definitely been a crack-down, and in 2010, the Board of Regents demanded that all applicants and new students provide proof that they are lawfully present in the great state of Georgia. This is NOT for tuition purposes, mind you; that's a different process. This entails providing certain documentation, which can include a bunch of other stuff, but in my case, the appropriate and easiest way is through a driver's license, issued after 2008.

I need to provide a driver's license issued after 2008. But because I am a veteran, my driver's license was issued BEFORE 2008. So, I may not register for classes.    

Well, do I have any other picture ID? No problem, I thought. My latest concealed carry permit was issued in 2014, which is after 2008.

WRONG. That doesn't prove I'm  lawfully present. 

How about my Veteran's Administration Health card, also issued after 2008?


Evidently, we must be criminally indiscriminate in handing out weapons carry permits, and enrolling people in veterans health care program.
At this point, I'm inclined to take myself home. And that's what I would have done, too, had it not been for the fact that I have seven years experience in college administration. I KNEW that there was someone on that campus, perhaps even in that office, who could look at what I had, and give me permission to register.

And that's what happened. After a relatively short period in which numerous clerical people scampered to and fro, and in which I did nothing mean and never raised my voice, I was able to speak with a kind, problem-solving person who had the authority to do so, and she solved my problem, and I was cleared for registration. That was obstacle one.

Alas. It was now rather late in the day, and I needed a waiver from the Learning Support office in order to take the remedial algebra class I needed. (That's obstacle two.)
Rabbit trail in this not-very-interesting story, which is almost at an end, no kidding:

Why am I, at age 62, with no career or degree goals, attempting to take math? 

Well, I have a family history of senile dementia. Whether or not it's Alzheimer's is a moot point; certainly I'm beyond the age of early onset, and so far experience relatively little trouble with my cognitive skills. HOWEVER, the handwriting is on the wall, as far as I'm concerned. Unless my future is very different from my fore-bearers, I'm going to start forgetting things in the next ten years. So, what's the best way to stop that from happening? Exercise the brain cells. And the best way, I THINK, to do that, is by working complex puzzles.  And that's what math is.
Now, I did NOT particularly shine in anything in high school, and certainly not in math, but I did make a 710 on the math part of the SAT, and have had comparable scores on the three GRE 's I've taken over the years. I just haven't DONE any math (except statistics) since 1977, and I wasn't really paying attention then. I DID pay attention to statistics, since it was a useful tool I could use to, erm, do something I'm sure, but I remember none of the calculus classes I took. I DO remember how to take the difference between two squares, but that's about it. So, I want math, and I need remedial math.
And actually, math is the language of the universe.

So that's why I'm taking math at my age and station in life. And here ends the rabbit trail, and then the final, no kidding, end of this not-very-interesting story.
After I left the admissions office, I rode my motorcycle over to the main campus. Motorcycle parking is free, and is located by the main gate. So, I had to walk to where I thought the Learning Support office was located. Turns out it wasn't there, but it was next door, so that wasn't too bad. However, it was 5:00 by the time I got to where I needed to be, and so I didn't get a chance to get a needed waiver from them. So, I walked back to my bike, and rode home, in rush hour traffic.
And collapsed.
My body hurt so bad, I felt as if I had been beaten. I have not walked any further than the end of the driveway in forever. I was so out of shape, that the relatively short trek across the campus (in August heat) just stomped me in the ground.
So: I postpone.
Here's what I have yet to do:
First (and I've already done this) I wrote a thank you to the nice person who helped me establish Lawful Residence.
Second, I've got to start hitting to pool at the gym, and do enough laps to get in condition.
Third, I've got to re-activate my application for the Winter Semester, and
FINALLY I need to establish some allies on campus. I need to talk to the people administering the Learning Studies program IN ADVANCE so that I can get a waiver without having to explain what I want three times to three clerical-level people. I need to talk to people in the other departments, as time goes on, so that they will let me in their classes as well. I have to register during late registration; that's a program requirement. So, wait lists may well be in my future. That's what allies are for.
And thus endeth the not-very-interesting story. Don't forget to tip the waitress.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Death Penalty & Life Without Parole

This isn't a book review; it really is about the death penalty and the sentence of 'life without the possibility of parole' (LWOP). I'm writing this, KNOWING that some of my dearest friends are going to think I've betrayed them, and some people I despise are going to think I've joined their camp on other issues as well. Sorry about that, y'all; I'm just not solidly in any political camp. When I was a very young (and stupid and ignorant) man, I proclaimed myself to be a liberal; as I grew older, I became more conservative; in the past ten years or so, I find I'm often inclined to the libertarian perspective.
For those who want to look at some of the foundation for my decision, I'll provide some links, but I'm not going to stick references everywhere in the text, unless I cite a particularly significant point. Almost all of those are going to come in one section of this post, and if you are hooked, will provide you with further reading.

So: let me get to the conclusion right up front, and then explain it.

1. I am no longer in favor of the death penalty, and
2. I am not in favor of sentencing someone to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

This is not a position I take in reaction to something personal:
1.  No one I know personally is a victim of a crime calling for the death penalty, and
2. No one I know is the victim of a crime calling for LWOP. Furthermore,
3. No one I know personally is the recipient of either of those two sentences.
I developed this position free of the kind of emotional onslaught that doubtlessly fills those who have been impacted by crime. That does not mean my position is free of emotional bias, just that it's not primarily based on emotion. My thinking processes, both rational and irrational, (and I'll define that in a minute), both lead me to this conclusion.


Let me get to the irrational thinking first: (This is, I believe, a position that comes from my libertarian side. I'm labelling it 'irrational thinking' because I realize my thinking is affected by anger. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but I probably wouldn't have gotten here if I hadn't gotten mad first.)
I no longer have enough trust in the state to grant it the power to impose the death penalty against someone convicted of criminal behavior. I lost that trust when I realized that sometimes innocent people are convicted of a capital offense, and that sometimes a guilty person is given an undeserved death penalty. Both of these are failures of some aspect of the state-imposed system. To be specific, I believe that sometimes cops lie, that prosecutors sometimes are more interested in a conviction than justice, that sometimes juries can be wrong, and that sometimes judges are incompetent. I definitely do NOT believe that's the case MOST of the time. But, sometimes the wrong thing happens because someone has bad motives, and sometimes the wrong thing happens by accident. When a death sentence is carried out, the wrong thing can't get fixed. That's important enough to repeat : when a innocent person is put to death, the state cannot reverse the wrong done.

And now for the rational thinking.  (This comes from my conservative side, and is based on facts and reasoning. )
The death penalty is too expensive, in both time and money. This where I have to provide a supporting link. Death penalty trials take longer, and appeals take forever, it seems, and every bit of that is on the taxpayers' dime. Consider trial costs: in every case where the death penalty is sought, special rules apply to evidence and legal procedures, and those rules result in a longer, more expensive trial than a trial involving a life sentence.  A 2014 study in Kansas shows that the taxpayer paid average defense and court costs in excess of of $467,000 for death penalty trials, compared to an average of  $120,000 for life sentence cases.
The costs of appeals for a death penalty case vs a life sentence case are more difficult to determine. However, an Idaho report states that public defenders billed an average of 7,918 hours for death penalty cases, compared to 179 hours per client with life sentences.
An additional cost borne by the taxpayer is the cost of death row housing vs housing in the general population. Figures vary, but it's clear that it costs more to house death row convicts. A California report  says it costs (in 2008) $90,000 more per year to house death row inmates; the Kansas report cited earlier says (in 2014) the additional taxpayer burden is more in the neighborhood of $25,000 per year.
If the death penalty were off the table, costs for trials, appeals, and housing would all decrease immediately and precipitously, and that's money which could be used much more effectively elsewhere.
Another cost of the death penalty, which can't be measured.  Every death penalty case has a victim, and victims have families. While the trials and appeals are going on, the families do not have resolution; they are, in effect, hostages of the criminal justice system. Some victims state that they can only receive closure by the execution of the condemned. So how are we doing with that? Since 1965, the execution rate of condemned criminals has never reached 3%, and since 1994 the average time between conviction and execution has never been less than 10 years. You may have a different opinion on this matter than I do, but this system is not providing closure to family members.

So, there you have it.  That's my stance against the death penalty, based on my libertarian and conservative beliefs. There's not a bit of whiney, liberal, sissy, value-of-human-life garbage anywhere.
To get that, you have to turn to my much shorter analysis, which is nothing BUT value-of-human-life garbage :


I need to make this point first: there are some people who I cannot imagine EVER deserving release from prison. These are people who I think must be locked up because of the damage they have already done to our society, as well the potential for damage should they be released. I'm not arguing that some people should not be in prison forever; I'm arguing against the sentence itself. The decision to parole an individual  needs to be made by parole boards; those are composed of experienced corrections and enforcement officers, and others with significant relevant experience. A state legislature is NOT the appropriate place to determine parole status for an individual, but that's what LWOP means.

Note: when I set about to write this post, I had two reasons for opposing LWOP. However, as a result of the research I have done, I have dumped the second reason, and totally re-written the first. Here's what's left:

For the prisoner, a sentence of LWOP removes hope, the most significant agent for change. They have no expectation that their life will ever change in a meaningful way, no matter what they do. There are small, but significant. privileges that prisoners can earn by good behavior, and generally, lifers earn and keep those privileges. However, after years and decades go by with no prospect of ever going free, motivation to preserve a healthy attitude disintegrates. For some, a spiritual transformation takes place, and they develop a new purpose in working with other prisoners. This transformation is described by Victor Frankl, based on his experience as a Holocaust survivor, in 'Man's Search for Meaning,' and is central to Christianity as well as other spiritual disciplines. I cannot, in good conscience, deny to those who have had such a robust reconfiguration of their very lives, even a hope of release. That, in a nutshell, is the sum of my opposition to LWOP.

I mentioned I started with two reasons, and abandoned the second. The second reason I had for opposing LWOP was that it endangered prison officials, who would have to work with inmates already given the maximum sanction, who could resist the prison system with impunity. This turns out not to be the case. In fact, studies show that inmates with a death sentence and inmates with LWOP have both have much lower incidences of infractions than parole-eligible inmates, those with much shorter sentences. I thus discarded 'threats to staff' as a reason to oppose LWOP.

As I said earlier, I believe there are some prisoners who should NEVER be allowed to prey on civilization again. For them, a sentence of life is just that: life. Their cases will still come up for review, and the parole board continues to deny parole, every time. State Parole Boards only view appeals for parole after a minimum sentence is completed (15 years, for example, in a sentence of 15 years to life), and then only 10-15 % of the cases are approved. Parole boards are composed of former corrections and enforcement officials, and of elected officials with an extensive background in corrections law and administration. That's where the expertise lies, and that's where the decisions should be made about who is eligible for parole, not in the legislature.

As I review what I've written, I see I haven't done the topic justice. My thinking is clearer than my writing, but my thinking mixes both the emotional and the factual reasoning into one thread, and that just doesn't transfer on to the page. Part of me wants to sift every word, and make this perfect. However, I've been struggling with this for at least a week now, and the topic is oppressive. I find myself dreaming that I'm a lifer, and frankly, that's beyond the the contribution I wish to make to my craft. It's eaten at me in a way no other blog post has, and maybe that's just the cost of doing business. However, unlike the lifer, I have other business to do, and so I close this out, in the hope I may have persuaded some.