Monday, January 30, 2017

No thanks, I just had a banana

Had a dear friend and kindred spirit named Bob Bresler, aka Breeze. Incredibly talented musician, brilliant dude, former Marine with service in Viet Nam, seminary student. What attracted me to him was our shared love of science fiction, and his zany sense of humor.
His standard response to any unexpected question was "No thanks, I just had a banana."

"Are you going to Ethics class at 11:00?"
"No thanks, I just had a banana."
"Do you know what time it is?"
"No thanks, I just had a banana."
"Can I borrow your blue shirt with the penguin on the collar?"
"No thanks, I just had a banana."
"Wanna cut class and go get a beer?"
"No thanks, I just..wait, what? YEAH, let's GO!"

He would also initiate conversations with total strangers by saying, "So, how WAS China?" It's not a bad conversational gambit. He told me that in all his years of using it, he actually had run across one person who had recently been there. Since my association with Breeze came to an end around 1981, that's pretty impressive.

He also collected and shared gonzo theories. For example, the idea that a light bulb is not a light emitter, it's a dark absorber. Each bulb has a certain capacity for dark. You turn it on, and it starts absorbing dark. And when it's full, it signifies that by going dark itself. You carefully remove the full dark absorber from the lamp, and place it in the trash.

Somehow, his love for all things gonzo and science fiction combined to make him an ENTHUSIASTIC fan of horror movies. He LOVED those things, the way my 4 year old grandson Heath loves Spiderman cartoons, and the way my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, loves those depraved love stories on the Hallmark Channel ( and Christmas movies).

Now, I cannot now, nor have I ever, been able to tolerate horror movies. It all goes back, I believe, to the terror I experienced as a six year old seeing and hearing the banshee in Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" in 1959. So I don't know WHY I agreed to go with Bob to see a horror double feature at the drive-in. It was awful. I hated it.  I wish I had just kept saying "No thanks, I just had a banana."

I was thinking about Bob yesterday, because I took a banana with me to church. I thought I might need a snack before lunch, and our entire building is set up so you can drink your coffee or munch your breakfast if you need to; ya just have to be courteous of those around you, but that hardly needs to be emphasized. (Although I have asked 12 year old Kenneth not to get Doritos again as his half-time break snack. Crunch Crunch CRUNCH!)

I didn't eat my banana, though. I hope one of the kids or Vanessa picked it up; I hope I didn't leave it in the car! Instead, I was caught up in considering my identity.

It's something I've touched on a couple of times recently, most coherently in "Fat Old Crippled Bikers and Book Covers," in which I talk about not being what I look like. But yesterday, it  was brought home to me that there were two significant issues in my life that I wanted to change, and that both of them were hugely aggravate by the fact that I am about 100 pounds over weight. Those two issues were: pain in my life, and weariness in my body.

I have stubbornly refused to take serious, dedicated action on my weight; I peaked at 300, but I am down to 280. That's still 100 pounds over something I'd feel comfortable with, and all of my doctors have told me repeatedly that my pain level would drop, my breathing would improve, and my energy level would increase, if I just lost weight. My primary care physician told me years ago that I was in a pre-diabetic state, but that if would diet and exercise, I'd get better. I didn't diet or exercise, and now I have diabetes.

It is TRUE that I have some significant medical issues that are impairments. But it is also true that I have LOTS of reasons to get fit, and only EXCUSES why I don't.

So, I sealed it. I wrote out my repentance on a piece of paper, signed and dated it, and gave it to Vanessa. And I grabbed the leader of the small group we attend, and asked him for help. As it happens, older adult fitness is his passion. He  is my age, very trim, and he gets that way by getting lots of exercise. He plays senior league softball, and instructs Tae Kwon Do, and in consultation with him, we came up with a short program of things I can do to gradually return me to a state of health.
I stopped by Walmart yesterday afternoon, and today I am wearing a 'FitBit' which records my steps and activity level, and send the data to my laptop or tablet.

TRUE FACT: I did not get in this shape overnight. I will not lose the weight overnight, either. BUT, if I follow the program, I WILL get better.

Oh, yeah: I took  my cane, and I hung it on a nail in the wall of my man-cave. I wrote yesterday's date on a piece of duct-tape, and I stuck it on the cane.

It's what we call "a stone of remembrance."

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Make Your Wife Cackle Like A Hyena

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, works as a legal parapro in the heart of downtown Atlanta. She has a 20+ mile drive to work every day, and in order to beat the worst of the morning commute, she has to leave the house at 6 AM every weekday. If she leaves at a REASONABLE time, say 7AM, then the 45 minute drive turns into 90 minutes or more. So: early to rise.
And the other half of the instruction is : early to bed. We were discussing this last night, as we went lights out at 8:30.

Parenthetical note: we are ONLY able to do that because our kids are older, capable, and cooperative. Alicia Ann, who is 10 almost 11, is in the fifth grade, her last year of elementary school; she has to get on the bus at 7 AM, so she has a bedtime of 8:30 PM, and gets up at 6:30 AM, or 6-ish if she wants to so something lovely to her hair. Kenneth, age 12, is a 6th grade middle schooler, and they start the school day later. He gets on the bus at 8:30 AM, and so his bed time is 9 PM. They are both responsible enough that they put themselves to bed on their own, after appropriate earlier kisses. They understand Mom has to hit the bricks early.
We were comparing our current 8:30-ish bed time with the life we lived as young stupids. Back then, the night hadn't even started at 9:00 PM, and it was REQUIRED by the code of the stupid young to continue our revelry AT LEAST until 1 AM, with 3 AM being a more usual ending point, followed by a trip to the Waffle House.

Alas (or fortunately), those days are LONG gone. While Vanessa hasn't achieved my length of years, we WERE born in the same decade (you can do the math on your own), and our bodies need sleep. Our routine is to go to bed at the same time, and she drifts off first, and I read or watch something on Netflix for a while, then put on Dragnet at the Internet Archive, and let Jack Webb's monotone lull me into Dreamland.

Vanessa doesn't have Dragnet. She has me. She turns her electric blanket on, and we snuggle, and I wrap my arms around her, and we tell each other how much we love each other and appreciate each other, and usually, she starts to snore (softly, and in a very lady-like way) in just a few minutes. When we were first married, and were in the process of establishing our routine, she'd ask me to tell her a story. It was always about a little girl who grew up to be a beautiful lady, in a cottage in the woods, and the handsome young man who came to rescue her and seek her hand in marriage.

Yeah, it's corny. But look: we found each other late in life. We went straight to romance, and stayed there, because we've already both DONE all the miserable we needed. My best friend from high school, Billy Doniel, has named his retirement farm "Best For Last", and Vanessa SQUEALED when she found that out; that's pretty much the theme of our relationship.  Based on my family history, I've got AT LEAST 20 years of good health before my brain turns to mush, and we are determined to make our latter years better than the former; best for last. "Grow old with me, the best is yet to be."

So, last night, we turned out the light, and we snuggled close with her in my arms, and she said "Were you always this sweet?" or words to that effect.

And I got to thinking, and I tried to be precise in my words, as I was in my thoughts. What kind of man was I at 19, or 35? Certainly there have been enormous (and I use the word advisedly) physical changes. To be specific, I weigh almost twice what I did then, and I am no longer lithe nor limber. Has that contributed to my sweetness? I have learned so much about being a giver, instead of a taker.

And as I was sharing these deep thoughts from my heart, pouring out my soul to her, I slowly became aware that it had been a while since she had said anything.

And then I realized:


And furthermore,


Yes, that sweet woman of mine, that precious treasure, that DECEITFUL WENCH, has purposefully set me off on one of my long, intense, (boring?) rambles,


Oh, the horror. 

"You did that on purpose! You set me off on this intense introspection, just so I would talk long enough so you could get to sleep!" 
And she cracked up. Because it was TRUE!

"Next time, why don't you just ask me to recite the technical specification of my motorcycle?" (hysterical laughter) 

"Why not just have me sing The Alphabet song?"
(chortle, cackle, guffaw)

She didn't even TRY to defend or deny. And the only way I could get her to stop shrieking with laughter was to remind her that our young lady guest was sleeping in the bedroom right underneath ours, and what MUST she be thinking hearing the noises coming through her ceiling?

But it still took her a while. She had to progress down to giggle, snicker, and titter before she could finally drift off again. Because I was not ABOUT to tell her another bedtime story!

Sigh. I will tonight, though. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things; including the knowledge that the old lady can play me like a two dollar harmonica.

Be at peace, and wear RED today if you can. RED = Remember Everyone Deployed, until they all come home. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fat Old Crippled Redneck Bikers and Book Covers

There's no POINT to this post; it's just something that happened.

I know what I look like.  I'm a large, hairy white man. I've got a beard and a ponytail, and dark eyes. Except for the fact that I have no tattoos, I look like I'm a classic bad-news biker.
But that's not who I am.
In fact, except for maybe six months in 1971-2, I've NEVER looked like what I am.

This was brought home to me today in a sad way. I was in the parking lot of Publix, and I passed a young mother and her son; the mother was wearing a hijab, which I guess makes her a Muslim. I was wearing overalls and a black biker t-shirt, which I guess makes me a redneck biker. I recognized the look of fear and suspicion the mother gave me; I've seen it before.

Redneck bikers are supposed to hassle Muslims, right?

We made eye contact, and she quickly looked away. As I said, I've seen the look before. But I wasn't thinking about hassling her. I was wishing I could tell her that 100 years ago, my grandfather was in the Army, and that my father and uncles and cousins and self all served, and that we did that, in part, so that she could wear .ANY. .THING. .SHE. .WANTED. .TO. .WEAR.

But I didn't say anything. I just hopped into my vehicle and drove off.

After my hair grew out from my high school ROTC days, and before the buzz cut I got in Basic Training, there was a period of about six months when I LOOKED like a long haired hippie punk doper college student, and I WAS, in fact, a long haired hippie punk doper college student. So, for that brief time, my outer person and my inner person were consistent. Then I was in the Army, and the Big Green Machine has a way of plastering over individual differences. . While I was in the Army, I was awarded  a medal for life-saving (a story for another day), I made E-5, and I was selected as Soldier of the Year for the United States Army, Europe in 1975. I was a doper when I started my Army service, and a Jesus freak when I finished, but I looked the same on the outside the entire time.

As soon as I became a Private Freaken Citizen again in 1975, I started growing my beard out. Can't tell you HOW many times I caught crap over that, from personages as distinguished as a former US Senator, to some elderly gent handing out religious literature. Inside, every time it happened, I seethed; "I'm a veteran, you moron." It didn't stop when I was in my 20s or when I was in my 30s. One of the two main reasons I don't go to family reunions anymore was that I got tired of listening to the older generation give me crap. As recently as seven years ago, when I had 22 years sober, my sobriety sponsor gave me a hard time for having long hair and a beard. (I fired that sponsor.)

You can't judge a book by it's cover, the saying goes. But mostly, that's EXACTLY how we judge books, at least when it comes time to picking one off the shelf. Before I knew anything in depth about Baen, I had learned the little rocket-ship logo meant I was probably going to like the book. So, picking a good book cover is important.

But people aren't books. There are some aspects of my appearance I could easily change, if I wanted to. Cut my hair, shave my beard, wear a suit. Still the same guy. Other aspects, I can't change. I'm white, and I'm always going to be white, and sometimes when I am walking along in the store, holding hands with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, we get The Look. We have not yet reached the day when we will judge each other based on the content of our characters, rather than the color of our skins.

Oh, yeah: to all of the people I have judged for some visible and trivial cosmetic detail, which includes the young mother in the hijab: Sorry for being such a dope. I'll try to do better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Our Woman in Havana: A Parent Perspective

This is my drop-dead gorgeous, brilliant, adventurous, and deeply spiritual daughter Tobiyah.
 In this picture, she is pointing to the very first bull's-eye she made at the range, firing a Browning Buckmark Camper .22 LR target pistol. She loved the experience, although at first, she flinched every time someone in the adjacent lanes fired.

She is the second of my inherited daughters to have earned her college degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Kennesaw State University. She was not content with classroom experience; somewhere around here I have a picture of my living room packed with more than 20 foreign exchange students she brought over to the house so they could get exposed to more of the American experience.

Last weekend, she gave me my first surprise; I thought she was going to join the Women's March in Atlanta. Instead, she and her three sisters and at least one sister-by-affiliation took off for Washington. They spent the night before in West Virginia, where we have family and friends, and then on to DC the next day. I didn't really get a chance to talk with her much about the experience; the only (brief) conversation I had with her was to hear her say that they saw a lot of pro-life marchers, but only one Planned Parenthood sign.

I would have liked to have talked with her about it more, but on Monday, she hopped on a plane at Atlanta's Hartsfield International and flew to Cuba.

By herself. And by that, I mean: not traveling with friends or family; not traveling with a tour group. She just bought a ticket, and got on the plane.

No, I don't know why. No, I had no advanced warning. 

This is what happens when you raise independent, intelligent children. They do stuff. They push boundaries. They have adventures. 

And they leave anxiety-ridden parents in their wake, because :


If you have adult children of your own, you know what I am talking about. If not, you may remember something you did at that age. 

Me? I joined the Army. Just decided one day. Actually, there was more to the story than that, but that's for another time.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing

Oh, by the way: this isn't her first foreign experience. In this picture, we see her (far left) when she went to Nigeria last November to meet her biological father's family. Standing next to her is her older sister Jennifer; that trip included both of these gifted ladies.

Sweetheart, all I can say to you while you are in Cuba is to follow the same course of action you took in Nigeria:


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fear of running out of drugs = No Sleep = No post

The physical pain I experience is related to inflammation. The BEST, by FAR, treatment for inflammation is medication designed specifically for that, the Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, aka NSAIDs.  A few years ago, when I got tired of the side effects of morphine, I was able to manage quite well with a daily dose of meloxicam. I went for nine months with that, and only took about 1/2 tablet of hydrocodone every week.
Then, the bad side effects of NSAIDs manifested, and my guts exploded. I was getting blood in my stool, and awful gastric distress, so I needed to re-visit the Pain Clinic. Unfortunately, when you are destroyed by one NSAID, you will be destroyed by them all, so I can't take an aspirin or an ibuprofen, or anything in that category.

I do have a good solution. There is a long-release patch called 'Butrans,' which dispenses (in my case) 20 micrograms of buprenorphine into my system every hour; I change the patch every week. It treats the bulk of the pain, and I am prescribed three 10 mg hydrocodone per day to manage break-through pain. Mostly, it works.

But we've had very changeable weather, and I've been active, and I've been gobbling down my daily allotment of meds every day. I counted the pills I had left last night, and while I do have enough to last until the next prescription, I'm always certain my car won't start or the snow will fall, and I won't be able to get a refill on time. So, I decided to grit my teeth, and make it on two pills, so as to have something in reserve.

Yesterday was probably not the right day to start that. As far as I know, I felt no pain in my toenails. Everything else? Ouch. Headache. Neck. Upper back. shoulders. Lower back. Knees.
Even my butt hurt.

So, I didn't get much in the way of sleep last night. At some point, I got out of bed, and quietly crept downstairs so as not to disturb my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I worked on my book for a while.

Then I went back upstairs at 5:30 so as to be there when she woke up. I stayed up to get the kids off to school; probably grabbed 30 minutes nap.

Anyway, that's why I didn't write a blog post today.

Except for this.

Monday, January 23, 2017

American Rifleman, and Personal vs. Professional

Boo-yah! The February edition of the American Rifleman came today, and I CAN READ IT! The last day of my 21 day firearms-reading fast was yesterday.
I don't feel the need to go on a binge, though. The purpose of the fast was to give me some spare resources that I could use to draw closer to God. And, I think that worked. At least so far. This blog, and book reviews, are my way of reaching out, and helping people. And, since I stopped spending those hours mentally fondling the best self-defense ammo, or examining the workings of the latest (or oldest) firearm technology, I've been devoting my time to writing.
Now, I started to say that I don't know whether or not the process has made me more spiritual. But as it happens, I just had a conversation with Mylon, one of my oldest friends, and I realized that the most spiritual things have their manifestation in the physical world. We talked about the Tommy Nobis Center,  established by one of the most dominant linebackers in the game of football, which provides job training for youth and adults with developmental issues. And we talked about the House of Cherith at the City of Refuge in Atlanta, which provides a long term support program for women escaping from sex trafficking.
Those are big things. My writing is invisible by comparison. However, they are all physical manifestations of an inward desire.

Ah. Inward desire. Yeah, that's also the problem. You see, I realized over the past couple of days that I have an inward desire to destroy. It's based on the chain of events that started when my first born son volunteered to serve his country by joining the Georgia Army National Guard.
Actually, the chain started long before that. It probably started around 1917, when my grandfather volunteered for the Army and went to France in World War I. More links were forged by the service of my uncles, cousins, and father who served in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, plus the non-combat service of his father.
He wasn't expecting it, and neither was his wife, but shortly after they realized they were going to become parents, his unit was designated to go to Afghanistan. He spent the better part of a year getting retrained. His was a Field Artillery unit, but what they needed was someone who could guard an airbase. So, they were re-purposed as infantry, and instead of staying back a comfortable 16 miles and booming a M109 howitzer at the bad guys, he was busting down doors and dodging IEDs. And one day, after weeks of constant rocket attacks, he was blasted into a concrete wall by an incoming shell. When he came to, he didn't think he was hurt badly; his knee bothered him. But he refused medevac until the day he found out he couldn't fall back with the rest of his squad when they thought they were about to come under fire by a company-strength force. I talk more about it here. 

My son carries his own internal scarring, in addition to the scars you can see. But his is not colored with the bitterness that I feel. Here's what he said at the time, responding to something Mad Mike had written in "Tour of Duty":
I call them "those guys"; after working with the locals you get to know them and it just doesn't seem right to call them all Hajjis, RIFs, or any of the other delightfully euphemistic nicknames . And I've never been insensitive enough to call them ragheads or Arabs either. Funny how even in the middle of a fight one cleaves to the honor of refusing to be/sound racially biased. "The Dean" prevails. 
Me? Nope. I'm not there. Frankly, the way I'm feeling right now, I would not shed another drop of American blood in an attempt to resolve that millenials-old mess they have over there. And I didn't know how badly I felt about it, until I read an excellent book called "The Midnight Sea."

I hated the book. It's well written. It has a good plot. The characters are real. And I hated them, and I will NOT be reading any more of the series. Why? Because it takes place in an alternate reality, 2500 years ago, in the same area of the globe where my son bled. And my anger and grief prevented me from feeling sympathy for the characters who undergo horrible torture, including the heroine having her hand amputated. Instead, I found myself thinking: "they were a pack of vicious monsters then, and they are a pack of vicious monsters now." And I purposely did not refer to them as animals, because animals do not engage in the systematic torture and slaughter that wicked people do.

So: I attempted. I attempted to set aside my bitterness and grief, and evaluate the book on it's own merits. I think I succeeded, at least in pointing out that those merits exist. I admitted my own bias. And I hope that my experience does not cause the author any loss of sales.

So, why did I review the book at all, if I felt that way? 1. Because I was asked to do so. 2. Because this WAS so intensely personal, and powerful. that I needed to say it. Perhaps, just perhaps by admitting to my virulent distaste for a people I have never met, I will be able to receive healing of my wounds. I do not expect to receive the grace given to my son; his burden is different, and he is meeting the challenges of life with a traumatic brain injury and a permanent limp with strength that amazes me. But I need to be healed.

And so I wrote the review.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Group W bench, Crime Fighting, and Psychic Sexpots

A long time ago, there was a song called "Alice's Restaurant." It was written and performed by Arlo Guthrie, and it related the story of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree, which took place in Stockbridge Massachusetts, with a closing which took place in a big building on Whitehall Street where Arlo went for his draft physical.
"You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant.
 You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant.
Just walk right in, it's around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track,
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant."
If you don't know the story, take 18 -23 minutes of your time, and go listen to the ORIGINAL 1965 version of it here,  or if you DO know the story,  you can listen to the 1996 updated version here. or you can take 40 minutes of yer time and listen to both. It's a good way to spend your time. I'll wait here.......

Okay, yer back. Wasn't that great?

Now, just in case you are one of those folks who DIDN'T click on the link, I'm gonna give you the punchline. Yeah, I guess that means it's a SPOILER, but it's your own fault. You COULD have listened to one of the links! Anyway, Arlo gets arrested for littering, and it becomes an issue when he has to report for his draft screening. Because he had a prior arrest, he had to go sit on the Group W bench with the other criminals: mother rapers, father stabbers, FATHER RAPERS! 

Umm...I should point out, that for gentlemen now of a certain age, the draft was a big deal. There were a few years there in the late 60's and very early 70's where if you got drafted, you went to Viet Nam, or possibly Germany. Nobody worried about going to Germany. (That's where I went.) But if you were a young man during those years, the thoughts of being drafted and sent to Viet Nam was never far from your mind.

And, the song "Alice's Restaurant" was one of the ways we had of dealing with our fear. We listened to it over and over, and in the case of the VERY talented, such as Billy Doniel, my best friend in high school; well, they actually LEARNED the entire song, and played it and we sang along in spots, reciting the parts of the dialogue that we could retain. Billy lived with his grandmother, and she never could understand how he could remember all the words to the song, and couldn't remember the answers on a history test. Obviously, she didn't know what was important to a 17 year old boy.

Time passed, and what with one thing and another, I left Alice's Restaurant behind. I wasn't drafted, I joined, and so that happy little song wasn't quite as relevant. My high school class, that of 1971, had a number of guys drafted, but not to the extent that earlier classes had, and nobody in my class went to Viet Nam.

But today, to the best of my knowledge, at least two of my daughters attended the Atlanta version of the Million Woman March. To the best of my knowledge, they weren't wearing those ridiculous freaken hats; they have a sense of style that I don't see fitting in with that, but who knows? I just hope they don't wind up on the Group W bench. If they do, though, they know Papa Pat will post their bail. And I wish there were singing 'Alice's Restaurant' as they march.

And that's all I have to say about that.

On a completely different topic, Amie Gibbons has written a lovely book about a crime-fighting FBI agent named Ariana Ryder, a cute little smidgen of a woman with psychic abilities. She has appeared in previous short stories, but I missed them. There is enough back story revealed in 'Psychic Undercover' that you don't HAVE to read the previous work, but I will likely go back and read them for enjoyment, time permitting.

I'm not so much writing a book review here, as I am revealing how I deal with the sex scenes. Other than being a psychic (well, and being an FBI agent), Ariana is an average 23 year old young woman. She has some baggage, related to her  family, but she is bright, energetic, and talented. And she is also inordinately interested in members of the opposite sex. She's not sexually active, due to part of the baggage she's carrying, but she has a HUGE crush on her boss. Because she is not a freaken lamebrain, she hasn't attempted to act out, but she does more than her share of swooning and mooning, in private. (But others know.) Those do not feature in the sex scenes, however.

It's a bad idea to get sexually or romantically involved with a vampire. Everybody knows that; it's one of the things they teach you in kindergarten, along with not taking candy from strangers. So, silly person that she is, Ariana gets involved with a vampire.

There are extenuating circumstances! He is wounded by a silver arrow while saving her life, and will die if the silver reaches her heart. She has to suck the silver-contaminated blood out of the wound, or he dies.

Parenthetically: this may be EXACTLY the way to treat silver contamination in a vampire; I do not know. However, despite what Ariana thinks, it is NOT the way to treat a snake-bit wound. With all snakebite wounds except one, evacuate the bite victim to a medical facility; the only treatment is antivenin. In the last case, the bite of the Black Mamba, you have 10 minutes to make a will, because you are going to die.

So: Ariana sucks the wounded vampire's blood, and becomes intoxicated and sexually aroused. Evidently, that's the way it works. So, much later, the vampire shows up on her door and makes his move, and she is receptive. Then follows a chapter of explicit sex, with a few vampire flavors tossed in.

Okay. I don't like sex scenes. The REASON I don't like sex scenes is tied into the same reason I don't look at porn or frequent strip clubs: it's all a tease. I see no point whatsoever in the tickle. And I absolutely want to do nothing that would cause me to create a mental sex scene with someone other than my wife. Now, you may find me a prude, but this is a choice I made years ago, and it's kept me from THAT problem, at least. So, how do I deal with it when the book I'm reading gets explicitly racy?

Well there is some stuff I skip altogether. I loved the 'Ghost' series by John Ringo, but there were entire sections I just skipped.  However, what if it's milder?

My motivation here is to keep myself safe. I am REQUIRED to live a life of rigorous honesty; otherwise, I will fall into secrets, then resentments, and if I stay there long enough, I will become so miserable that I will seek a chemical solution. So, I insist on being utterly open, and that means:

It means I read those sections of a book to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA.  She understands that reading and reviewing is my job; it's what I do. But if, in HER opinion, a particular scene is over the top, then I accept her evaluation and turn the page. 

I do the same thing with movies and TV.  
We do NOT have the same tastes. And frankly, hers are safer than mine, I think. But I will be John Brown if I willingly watch those stupid Hallmark movies or dorky Christmas special. So, we share some things, and we serve as a check and balance on each other, and it works.

And that's all I have today.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Enforced Humility; Or, Losing a Day

For those who are both aware of my history and the 1945 Ray Milland movie 'The Lost Weekend,' let me calm your fears: no, I did not go off on a drunk. I didn't even have a drink.
However, in the day in which I wrote 'Glad To Be Crippled,' my body decided to make me EXCEPTIONALLY glad. Exuberant, even. In other words, my lower back and my upper back conspired together, and said, "Let's see if we can't kill this silly person!"

Well, they didn't make it. They DID make me check to see if my Butrans patch was still attached (it was), and they DID make me take the break-through medicine I've been prescribed. That's okay; that's what it's there for.
Except, I'm allergic to it. So, I itched like crazy. A couple of months ago, I itched so badly in my sleep that I scratched a wound in my arm where my patch lived. Had to take antibiotics to prevent a staph infection.
But the docs at the Pain clinic were aware that this could be a problem, so they prescribed me hydroxyzine for itching. And that would have been great, except that my insurance company abruptly decided not to pay for it. So I am in the process of seeing if there are alternatives. So in the interim, I am left with generic diphenhydramine, which was marketed as Benadryl. So that was fine.
Except that whereas it normally makes people sleepy, with me, it makes it impossible to sleep. So, all night Wednesday into Thursday, I was spinning around in the pain/itch/ exhausted/awake mode. I managed to doze a bit around 5 AM, just as my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was stirring about to get ready for work. So she was quiet, and didn't try to talk to me. Isn't she the sweetest thing?

With their cooperation, I managed to get Alicia Ann up at 6:30 and on the bus at 7, and Kenneth up at 8 and on the bus at 8:30 (I had the difference in the elementary and middle school schedules). Then I made two whole wheat bagels with onion cream cheese, and managed to eat all but one half before lapsing into dreamland in my chair in my man-cave.
My plan was to start by reading another of Tom Rogneby's Minivandian Tales as a warm-up, and then take up Amie Gibbon's "Psychic Undercover," but I was only a few pages into the story of how they defend against a former friend now in desperate circumstances (it's a whimsical tale, really) when my eyes slammed shut.

I woke briefly sometime after 4:45, when Kenneth came in to ask permission to do something. It's good that he's a trustworthy kid; he's not gonna ask to borrow the car or a knife. Then I went back to sleep until 8:30 PM.
Which allowed me to go upstairs, watch a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad, and then let Jack Webb lull me to sleep. If you haven't already discovered it, Internet Archive has a ton of old radio shows available to listen to, and while some of them might be too energetic to be soporific, Dragnet works just fine. The link, if you want to pursue, is here.  That's for the Old Time Radio section; they also have areas for Grateful Dead Concerts, Feature Films, and several digital libraries.

Now, people I hang out with know that I'm almost bland, in terms of politics. That's so very true today. Wasn't always the case; I voted for George McGovern by absentee ballot while in Basic Training at Ft. Jackson. That happened to be the day they taught us how to use the Claymore mine (FRONT TOWARD ENEMY). But now? I ain't looking for any solutions from politicians, and I don't plan on getting into a swivet about anything they do.

But it did occur to me that losing a day might be a good strategy to keep in mind from time to time.
Your mileage may vary.
(Ummm...that's a joke. I do not advocate sleeping through the day, and particularly not through an administration!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Glad To Be Crippled

Although everyone knows me as 'Pat' (or Papa Pat), my real first name is James. It comes from the Hebrew name Jacob. That's important to me.

I was not much at sports when I was a youth. At some point in the Army, though, that had changed. Basic Training at Ft. Jackson SC was so freaken awful in almost every way (I loved the weapons training, though), and it turned my flabby hippie muscles into rocks, and bulked me up from 150 to 165, which was stringy looking on my 6'2" frame. And I developed some coordination I hadn't before. I became a force to be reckoned with on the volleyball  court. It felt good. After the Army, a small church league of basketball and softball was a great outlet for me; I learned how to choke up on the bat, and I could always punch one through the hole between first and second for a base hit. Later, I picked up racquetball, and I was hooked.

Then came kids, and jobs, and graduate school, and by age 40, and my days as a player were over.
In my late 40's, I took up Tae Kwon Do. It did a great job of getting me back into shape, and while I wasn't nuts about the exercise part (which was the most valuable) I loved learning the routines and sparring. Emergency surgery in 2001 sidelined me for a few months, but I came back. I earned my black belt, on my second attempt, in 2002.

And then I started to hurt. I simply could not do some of the stretching exercises. There was one in particular, called the 'cobra stretch,' that just caused me excruciating pain in my back and neck. Turns out I had a problem in my cervical spine, and I had to go in and have C5, 6, and 7 fused. That was the end of karate; after I recovered, I tried to make it back on the mat, but the months of recuperation had taken my edge off; and, like a lot of people who quit after earning their Black, I drifted off.

But my back pain didn't stop; it just changed. The neck pain was gone, but my lower back started killing me. I had suffered from back spasms since I was 14, but this was new; this was debilitating. I couldn't walk a hundred yards without hurting so bad I had to stop, and bend over until the pain eased.

Cut to the chase: in May 2005, after months of tests that scared the heck out of me because it looked like I had cardiac problems, I was diagnosed with a hereditary disease called ankylosing spondylitis, It turns out I have Neanderthal ancestors, and one little bit, Human Leukocyte Antigen B27, is responsible for causing all kinds of auto-immune problems. There's no cure; the only treatment is pain management with anti-inflammatories and narcotics. And I happen to be one of those people who can't tolerate anti-inflammatory meds, so they offered me an array of drugs, until they got the pain under control.

But narcotics have their own side effects. The worst one for me was sleep disturbances. By 2007, it was not uncommon for me to be unable to sleep for four night in a row. I even had a term for the person I became at that point: Zombie Man. I was forced to take medical retirement from the school counseling job I loved. I was 54 years old.

My wife of (then) 29 years couldn't stand being around me in that state, and left. Three years later, when our youngest son graduated from high school, she filed for divorce.

So there I sat: 57 years old. No career. No family. Taking enough morphine daily to kill a horse. I was being supervised by my sons, one 27, the other 18. They made sure I ate something, and put a blanket over me when I fell asleep in my chair, and administered the sleep medications to me when a Zombie Man episode came.

And my mother, and my daughter, and a lady at church, each one separately begged me to promise that I would not kill myself. They all knew I'm a firearm accumulator, and they were afraid that, having endured so much loss, and being in pain, I would decide to end it all.

It was a promise I found very easy to make, and very easy to keep. There was one thing my mother and daughter and the sweet lady at church were not considering.

My name is Jacob; and I am a spiritual son of the Biblical Jacob.

There are quite a few people in the Bible that are not the sort that I would want my kids to hang out with. Jacob is one of those. He made a ripoff bargain with his brother, taking his birthright in exchange for some bean soup. Then he deceived his father (with his mother's help) and stole his older brother's blessing. And when the time approached for his brother to exact revenge, he ran away.
And he came into some good fortunes, and some bad fortune. The good fortune is that he found the woman he wanted to marry; the bad fortune is that his father-in-law gave him a different woman as a bride. And, when he was ready to go home at last, his father-in-law wouldn't let him leave, so he had to run away again. And the place he was running to? Right back into the hands of his brother Esau, who he was sure was still going to kill him.

And then something happened.

God shows up in the middle of the night, and He and Jacob get into a fight. They wrestle all night long, until dawn is breaking. And Jacob, the trickster, the guy who was tricked into marrying the wrong woman, will not give up. He hangs on in the fight, until God finally dislocates his leg.
And he still doesn't quit. And when God says He has to leave, Jacob tells Him:

I will not let You go until You bless me.
God then blesses Jacob, BUT: Jacob walks with a limp for the rest of his life. And with every painful, shuffling step he takes, he remembers that he held on to God, and that God blessed him for that.

Now, that bit right there is what my mother and daughter and the nice church lady weren't considering. My name is Jacob; and during those three years that I sat in my chair, I never once let go of God, and God never once let go of me. We didn't talk much; there wasn't a lot to say. I had been walking with God for a long time, and the lessons I had learned along the way were what allowed me to realize just Who it was holding me.

And just like Jacob, God blessed me. Three and half years after my wife left me, and half a year after the divorce was final, I met Vanessa. And eight months after that, after a long period of counseling and more wrestling with God, on both our parts, she became my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. I still have my biological children, and they get along great with Vanessa, and I inherited the seven children Vanessa had with her first husband, plus (at the time) four grandchildren, two of whom we are raising. And, in the five and a half years we've been married, I have gained two sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and six more grandchildren, with another due in February.

And I'm still crippled. I walk with difficulty, and I have to use a cane to get around. I am frequently in a great deal of pain. And it doesn't bother me. In fact, it's a comfort to me at times, because it always is a reminder that I have wrestled with God. And I never gave up, and neither did He.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mysterion, and the Thought Police

If you want a good review of the book with a synopsis of each story, read the review by Mike Reeves-McMillan. This is more of a personal meditation/reflection.

I read a LOT of books, and review quite a few of them. Some time in the past few years, it was pointed out to me that a lot of the books I was reading for fun (such as 'The Chaplain's War,' Monster Hunter International' and others) were members of the LDS (Mormon) Church. I filed that under as 'Interesting Trivia' and thought no more about it. Then, in a tiny, small, insignificant part of the world, a miniature firestorm broke out, attacking rather successful author John C. Wright as a misogynist and homophobe because he had written of his adherence to the doctrines of his faith as a member of the Roman Catholic Church., And following that opening barrage came attacks on the Mormon writers because of their belief system.

I want this next point to be perfectly clear: the authors were not attacked because their writings consisted of an exposition of the unique aspects of their denomination, nor of the elements common to many different traditions. Their works were just a straight solid application of the good parts of science fiction and fantasy. Some of their characters were people of faith, others weren't, in most cases, it wasn't revealed.

Thus, it was not the works which were being attacked, and certainly not on the grounds of religious dogma. It was the AUTHORS who came under fire, solely for being adherents to a belief system.
And to even MORE clear in what I am saying: They were not attacked because of their BEHAVIOR. They were attacked because of their BELIEFS.

If that doesn't sound like the Thought Police of '1984' to you, you haven't read '1984' recently enough.

I have written about this a bit before ,  in the only three part post I have written, which I wrapped up with a post after the murders at the Bible study at Mother Emmanuel. 

Now, I don't have anything else to say on the topic of attacking a person for their beliefs. Except to say it again: my BELIEFS are my own, and are off-limits. My BEHAVIOR is subject to sanction, if it violates the rights of others. 
There. Done.

L. Jagi Lamplighter, praise be unto her, and Sabrina Chase, praise be unto her, kicked open my brain following my discovery of the concept of 'Noblebright' fantasy. I have a boxed set, which is just lovely, and a stupid great deal at $2.99. Here's the definition of Noblebright fantasy, from the book:
Noblebright fantasy characters have the courage to risk kindness, honesty, integrity, and love; to fight against their own flaws and the darkness of the world around them; and to find hope in a grim world. 

And with the vile bigotry against the Mormon and Catholic writers still fresh in my mind, and thinking about the stated belief systems of some other writers, who claim to adhere to worship of the Viking gods (or something like that; I wasn't paying close attention), and the hopeful optimism of Noblebright fresh in my mind, I wondered: how does a person's faith inform their writing?

I floated a trial balloon on Facebook, but in the areas I frequent, religion is off limits. Except cats. Worship of cats is expected. And quite often, cats do appear in the writings of their worshipers, acolytes, devotees, whatever we are. But that limited set of data points was somewhat unsatisfying.

And then, 'Mysterion' appeared in my kindle library. I don't recall getting it, but I'm reasonably sure it came from Scott Huggins, because I've reviewed his work before, and he's one of the authors in the collection. The book seems to me to be an excellent partial answer to my question, both in the editor's introductory comments, and in the works themselves.

It's only the sort of work a thinker writes. Somebody who has to cut the grass, change the baby diaper, and coach the soccer team is too physically involved to have much time to delve into the awe-inspiring (and by that I mean 'frightening').aspects of the inner life. For this, they may be truly thankful. The kind of stories written here often have a taste of the abyss looking back.

And it does look back, you know. Do you remember when you wee a kid, and learned that the universe goes on and on forever? You still haven't comprehended that; you have merely adapted to it. Remember that time when you had to lie on the ground and grab two handfuls of grass, because you might fall off the earth? Yeah. That was the abyss then. 'Mysterion' is a look into the infinite abyss NOW. 

Not all of the stories are terrifying. There are even some which are cute. Others are downright creepy. But they all are examples of how an author's faith MIGHT impact their writing. I say 'MIGHT" because I do not know anything about the faith of the writers, I only know their work. The editors point out that they did not ask for information about anyone's belief system, and that they do know that not everyone identifies as a Christian. So, I don't know if any particular story is made better or more insightful, because of the author's beliefs about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

All of the stories deal with some aspect of God which is mysterious. Actually, every aspect of God is mysterious: the most influential Jewish-Christian writer EVER says that we know of the Creator because of the creation; he is addressing the most fundamental mystery. I will tell you this: if you start thinking deeply about the nature of God, you BETTER have two handfuls of grass available. If you don't, you are sooner or later going to doubt your own existence, due to the lack of trustworthiness of your own senses. It's not something to fool around with.

But it is something to take seriously. Let me give just one example.

G. Scott Huggins, praise be unto him, writes of an intense existential struggle taking place on an island on a far off planet. The players are a young earth woman, who is on an academic field study, and two members of an intelligent reptiloid race, known as Shrii or Rii. (I imagine them as  velociraptors, but YMMV.)
Caansu, one of the Shrii is a Christian. Aiierra, the other, and Shoshannah, the human, are not. And, under the current circumstances, this means certain death for Caansu. The Shrii reproduce at a fixed time in the solar cycle, by ripping out the throat of another, harvesting the single gonad contained there. (It's a somewhat similar process to the reproduction cycle of the angler fish.) And Caansu has adopted a non-violent form of Christianity, and refuses to consider killing Aiierra.
This horrifies Shoshanna, who considers Caansu to be her friend. She brings up objection after objection to Caansu, who methodically shoots them down.

Why accept a religion not from your race? 
“No teachers of our people promise what Christ promises. If we know we sin, how can we but follow One who promises forgiveness? To shun true religion because it is not ‘ours’ would be as foolish as shunning true science because you Humans brought it to us.”
Donald S. Crankshaw; Kristin Janz. Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 3203-3204). Enigmatic Mirror Press. Kindle Edition. 
But it's your life!
"But it's our soul. Which is greater?" 
If enough of you become Christian, won't your whole race die?
Caansu had laughed. “Yes, and if there were no more hungry, we could not obey the Lord’s command to feed them. I think this is a problem we are unlikely to face.”
Donald S. Crankshaw; Kristin Janz. Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 3214-3215). Enigmatic Mirror Press. Kindle Edition. 
Throughout the story, the constant is THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP.  Aiierra contrasts her race's reproduction with that of humans, by saying that since it does not require death in order to make babies, humans must care very little for them. It's a good argument. Caansu makes Shoshannah face her condescending attitude toward the Shrii, in a powerful monologue about what the Prime Directive looks like from the other side. When Shoshannah protests, and states that she herself will kill Aiierra and thereby save Caansu, Caansu breaks into a towering rage at the insult she has been given: Shoshannah has treated Caansu's willing sacrifice with contempt. And the message that a thing which costs nothing is valued at nothing is driven home, again and again, throughout the rest of the story.

So, perhaps, this example of faith informing fiction is the most cogent statement possible. It's not Sunday School material for third-graders, nor is it the sort of thing that a sophomoric moron of any age would embrace, because it ends with meaning and not nothingness. I found it to be quite respectful. I also classify this story, and the others, as 'worthy of further meditation' rather than 'fun reading.' Everything isn't for everybody, but everything is for somebody.

Or so I'm told. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Nothing has changed, Dr King, but it's all different.

I never met you, Dr. King. I met one of your sons in college, and been in a small seminar with your wife and your PhD advisor from Boston, but I was only 14 years old when you were assassinated.

That year, 1968, was the worst year our country has experienced in my lifetime. The Tet Offensive in Viet Nam; your assassination as well as that of Bobby Kennedy; the riots and burning cities; cops brawling with protesters in the streets of Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, as the crowds chant, "The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching." I'm glad you didn't have to see it.

In 1963, you said "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." In 2017, we have military drones that respond to remote operators to attack, and human drones that respond to Facebook posts and Twitter feeds to spew hatred and fear.

You also said in 1963 that you "dreamed of the day when your four little children will be judged by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin."
We still dream of that day.

I will say this for our great country: we elected a black man for two terms as President; and there were no riots by white mobs, no marches on Washington to burn down the White House. Yes, there was plenty of resentment expressed, and many unkind things said and written, but there was a grudging realization that we were a better people today than we had been in the past.

And I thought we had learned something. But we didn't. At least, we didn't learn enough.
We selected, from the vast field of hopefuls put forth, the most divisive candidates for President in BOTH PARTIES.
The Democratic candidate said  "If you liked my predecessor, you're gonna love me because I'm a woman, and we've been oppressed longer than black people. Oh, yeah,  and I'll get rid of guns."
The Republican candidate said "You are stupid if you don't vote for me. Did you hate that guy and what he did? I'm gonna tear it all up and build a wall."
And we elected the Republican guy.

And the next day, it seemed that the divisiveness that had raged in 1968 was back, maybe worse than ever. In contrast to the LACK of a formal, organized opposition to the legitimacy of the current President, celebrities advocated a revolt by designated electors, urging them to vote against the candidate elected in their state. Protests sprouted across the nation; participants vowed the elected candidate was not now and never was going to be 'their' President.

Dr. King, last week one of your closest lieutenants, a hero of the civil rights movement and a 30 year member of the US Congress, stated on national TV that he was not going to attend the inauguration of a man he did not feel was a legitimate President.
Who then responded on Twitter by saying the Representative was a do-nothing Congressman from a decaying, crime-ridden district, all talk and no action.
At which point the entire internet exploded in defense of the Congressman. His constituents extolled the virtues of their district and his service to it; everyone else referenced his work with you. They never failed to cite the 1965 voting rights march in which he received a skull fracture on the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the hands of an Alabama State trooper.
And today, we  see that a county commissioner, from a different district in the Congressman's home state, used Facebook to refer to the Congressman as 'a racist pig.'
There are other outraged statements, on both sides.

"Our scientific power has outgrown our spiritual power." We have the ability to communicate to anyone in the world, instantly, at no cost, through the power of the Internet. We use that power to call each other names, to fling nasty, slashing cuts at people we don't like or disagree with.
Instead of COMMUNICATING, it seems that the most prominent feature of this scientific marvel is that it gives us additional excuses for outrage, and a platform we can use to scream our rage at the world.
We still have guided missiles, and misguided men. Nothing has changed, Dr. King.

On the other hand, it's all different. The law has done that for us, the laws you made happen.
At least, the law opened up a door to make it possible for change to take place.

When I was born, it would have been against the law for me to go to the same school as my wife; against the law for us to marry, against the law for us to choose to live anywhere we could afford. Those laws, and others that would separate us, are all wiped off the books.

Today, we live in peace in a quiet suburb, not too terribly far away from the Congressman's district or the house you lived in when you were born.
We are raising two beautiful children who are the same color as our current President. They attend good neighborhood schools, which are integrated and without racial conflict, and they have both black and white teachers to further their education and serve as role models.

We attend a lively, high-commitment local church, where the pastors and staff, the choir and congregation are black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. We are guests in each others' homes, and our children play together.

There are still problems, and sometimes I think we are so stupid that there is no hope for us. But then I look at my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and our happy and healthy children and grandchildren, white and black and mixed, and I think of how far we have come, and in large part thanks to you, Dr. King, we can join our hands together and sing:


Happy Birthday!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Living By The Rules (when you don't want to)

A long time ago, some (hopefully) wise person told me about 'teachable moments.' Those are the times when some issue arises with your kid that really resembles a teeth-grinder. Instead of grinding, though, whoever this wise person was (and I really don't have a clue) says parents should embrace those times as a teachable moment.
I grew to rather hate teachable moments. Why? Because they were so great, I might have over-used them.
Ask my oldest son.
I'd find myself embracing a teachable moment with him (when he was an earl;y adolescent), and as I launched out on the teaching, he'd say "You're going to tell me about the time you got pushed out of the tree-house again, aren't you?"
I hated that. Smart-alec kid.
I probably came by the trait, at least in part, by observing my step-dad. Later, he described himself as the kind of guy who tells you how to build a watch, when what you asked was what time it was.
But I had another teachable moment this morning with 12 year old Kenneth, and it just seemed to go on and on and on....
We have a rule in the house which I established maybe 20+ years ago, as a desperation move when I was parenting two ADD children and a teen ager. The rule was: nothing gets signed in the morning. I remembered too many mornings as a kid, trying to get a parent signature while throwing on my coat, and it always produced conflict. I REFUSED to permit conflict in the morning with my kids, which extended to getting them up earlier so they could have peaceful time before getting on the bus, and it worked. It took extra effort, but ask my kids: they will all tell you that it was a very rare occasion when they were stressed out when they left the house. It is, I believe, one of my proudest accomplishments as a parent.
(Don't believe me? I'm gonna email my three biological kids, and ask them to respond in the comments section.)
But on THIS morning, Kenneth sheepishly came to me with a piece of paper in his hand and asked "Papa Pat, can you sign this syllabus for my Health class?"
To which I replied: "No, I can't."
And I didn't have to explain it to him; he knew why, and he also knew I don't back off on a rule like that, so he didn't argue. I reminded him to give it to me when he got home, and I told him to explain the house rule to his Health teacher, so that they would know he hadn't TOTALLY blown it off.
Now Kenneth didn't want to follow that rule, and frankly, I didn't either. But I held us to the standard, because it would work out better that way in the long run.
And shortly after that, I told him we would probably be able to resume his morning free time (from 7 AM, when Alicia Ann gets on the bus, until 8 AM, when he has to start getting ready) next week, because it looked like my sinus infection was improving; but that I had just been too sick this week to make it happen. And then I told him that it kind of amazed me that his mom, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, had been able to go to work this week with the cold that she had. And I closed by saying that that was part of being an adult: you did things, even when you didn't want to do them. Which is true.
And then I booted up the computer, and ate my Cheerios, and drank my coffee, and looked at my email.
And there were three emails waiting for me about gun sales, and one about a new You Tube video the Yankee Marshall had made on a firearms topic. I wanted to open them! But I can't. I have eight more days to go.
It's a rule I have to live by. One I made for myself, but I don't WANT the rule.
On the other hand, it is doing what it is supposed to do: the time I WAS spending reading about firearms and researching ammo, I'm now spending reading and reviewing and writing this blog. So, I'm okay.
Happy Friday the 13th. Wear red, if you can. RED = Remember Everyone Deployed, until they all come home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Invisible Women in S-P-A-A-A-C-E!!!!

This is appearing as a blog post, and not a book review,  for two reasons:
1. I am reforming my blogging patterns, based on advice from experts. If I have something to say, I will blog it.
2. Ummm...I haven't actually READ it yet.

I HAVE however, read the most excellent and illuminating introduction by that powerhouse editor/writer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and it answers a question that has been bothering me for at least the past 10 years or so. And so, after getting the TRUE DIRT (!!!) on the subject, I decided I had to get this out of my system NOW, rather than trust my attention deficit disorder to bubble it to the surface at a later date. This is an issue for me, because I read books in AT LEAST two different locations, sometimes three, and rarely four. Right now, this is my upstairs bathroom book. I'm reading something else downstairs in the man cave, which is where I write my reviews. I don't know how long it will take me to FINISH WOMEN IN SP A A A C E !!! but I do know that the message is right now.
Okay, here's the question I have: Why does it seem today that the field of science fiction is sexist, when it DIDN'T feel that way earlier? I have been reading science fiction AT LEAST for 50 years. I stuck with it, because it seemed to me to be the literature of hopeful futures and escape from a dreary reality, and you just can't get there if you are systematically ignoring and repressing people. And yet, I have read a LOT of smart people who have said that the history of science fiction is replete with male dominance.
I'm reminded of the scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" where the clerk tells Santa Claus that he just found out he hated his mother. He observes sadly, "I never knew that. I always thought I loved her!"
Ummm...the field that helped me keep it together for so long was training me to be a gynophobe? Gee, I never knew that. I always thought I liked women.
But the people who have been saying that CAN'T all be wrong. It's impossible. There are some incredibly gifted people out there with legitimate issues, and so it would be ignorant not to see if there is some truth to the claim.
And that's what Rusch does in her introduction. And I'm going to let you in on the secret.
But you still have to buy the book.
Okay, FIRST of all, Rusch has had her own experiences of being trivialized and ignored, and has been witness to this happening to other women. Just to cite ONE example, she was editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from 1991 - 1997, after Edward Ferman and before Gordan Gelder. Yet, when Locus magazine announced a new editor in January of 2015, and published a list of past F&SF editors, they left her name off the list. She is confident that it was a simple accident, and not a conspiracy, but still: she was the first female editor of one of the most prestigious titles, and she became a non-person. Just like that.
So, she met with the utterly fabulous-in-every-way Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen, and pitched an anthology of the early ground-breaking women in science fiction, and this work is the result.
And what did she find? Why have women become non-persons?
From the beginning (literally, we are talking Amazing Stories in 1928 here) women have been writing and editing science fiction, and getting lots of followers. And then, they vanished. WHY?
Simple answer follows; to get a more detailed answer, you have to read the book.
Even though their works were well received in the pages of the magazines, they were NOT featured in the 'Best Of' anthologies for the year. And people typically go to anthologies, rather than dig up the old tattered issues themselves.
And she documents the crap out of this abysmal fact, closely following the research done by Eric Leif Davin, which was published in 2006 . And if you want more information of THAT, you gotta read the book.
And if you want to know WHY they were left out of the anthologies; well, she has some ideas. But she deserves to have these presented in her words, not mine.
I've listed the Amazon link to the book at the top of the page; you can get it directly from Baen here. If you have EVER wondered why there is a flutter, and I think we all have, then the introduction is something you need to read. Then, read the stories, because they are good examples of the work women were doing Way Back Then. The story I am MOST familiar with is the oldest, a creepy little bit of creepiness called "Shambleau" by C. L. Moore.
After I read all of the stories, I WILL do a review, but the introduction packs the punch, as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reading About Firearms is OFF LIMITS to Me

I love reading about firearms and ammunition and related topics. I have even made at least one blog post about the HiPoint 4595 carbine as an alternative to the shotgun as a home defense weapon. And yesterday, as the warm-up to my blog, I reviewed an excellent documentary by former footballer, current actor Vinnie Jones, and mildly lambasted him for an egregious firearms error.
And in doing so, I skated dangerously close to the edge of a promise I had made.

Background: My family and I are members of Liberty Church in Marietta, an independent evangelical church with a strong emphasis on racial reconciliation. It's the first TRULY multi-cultural civilian church I've been a member of in my life (I'm 63), although as far as I know I have never been to a church that had segregation as a formal position.
Interjection: I said 'civilian church.' When I was in the Army, (1972-1975) both the military chapel services and the off-base mission churches I attended were fully integrated. Being a Christian in the military sets one apart, and privates can converse with colonels with no problem. It's just different, and you have to experience it yourself to understand; or at least have some other similar context.
At any rate, ours is a high-commitment church. Nobody FORCES anyone to do anything, but the message of the church is that our beliefs are the center of our lives. It's not weird; we don't do snakes or have a dress code or restrict women. We have seven services on the weekend, and you pick the service that fits best with your schedule: Friday 6 PM. Saturday 5 PM & 7 PM, Sunday 8 AM, 10 AM, 12 Noon, and 6 PM. Within each service, you have the opportunity to join any of several different 'home groups,' reminiscent of the old Wesleyan 'class meetings,' where we eat, share, and study some topic we have chosen.

And it's a church where I feel utterly at home with my family. That's significant, because I am an old fat crippled redneck biker, and I am married to a black church lady, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. Nobody looks twice at us; I can hope that would be the case in any church I attended, but I'm not about to find out; I'm happy where we are.

So: high commitment church.

And, twice each year, the church observes a fast. In January, the fast is 21 days; In August, it's 7 days. The concept of fasting is not new to me; I used to observe the Lenten fast when I was in liturgical churches, but the method is new. In prior fasts, I would give up a particular food item, such as meat or sweets. The fasts at Liberty can include that, but most people observe some sort of media fast. Lots of people have found that Facebook can eat up all their free time, and they choose to give that up. Others give up TV, or all TV except football, or complaining; you get to pick what you want to give up.
And this is where I encountered a problem: I don't do anything. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs. I don't indulge in food (although you wouldn't know it to look at me). Since I am disabled and retired, I spend my day reading (and reviewing) and from time to time, I do watch something on Netflix, mostly documentaries, but I lapse into movies every once in a while. Until this past week, I didn't have transportation, so I wasn't going anywhere, either.
So, the time came around to make my choice, and I couldn't think of anything, therefore I asked Vanessa. To her, the answer was easy: give up guns.
Give up guns? Are you CRAZY? That's not even SAFE!
We negotiated. And I realized I had just been through an intense period of research, looking for a self-defense round suitable for a handgun, and I had spent several hours every day for at least a week, reading, watching testing videos, and contacting people in the industry, and I really enjoyed every second of it. It was an EASY trap for me to fall into.
You see, as far as I can tell, I have been given this period in my life to be a reader and reviewer. At one point, I thought I was going to apply myself to writing stories and books, but after a while, I realized that writing good reviews would have more impact than writing good books. So, that's what I do. EXCEPT that when I am happily and furiously consulting ballistic gel tests, and flipping through 'Cartridges of the World,' and reading promotional material, I'm NOT reading and reviewing books.
So I said: "Hmmm."
And here's what we came up with: I can still carry for self-defense, I can still go to the range and take people with me, I can still teach people who are learning (which is my daughters at this point). I can watch documentaries (or movies) that include some gun content, as long as the show's primary focus is on something else (like tough cops in the Vinnie Jones documentary).
I CAN'T read my gun magazines, research ammo, or watch Yankee Marshall videos. I can't drool over the catalogs and sales flyers, whether they are emailed or come in paper form. I can't follow up on guns for sale featured on the single Facebook page I follow that lists offerings.
I CAN (and have) ask my youngest son, who is also subscribed to the Aim Surplus offerings, to notify me if something astounding comes up. Since my wall is pretty full, it would have to be a spectacular offering, like a Sig for $200, but it could happen.
And that's something i can live with. I am voluntarily removing myself from something I enjoy, so as to have more time to do something I am called to do, which is read books and write reviews.
Except so many of my friends, bless them all, are also firearms accumulators and they will write a post, and without really thinking about it, I start to click on a link. GACK! I was reading Peter Grant's blog, Bayou Renaissance Man, so I could make a comment about "Stoke The Flames Higher":

(I haven't reviewed it yet) and I discover a link to an article about teachers and shotguns, and before I know it's treff, I click it. Several minutes later, agreeing with every point he has made, I realize I am off the reservation. GACK!

So, there is good news. Since I've been on the fast, I have been able to crank out several reviews that were owed since November. And, with 11 days to go, I'll be able to do several more.
But the bad news is, I won't be commenting on SHOT show, or any new toys, until it's old news. It's a self-imposed discipline, and I truly do hope to grow spiritually through the process, because I'd hate to think all this deprivation is wasted.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Vinnie Jones, I love you, but you are wrong

I hope a million people read this post and that it changes America.
Vinnie Jones is a British gentleman, who I believe is now living in America (Los Angeles, to be exact). He was a professional British footballer for 15 years, who has been very successful as an actor in many action & adventure films. Look him up; it's likely you will recognize him.
I'm watching a documentary on Netflix he made in 2008 called "Vinnie Jones' Toughest Cops". It's an excellent series for those who want to see what it's like fighting the worst situations in America, and it really doesn't pull any punches (but it does bleep obscenity). He visits prison inmates, and goes on ride-alongs with the SWAT teams. He even acts a spotter for fleeing felons, which conceivably places him at risk to life and limb (as well as his camera crew). Good show, watch it if you can.
Vinnie knows very little about firearms. Some have said that this is customary for a British subject, since they have disarmed themselves, and boy, could I go on a rant about that. On the other hand, he MUST have some working knowledge of firearms, since he uses them in his films. He even shows his ability to rack a pump shotgun on the police range, and fires off a magazine of 5.56 using a police rifle with full-auto capability.
Quickly, let me get to the point at which Vinnie makes an egregious error:  On a police raid in New Orleans, the cops pick up a stash of firearms in the possession of a felon. One of the weapons impounded is a HiPoint 995, which is a 9 mm, semi-automatic carbine. A 'carbine' is a rifle which fires shorter, lower power pistol cartridges. 'Semi-automatic' means that with each pull of the trigger, the firearm will fire a round, eject the spent brass, and load a fresh round into the chamber, ready for firing. This is the most common type of action found in firearms owned and operated by civilians in the United States. '9 mm' describes the type of ammunition used by the firearm; it is an inexpensive round, with low recoil. As is the case with most pistol rounds, it's really not suitable for hunting game much bigger than a rabbit or squirrel, because it is so low-powered. It's just fine for self-defense or short-range target shooting.
So: are you with me so far? He has found a rifle which fires a mild mannered round, one at a time.
He calls it a machine gun. He repeatedly calls it a machine gun, and makes a point of it being an awful and amazing thing to find in the hands of a citizen.
And WHY does he identify it as a machine gun? I expect it's because it's made of black plastic, and looks scary. Maybe also because it makes for good TV, ALTHOUGH (!) in my humble opinion, he is already MAKING good TV, and this error degrades the quality of the product.
In very quick laymen terms: A machine gun will fire continuously, as long as the trigger is pressed. That means that if you pull the trigger, and hold it back, a machine gun will fire every bullet in the magazine or belt, without stopping.
Are machine guns against the law?
NO. NO. A Thousand Times, NO! It is PERFECTLY legal to own a machine gun, as long as you have paid for the appropriate tax stamp, and pass the federal background check. The stamps are issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and cost $200. There are usually another few fees, for photographs and finger prints, but the one-time $200 fee is all it costs to get the stamp. (I think there might be a dealer fee you have to pay as well.)
BUT THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY. In 1986, legislation ironically titled the 'Firearm Owners Protection Act' made it illegal to manufacture a fully automatic firearm for civilian use after that date. Therefore, the supply of these weapons is frozen, and the cost to purchase one has risen to the point that no average citizen can afford one.
Now, I could say a LOT more about firearms, but then the blog enter TLDR status. I do have a final point, and it is, in fact, the most significant thing I have to say.
Virtually all of the crime Vinnie was documenting had origins in the drug trade. Vinnie and the cops made that observation on numerous occasions, and it was particularly evident when he went to Laredo and visited the impound lot.
But never once did anyone make the statement that the situation closely resembled that during Prohibition. It does. Exactly.
The fights over turf are fights over who has the right to distribute narcotics in that area. Drug dealers are killed and robbed. Buyers are killed and robbed less frequently.
And thus far, NOBODY with any political weight seems willing to take the appropriate next step.
Legalize it. Regulate it. Tax it.
Provide treatment to those willing to kick the habit, paid for out of the proceeds.
And that's all I have to say about that.