Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Re-visiting the Future of War

In 2015, Castalia House re-issued Jerry Pournelle's series "There Will Be War." I rejoiced! For a long time, it had only been possible to obtain volumes in the series by judicious searching of the very best used book stores, and by 'very best' I mean the one down the street that has what I want to read. At one point, I owned this series in paperback, and re-read it many times. HOWEVER! Evidently, it is not possible to own a nice collection of military sci-fi, AND have literate sons: they take your stuff. But somewhere, at rest on any of the voluminous bookshelves owned by Patterson boys, the tattered originals rest.

I was a young father and a relatively recent vet when these books came out, and the world was a scary place then. The idea of Soviet subs lingering off the coast was given vivid imagery in 'The Hunt for Red October,' and we absolutely KNEW the madmen in the Kremlin would go to any length at all to preserve their positions. Do you remember that the Soviets shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft, Korean Air Lines 007? At the time, we all KNEW Ivan was crazy. In the face of THAT terror, the radicalized Islam that had produced the fiasco in Iran for 444 days seemed less significant.

Was it a lack of foresight? Should we have aligned ourselves with the Soviets, and produced the CoDominium in reality, in order to stamp out the current greatest threat to world peace?

I don't think so. We had a different enemy then, and a different war. Under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, America raised the stakes again and again, until it became impossible for the pitiful Soviet economy to sustain the technological war, and they folded. It was a remarkable achievement. Reading 'There Will Be War, Volume I' has brought back a snapshot of those times when we thought the bombs might fall, and were seeking space-based solutions.

Our enemy then was a formal nation-state, supporting conventional forces as well as nuclear weapons on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Today our enemy uses small arms, rental trucks, and hijacked airliners to bring about terror. Threats to national integrity mean nothing, when the enemy has no single national identity.

A MOAB might get the job done, though.

PS: This blog post only addresses some of the political changes between the time of the original publication of the series and the current re-release. The fiction is magnificent, and if it isn't timeless, it comes close. I reviewed the book here. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A minor Easter Meditation

Understand this: At one time, Easter was THE focal point of my year. It mattered more to me than my birthday, Christmas, and all of the other celebrations combined.

That was because I regard Easter is THE point of transformation, of victory, in the existence of the universe. This is more instant change, a bigger upset, than the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded home run, because up until Easter morning, victory wasn't even on the horizon.

Up until Easter morning, all hope was lost. On this huge globe surrounding the Sun, every little peasant uprising, every palace intrigue, every great momentous trembling of armies preparing for battle: all of it was NOTHING, because in Jerusalem, the Son of God had been put to death. And after that, it was all going to be a picnic for the Evil One. There was no  one left to stand against him; he was going to be able to feast on our misery, openly or in secrecy, depending on his whim.

And then: Sunday morning.

I know the factors that lead me to the truth that Easter is the most important day EVER, and I'm pretty sure of the factors that have caused my outward celebration of that to be toned down over the years.

It's NOT a loss of faith! Call it, instead, a loss of opportunity; a loss of circumstances; in the case of THIS year, a loss of health. I've spent most of the past several days coughing my lungs up with allergies, and last night, I kept waking up with my throat and chest in pain, hunting around for a piece of citrus fruit to eat to sooth my throat and let me sleep for another hour.

I should, in every year, greet the dawn of Easter Sunday with the shocked joy of the three Marys; having accepted the worst, they were nearly blasted into infinity by the realization of the very best.

Circumstances prevent me from doing what I should, but I want to affirm the truth:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death,
And upon those in the tomb, bestowing life!

He is risen, He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Outshot by Moose, and 'A Small Medium at Large'

Yesterday, I went shooting with Moose.

No, I did not take a giant herbivore to the range; Moose is the nickname of my youngest bio-son. His first name is Mickey, and we would have called him Mickey Mouse, but he was 10 pounds, 9 ounces at birth, and that wasn't a mouse. That was Mickey Moose. Over the years, he maintained his status as the biggest, and today, at age 25, he stands 6'5" and weighs over 300 pounds: he's the Moose.
I taught him to shoot when he was 9 years old, and for birthdays and Christmas, he frequently wanted, and received, either a firearm or ammo. We did baseball, soccer, scouts, and karate when he was younger, but the shooting sports stayed with him to this day.

For various reasons, we took a total of three rifles and eight pistols to the range with us. Some had never been fired, others had only been fired by one of us, and still others were just old friends that we love. And for the first time, with EVERY single firearm...

...Moose outshot me. It wasn't even close. He outshot me with his guns, he outshot me with my guns, he outshot me with guns he had never fired before. It was funny to me, but it bothered Moose a bit. He was used to Papa being the man when it came to the range. He started making excuses for me! I actually had to stop him, and pass on one of the basic life truths:

"At some point, sons are SUPPOSED to exceed their fathers. It's how the world gets better."

And now, I have to go to Stephanie Osborn's wonderful book, "A Small Medium at Large," and there are GOING to be SPOILERS.
By the way: there really is not a medium in the book; there is an alien masquerading as a medium, and that is the reason for the pun in the title. Actually, it's the other way around, I think: in order to get the pun in the title, the alien character was given that role to play. But I digress.

Here is the guts of the book: Special Agent Omega (Megan) was kidnapped by a Bug-Eyed Monster as a child, and for reasons best known to him, had her DNA modified to include that of seven people and five animals the BEM had killed. The net effect was to make her stronger, smarter, faster, and more resilient than other humans, yet leave her completely human. Now, whereas I rather think those would be nice characteristics to have, there were initially other side effects that weren't so great (like wanting to kill her partner) which she overcame through grit and determination. And when she discovered that the reason for her abilities was due to the alien tampering with her DNA, she felt unclean.

Meanwhile, she finally admits to herself that she is in love with her partner, and unbeknownst to her, the feelings are reciprocated. But JUST before she admits her feelings, she discovers the truth of her DNA, and not wanting him to be disgusted or show her pity, she keeps her feelings to herself.

And the book ends with the relationship unsettled.

Now, at FIRST, I was rather impatient with Agent Omega's dithering. After all, the doc had reassured her that she was completely human, and her partner and boss had both gone to great lengths to confirm that she was in no way responsible for the fates of the seven individuals murdered by the BEM. Why can't she understand that? Why must she persist in feeling unclean and unworthy, when there is a perfectly good life partner eagerly awaiting her?

Why can't you just GROW UP, Agent Omega?

Well, it turns out, it ain't that easy. 

Moose inherited other things from me, in addition to his proclivity for firearms. One of those things is HLA-B27, a fragment of DNA we can trace back to the Neanderthals. Remember all those pictures of cave men, hunched over with bad posture? That understanding was based on a few knobby bones found in Neanderthal burial sites. They appeared to be heavily arthritic, and as it turns out, carriers of HLA-B27 have a tendency to develop auto-immune diseases, and in particular, ankylosing spondylitis. I have it, and Moose has it. Coming back from the range, we talked about the  back pain we were both experiencing, but how this wasn't something that could kill us, unlike some of the other auto-immune diseases.

I did not have any idea when I was about the business of conceiving children that I had ankylosing spondylitis, that the chances were good that I would be passing along a crippling disease to them. But what if I HAD known? I've spent quite a few hours in excruciating pain, and I had to retire from a career I loved because of the complications associated with the disease and treatment. If I had known that my children might have similar experiences, would I have decided NOT to procreate?

If I had known that I would have to look on in helpless GUILT as my child suffered from pain from a disease inherited from me, would I still have had children?

It's a stumper, isn't it?

Well, fortunately for me, I did not know about the clinker I was passing along, so I didn't have to face THAT particular quandary.  And as I look at my children now, I am so grateful to be in a world in which they exist. It's a better place because of them. And I did everything I could to give them the tools they would need to live long and prosper. And I think that's about the best any parent can do. And while I wish things could be otherwise with our pain levels, that's just the way the genetic dice rolled for us. And we have to play the hand we are dealt.

And that's the REAL message of this blog post: play the hand you are dealt. Do the best you know how to do. 

And to return from the real world Moose and I (and you) inhabit, to the fictional world Stephanie Osborn has built for Agent Omega, I hope that's the message she eventually allows herself to hear. Choose love, Agent Omega. Nobody has any guarantees, not of anything. So: choose love.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Whatchu talkin bout, Willis? The Sunday church version.

Kenneth, Vanessa, Me, Alicia
November, 2016

This is without a doubt one of the most glorious times of my life. Just shy of 64, I'm well into retirement; my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA has the flexibility to tell her job to take a flying leap any time they get too abusive, and there are only 33 days left in the school year. My delightful 12 year old Kenneth is in his first year of middle school, and the glorious 10 year old Alicia (who turns 11 next month) is our VLESS (Very Last Elementary School Student).

Ummm...that last school fact? That smarts a bit. Alicia is our last elementary school student. Vanessa became an elementary school parent in 1982; I got a later start, in 1988. And I've had kids at Alicia's current school since Jordan transferred there in the 4th grade in 1992. So, lots of ways to slice it, but the bitter-sweet milestone is there; in 33 days, we will no longer be parents of an elementary school child.  

But, aside from the comments by that great Philosopher Poet Maudlin Lachrymose, it's a truly lovely, lovely time. Kenneth and Alicia are both sponges; sometimes, you can actually SEE them learning some life lesson, and that is a treasure I would never swap (for money, fame, or a book contract. But feel free to make offers!). And yes, they can be rotten little monsters sometimes, and it's not always intentional. 

And that's what prompted this blog post. 

Last week, Kenneth and I had an opportunity to review his domestic responsibilities. The foundation principle is this: It is MY job to give Kenneth as much freedom as he can handle; it is KENNETH'S job to demonstrate just how much freedom that is. Pretty much all parent-child interactions touch on this principle in some way.
One of Kenneth's assigned chores is to take out the trash; to take the trash can to the curb on the appropriate day, and to bring the emptied trash container back to the house. I explained to him that I didn't want Mom to have to drag the trash cans around, nor did I want to have to remind him to do this job which has been his for five years at least.
And I pointed out that this was a GREAT opportunity to practice his negotiation skills. It would be up to him to offer me a plan that would be effective in reminding him to deal with the trash; I was open for anything. I reminded him that in a good negotiation, both parties gain something, and both parties contribute something. And I closed with pointing out that the chore itself was non-negotiable; no matter what, he was going to be taking out the trash, etc. 
That was the home front.
Meanwhile, Kenneth, who truly IS a bright young man, had been slacking off in school. I can say without fear of contradiction that he is very capable of making straight A's; However, I've told him that while he COULD make A's, as long as he makes no progress report/report card grade lower than 'B,' I will give him the freedom to schedule his leisure time, which in his case means video games.

And then I got his report card with a 70 in Math, 71 in Advanced Reading, and 75 in Science. I came to the conclusion he had been allowed too much freedom so, I impounded all the power cords to his electronics. No games, no TV, and I impounded his tablet as well. And his freedom to schedule his leisure time is forfeited. 
I told him he had to fill out his agenda, daily, in each of these three subjects, AND have the appropriate classroom teacher initial it, and I would return to verifying that all assignments were completed. IF his daily grades (which I can access online) showed a satisfactory turn-around, meaning that he started earning a 'B' or better in all subjects, he could have temporary access to the electronics, and not have to wait for the end of the grading period before getting some relief.
He grumphed.
I understood.
He didn't like it.
I explained to him that I was not REQUIRING him to LIKE it; I was just requiring him to DO it. His emotional reaction is his business, as long as it doesn't bring gloom on the others in the house.
 And for a while, I had a grumpy 12 year old boy, sighing and making sure I knew he was being woefully mistreated.
After a few days of that, I took him for a walk. I reminded him that I wasn't trying to raise a child; I was trying to raise a person who could function as an adult. And I pointed out that he had not troubled to try to negotiate a better deal for himself with respect to taking out the trash. Why did you not offer to take out the trash if I gave you $10, I asked. The worst that would happen is I would say no. But because you didn't even TRY to negotiate a better deal, you've gained nothing, and you still have to take out the trash.
He grumphed.
And I left it alone. I guess he's just going to stubborn this one out, I thought.
Until the NEXT day, when Vanessa and I returned from our evening walk, to discover he had locked us out of the house, and taped the following note to the door:

Yes, you have been locked 
out of the house, 
And also to remind me to 
take out the trash Just
pin a 5 dollar Bill to the door (Papa Pat's idea)
He said ten but I ain't
no thief so HA! 

We cracked up. Humor is SUCH a life-saver when it comes to raising kids! Just when it seemed like I was in for a LONG period of grumping, Kenneth found his funny bone, and used it to make contact.
And I DID negotiate, by the way; ordinarily, I would have paid a buck, so he could have some spending money, learn to budget, and I wouldn't have to nag. In this case, though, because he had spontaneously reached for restoration with humor, I wanted to do some more. And I agreed on three dollars, and I explained that his good nature had produced the bonus. And since then, I hang three dollar bills on a bit of wire just inside the front door, and I don't have to say anything.

Which brings us up to yesterday.

Kenneth has just made the transition from Children's Church to Adult Church. He has also moved up in the youth group he attends. He is well behaved in church, and we made the agreement years ago that if I stand up, he stands up; if I sit down, he sits down. It works for us all. And I don't know how much of the adult sermon he is absorbing, but he is seeing adults worship God, so that's a win.

Yesterday was the second sermon in a series about mercy, forgiveness, and judgement. The pastor was making the point that the people we are most likely to judge harshly are our parents (much more to the message than that, but I'll leave it there). And he was contrasting extremes in family dynamics, with one extreme being "I think everyone has a good heart" and the other extreme being "You did that because you are a rotten kid and you are just trying to make everyone around you as miserable as you are." 
And he asked, "How many of you grew up in a home in which there was a lot of yelling and screaming and blaming?" Regrettably, I had to put my hand up, along with about two thirds of the congregation.
And then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye: KENNETH HAD HIS HAND UP!
So I backhanded him across the chest, and said "WHATCHU TALKIN' BOUT, WILLIS?"

I'm not sure he got the cultural reference, but I DO know what happened. Kenneth is off in Dreamland for 12 Year Old Boys in Adult Church, and notices that I have put my hand up. So, he applied the rule, in which he copies my behavior, and puts his hand up as well.  
He had no idea what he was raising his hand for. I hope.
Of course, the people sitting behind us who see him raise his hand to testify about a toxic home situation, and then see me backhand, probably had a nice little conversation about that mean old man beating on that poor little boy.
Well, That's the way it works, sometimes.

Friday, April 7, 2017

R.E.D. on Friday, and Dead in April

R.E.D. on Friday:
First, a memory of
Garvin Ray Bell
9/30/1954 - 5/5/2014 

My dear departed biker brother, Garvin Ray Bell, was a deeply committed Christian believer; a veteran; a  small business owner who wasn't too proud to take part time jobs when the economy went bad; and a man who celebrated sharing the truth he had been given. Every Friday, he wore R.E.D. for Remember Everyone Deployed (until they all come home.)  And that was a gift he gave me that was a major part of my life for a while. It's a family tradition to serve our country, going back to my grandfather who took care of the mules in France in WWI; my father, stepfather, uncles, cousins (me, too) all served. However, when my frirstborn son's National Guard unit got sent to Afghanistan, right after HIS firstborn son was born,  suddenly stuff got SERIOUS! I don't think I missed wearing red on any Friday, and I sent Kenneth and Alicia to school wearing red, even if it was school spirit day: we had a higher calling.
Every once in a while, Ray would go off on a tear about something political, and my response to him was always the same: "You need to buy more guns, Ray!" I told him that if he had enough firepower up there on his farm in Blue Ridge, he wouldn't need to worry about what the idiots were doing in the city. He had at one point been active in Cowboy Action Shooting, and I was thinking about that as my next project, so we talked about what kind of gear I needed to get. I had a standing invitation to bring the family up to his farmhouse, and help him pick and prep his vegetables, but we never really took the time to make it happen. I talked to him the night before he died; he wanted me to get the brothers and sisters from a retreat program we shared to pray for him, because he was going in for surgery. We prayed, but we didn't get the answer we wanted; Ray never woke up. And that will be three years on May 5.

Second, Dead in April.
I am about as politically bland as it is possible to be. I do not give a fuzzy rip for the idea that the government is going to look out for me, or that it has my best interests at heart. I believe that the best government is that which governs the least, and I guess that makes me fall into the conservative camp; I also think that the government ought to concern itself with national defense, international trade, public health, a good transportation network, and guaranteeing that every child has access to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Anything else you feel it's essential the federal government be involved in, please feel free to attempt to convince me that it's necessary, but my default position is : NO! I spent around 22 years of my life in the  employment of national, state, and local government agencies. and there is a horrid diffusion of responsibility that takes place with big government (and I suppose, big corporations as well). A citizen is presented with some low ranking person, who is allegedly tasked with providing some service. That low ranking person gets paid the same, whether they render good service or not. It is amazing just how often you can get good service, sometimes even courteous and helpful service! But I think we all have had the grinding experience of being face to face with a bureaucrat who has absolutely no care for example, that THIS IS YOUR CHILD'S BIRTHDAY and you want them to get their driver's license, and you got here before the deadline, but because THEY moved so slowly, now there isn't time for your child to take a test. And they don't care.
I hope you never have to deal with the people who work in a jail. I don't like going through the humiliating process, I don't like being treated with contempt, just because I am visiting an inmate. Sure, I get it that the inmate is there because there is reasonable cause to believe that they have committed a crime, but VISITORS haven't committed a crime, and are already looking at the heartbreak of visiting son/daughter/wife/husband/etc behind bars. So, why treat them like dirt?
BECAUSE THEY CAN. And they have the power to deny the visit if you take issue with the way you are being treated.
Now,  EVERYTHING I have talked about in this second section is minor, trivial, and essentially meaningless. It does however, serve to demonstrate (at least to me) that the BEST government actions are those which are presented on a personal level, by a person who has demonstrated that they value their job, and that they understand that the person seeking service is deserving of courteous treatment (unless they start getting nasty, for which there is no excuse).
Now, where can we find, today, an EXCELLENT example of the OPPOSITE approach, where the government comes across as uncaring, unfeeling, and inconsiderate? Hmmmm...
How about:
Arkansas has not carried out a death sentence since 2005, due to problems obtaining the necessary drugs and legal challenges. So, after 12 years, on February 27, 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed one of the most bizarre directives in modern history. The order is for two prisoners to be executed on each of the following days: April 17, April 20, April 24, and April 27.
Eight prisoners over a period of 10 days.
Why eight?
Because the state only has eight dosages of midazolam (Versed), the sleep drug.
And those eight doses expire at the end of April.
It's not an expensive drug, either. One source said a vial of the drug costs thirty-five cents.
So: let's not let the drug go to waste; it's there to be used, so use it! Hurry, before someone discovers that the convict with the longest stay, 27 years, is a delusional paranoid schizophrenic, who has persistently refused to cooperate with mental health investigators because he is convinced that he will be released and pardoned, and go forth from the jail to be welcomed by society, and have a movie made of his life.
Heck yeah, we've GOT to kill him: he's crazy!
(Ummm, no, we don't.)
He's not the only crazy person in line for the Arkansas needle with the soon-to-be-stale drugs. It's hard to know whether some of them were non compos mentis at the time of the crime, or lost it in prison. One of the eight was 20 years old when he murdered a friend; he's been on death row for 17 years. A parole board recommended clemency yesterday. QUICK! KILL HIM BEFORE SOMEONE STOPS IT! We can't poot around with this anymore, the DRUGS will EXPIRE!

Now, in case you think I'm making this up, look it up yourself. It's THIS kind of stuff that pushed me, kicking and screaming, into the camp of those advocating an end to the death penalty. Some really weird people in here with me, but there are others that have come to the same conclusion that I have: The government cannot be trusted to administer the death sentence, and the cost of a death penalty trial is AT LEAST 4 times as much as  trial seeking life without parole.

Please note: I am not arguing for short sentences or turning people loose because there aren't enough rooms in the jail. Instead, take the money you were going to spend on a death penalty case, and pay the guards better, hire more of them, and make sure you have enough cells.

Submitted with respect, and NOT proofed, because the whole topic is rather nauseating.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

TheTime I Played Drums for Fleetwood Mac

I wasn't EVER going to tell this story, but what the heck.
I have to leave a LOT of details out, because there was at least one misdemeanor involved, and probably a felony.
I was recruiting high school seniors for a college at the time (1979), and that's what took me to the Los Angeles area. It was basically a scam; I had just bought a new car, and I needed to put a lot of miles on it, so I could get the mileage reimbursement, so I could make the car payment. Sound  complicated? Not really. As long as I had SOME results, or could fake them, they never looked at my expense statements that closely. And all I had to do was bring in a couple of students, and I essentially had a summer vacation paid for. Heck, I was 26 years old; who cares?
So, I'm basically hanging out in Los Angeles, doing pretty much nothing. I had picked Will Rogers State Beach as my main hangout because it was closest to where I was staying, but there are seven or eight pretty good beaches in the area, so I'd swap around. It was early summer time, and all the really hot college prospects had long ago made their commitments; I was just picking up the few who didn't get their first, second, or third picks, and were on a stand-by list for number four. Sort of like picking late apples off a tree. During the day, I'd make a few phone calls, in the evening I'd drop by for a home visit. Really low pressure stuff; I didn't care, but often the parents of the kid did. They rather liked the idea of having an admissions rep from back East trying to recruit their Susie or Johnny; it gave them something to mention at the Rotary Club lunch. After my usually short visit, I'd drop by the hotel where I was staying, dump the coat and tie, and go out to the party scene.
But it was actually a home visit, not the beach boogie, that got me the experience. Seems that the kid I was visiting had an older brother who was in the USC Trojans marching band, and they were set up to do a gig at Dodger Stadium while the Dodgers were on a road trip. It was bizarre: they were going to be doing a set for Fleetwood Mac. The older brother, and I can't tell you his name, was rather put out; he played the bass drum, and he wasn't going to be able to be there for the recording. He was also enrolled in ROTC, and he was on duty then.
And I had an idea.
I had actually played the bass drum. Once. For about three days. It was when I was in the Army, and even though the only thing I could play was the radio, I told them I was a bass drum player, just for something to do. So for a few days, I marched with the drummers, instead of being in ranks, until our syncopated rhythm got me tossed out, and I went back to first squad. BUT: I could say I had experience. So, I asked the older brother if I could have his spot.
It cost me $300, which was all the cash I had on me, and I had to agree to keep it a secret. Which I have done, until now. He said the money was to protect him in case I messed up his uniform. I think he slipped the band manager some cash, too, because I never got challenged.
It was no big deal, really. Everybody in the band got paid $1, and had to sign a release. I signed mine "Mickey Duck," because I figured Mickey Mouse would get noticed.
It was hot, I do remember that.
I got to see Stevie Nix twirl a baton.
The bass player, John McVie, was a no-show, and they used a cardboard cutout of him for the group picture.
Mick Fleetwood came over to talk with the percussionists, and that was cool, but I hung WAY back at that point, so I wouldn't get caught.
I didn't get caught.
You can see the back of my head at 3:03 on the official music video.
That's it.
You were expecting a better story, weren't you?