Monday, December 31, 2012

Godwin's Law

Long-time correspondent Wm. Adams has, somewhat tonguely-in-cheek, invoked Godwin's Law, in regard to the immediately preceding post on assault rifles and gun legislation, pointing out that there weren't any references to sport until the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Godwin's Law, for those of you who don't know, is the result of thread-rot in online discussion whereupon the subject at hand eventually winds up being compared to something or somebody in Nazi Germany. 

Sometimes the thread doesn't get very far, and when it comes to gun control, two exchanges are usually enough. I believe all of our recent presidents have been compared to Hitler, as have various senators, congressfolk, and secretaries of state, and as often as not, unfavorably ...

I spoke in the follow-up exchanges to that post about laws changing, and a few examples pop to mind. I confess I didn't know the full extent of these, but the weakness of memory can be supplemented by research, so ...

The Harrison Act of 1914 made it difficult for Granny to get her heroin-based cough-syrup. This was because a significant portion of the population was addicted to over-the-counter opiates, which were mostly unregulated. People died routinely from contaminated or inconsistent dosages of such tonics.

In 1915, authorities ran down Typhoid Mary for the second time. Mary, who worked as a cook, was an asymptomatic carrier of the Typhus bug, and where she worked, people got sick and many died. When she refused to quit doing it, she was isolated until her death in 1938. Total violation of her civil rights under today's laws, but consider the situation: If you refuse to stop doing things that are demonstrably killing people, does not the government have a duty to prevent this?

(Of course, allowing the sales of tobacco, even supporting it with subsidies is absolutely hypocritical, but nobody accuses Our Government of consistent thinking.)

In 1934, the feds regulated machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. If you are willing to jump through the hoops, you can still have these, but jump you must, or pay the consequences.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, the Public Health Service Act of 1944, these addressed similar medical and health issues. Hundreds of people dropping dead from adulterated medicines, going blind from bad booze or patent syrup, this is generally considered a no-no, and thus they were regulated. As have been all kinds of food producers, vitamin makers, even raw milk sales. 

Yes, yes, if you want to jump off a building and kill yourself, that's your business, as long as you don't land on somebody else when you do it, but if you feed something to your child and it kills him and you knew that was a good possibility, then you need to be brought to task for it. I'm not talking about a nanny state, I'm talking about protecting those who can't protect themselves here.

OSHA, 1970, because workplace injuries and deaths were shrugged off as part of the job.

You hear that Larry fell into the scrap grinder? 

Yeah, too, bad. His wife selling his car?

The Chicago Tylenol Murders in 1982 changed the way all kinds of things were packaged, double-sealed the tops on everything from OTC medications, to Catsup, to bleach. How, I wonder, does one adulterate bleach to make it more deadly to drink? And federal laws were enacted to make tampering with packaging a crime. I, for one, really hate the guy who poisoned those people, because it made life just a little harder–but a little safer–for most of us. 

One may disagree with any or all regulations like these, of course. The let-the-market-regulate-itself argument rears its simplistic head: Well, if cough syrup is killing people, then don't buy that brand! They'll go out of business! Sure, but maybe after they kill your family, and is that a price you want to pay? Not me. I don't want to get an injection of a steroid supposed to make me better and wind up dead of some fungal brain infection nobody had ever seen before and couldn't do squat about. 

My point is, that laws come and go, and while some are bad, some aren't perceived as such by a majority, so those will tend to stay in force. If that attitude changes, eventually the law will shift to reflect it. Alcohol was banned, but it's back. Marijuana was banned, but it's coming back. 

Missionary position only was once the law in a lot of places. Seriously. Going down on your spouse? A felony. Being gay got you sent away.

And there have been laws regulating what kind of hardware John Q. Citizen can own and carry, local, state, and federal, for a long time, and there will continue to be. When the murder rate surpasses the automobile accident rate? Something is really wrong. We are broken, we need to be fixed.

Those of you who would wish all regulations on anything into the cornfield are in a small minority, and you might win a battle or two, but you are going to lose the war. 

More gun laws are coming, you can bet the farm on that. Might not be today or tomorrow, but down the road. If you can't see that, go visit your optometrist. While the U.S. might not ever be Japan or England, there will be more regulations. Where you choose to stand and fight against such regulations is up to you, but if you are going to the mat, consider how best to spend that energy. 

Will they solve the problem they want to solve? No. But gun laws are on the table.

So, pick your place to stand, and remember that He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day. 

Yes, the full-bore anti-gun crowd wants to melt them all down into quiché pans, and yes, they will whittle away at guns a bit at a time. But going to cold-dead-hands for civilianized assault rifles and high-capacity magazines doesn't give you parity with the United States military in any way, shape, or form, and if that's where you choose to make your last ditch?

You are going to be lacking support from the majority. 

What was it Bob Dylan said in Subterranean Homesick Blues

You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Magazines and clips, above;
Pistol and revolver, below

Above: Which is the assault rifle?

As a writer, I strive for precision in my work. Don't always make it, sometimes fall way short, but the idea is, as Twain says, it is better to use the right word than its second cousin. In areas where I have some knowledge, this is usually easier; outside those, I have to look things up, and part of the problem is, that is sometimes hard when you don't know much about that for which you are looking ...

In the current hoopla over guns and controls thereof, there are folks who get bent out of shape over the language concerning certain weapons, notably the term "assault rifles."

I understand this. The media and general public get it wrong more often than not. I saw an interview recently with the Mayor of New York City, and Hizzhonor didn't know the difference between semi-auto and full-auto, and was corrected by the woman interviewing him. He brushed it off as unimportant.

Among the first rules of debate, you have to agree on the definitions of the terms. If I say "sky" and you take it to mean "ground," we don't get far out of the gate. However ...

I have, for years, tried to be precise when it comes to handguns. "Pistol" is not the same as "revolver," though most people use "pistol" to cover all sidearms. Pistols are handguns, but all handguns are not pistols.

A "clip" is not a "magazine," and while both are cartridge holders, they don't work the same way. A side-by-side comparison shows even somebody relatively uneducated about such hardware the differences. 

A bullet is not a cartridge, it is only the front end of such. Glocks don't have levers for an external safety, and neither do most revolvers. You don't routinely see .38 auto pistols.

The list goes on and on, but it's nitpicky, and I won't bore you with it. Let's get back to "assault rifles."

Here's the short dictionary definition: 

assault rifle
a rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle designed for infantry use.

Thus defining it means one needs to know what "semi-" and "fully-" mean when prefixing "auto." Here it is: 

A semi-automatic weapon
fires when you pull the trigger, once for each pull. It reloads the firing chamber, generally using the recoil from the fired round, either directly or by shunting gases, and will continue firing with each trigger pull until empty.

A fully-automatic weapon
fires when you pull the trigger and keeps firing until you let the trigger go, or it runs dry. (or jams.) The term most folks probably know for it is "machine gun," though this is not quite accurate. (Submachine guns usually fire pistol rounds, by the by.)

Semi-automatic weapons, pistols and rifles, are mostly legal for civilians in the US. Fully-automatic weapons require special federal permits, background checks by the FBI, and often the approval of your local sheriff. Nobody is making them here for civilian use any more, and they are expensive used.

What most people think of when they think of assault rifle is the AR-15. Technically, since this is a semi-automatic rifle, it doesn't qualify. However, the error is understandable, since, save for the selector switch that allows a shooter to choose between fully-auto and semi-auto (and in some cases, triplet fire) the two look exactly alike. I've fired both, and I couldn't tell which was which in a picture unless the selector was in it. There are all kinds of custom-made bits and pieces that change the look, too.

The AR-15, aka the "black rifle," is essentially the same weapon, same caliber, same magazine,  everything as the military M-16 or newer and shorter M-4, except for full-auto capabilities. Those differences are mostly internal. It was civilianized to make it widely available.

As a deer rifle, I wouldn't want it. If you dropped it into a nice walnut stock, it would still be a crappy hunting rifle. You need twenty rounds for Bambi, find another hobby, 'cause you suck at at this. 

The folks who get terribly bent of of shape by people calling an AR-15 or Bushmaster or whatever brand an assault rifle when it, you know, really isn't aren't helping the debate. It is also a nitpick of a tactic. 

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, people are going to call it that, even if it is a gull in drag.

A skilled shooter can fire one of these civilian suckers almost as fast as somebody can the full-auto versions. I've seen exhibition shooters cook off a .45 Colt slab-side pistol manually at 600 rounds per minute, which qualifies as machine-gun rate of fire. And full-auto is not as accurate as semi-auto, ask anybody who has shot both. Which is why the military's versions have selectors.

A high-capacity military-style weapon that is a dead-ringer for the U.S. Army's issue rifle–look at the pictures above and tell me which is which–save for the selector switch is splitting hairs, and anybody who pays attention is going to notice it. It was not designed for Bambi, it was designed for Charlie and Boris and Abdul, and folks who try that hunting defense are wasting their time. It's not the right tool for that job. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cool Toy

Doesn't this look like a cool toy? Of course, the * at the end of the how-it-works section takes you to this:

* The Leap Motion controller works with Leap-enabled software only. Functionality may vary depending on software.

So you have to keep that in mind–a lot of your software probably won't let it play. Plus the video shows the controller as wireless and the site points out that it is actually hooked into your computer via USB port, which kind of messes up that no-wire thing; still and all, if it can work on a Mac, which is what they show it doing, and you can, for instance, use it like a mouse next to your keyboard, that would be way fun ...

Growing Old Gracefully

Piece in today's paper, a New York Times writer, going on about how the old geezers of rock 'n' roll should, you know, keep all them wrinkles and sags covered up, no matter how good a shape they might be in.

He's reviewing the 12/12/12 concert, and starts with Roger Daltrey, 68, who–gasp!–has his shirt unbuttoned! and, geez Louise, the twitterverse allows that tan and abs have to be fake! Because, you know, a man that age couldn't possibly be, you know, buffed!

And for God's sake, let's not see Iggy Pop with his shirt off! As if anybody has ever seen Iggy with his shirt on ...

Ageism, pure and simple, from a Gen X'er who doesn't want to see somebody his father's age strutting around on stage bare-chested no matter how fit he might be.

I find it particularly ironic that there is a Calvin Klein underwear ad on the page, featuring two buffed twenty-somethings in their scanties. Nothing wrong with skin, provided it is young, hey?

As a geezer, I'm always happy to see older folks who have stayed fit enough so they are inspiring to others old enough to remember when Gen X was just a gleam in their parents' eyes. Better a fit seventy-year-old in the buff than a not-so-svelte thirty-something.

And that the kids don't want to know that grampa and grandma might still be–ugh!–still having sex and all? Horrors!

Hey, kids? Piss off. You might survive to be our age someday, and if you do? I expect you'll be singing a different song  when you get here ...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wrong Dog, Wrong House

There is a couple in our neighborhood, older than I, and with obvious limitations on their mobility. They have a new dog. It's a mix of some kind, looks like a Labradoodle, champagne-colored, curly hair. They don't walk him, least I've never seen them or anybody else doing so. I might not know my neighbors on sight, but I recognize their dogs. 

The wife can barely make it to the car, and I've never seen the husband on foot any farther from the house than the mailbox.

A young and energetic dog that size needs to be able to move. Maybe they let it out back. They have a fenced yard, and a green space behind it, but I've never seen it there, either.

Now and again, as I walk with my critters, the dog–let's call him "Zeus"–barrels out the front door and charges across the street to see Jude and Layla. No menace, save for young dog enthusiasm. Jude growls at him and Layla yips because he wants to sniff her butt too vigorously, but he's not a threat, he's just thrilled to see another dog. 

The owner stands on his driveway and yells at Zeus to come back, but Zeus pays him no attention whatsoever. 

What I do is cross the road and lead my dogs to his house. Zeus ducks away from being grabbed by the collar, but we can herd him into the house or car and go on about our business.

This has happened to me several times, I've seen it happen to other dog-walkers, too.

I've offered to come by and walk Zeus, but the old fellow isn't having any of that. He doesn't do this unless he sees another dog, the man says. Of course, this neighborhood is thick with dogs being trotted up and down the street, every other house has at least one canine and usually a cat or two.

I feel for the couple. They love dogs and want one. But I feel for the dog, too. What they need is a small critter that can wear itself out in the house and back yard, and they need to train it to come when called. That's the first command a dog needs to know, and it's not that hard to teach it.

Dogs who are kept bottled up in the house all the time will make a break for it when they get a chance, and they are hell to catch.

When experienced people go out to get a dog, they know the breed and what requirements it needs for a happy life. Not all dogs are right for all people. 

There are entry-level dogs that are easy to live with. There are advanced-level dogs you ought not get without researching their needs. Want a Border Collie? Best you have a job for him. Think a Rhodesian Ridgeback would be fun? Not unless you are prepared to hike to hell and gone every day to tire her out. A hundred-and-twenty pound German Shepherd Dog hitting the end of his leash at speed needs more arm than a Puggle, and if you don't have that arm, it will get away. On a wet walk, even if you have the grip, you might find yourself water skiiling. When I had two of 'em, they outweighed me by thirty pounds, and I'm a large-ish fellow. 

If you are contemplating a dog, do your research. Find out what the breed is apt to be like. There are individual differences, of course, but if you don't understand breed characteristics, you will be in for some surprises, some of them unpleasant. If you need to have a good grasp of dog training principles to live with certain kinds of dogs and you don't? You will be sorry at some point until you learn them. 

If you don't want to wake up to a baying hound, then maybe that Beagle isn't for you. Don't get a dog because it looks cute as a puppy. Get a dog that can live the life you live.

Better for you. Better for the dog.

Christmas Pudding

My daughter-in-law is English, and among her traditions is the Christmas pudding. This is not so much a pudding as a cake, with raisins and such, and made in a ball-shaped mold. It is accompanied with brandy butter, and also doused in flaming brandy. Here's what this year's looked like just before and at the moment of truth ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

Book is out–leastways, you can get the epub version, and a couple folks have told me the bookstores have hard copies in hand.

And season's greetings to all. Ho, ho, ho ...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Space Opera

I just finished reading Peter Hamilton's Great North Road, the American version of which is from Del Rey, $30 hardback, available 26 December. 

Speaking here as a working pro in this particular subset of F&SF, if there is anybody currently writing better space opera than Hamilton, I haven't come across 'em. This is the Lord of the Rings of space opera.

This is a big, dense, well-realized work, starting with a cop and a murder mystery, and riding madly off in all directions. There are multiple viewpoint characters, each with his or her own problems to solve against the backdrop of the big overall problem, and it's not just an e-ticket ride, it's a whole theme park of e-ticket rides, 951 pages worth.

Might want to think about getting the epub version, this is a toe-breaker if you drop it on your foot. 

You won't finish this epic in a single session. Took me all week, and the last bit kept me up until 2 a.m. frantically turning the pages ...

Hamilton throws away more stuff than most of us use when we break out the rockets and ray guns, and this is a lush, finely-detailed universe, chock full of interesting settings, wonderful tech-talk, and fascinating characters. One of his female leads is the most intriguing woman I've seen in science fiction in a long time, and she makes Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor character in T2 seem like a wimp.

The story is told in parallels, jumping from character to character, with flashbacks to show who they were and how they got where they are. We have cops, secret ops, soldiers, captains of industry, clones (sorta), religious zealots, and–maybe–an alien murderer. Hamilton keeps readers guessing as to what is really going on and it's a hoot. Really.

Everybody has a checkered past, and they are all linked into the story in ways that aren't obvious at first glance but become head-slapping, Oh, Jeez! moments when you get to them. Pay attention because the clues are there.

Best SF novel I've read in a long while, should be a shoo-in for the Nebula and Hugo, and it would be a great HBO series, ala Game of Thrones.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Packing Heat, Part II

I deal in fantasy. It's how I make my living. I make up stories, people them with heroes and villains, and if I do it right, take readers on a ride. Like the Matterhorn in Disneyland, thrills, chills, no real danger, and maybe you learn something you remember, maybe not.

Nothing wrong with that from where I sit.

So here's one for you:

You are at the mall with your significant other and a loon with an AR-15 bursts in and starts blasting.

"Down!" you tell your SO, whereupon you draw your concealed snubby, step out into the corridor, and yell, "Hey, Asshole!"

The shooter spins, and you cook one off, hit him right between the eyes, and he goes down, dead.

Fast forward to, you in the back of the convertible next to the beauty queen as the city showers you with confetti at the parade held in your honor ...

Every bit as much a fantasy as hopping into your spaceship and rocketing off to fight the Evil Empire, whether you know it or not.

Go read some of Rory Miller's stuff. Talk to guys who have seen the elephant and had bullets flying at them. The fantasy is fun. The reality is maybe not so much so. 

Ask anybody who knows about real deadly violence what is wrong with that shootout at the mall scenario. When they stop laughing, maybe they'll tell you ...

Not to say we don't have heroes, nor that you couldn't step up and be one of them, in the right place and time. But there are a bunch of factors those of us who spin such tales tend to downplay. Mostly that's because reality, when injected into fiction, is often boring or unbelievable, or both. Truth is never a defense in fiction if the story doesn't draw readers it. "Yeah, but it really happened that way!" doesn't matter if nobody finds it interesting or buys it. This isn't reality, it's fantasy, remember, and by definition, all fiction is fantasy, made-up, designed to evoke certain responses, not the least of which to the writer is that you go out and buy more of his or her books ...

If you are going to be prepared to deal in real deadly violence, you need to train for it. How and where are open to discussion, but watching reruns of Red Dawn or Lethal Weapon, or even reading my books? Not the way to do it. 

Packing Heat

Just before the Connecticut school shootings and lost in the horror of that, we had a local crazy run amok at the mall. (That word, "amok," is Malay/Portuguese, and came from a kind of frenzy wherein somebody, usually a man, and often frustrated in his desire for a particular woman, would whip out his keris and stab whoever came to hand.)

Our homegrown maniac used a black rifle he stole the night before. Killed two people, wounded a third. His weapon jammed, he managed to get it cleared, and he maybe saw an off-duty security guard with a Glock out, so he ran down a stairwell and killed himself. 

Oregon is a shall-issue state, which means that if you are a citizen in good standing, don't smoke dope or have a felony record, and can qualify for the educational gun safety requirements, your local sheriff has to give you a license to carry a hidden handgun if you fill out the paperwork. In Oregon currently, this number is somewhere around one person in twenty-five.

I wouldn't mind seeing those requirements a bit tougher, requiring an actual operating test. Ideally, you'd have to shoot something like an IPSC match clean, but that's not the point of this article. 

When the shooter hit the mall, there were somewhere between 7000 and 10,000 shoppers there. In Oregon, about 4% of the population have been granted concealed gun permits, totaling about 163,000. In the tricounty area in which the Clackamas Mall sits, the number is closer to 7%, but shoppers come from outside the county. 

Maybe mall shoppers don't routinely carry–not everybody who gets a license does–but strictly by-the-numbers, we are looking at around 280 people who had the right to do so being there on that day.

Just for the sake of argument, let's run those numbers out in a theoretical scenario:

Say that half those licensed didn't pack their pieces into the mall. (Among the other rules of behavior one isn't supposed to do, skateboarding, bicycling, drinking, etc., the mall posts notices that no firearms are allowed. This, however, doesn't supersede state law. If somebody notices you have iron on your hip, mall security can ask you to leave, as it is private property, and if you won't, have you busted for trespassing, but it's not illegal to be armed thusly if you are licensed. Pretty much that is restricted to federal sites–post offices, courthouses, airports, like that, plus some other exceptions.)

So maybe 140 people had a pistol or revolver in a purse or under a jacket. 

The shooter didn't interact with all the patrons. He entered Macy's, hustled to the food court, and opened up. Given the size of the mall, those who were close enough to see the shooter pass by before he started killing people, probably amounted to no more than a few hundred. Call it, for the sake of this argument, 500. So given the percentages, that's 20 who could have been licensed, and half who might actually have been packing. 

Ten people might have been armed and within range.

But since he kept moving, some of those wouldn't have been in range long. Some would have frozen. Some wouldn't have figured out what was going on, since they probably had no more training than necessary to know the gun laws. Some would have figured out what was going on, and hauled it for the nearest exit with their kids or grandma. Some might have figured that putting their .380 pistol up against a civilianized assault rifle, and maybe more than one shooter, was not the best idea.

That number thus gets whittled down fast. Maybe a handful might have been able to collect themselves enough to be in position, pulled a piece, and shot back. 

Currently, we know for sure of only one who drew his weapon. And maybe the shooter saw him and got spooked. No way to tell, though the citizen says he made eye contact and moved back behind concealment when that happened. 

Easy to be brave when you are the only person in the room with a gun. 

The bad thing is that nobody who might have been able to do it shot the guy before he killed two people. 

The good thing is that those who might have been armed didn't go ballistic and start spraying and praying, maybe making it worse. 

I'm of the mind that if you carry, you should have enough training to know when to shoot and when you shouldn't; and if it's time to shoot, how to do it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Weather and Some

Had a dusting of snow here day before yesterday, mostly rain since. Was April, we last hit freezing here. People are still mowing their lawns, and second-bloom roses are still on the bushes. My gum trees are still dropping leaves; I've cleared the sidewalks four times in the last month.

It's global something.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Little Esoteric, But ...

... this is funny ...

Some Thoughts on Guns ...

Bear with me, I don't have this altogether worked out in my head, and I'm using this space to play with it a bit ...

I've always been a 2nd Amendment kind of guy, but within certain limits. The original notion was, I think, that a populace not be disarmed, so that they could resist a government turned tyrannical; which was, at the time, a good idea.

Of course, when we were all using muskets and Pennsylvania long rifles, and the local blacksmith could cast small cannons, if he wanted, that idea was more viable.

Hardware parity, vis a vis the feds versus the general populace, went away shortly thereafter, and has been installed in our customs and laws since before all of us were born. Yes, you can, with the right permits, get a decommissioned tank to park on your lawn; you cannot fuel it, load it with ammo, and take it to the drive-in theater. You don't get over-the-counter 20mm nose cannons for your Cessna at the Walmart.

You can own a fully-automatic assault rifle or subgun, but you have to have the proper licenses, and in those states that allow it, the feds and your local law will know who you are and where you live. Folks who do this seldom, if ever, run amok at the mall, leastways not that I can tell. 

But you aren't supposed to have a rocket launcher in the trunk of the Volvo, nor tactical nukes in the garage, and that doesn't bother me at all that you can't. Because I don't trust you, frankly.

There are plenty of guys who think they should be able to do that, and they scare me a lot more than the idea of the government going completely rabid and slaying the citizens wholesale in the streets. 

The fantasy that a bunch of West Virginia hillbillies are going to duke it out with the United States Marines, the Rangers, the SEALs, and win is, far as I am concerned, fueled by too much beer, too few brain cells, and DVDs of Red Dawn, either the original or the why-on-Earth-did-you-do this?-remake.

Parity isn't going to happen. Nor should it. 

So we accept some limits, most of us, on the hardware.

Now I do believe that the farthest left of the anti-gun folks would indeed melt down Grampaw's squirrel rifle and make saute pans out of it. No guns, period. And that is a slippery slope; however, since we accept that we don't get to take a bazooka to church, there is a line most of us will mentally allow. Those of us who aren't frothing at the mouth on the far left or far right, at least. 

If I had to guess, I'd offer that if the no-guns crowd wins one, it'll be a repeat of one they already had and allowed to lapse: High-capacity magazines and nasty-looking semi-auto civilianized assault weapons. Those won't solve a whole lot of problems, but it's like the metal detectors at airports, there is some feel-better attached to it.

It's a band-aid. It won't even slow the bleeding.

Frankly, I'd let those go, but it's a delaying tactic. Once they realize that outlawing black rifles and twenty or fifty-round magazines doesn't stop people getting shot, they'll come back for the next set of shooting irons, and hope to eventually whittle those down to zero.

They have said as much, this isn't a secret agenda. I don't think it's likely to happen any time soon, but it's what they are–pardon the pun–shooting for. 

No, I don't have a black rifle. Have no need for one, and if the Red Dawn scenario comes to pass, I don't think it will help.  Civilians buy these because they want them, they surely don't need them. I'd rather have a deer rifle, because if I have to shoot it out with despots who can't be outgunned, I'd want to be a long way off, and assault rifles are not tackdrivers at four or five hundred meters. 

What to do about so many gun deaths?

What I'd like to see is what Dan Moran and some folks on his Goggle+ page have suggested:
Hard qualifications for carry, then the right to do so anywhere; education, including having the schools offer classes about guns and what they do. Show them bodies like they do in Driver's Ed, make it real. Make such classes mandatory until they can pass a test demonstrating they know it.

Oh, yeah, and reinstated civics classes, too. So people have a fucking clue how the Republic is supposed to work. 

Eventually, education must be the key. Civilized people don't shoot each other.

The shooter at our mall recently? He supposedly had an off-duty security guard lay sights on him with his concealed Glock. The guard didn't take the shot because he didn't think he could make it without hitting a civilian. That's what he said, anyway, and if he didn't freeze, that was probably a good thing. I was taught that if you cannot make the shot, you will not take the shot. Miss and kill somebody else, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

More access to mental health, and an ability to keep somebody who is about to go postal locked up until he is not likely to do so, might help. 

Some kind of quid pro quo when it comes to legislation.

I know there are compromises that can be made. Back when Oregon didn't issue carry licenses, the NRA and the most liberal Speaker of the House got together and cut a deal: Carry licenses, in exchange for a waiting period. Both sides got something from the trade, and if we are going to do this, that's probably a smarter way to go. 

Like a lot of people, I have more questions than answers. But I do agree we need to do something to keep our classrooms and malls and streets safer. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ring, Ring ...

Since I work at home, the telephone can sometimes be a distraction. In the middle of a scene that is flowing well, stopping to talk to somebody trying to sell me crap I don't want breaks the rhythm. I don't begrudge them trying to make a living, but I don't like it when they mess with mine. If you are a phone salesperson, you can call somebody else; I lose track of a scene, I have to fix it myself.

I have friends and family and others to whom I am happy to talk, though I might just say "Hey, let me call you back in a little while."

I am on the no-call sales lists, but not everybody observes those.

Some years ago, I found a little phone zap device, and how it works is simple: If you call here and you aren't in the thing's list of numbers, it rings once. Then it says that if you are a salesperson,  go away, I don't want to talk to you. If you are not selling something, there is a key sequence you can press and the call will go through. 

If you are selling something and you punch through after the zapper told you not to? I will hang up on you with some vigor, probably offering a query about you not being able to hear so well.

My friends and family and folks who have called before and been accepted go into the zapper's memory and when they call, it rings through. So if my phone rings more than once, I usually answer it because it is usually somebody to whom I'm willing to talk.

The zapper has a caller ID and sometimes people who call here have that blocked. If I see a blocked ID, I don't answer it. If you don't want people to know who you are, I understand, but I find it irritating; in the same way I find people who hide behind netnoms on public e-forums so they can be obnoxious without revealing who they are. (Sure, if you are a world-famous somebody who doesn't want to be overwhelmed with fans who recognize you name, that's one thing. But most people aren't.) Lot of shit gets talked online by people who wouldn't say it to your face. 

So, if you are somebody who needs to talk to me, and you give me a call, unblock your caller ID. Or leave a message ...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Horror Story

I'm not watching the news tonight; I don't want to see some idiot interviewing the friends or relatives of a dead child and asking them how they feel about it. The horror of the shooting in Connecticut is mind-numbing enough as it is. I don't need to hear about the mentally disturbed young man who killed his mother and all those children, I know what he is, we've seen his like before. 

Insanity manifested in mass murder. Words fail to encompass it.

Something needs to be done. Something beyond the knee-jerk responses from pro- or anti-gun people who offer that arming teachers or banning all firearms is the solution. Neither will fix the problem, the wound that is our culture is too deep for a band-aid to help.

Get rid of all guns!  

Good luck with that.

And armed society is a polite society! 

Really? I've said that one myself, but I don't think it is. I think that means you engender a society of backshooters. 

A trained person with a weapon in the right place at the right time might stop one of the loons, but there's no guarantee of that. 

What? What is to be done? We have to do something, we can't let our children get murdered at school, we fucking have to do something!

What? There is a laundry list and we all know what it is: Education, medical support for mental illness, enforcement of laws to keep the guns out of the hands of the crazies and the felons, but that's not enough.

If you gave every citizen in Japan a gun tomorrow, there would be more shootings, you can bet the farm on that, but the murder ratio wouldn't come within a parsec of the ratio in the United States. Anybody who says differently is selling something. We aren't the same culture, and ours is, despite their samurai heritage, bloodier than theirs. We are violent in the heartland, willing to reach for the weapon far too early in our anger. 

Shoot first, think about it later. 

How do we stop that? 

We have hundreds of millions of guns here, you simply cannot get rid of them all if you quit making them tomorrow. Yes, people kill others with guns, and that makes it easier, but making the magazines hold fewer won't fix it. Smaller capacity only means they will have to reload more often, and the fastest reload? A second gun. 

Go ahead, ban high-capacity magazines. It's a band-aid.

Ban black rifles? Sure, I don't care, there's no need for them, but a deer rifle is better-made and more accurate. If you can't get the former, you'll use the latter. Another band-aid. 

These things don't go to the cause. They won't even slow the bleeding.

The militia is supposed to be well-regulated, but it isn't, and the loons have hardware or can, as in the case of the one who opened up in a local mall day before yesterday, they can steal it. Make it illegal to put a gun where a child can get it? Already done that here. Doesn't stop accidental shootings, nor, as in in the case of a high school kid here a few years back, intentional ones. 

An eleven-year-old kid and his seven-year-old henchman tried to hijack a woman's truck in Portland a few days ago. The kid had a loaded, cocked pistol. Which he stole from his father, a convicted felon who wasn't supposed to have a gun. The woman drove off, the kid didn't shoot, but what kind of impulse control do you think a child like that has? The cops and locals knew the kid, he was a bad actor. No law anywhere allows him to have a gun. 

Laws are for citizens who obey them. Gun-free zones don't work. It's against the law virtually everywhere to take a gun into a school, that doesn't stop it. 

Still, I'd vote for better gun control legislation if they were the kind that would actually work. Which kind does?

Give me an example. Something I can support, because I will, with words and money.

Nothing will ever stop the lone crazy run amok. But something needs to be done.


I wish to hell I knew what. 

Not Easy Being Green

Got a note from a friend about green coffee extract. Dr. Oz did a segment on the stuff, which is unroasted coffee beans in capsule form, and supposed to melt off the pounds without having to diet and exercise. There was a study, people in it lost 10% of their body weight in a couple of months, with no side effects. Stores have sold out of the capsules, but you can still get the pure stuff online, even has it, and doesn't this sound terrific?

Why, yes, it does. Lose weight, no side-effects? No diet or exercise? Hallelujah!

Get online and the first few of pages of Gogglery sing the praises: It works! It's wonderful! It's a miracle!

And yet, to the cynic who lives down the hall in Steve's brain, a sniff,  and ... is that the slightest odor of, um ... snake oil ... ?

Online giveth, online taketh away. Dig a little deeper, there are some caveats. 

Basically this link tells you what they are, and there are others, here, and here, since the bean has considerable amounts of caffeine, that tops the list, and if you have high blood pressure or bowel problems or get jittery after the second cup of coffee in the morning, taking a capsule full of caffeine might not be something you'd want to do. 

Plus there is the narrowness of the study, which was funded by a Texas company that sells the stuff, done in India, with a statistically-small sample. As the writer points out, why didn't they used Texans and more of 'em?

Just as telling, perhaps, are the responses to the article, from people who have used the products. Those who lost weight; those who didn't. Those who gained weight. has more one-star reviews than fives.

For years, weight-loss products featured caffeine, because as a mild form of speed, one of the things it does is suppress appetite, while giving you energy. 

Stuff about some magic acid in the green bean form that does ... something nobody understands? One wishes to see a bit more research than, Well, don't know why it works.

Then there is Mr. Placebo Effect, who steps in and fiddles with the results all the time.

Generally, if something sounds too good to be true? Probably it is.

If you want to try it, maybe it'll do the trick, but read the caveats. And know that anything you put into your mouth is going to have some effect; anybody who tells you differently is almost always selling something ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Turns out, when I checked this further, that the note I got from my friend wasn't from him, it was a shuck–somebody used his name on a Yahoo address to sneak past my spam filter. O the calumny!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Story Stuff

Art by Jubjubjedi

A while back, I mentioned an idea that Trent Zelazny and Warren LaPine had for an original anthology of stories set in Roger Zelazny's universes. Which given how much of a fan I was, and still am, of Zelazny's work, I thought was a terrific idea. 

Said book was to be invitation-only, unless they could raise enough money from an online funding campaign, in which case it would be open to submissions from riff-raff like me.

I thought this kind of tribute was aces, so I put some money where my mouth was. 

Alas, they didn't raise the entire amount they want; however, they did get enough so they are proceeding. 

The bad news is that it won't be open to over-the-transom submissions, you'll have to be invited. At least for now.

The good news? They decided that anybody who chipped in to make it happen could take a shot at a story.

Hot damn!

Virtue is, of course, its own reward, but I am so pleased, because that means I get a chance to write a story in my favorite Zelazny novel–and my favorite science fiction novel, period–and maybe get it published. 

Or not, since I don't know if what I send in will be to their taste; still, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket, and I would honored as all hell to have a tale in this anthology.

Enough so that I sat down this morning after I got the note from Warren and wrote the piece. It's short, only 1600 words. There's no action to speak of. It's mostly two guys having a beer in a bar. But it answers questions I wanted to see answered after I read Lord of Light, and maybe some other readers might find my answers satisfying.

Cleaned it up, sent it off, and there you go.

This is the thing about working in a universe you like visiting that isn't yours. I can tell you what Darth Vader thinks as he sits inside his hyperbaric chamber. When and how Luke Skywalker built his own light saber. How Princess Leila looks as she steps out of the shower. How Conan got his muscles. How Ripley really feels about androids. Where Batman studied Japanese martial arts. 

Because I've already told you these things, if you but know where to look.

And maybe, I'll get a chance to tell you what happened to Great-Souled Sam, the Buddha, and Yama, the God of Death, too. 

We'll see ...