Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Adventures in Eastern PA

Inconspicuous vehicle in which guns were found
Okay, so a guy up the other end of the Valley decided to drive to Brooklyn to "extract" a heroin addict who woke up to find her friend dead beside her of an overdose. She texted this guy, who apparently has a an on-line presence as a rescuer of heroin addicts. Ever since his daughter died of an overdose four months ago, he has been making the rounds of town meetings hereabouts speaking up against the heroin epidemic that has come to the Valley -- along with the Bloods' sales force.

Unfortunately, he and his two friends went to make the "extraction" with various weapons in the back of his truck, two of which were loaded. NJ police stopped him at the Holland Tunnel for a cracked windshield and discovered the "cache" (as they put it). NBC reported that they also found drugs in the van, enabling them to insert the requisite amount of irony into the story. Anti-heroin crusader caught with drugs! However, other news sources reported that the drug found was marijuana, and there is no irony in hating heroin and taking the occasional toke. Heck, weed is legal in several states now even though heroin is not. Not in NJ, though; where, as it turns out, it is also illegal to carry loaded weapons in your car. (Unloaded seems to be okay with them.) He was licensed in PA to have them.

A good thing, one supposes, that he did not make it through the tunnel into NYC, where the strictest gun laws keep violent crime to a minimum. It is unclear how he intended to use the weapons to "extract" the poor girl, or even if he did. “Nothing about gun violence or anything about that,” said a friend, "he probably had them in his truck and forgot to take him out of his truck because he gets a call to go help someone and he goes and that's just the way John is.” That would likely freak out folks from New Jersey and NYC even more. He had all those weapons back there and he just plain forgot?
random picture from internet,
not from Higher Ground

Well, the guy does operate an indoor gun range named Higher Ground Tactical, which according to some also serves as a venue for weddings. Now that (if true) is bemusing. 

None of the news stories have mentioned what happened to the girl. Guess they don't care about teen-aged junkies.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Orlando Jihad

When we have an episode of lunatics with guns:
  • One side wants to control the guns.
  • The other side wants to control the lunatics.
 Say... wait a minute... What if we got together and...?

Nah, that'll never happen.
+++

Of course the delusion is that, even with the best will in the world, we could do either. The IRA used to arm themselves through raids on police stations and army barracks in a land with stringent gun control.How certain do you have to be to pre-emptively lock someone away?

If lunatics are deprived of guns, we would need worry only about their car bombs, suicide vests, hijacked airliners, and retail knife attacks. Or perhaps simply cars driven at high speed into crowds of pedestrians.

Is it an improvement if the attacker must plan more carefully?
The terrible slaughter of the schoolchildren in Michigan in 1927 was carried out using dynamite -- by a tax-protesting farmer who was facing foreclosure.
Was the killer in Orlando just a lunatic with fears about his own masculinity, or was he a jihadi propelled by the traditional teaching of the Qur'an? Maybe this is not an "either/or" question. It could be "both/and."

At his speech in Orlando, the president of the USA said, "We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer." Really? Allahu akbar wasn't a clue? 
That's not entirely silly. The motto "Any port in a storm" applies to mental ports and mental storms as well. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Party members in the Near East started joining Islamist groups.Were they true blue muslims any more than they had been true blue reds? Or had they simply been anti-West all along?
Let's not jump to conclusions? Why not? Think of all the other conclusions we have jumped to when they fit our narrative. Remember when Gabby Giffords was shot "because" of talk radio? Or the embassy in Benghazi was sacked "because" some Copt made an insulting video? Or, as some initially supposed, the federal office building in Oklahoma City had been bombed by jihadis?

It's easy to talk about "X legislation," but the devil is in the details. What are the words in the law? What riders are attached? Even public legislation is apt to have fine print. There's more to a law than its title. Its provisions, for one.

In 2014, terrorists in China killed 29 people (other accounts say 31) and injured 140 at the Kunming railway station in Yunnan. They did it using long knives. Do the Chinese need long knife control?

Does anyone ever check the laws they propose? The Patriot Act was passed in response to 9/11, but had the act been in effect at the time, the attack would not have been prevented. Its like passing a law to regulate ham sandwiches following a shark attack.

Seth McFarlane and Susan Sarandon have tweeted for a ban on automatic weapons. Oh, that'll help. Possession of automatic weapons ("machine guns," "Tommy guns") has been tightly regulated since Prohibition. They have not been used in any of the mass killings that have taken place since, I think, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. (when seven Irish gangsters were killed by Italian gangsters. Our threshold for shock was lower back then.)
Another tweet: "BBC just said the gun used in the shooting can 'fire 700 rounds per minute.'" We can only hope the Beeb is not that stupid. No semi-automatic can possibly do that, since the trigger must be pulled independently for each shot. Is there any reason to listen to people who don't know what they're talking about?
Insert comment on listening to favorite candidate X here.
Another tweet: "Clinton on CNN: We did have an assault weapons ban for 10 years, and i think it should be reinstated." But when the assault weapon ban was repealed, murders by rifle dropped by one-third, contrary to pearl-clutching predictions of the havoc about to be unleashed. In 2014, 248 people were murdered with rifles; 660 with hands, fists or feet. 


What exactly is an "assault" rifle? How does it differ from the more passive sort used in match play target competition?

The 1994 assault weapons law banned semi-automatic rifles if they had
1) a detachable magazine, plus
2) any two of the following five features:
  • a collapsible stock, 
  • a pistol grip, 
  • a bayonet mount, 
  • a flash suppressor, or 
  • a grenade launcher.
A grenade launcher? Really? And how does a collapsible stock make the rifle more deadly than a fixed stock -- but only if the rifle also has a bayonet lug?

IOW, they wanted to ban guns that looked scary
++++

There is hoo-hah today that no one on a terrorist watch list or the no-fly list should be able to buy a gun legally. I agree. But the jihadi in question was on neither list at the time he bought his guns.
Well, then... anyone who has ever been on such a list. Even if he was investigated and cleared? Urrr. OK. Yes, even then. Better safe than due process. And what happens when our opponents win the elections? Do we let them put us on lists? Could there be civil liberty issues connected with these panicky over-responses?

Now imagine that Trump is president. Still want mere suspicion to be grounds for being listed? Do you suppose the authority will never be extended to other issues beside terrorism? Are the fears once expressed regarding the plasticity of the Patriot Act suddenly null and void?
One of the four bills voted down this week would have allowed a temporary bar for people merely suspected. The government would have 72 hours to substantiate the accusation or remove the hold. We can quibble about the time limit. Maybe it's too short. But it does try to address the issue of people unjustly accused, maybe because they "look muslim."

++++
Who was it who said, "Why let a good crisis go to waste"?
Probably not the same one who said, "Hard cases make bad law."
+++++

Someone thinks if we keep out illegal immigrants, these things would not happen. But none of these mass killings afik has been carried out by illegal immigrants. The Boston Marathon bombers were legal immigrants whose parents had been granted political asylum. The 9/11 hijackers were on visitor or student visas. The Ft. Hood, San Bernadino, Orlando perpetrators were all American-born. So were Timothy McVeigh, Charles Roberts, Dylan Roof, and others. But why let a good crisis go to waste if we can buffalo folks into pushing through a pet peeve of ours?

Someone thinks we can keep out jihadis by a ban on muslim immigration. That's like keeping out the Mafia by banning Italians or keeping out IRA terrorists by banning Irish.

The problem with banning guns or banning muslims is that most guns are never used to commit crimes, let alone mass murders; and most muslims never commit crimes, let alone mass murders.
This results in enormous waste of effort spent in reviewing or controlling people or things that will never be a problem. The consequence of conducting massive inspections that mostly yield nothing is that a) the inspectors become bored and routinized and stop paying close attention and/or b) they become bored and start "finding" things to keep themselves occupied. (TOF has seen industrial inspectors actually make defects just in order to find them.)
Surely, security agencies will not make terrorists just to have someone to find! But think of all the Fenians and IRB members the British created by their response to the '98 Rising. (And during and in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, the vast majority of the Irish were opposed to the republicans. What turned the tide was how the British overreacted afterward.) 

100% inspection is also remarkably inefficient.This is why:
  • Suppose you are screening a population of one million people for the dread disease Red Squamish. Unbeknownst to you, 5% of the population carries the virus. You have a test for the disease that is 95% effective on both the α and β risks. What happens? 
  • 50,000 people (5%) have Red Squamish. If the screening is 95% effective, 47,500 will be detected. That means 2,500 carriers will pass undetected (They are called "false negatives"). 
  • 950,000 people (95%) are uninfected. If the screening is 95% effective, 47,500 will fail the screening anyway. (They are called "false positives").
  • The screening therefore nets 95,000 cases half of whom are not actually infected. You will think the population is 9.5% infected instead of the actual 5%.
How many sheep do you want to round up with the goats? Especially if the sheep will grow irritable at long lines and false accusations and eventually vote for the other party?
The only solution is to pre-identify probable goats and focus the screening on them. It is generally more effective to look where something is more likely to be found. There ought to be a name for that.
+++++
They attack us with guns and IEDs. We retaliate with candlelight vigils, tears, and group hugs. That'll scare them into stopping.
A different kind of message: when a Jordanian pilot was tortured and killed by ISIS, the king of Jordan hopped in a jet and personally bombed ISIS targets in Syria.
What if the killer had targeted a Trump rally instead of a night club. Would we still have seen the same outpouring of sympathy? Or maybe an outpouring of Schadenfreud instead.

We were told yesterday not to let politics stand in the way of doing something about the problem. Was this a call for gun control or for profiling? And why isn't foot-dragging on the other one "playing politics"? Whichever one you think is the other.
+++++

A civil war is underway for the soul of Islam. Most of the victims of jihad have been other muslims. Westerners are stage props in an intra-muslim psychodrama.

And lest we forget, most mass murders in this country have been carried out by non-muslims. What price profiling or gun control when Timothy McVeigh parks his truck?
When a guy goes off his nut, he will wrap himself in whatever garb feels comfortable to him. He might wrap himself in the Qur'an, or he might wrap himself in the American flag.  Mostly, targets have been ex-wives and bosses and he wraps himself in a marriage certificate or visitation order or some other treasured but now abrogated relationship. 

There are many ideologies, but sometimes the murderous personality precedes adopting the ideology and sometimes it is a result thereof.

It was nice to see the president swell up with anger and denunciation. If only he spoke that way about jihadi terrorists and not only about Donald Trump.

How does road rage figure into this? Are these mass killings simply the most dramatic cases of a much broader retail problem: that people seem more ready to resort to physical violence against frustrations? 
+++++

Still waiting for the much-feared anti-muslim backlash. 
(If we didn't get one on 9/12, when will we?) 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Among the Great States

TOF has previously cautioned Faithful Reader with the opening scene from "The Journeyman: Among the Great States." He now proposes to daunt you with a further tease. Teodorq has been brought to Cuffland to form and take command of the Roy's Own Savage Archers, trained in the horse archery and compound bow of Teo's homeland. One night, to escape the importunings of his major officers, he has bedded down in the grass behind the colonel's quarters.
#####
He felt more at home sleeping under the open sky anyway. So he found a shadowed location behind the building he had been assigned, doffed his boots, rolled up his tunic for a pillow, and stretched out in a swale in the ground.

He was awakened three hours later, to judge by the position of the stars, and he lay very still with his eyes closed until he could determine what had awakened him. It was a two-moon night and their light would reflect on his opened eyes. So his ears had to do the work for him.

He made out a jumble of whispers.

(Hope he sleeps sound,) said one.

(Which window is the bedroom?) said another.

(Think we kin open it without awaken him?) That was a third man.

(I still say we should just kick in the front door,) said the first.

(That would a-give him a warning.)

(That’s what this is supposed to be, fool.)

(You think this man, he is the right one?)

(Who cares? Cain’t be more’n a handful of his kind on all of Cuffland.)

This struck Teo as a conversation of more than passing interest, so he eased from the ground and padded on his bare feet through the grass to the side of the colonel’s residence. There he saw three men bundled in shadow-ware: black trews and black blouses with hoods drawn up over their heads. Their green faces barely interrupted the darkness of their silhouettes. Teodorq stood behind them as a fourth man and peered over their shoulder.

(What’s his name again?) whispered the second man.

(Who cares?) said the first. (A job’s a job.)

(Name’s ‘Dorq,) said the third and snickered.

The window slid open and the first man expressed satisfaction. He stood a-toe and peered into the room. (The hell! He ain’t in his bed!)

Teo tapped the third man on the shoulder and whispered to him. (Maybe he likes to sleep outdoors like a savage.)

The third man stood very still while he did some mental arithmetic. Then he turned about, alerting the others. “I found him,” he announced. That wasn’t quite right, but Teo did not correct him.

The other two shushed him, but he pointed and they noticed Teo standing with them.

“What are you doing here?” demanded the first man.

Teo considered the matter. “Stopping you, I think. Why, am I wrong?”

The stalkers were regaining their confidence and arranged themselves in a line. They were fourteen stone each, most of it in the chest and shoulder and none of it fat. The way they held their short “pilli” clubs suggested expertise in their use.

“There's three of us,” the first man pointed out.

“I see the problem,” Teddy said. “Do you need more time? To get help, I mean. I wouldn't want folks to say this fight weren't fair.”

“Why, I'll knock you clean out of your socks!”

Teodorq laughed. “I don't think you can do that.”

His eyes narrowed. “And why not?”

“Cause I ain't wearin' any.”

The guy couldn't help it. He looked down at Teddy's bare feet. That positioned his head for a knee-kick to his face. The kick knocked him back and Teddy put a left to the side of his head, then a right to his brisket. He fell without a word.

Teddy threw his arms out in frustration. “Now there's only two of you,” he complained.

There was a moment of silence, then the man on the left shrugged in resignation. “We already got paid.”

“I understand,” Teo told him. “Yuh got it to do.”

They made the usual mistake of two men attacking one. They separated to take him from either side. But that put them out of support of one another and a maxim of combat was never to divide your forces in the face of a superior enemy. Teodorq did not consider it brag to count himself the superior force, just plain fact.

What two men facing one never seemed to expect was that the one would attack the two, but Teo never did see much sense in waiting around. He turned to the man he judged the greater threat and went at him “fist and foot” as they said on the Great Grass, and left the second man isolated in his rear. He began counting.

The right hand man expected many things, but to be punched in the side of the head with Teodorq’s left foot was not one of them; nor that this self-same leg would block the pilli. He found himself effectively stopped by Teo’s flank attack and dropped stunned from the temple-kick just as Teo completed his count and spun to catch the second man by the blouse and throw him with a hip roll through the air to land with a whoosh of breath on his back.

All three men were groaning on the ground, clutching at sundry parts of their anatomy. The first two men were out. The third was gasping for air. Teo went to stand above him.

“Who paid yuh, if yuh don’t mind my asking?”

“Shoon Buliq.”

“Never heard of him. Why’d he want a beat-down on me?”

The man sucked in another breath. “He don’t know you from Grosbeak’s dam. He’s a broker works out of Lodervee. Don’t know who contracted him.”

“Hunh. If it ain’t too personal a question, how much he paying yuh?”

The bully-boy grimaced. “All things considered, not near enough.”
###



Have You Ever Noticed?

How nowadays every tropical storm gets a name? That's because there haven't been enough hurricanes in recent times and they need named storms to keep folks riled up. They've been trying to name winter storms for a couple years now, but it hasn't caught on.

The TV weather in the morning now reports how many millions of people are "at risk" for weather events. At risk for what is left unsaid. Of death? Of bodily injury? Of getting wet? What? And why don't they use the same criterion when reporting on new federal regulations?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Picture of One of the World's First Computers

at JPL in 1953. Each woman is a switch. The program was a set of instructions each was given: receive the number from the woman to your left, divide by seven, and hand the result to the woman behind you. That sort of thing.



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Quote of the Day

"He [Kraus] had seen the First World War coming, in the malice spreading through the language; in the smugness that fogged perception; in the lies that people told each other, to preserve their amour-propre; in the jingo that lurked beneath the genteel. After, he saw worse.
.....
"My sense is that we are once again coming to the end of lies and hypocrisy. The political class has delivered us once more, by increments. Trump and Sanders say things that are plain; in Europe, too, we have candidates who mean what they say. What they say is blather, and frequently unhinged, and not lying but indifferent to fact. It is sincere, however."

-- David Warren, "The decline of requirements"
 
One often hears it said of this personality or that that "at least he says what he means!" He is no hypocrite. Late Moderns having elevated hypocrisy to the One and Only Sin, a man who is no hypocrite begins to seem like the immaculate conception. But in addition to meaning what he says, it is well to ask what he says means. Genghis Khan was a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of guy, too.

He brought hope and change, as well; at least for some. But the same question can be asked of change. What is to be changed and in what direction? Most times, it is for the worse. (Recall: Most mutations kill the organism.) It turns out that young European idealists in the 20s and 30s were also hopey-changey, but what they changed was from boring bourgeois Biedermeier to exciting proletarian fascism. 
 
And choice. Who can be against choice? Well, except when evacuating an burning airplane. You really don't want every passenger "thinking for himself," because he is liable to think I gotta get out of here! and pay little attention to the people in his way. But other than that. Oh, and whether evolution is true. Otherwise, "I Choose!" is an unanswerable assertion by the Triumphant Will. 
 
But as Michael Novak once wrote: 
Professors in countless classrooms in many different disciplines report that students have already been well taught that, when they are faced with any moral proposition, the proper response is, “That’s just your opinion.” They are resistant, then, to resolving disagreements by reasoned arguments. They aver, “You choose your good, and I’ll choose mine.” Reasoned debate is replaced by naked will. I choose. Don’t ask me to give reasons—I just choose.

This circumstance seems to be what Nietzsche meant when he observed that no man of reason should rejoice in the death of God. Experience will soon show, he was certain, that with the death of God arrives the death of reason. And what is the path out of nihilism?
The Modern Ages began their long collapse just over a century ago, and the light has very nearly burned out. Well, they were fun while they lasted.