Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scouts and the Scouting Scouters

Eagles.  Eagles everywhere.
Girls have actually been able to do "scouting" for some time now, but as part of the "Venture Scouts" program, not the Cubs or Boy Scouts.

I'm mixed on this. The BSA didn't so much decide to accept girls, as they arrived at the conclusion that they're tired of going to court to defend an archaic system of non-inclusion. That system was partly maintained by the LDS church having the BSA in an armlock, and threatening to take their chunk of boys out if the BSA caved on issues like this and LGBT inclusion. The LDS accounted for about 25% of scout packs and troops because its age-groups align nicely with the Mormon young men's structure. I have little doubt that the BSA council sat down with the LDS leaders and let them know that LGBT (right or wrong—I figure right) was a losing fight, and most likely that inclusion of girls (right or wrong—not sure here) was also a losing fight.

Correlation does not equal causation, so to be fair, the LDS Church stated those things had no bearing on their decision.  They began to exit the BSA in May this year.

Unfortunately, BSA membership has been on a steady decline over the past whatever number of years. Scouting is an involved effort with some pretty hefty time-commitments that don't lend themselves to other interests. With the rise of extracurricular activities like year-round academic and club sports (right or wrong), parents and kids (sorta) see more value in year-long training and competition, than the attainment of merit badges and rank advancement.

So maybe this isn't just the BSA bowing to modern convention on inclusion.  Maybe this is really a last gasp of a dying institution trying to bolster its failing numbers.  The Girl Scouts certainly seem to think so.

I don't really know what to think on this.  Exclusion generally seems wrong.  If a girl wants to join an organization, even one with a defined gender right in their name, I don't see why not.  Women have proven they can handle the toughest requirements in the world.  Why not attain the Eagle scout rank, which the military recognizes as giving recruits certain skill advantages.  The military also recognizes the Girl Scouts Gold Award.


Caveat (though not much): I was a Scout, although I didn't get my Eagle.  I stopped at Life, and will always regret not completing the requirements. My oldest son just became a Webelos and my middle son will join early next year when he turns 8. I see value in Scouting and will promote it with my boys, encourage them to get their Eagle.  I don't have a daughter, so I have no vote on that side.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You Can't Take Back a Bullet

The beginning—not the only, not the end.
There has been NO END of discussion about gun violence, gun control and gun rights.  That’s good.  That needs to continue happening.  That degree of concern and pressure needs to burn and boil and then hiss on the stovetop.  Out of reading and discussion I finally was able to sum up the bulk of my thoughts on the subject.  To do so, everyone should review and donate to organizations like EveryTown.org.

tl;dr version: Humans aren't responsible enough to handle firearms.

Caveat: I'm a gun owner. I spent part of my formative years in uber-rural Nevada, and we shot everything all the time.

"No one is saying we should ban all guns."

I am and I have.  Publicly even, on the radio.

Usually, that's a conversation killer, which is why I don't lead with it.  But it's the end position that I'd like to see.

The 2nd Amendment, and in fact the entire Constitution, is not sacrosanct. It’s an excellent document, one of the best, and it’s served us well, but the "Founding Fathers" (whatever that means) understood it was a living document that needed to grow with the times and the country.  They couldn't foresee weapons of mass-death being a thing of the future, or they would have worded #2 less ambiguously. If the only reason we're allowing people to be killed is because it's our god-given, natural right as set forth in the Constitution, then that's where we need to start.
But that's none of my business . . . 

Knives, hammers, baseball bats, beer bottles, chainsaws, and cars all kill people, true. They all have a primary purpose, which isn't murder. They are all regulated and legislated from multiple sides.  A gun’s PRIMARY purpose is to kill. They have a secondary purpose—target shooting—but that's related to the primary purpose, which will make the user a more effective killer.

Mass shootings (however you want to define them) only highlight the problem, underlining it with blood and numbers. Daily, hourly, firearms are being used, intentionally or accidentally, to wound and kill. We, as humans, are simply not responsible enough as a species to be allowed this kind of power and be expected to use it rationally. The NRA has adopted a narrative of national myths to perpetuate this rationale. Instead of being the first in line to adopt regulations for firearm safety (the original goal of the NRA), they stand firmly in the path of any regulations—ANY—no matter how benign, and cry foul, preaching a sermon of fear and distrust. They have been so effective, that we now have penetration of guns on an unprecedented scale—more firearms then people. This means that legal or illegal, if you want a gun, you can get a gun for any reason at almost any time. The reports of the use/misuse of guns to solve "problems" and settle scores is a litany of Biblical proportions. In the only first world country where this kind of event happens regularly, we continually shrug our shoulders and claim "nothing can be done". We wantonly put the power to effect tens, hundreds, thousands and NOW tens-of-thousands of lives into the hands of frightened, panicky, scared, irresponsible, immature, and overly-emotional humans.

False equivalency is false.
As much as I'd like a gun ban, an outright ban is, well, out.  SCOTUS' 2008 interpretation of the application of the 2nd Amendment in DC v Heller pretty much did for that.  Right or wrong, that's the current law, and until SCOTUS gets another swing at it, this is where we stand.

Things the Fed CAN do under current interpretation of 2nd Amendment:

Require background checks for all sales.
Close loopholes on gun show and other "out of the trunk" sales.
Require accidental death/injury insurance.
Require gun safety courses and federally issued licenses.

None of these directly touch guns, only how you go about purchasing and possessing them.

The only additional law I'd like to see would actually touch guns: limit the number of firearms.  The penetration of guns is so vast, that any morning after a heavy wind storm, I have to go kick the AKs and the SIG Sauers off the front lawn so the street sweeper can clean them up. The majority of gun violence is only one or two victims. Right now, legal or illegal, I could get a gun if I really wanted it, and no one would know until it was too late.  That’s the trouble with gun violence, it’s usually only known after it’s too late. With 300 million+ weapons available . . .


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Greetings From Sunny Aluna - by Eric Lahti

One of the coolest covers this year!
Friend of the blog and former lifetime roomie Eric Lahti has a new book out: Greetings From Sunny Aluna.  Based on one of his shorts from The Clock Man: And Other StoriesAlunans say The Beast is a myth, a tale told by criminals to their kids about what can happen if they get too far out of line. Almost no one knows who The Beast is and the few who do refuse to talk for fear of repercussions.

Now The Beast has upped the ante and is seeking out a young boy from Earth with magic unlike anything else on Aluna.

In The Beast's way is an alcoholic ex-cop, a famed Wushu master, and a young woman sent by a dragon. Together, they'll navigate a city run by crime to find out who The Beast is and put a stop to him.

Unfortunately, they're about to find out the war never ended.

3 | Dragon Lady

The ends of Huizhong’s dark hair were pink tinted gray, a leftover from her time in Croatoa working in the Clock Tower. The city was noisy and dirty and stank of bad ideas and dark alleys where predators roamed unchecked. She described Croatoa as Dìyù come to life; a living, breathing example of what not to do.

She shuddered slightly as a bit of memory wafted across her brain. It was only her ongoing attempt at centeredness that let her push the memory aside and focus on cleansing her mind of the horrors she’d seen and done.

Huizhong sat cross-legged in the middle of a forest clearing and focused on removing the bad person she  had became from the good person she was supposed to be. But, like the smells of the city, the bad didn’t wash out easily. She felt tainted by it, like Croatoa had soiled her very soul.

All along the edges of the clearing were towers of neatly stacked, barely balanced rocks. Huizhong felt like those towers. All it would take is a gentle nudge to push her over into oblivion. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her stormy mind.

Huizhong wanted to rebuild herself after the Clock Man died. The death of Chenming Zhang was a net positive – less evil in the world – but she felt she had become as bad as he was. When he fell out the window at the top of the Clock Tower a part of her sighed in relief, but a thought nagged at her constantly. For everything she’d done: infiltrated the tower, infiltrated the Beast’s gang, killed a few people, nearly consigned Felix Crow to a slow, miserable death, she felt like a part of her soul had been stomped on and put back in place upside down.

Did the ends truly justify the means? Or was she as bad as Crow and Chenming Zhang? After all, she wasn’t exactly innocent in Zhang’s death. Before he fell, Huizhong had been actively exploring ways of killing him. To get closer to the Clock Man, she’d joined up with his inner circle and done the terrible things inner circles do.

When Chenming Zhang finally died, Huizhong ran from Croatoa and came back to the forest to rediscover herself. Everyone said Nüwa dwelt in their churches and places of worship, but Huizhong only ever felt Nüwa’s presence here in the forest. Specifically, in this clearing. Mab and the rest of the Furious Fae never claimed the great goddess lived here and maybe that was why the sense of her was so strong. No books, no rules, no chanting monks, just the peace and quiet of creation calmly doing its thing.

Xiǎojiě was shining her weak silver rays through the trees, casting long shadows across the clearing. Some people preferred the radiance of Dàjiě, but Huizhong felt Little Sister’s light was less obtrusive. Big sister lived up to her name.

Eyes closed, Huizhong forced her mind to calm itself. She thought of the still waters of the lake she had grown up next to, so calm the surface looked like glass. She felt her hair brush her cheek as the breeze played with it. Slowly, her mind became as calm as the lake and light as the breeze.

Then the vision started again. It was yet another thorn in her spiritual side, a vision of death and blood and horrifying things no one should experience. Each night when she closed her eyes to sleep, the vision took hold. Even in her dreams, she fought to close her eyes and roll into a mental ball to avoid seeing the images.

Maybe it was Nüwa, maybe it was someone else, but whoever was sending the vision was insistent. So far, Huizhong had managed to avoid seeing the details of the vision as it played out in her head night after night. And night after night, the vision came back. Tonight, Huizhong was determined to calm herself enough that she could explore the vision and remain detached from it.

It started as it always did; she was walking through a long passageway with Felix Crow. He was edgy and irritable, even for his already edgy and irritable personality. Someone was behind them. In her mind, she turned to see who it was, but all she saw was a tall man in a dǒulì that covered his eyes. He was wearing rough clothing made of canvas. Crow was wearing his trench coat and hat. They were following something, something young and male. Whatever it was, it felt tremendously powerful. The follower felt dangerous, like getting too close to a downed magic line. Then the vision degenerated into skeletons and blood and fire.

“Your friend Crow is an interesting thing,” a deep, rumbling voice said from behind her.
Huizhong’s eyes popped open. Part of her wanted to snap and lash out for interrupting the vision. The other part knew neither of those things was a good idea. Instead, she touched her neck and remembered.

“He’s not my friend,” Huizhong said.

The voice moved around the periphery of the forest. A sound like silverware lightly clattering followed its movements. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, the clattering sound stopped. “You treated him like a friend. A special friend.”

She felt like he was hunting her. In truth, he probably was. It was his way. “That was part of the job and you know it.”

Huizhong’s face burned in embarrassment. Of course, he would know about … that. How could he not? But he didn’t have to remind her of her shortcomings. “Do not fret, child,” the voice said. “Human mating rituals are beneath my concern.”

The voice moved around the periphery of the clearing. He was so silent, Huizhong never knew where the voice would come from next. Even though she’d conversed with him before, she couldn’t get over how such a large being could move so silently. It must have been eons of predatory evolution and centuries of practice.

“Then what does concern you?” Huizhong asked.

“Power,” he said. “The same thing that drives you drives me. We are not all that different, physical aspects aside.”

Huizhong brushed a stray hair out of her face and leaned back to look at the stars. “The only power I want is the power to find a nice bed and sleep in it forever.”

This time the voice came from left. “I, too, enjoy sleep. But sleeping forever would be a waste of a life.”

“Are you going to wander around the forest all night?” Huizhong asked. Her mind was still too much of a mess to deal with his games.

The forest fell silent. The usual chittering calls of insects and muted chirping of the tiny dragons stopped suddenly. A primal part of Huizhong’s mind tensed. When the forest critters went dark it meant something dangerous was lurking nearby.

If they only knew, she thought. If they could only understand exactly what was skulking around in the woods.

“I will never understand how you manage to do that,” she said.

The forest exploded. One moment it was deathly silent, the next a huge blur sped at her. Huizhong didn’t even have time to get her hands up before she was face to face with a dragon as black as the night itself. The creature’s eyes were glowing amber, as if lit from within by very fires that powered its breath. Fangs that could rend a person in two glowed in Little Sister’s faint light.

The multitude of whiskers on its snout pointed up in the air and bounced gently as it made a series of short growls. The dragon chuckled to himself, pleased with his ability to hunt and kill. “Do what?” he asked.

Huizhong’s flight response faded from her body even as adrenaline was still surging through her veins. Dragons were odd creatures; undoubtedly intelligent, but their intellect was far different from humans. The fact that humans had fought a war with these creatures and fought it well spoke more to numbers than any intelligence or skill on the humans’ part.

She took in a deep breath and tried to calm her raging heart. “Turn off the forest like that,” she said a little more breathily than she would have liked.

The dragon coiled around himself. Normally, dragons in this part of the world had long legs and majestic wings that made humans want to drop to their knees and worship them, but the big creature before her didn’t fit that bill. He had short, stubby legs. While he had wings, they were smaller than the normal Northern dragon, more evolutionary leftover than functional. He looked like a three-hundred-hand-long snake that someone had added wings and short legs to.

He cocked his enormous head to the side and bared his fangs in dragon-y grin. “Trade secrets, my daughter,” he said.





About the Author
He'd be prettier if he smiled more.
Eric Lahti hates writing bios. In fact, he hates them so much he writes about himself in the third person as if he was somehow writing about someone else. Photography doesn’t agree with him, either, so his pictures always make him look crazy. He’s the author of the Henchmen series and the nascent tales of Aluna as well as some really cool short stories about captured gods, the bogeyman, and a guy with a talking gun. Eric is currently working a new book surrounding the captured ghost of a woman, a roadside attraction, and the end of the world.

He currently lives in Albuquerque with his wife, son, and dog where he spends a large part of his day programming and studying Kenpo. When he’s not busy doing those things, he writes bios about himself.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Cronian Incident by Matthew Williams

The Cronian Incident (The Formist Series) (Volume 1) by Matthew Williams is a slow-paced, contemplative science fiction story that fans of The Expanse will really enjoy.  When a high-ranking member of a Formist family disappears, Jeremiah Ward, a former detective serving a hard labor sentence on Mercury is called to act as private detective.  In exchange for Ward’s services, his sentence will be commuted, but it may be more than he bargained for.

Out of the gate, Ward has his own self-imposed obstacles to overcome.  He’s guilt-ridden over the events that landed him in prison, and seems to accept his fate as if he were on death row.  When Ward is given his “golden ticket” of a task as a private detective, it seems like the best of all worlds.  Of course, nothing is ever so easy as all that, and Ward finds himself going deep down the rabbit hole of conspiracy and danger.


Williams injects a realism into this splendid science fiction story that is reminiscent of some of the best in the genre.  The Cronian Incident offers a unique view of the future-imperfect through the eyes of the flawed by likable character Jeremiah Ward.  Fans of the genre will definitely want to pick up the slow-boil science fiction mystery and tuck in for a good read.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

National Poetry Day 2017

Master of his fate. Captain of his soul.
Today is National Poetry Day in the UK.  I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but as a former English Literature major, I’ve certain read more than my fair share (and probably some of your share as well).  I do, however, have a soft spot for a good bit of verse.  Invictus is one such poem.  You might be familiar with it already, possibly from Nelson Mandela's history, or from the Matt Damon movie of the same name (which invoked the poem), but you may not know much about the author.

William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) was a Victorian poet, who suffered—as many did at that time—a dirt-poor childhood and all the pains that go along with that.  One of those remaining “gifts” from his younger years was, as with many others, tuberculosis.  In 1875, when Henley was 26, complications from his tuberculosis cost him his left leg.  The upside of this was that his friend and fellow writer, Robert Lewis Stevenson, based Long John Silver partially on Henley’s jovial character and, of course, the amputated leg.  Stevenson wrote to Henley in a letter after the publication of Treasure Island:

I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver . . . the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.

Further misfortune befell Henley, and his doctors advised that to save his life, his other leg must also be amputated.  As a life-long runner, I can imagine the sheer horror of facing that kind of loss—and Victorian medicine was in its infancy, with prosthetics still rudimentary at best, and always painful.  Henley sought out Dr. Joseph Lister, who was a pioneering surgeon of the time, and although he underwent several painful surgeries over the next few years, his right leg was saved.

While Henley was recovering in the hospital, he wrote an untitled poem, which was included in his first published collection Book of Verses.  Later, the title Invictus was added; Latin for “undefeated” or “unconquerable”. 

With this history in mind, it is understandable why I chose to incorporate the verses of Henley’s Invictus into the titles for Company of the Damned.  Del’s history, that of the characters that surround her, and her current circumstances seem (perhaps arrogantly) worthy of Henley’s beautiful words.  Thus, I present for your reading pleasure the poem, Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


Thank you, Mr. Henley.  Thank you very much.

Please feel free to share the titles and authors of your favorite poems in the comments.