Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Reviews and Shameless Plugs

It being that time of year when I have to renew my library card, I’ve had my mind on books lately. So, for all you literate folks out there – and you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t – here’s a short list of my current recommendations.

First – Shameless Plug #1 – is "A Dirge For Sabis", first book in the trilogy, “The Sword of Knowledge”, available at www.amazon.com. The trilogy was an experiment by C. J. Cherryh, wherein she took a general outline of history on a fictional world, divided it into three ages, and handed each outline to a partner to make into a novel. I got the first book, about the downfall of the old Empire of Sabis and the founding of a new society. CJ wanted to keep the fantasy elements to a minimum, so the only magic that works in this fictional universe is Murphy’s Law: you can psychically well-wish or ill-wish somebody, and that’s it. All the rest is science and politics. Being the jolly Anarchist that I am, I centered the story on a group of scientists (and their families) struggling to hold off downfall and chaos with a new invention: a simple black-powder cannon. The chief conflict of the story is their struggle to save something of their collapsing society despite the obstacles of medieval politics. It’s a jolly good read, if I say so myself.

Shameless Plug #2, likewise available at Amazon.com, is my collection of true funny stories: "Offensive As Hell: The Joys of Jesus-Freak Bagging". The title pretty much says it all, and I want to thank again all the folks who told me their pet tales. Here you’ll find stories of lucky accidents with pythons, calculated nudity, fortunate storms and inspired comebacks. It can be read purely for laughs, or as a handy tool-book. Listed under “humor”, this garnered a lot of reviews at Amazon, all of them merrily positive. It’s a small book, but I’ve heard enough such stories since that, if I ever do a second edition, it’ll be a good bit thicker.

Now for other people’s stuff.

"Verasheyan", by J. Trout (it was that name which made me stop and look), from Phaze Books (www.phaze.com), is something uniquely weird. It’s a Science Fiction/BDSM/erotic Romance, which isn’t something one encounters every day. The plot is simple enough: future cops capture a beautiful hermaphroditic alien who, as bodyguard to an interstellar crook, knows all his/her boss’s secrets. To wring the information out of the alien, the commander hands him/her over to a BDSM expert, Master Zane, and his assistant Nell. The experts succeed in getting the info, in a series of blisteringly erotic scenes, but Nell falls for the alien, and Master Zane plots to keep custody of him/her as a toy for Nell. Part of the deal involves taking on the police commander as a student, and his subsequent training – neatly paralleling the developing relationship between the Alien and Nell – involves some eye-opening revelations about the BDSM phenomenon. This is either the hottest textbook or the most informative bit of porno that I’ve ever encountered.

"The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins, is guaranteed to PO fundamentalists of any stripe. Dawkins’ style alternates between the picky pedantic philosophizing of an Oxford don – which isn’t surprising, seeing that he *is* an Oxford don – and the incisive clarity of an investigative reporter. If he had just stopped with giving a good logical argument as to why the traditional Old Testament (or Koran) god can’t exist, this book would be a fairly fast and entertaining read. The problem is that he then goes on to insist, on no evidence or logic whatever, that if “God” can’t exist then no other energy-being, or souls, or psychic phenomena can exist either. This tends to make Atheism seem as bigoted as Pat Robertson’s brand of Christianity. Still, this book delineates the current Atheist position very neatly; it’s something that any thinking person should sharpen their wits on. It just might inspire some good Fantasy and Science Fiction stories.

That’s all for now, folks. Anybody wanting to post short reviews/plugs of other books here, feel free. Enjoy!


--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hoplophobic Cops

This really happened to me, about two years ago, when I was living in the house on Catalina Drive, Phoenix.

This will take a little explanation: in that house the kitchen/dining-room area is cut off from the hallway not by a complete wall but by a waist-high counter that runs back to a doorway near the back kitchen wall. Anyone standing in the hallway could be seen over the counter by anyone at the front door or in the kitchen/dining-room. Anyone lying on the floor couldn't be. Got that? Okay.

I was busy with my email when I heard a howling, thumping disturbance out in the main part of the house. I got up and went out and saw, in the hallway, a strange woman fighting with one of my tenants. The woman had a knife and was hacking at the tenant, who had grabbed her from behind and was squirming to avoid the knife.

So I pulled out my gun (the little-bitty North American Arms .22 mini-revolver, so small you can cover it with one hand), pointed it at the woman and yelled: "Freeze!"

Probably because we were in a working-class neighborhood, where people have experience with such things, the woman promptly froze -- and then dropped to the floor. The tenant grabbed the knife out of her hand and got out of the way fast, setting the knife on the counter as she passed. The woman on the floor began to cry, but had the sense not to move. I kept my gun pointed at her and told the tenant to call the cops, which she did.

At that point the action stopped. Then tenant sat down in the kitchen and waited. The woman on the floor cried and waited. I "held the point" (i.e., kept my gun aimed at her) and waited. We all waited for the cops to show up, and it took them a good quarter-hour or a little over. Since I was holding the point with my arms fully extended, you can imagine that they began to get tired. I leaned against the nearest wall to brace my arms, but it didn't help much.

*Finally* the cops came to the front door and knocked, and the tenant hurried to let them in. They stopped at the door, looked around, saw me standing sideways to them aiming my gun at something they couldn't see down the hallway, and they said what cops always say when they see any armed civilian: "Police! Freeze! Drop your weapon!"

I wasn't about to let the woman have a chance to escape, so, *carefully not looking at the cops*, I replied: "Police, help! Come put your guns on this perp so I can take mine off."

The cops looked at each other as if they'd never heard of such a thing, tippy-toed a little closer, and shouted again: "Police! Freeze! Drop-your-weapon!"

Again, keeping my eyes on the woman, I called back: "Police, help! Come take charge of this perp."

Again, the cops exchanged glances and tippy-toed a little closer. Again, they gave their standard call, and again I answered. Step by step, "Police! Freeze!" by "Police, help!", they made their way close enough to the counter to look over it and see that, yes, I was holding my gun on a woman who was lying on the floor crying.

Finally one of them had the sense to come around the end of the counter and say: "It's all right, we've got her." I said: "Finally!", pulled up my gun (pointing it safely at the ceiling), and started to shove it back in its belt-holster.

"No-no-no!" snapped one of the other cops. "Don't put it away; give it to us."

What the hell, it was a cheap little thing; if the cops elected to steal it (which they usually do with citizens' guns), I could replace it easily, so I handed it toward the nearer cop. He jumped back, wailing: "No, don't point it at *me*!" -- though in fact, I wasn't. I dutifully pointed the muzzle back toward the ceiling and handed it toward him again, and this time he took it -- with such exaggerated care that you'd think I was handing him a grenade. He carried it away, fussing with it. I started rubbing my cramped arms and grumbling about having to hold the point for a good 15 minutes while I'd waited for them to show up.

While the first cop cuffed the woman (which seems to be another of their standard behaviors), I explained to a third cop what I'd heard, seen and done. I also showed him the knife -- which he looked at, pronounced "a cheap Chinese job", and then ignored.

As the first cop was frog-marching the woman outside, and the third was questioning the tenant, the second came up to me and shamefacedly asked me how to unload my gun. After an instant's astonishment, I told him. He still couldn't do it. I offered to unload the gun for him, but oh no, he wouldn't let me touch it again until it *was* unloaded. *Sigh* Impasse. Finally, I set my hands over his and showed him: "Take the knurled end of the rod under the barrel between your thumb and middle finger, then press the end of the rod firmly with your index finger, then pull the rod out. Now pull the hammer very slightly back, and push the cylinder out of the frame." It took three tries before he got it. The gun was now in three harmless pieces -- frame, cylinder and rod -- and he didn't seem to know what to do with it. I gave up on the whole business, went back into the computer room and resumed working on my email.

It took half an hour to straighten the whole mess out. The tenant chose not to press charges, the woman left her knife right where it was and departed, and the cops went back to their cars to make reports. One of them came up to me and handed back the pieces of my gun, and they all went away.

What did I conclude from all this? First, that the cops do *not* show up quickly, even when you tell them there are "weapons" involved. Second, even in a no-gun-control state like Arizona, the cops assume that any civilian with a gun is automatically the Bad Guy. Third, they don't seem to know what to do when the civilian has caught the Bad Guy and is holding him/her for them. Fourth, they're not as familiar with guns as they like to think. Fifth, that they won't steal any civilian's weapon if it's too cheap, too small or too complex for them.

The moral of the story is: if you catch a Bad Guy on your own hook, make sure you do it with a cheap and/or complex weapon that the cops won't want. Also, if you hold the perp for the cops, be sure to have a friend standing near who can explain -- fast and loudly -- that the person holding the weapon is the Good Guy. And of course don't point either the weapon or your eyes at the cops. It also helps to memorize the words: "Police, help! *He's* the perp; I'm the Good Guy!" -- because they certainly can't tell from looking.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ON ABORTION

by Leslie Fish


One of the not-so-minor points in the recent presidential race was the abortion question. Obama stated that he believed in a woman's right to abortion. McCain and Palin announced that they didn’t personally believe in abortion but, if elected, they would not make a federal case of it but would leave the legality of abortion to the individual states. Still, the word went out: “If McCain gets elected, you can kiss Roe vs. Wade goodbye.” That helped tip the balance toward Obama. It’s pretty obvious that, no matter what the Family Values crowd may think, a vast number of Americans – particularly women – want to keep abortion legal. Those who don’t had best consider the following facts.

First, abortion can take place only during the first trimester of pregnancy. After that it becomes dangerous to the mother, and no doctor will do it for anything less than a direct threat to the mother’s life. Now, during the first trimester of pregnancy the object in a woman’s uterus is certainly not a “baby”; it won’t become that until the last trimester. It isn’t even properly called a “fetus”; it won’t be that until the second trimester. The proper scientific name for it is “embryo” – as in “embryonic” – and it is absolutely not a human being. It does not have a human heart or a human spine or human lungs, and it certainly does not have a human brain. For the religious-minded, consider that without a brain there is no mind, and without a mind, how can there be a soul?

Yes, an embryo is made of human tissue, but then, so are your toenails. Yes, it’s technically alive, but then, so is a virus. Yes, it will eventually develop to become a human being, but then, given enough time, so will whole species of monkeys; the only difference is time – six months versus six million years. The physical condition of an embryo is somewhere between that of a primitive worm and a salamander. Its life is certainly not worth the life, or health, or freedom, of a real human being – such as a woman – not unless you’re going to claim that women are not really human beings.

Now, on the question of the “value of life”… Ask: whose life?

No man has ever died in childbirth, but countless hundreds of millions of women have. Childbirth is not safe. It has not been safe since human beings began walking upright, and growing big brains and big skulls to hold them. Even in America today with all our boasted medical science, according to the medical actuarial tables, for women between the ages of 15 and 50, childbirth is the second most common cause of death. You don’t want to know what the first one is. (You do? All right: it’s violence – usually perpetrated by men. Childbirth is always perpetrated by men. Men have a lot to answer to women for.) Any woman who becomes pregnant is placing her life at risk. No one should be forced to place their life at risk without their consent. No one should be forced to risk their life for someone else’s beliefs. No man has the right to order a woman to risk her life for what he wants.

In any country that calls itself free, to risk your life or not must always be the individual’s choice. Therefore, to abort or not must always be the individual woman’s choice – and nobody else’s. Anything less is tyranny.



END

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Friend, New Tactic

An old buddy of mine from California sent me this, and I thought it was just too good to keep to myself. Enjoy!

******

First the background to this little tale: last weekend tragedy struck a friend. Samuel, the 16-year-old older brother of one of Hannah's classmates, died suddenly. Cause; brain swelling due to head injury. Samuel's head got hit, he seemed OK, two days later he died. Horror, grief and misery.

Sherri, upon hearing this, was badly upset, but has cried it out. Life goes on. We'll attend funeral, as no doubt will much of Hannah's school.

(note: Sherri is Nathaniel's wife; Hannah is their little daughter)

I maintained a more stable facade, but (how like a man) I needed to argue furiously with someone in order to feel better. I was pissed off at the world and I needed to win an argument.


Well what do you know, there in a walkway at the College of San Mateo were two anti-abortionists. An older man and an older woman, both white-haired, at a table full of pamphlets and obstetric models. No bloody fetus photos, fortunately. These were gentle folk; they're for life, don't you know.

Normally I'd have shrugged it off, but like I said, I needed to argue with someone. It had nothing to do with them, or their issue, but they voluntarily put themselves in the argument zone, so I availed myself of that service.

I met them several times, breaking for class and lunch, so the following is a condensation of several confrontations.

I asked them if they were against abortion in the case of rape or incest. They hemmed and hawed, they evaded and equivocated. I pressed the issue, she avoided my eyes, he met my eyes (his were blue) and he said yes, they're against abortion for incest or rape. I pressed further; should the government _forbid_ abortion for rape or incest? He, seeing that this was a pissing match, doubled down. Yes, the government should outlaw abortion in the case of incest or rape. "You are extremists", I said, and I pressed further. It turned out that they were for the use of tax-paid government coercion to compel a woman to bear her rapist's child, against her will. (I refrained from calling that 'the second rape'; a minor missed opportunity in an otherwise enjoyable rant.)

Oh, but you see it's all about life. Oh really? I asked if they were against the death penalty, or warfare, or self-defense. They were for self-defense; I replied, "then you're not pro-life." I explained that I objected to their tendentious abuse of language. If they called themselves anti-abortion, then that would be accurate; but they called themselves pro-life, when in fact on several key issues they aren't, and that's hypocrisy.

Ooo, they didn't like that! These quiet elderly gentlefolk didn't like what they saw in the mirror I held up to them. That they of all people should be hypocritical and callous; how could this be? That's totally inconsistent with their self-image! Normally I wouldn't bother to impose so violent a revelation upon such lambs, but like I said, they volunteered to lose an argument, and I needed to win one.

To his credit he gave as good as he got; he called me closed-minded. I retorted that I would love to hear his opinion, if only he would give it rather than evade. For instance, what about saving the life of the woman? Again they equivocated, again I close-mindedly insisted on a yes or no answer. At one point I ranted, "More evasion! If you were outright fascist then at least we could argue it, but this business of thinking one thing but not being able to say it - that's not respectable!"

Finally, holy moley, the man doubled down. Yes, if the doctors could save the baby then the woman must go through with it, whether she wants to or not. (At this point a young woman, who had been reading one of the pamphlets at the table, set it down and left.)

I called that a religious view, contradicted by other religious views, and as such not enforceable under the First Amendment. He said that the First Amendment is about no established churches, like C of E; I answered that it's also about not enforcing religious laws. He then said that some atheists came up to him and thanked him, and therefore this was not a religious issue, at all, it's about Life. Well, what about self-defense, war and the death penalty? Round and round we went!

Again I homed in. "Suppose a woman were raped; and she could not survive labor, Should the government use its full force of coercion to forbid the abortion, or not?" "That's a hypothetical question," he weaseled. I denied that flat out. I pressed on. "Suppose she has the abortion anyhow. What sanctions do you recommend? Fines?" They gave no answer. "Imprisonment?" They did not meet my eyes. "Oh, I know!" I crowed. "How about the death penalty? That way she dies either way!"

Four blue eyes stared at me. I smiled. I waited for an answer. None came. I waved my hand. "You're not serious," I said, and I left. It felt good.

I came back later for more, and it went the same. Again I pressed, they evaded, they objected to my vehemence, I quivered with excitement. And again I asked, what sanctions for the raped woman who aborts? Fines, imprisonment, death? And again, no answer.

And that, Leslie, is how to shut up "pro-lifers".


Sincerely,
Nathaniel