Friday, December 28, 2012

Back to Politics: Emoting Vs. Facts

Here's an article quoting actual facts and figures:

"Will Banning Guns Stop Homicides? Stats from England and Australia Show…

The debate on gun control is only gaining momentum. On Thursday, Senator Diane Feinstein outlined her plans to introduce sweeping legislation that includes fingerprinting and registration of all those who currently own so-called semi-automatic “assault” weapons.
Those in favor of a total ban on firearms often point to countries like England and Australia where firearms are banned or virtually impossible to possess. A look into the statistics might offer some clarity, though, about how safe such a move actually makes a country.
Let’s start at home. From 2009 to 2011, homicides overall declined slightly according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, with a corresponding drop in homicides by firearms.
In fact, the report says homicide is not among the top 15 leading causes of death in America. (As recently as 2009, the CDC reported that homicide was in the top 15 at #15.) Instead:
  • Accidents (unintentional deaths) were #5 and Suicide (intentional harm) has held solid as the 10th leading cause of death for several years.
  • The stats from 2009 show that homicides totaled 16,799, with 11,493 of those attributed to guns.
  • During that same year, motor vehicle deaths were nearly triple that of gun-related deaths — 34,485 vs. 11,493.
  • Death from accidental falls totaled 24,792, almost double the firearms homicide total.
The stats for gun deaths have actually shown some significant declines in the past two decades.
Homicide and Gun Statistics from England and Australia Show Banning Guns Doesnt Work
Image: National Institute of Justice
Looking at the above graph, it is worth noting that deaths caused by “other guns” has been relatively flat since 1985. The assault weapons ban was in place from 1994-2004.

And what about the argument most often made by the Left quoting the success of oppressive gun laws in countries like Australia and England? A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Joyce Lee Malcolm shows that argument to be hollow: “After a school massacre, the U.K. banned handguns in 1998. A decade later, handgun crime has doubled.”
Malcom’s article details what happened after Australia banned many guns following a 1996 mass murder of 35 people by a madman with assault rifles. The country tightened registration laws, banned assault rifles, pump-action shotguns, and also forced a buy back of more than 600,000 guns. What effect did this have on crime?
“A 2003 study published by the Brookings Institution, found homicides “continued a modest decline” since 1997. They concluded that the impact of the National Firearms Agreement was “relatively small,” with the daily rate of firearms homicides declining 3.2%.”
During the same period in America, deaths attributed to firearms dropped by nearly ten times the decline seen in Australia. Restricting or confiscating handguns seems to have had almost no effect on homicides in Australia and the stats also show that the law had no real effect on suicides.
“Suicides with firearms went down but suicides by other means went up,” Malcom notes.
And what about the oft-cited British gun laws? Have they done the job?
Restrictive gun laws have been around for almost 100 years in England, and Malcolm reports that getting a permit requires proving to police that you have a “good reason” for needing a gun. Self defense is not considered to be a good reason in England. Following a 1987 shooting in the British town of Hungerford, the Brits enacted stricter controls. And in 1998, a near-total ban on gun ownership followed another mass shooting. Were these moves a success?
Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time.
There is little doubt that the Senate will soon put forth new legislation regarding gun ownership, especially as it relates to so-called assault weapons. However, those making the argument that banning guns has worked in places like Australia and England might be advised to check the statistics or risk looking foolish if they encounter someone armed with the facts.
(H/T: Weasel Zippers)"

No matter how you feel, the facts show that gun-control just plain doesn't work.

--Leslie <;)))><    

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Season's Greetings!

To everyone:



Happy Hannukah, Jolly Solstice, Merry Christmas, Joyful Sir Isaac Newton’s Birthday, Happy Kwansaa, Jolly Eid al-Fatr, Happy Bodhi Day, Merry Boxing Day, Lusty Saturnalia, Happy New Year, Jolly Hogmanay, Merry Twelfth Night – and a partridge in a pear tree!

In other words, Happy Holidays -- all of them.

No, there is no "war on Christmas;  it's just that it has a lot of competition.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish   )O(
 



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fish in a Barrel

Last week, in Connecticut, a vicious lunatic named Adam Lanza murdered his mother.  Then he stole her (legal and registered) handguns, drove to the school where she had worked, marched right in the front door without any difficulty, went to the room of the kindergarten class his mother had taught, walked right in -- then shot the teacher, and proceeded to shoot the students.  There was no one in that room capable of stopping him.

Apparently the school had made some preparations for such an incident, for other teachers -- hearing the gunshots -- locked their classroom doors and made all the kids hide in a corner out of sight from the doors.  They also phoned the police, who arrived quickly and began clearing the building.  Just who finally stopped Lanza -- whether he shot himself or the police did it -- is still unclear, but obviously it was none of the students, teachers, or school staff.  That, thank you, is because the school's -- possibly the state's -- Zero Tolerance Policy forbade anyone, from the principal down to the janitor, and certainly the students, to bring a firearm or any other effective weapon into school.  That policy, of course, did not prevent Lanza from doing it.  That policy made the students and teachers into helpless targets.  Everyone has heard the phrase 'like shooting fish in a barrel';  it could easily be replaced by 'like shooting kids in a zero-tolerance school'.  Or, for that matter, a 'no weapons allowed' theater or shopping mall.

Of course, the moment the news came out, the professional liberals of the media began howling for More Gun Control, with such well-crafted phrases that they must have written up their appeals long in advance.  Of course President Obama was asked for his opinion, and he made a stirring speech about the 'tragedy', but was careful to say only that 'something must be done'.  A few media pundits bothered to say that we need better vicious-lunatic advance detection.

What nobody bothered to mention is this odd little fact.  For the past several decades, whenever some vicious lunatic wants to go kill a lot of innocent people, and decides to use guns instead of bombs, he'll go to, in order of precedence:  a) a school, b) a theater, c) a shopping mall.  You never see a vicious homicidal/suicidal lunatic go shoot up: a) a police station, b) an army base, c) a shooting range.  There has been just one case, and that in recent years, of an Islamofascist sleeper-agent shooting up a military base -- but even that base had a strict policy of keeping the guns locked away from the soldiers, leaving the armed military police to take the killer down.

Another odd little fact: you never hear of a vicious lunatic shooting up schools, theaters or shopping malls in Israel.  This is because in Israel: a) the schoolteachers have usually had military or police training, and are always armed, b) the theaters have armed guards always watching, if not armed police or soldiers in the audience, c) the shopping malls have guards armed with rifles or shotguns, placed in strategic positions, always watching the crowds -- and never mind how many of the shoppers are armed.  The teachers, guards and even civilians are trained and prepared to recognize a threat, and shoot him before he finishes saying the "-hu" on "Allahu akbar".  Likewise, when was the last time you heard of a vicious lunatic shooting up anything in Switzerland?

Gee, are we seeing a pattern here?

Yes, it would be nice if we had some reliable public system for detecting vicious lunatics before they kill anyone, and quietly trundling them off to the Happy Home.  The problem is that nobody has any idea how to go about doing that little thing.  We've seen from too-long experience that Gun Control doesn't work, despite the pious insistence of various liberals.  Getting Guns Off The Streets campaigns have only increased markets -- and prices -- for illegal gun-dealers.

The only tactic that works is arming, and training, the public at large -- as in Israel and Switzerland -- and providing realistic security systems, including armed guards, in vulnerable target areas -- such as schools, theaters and shopping malls.

Perhaps a good first step in this direction would be to make up small stickers (with really tough glue on the backs) saying "Helpless Victims Here" and showing an icon of a fish trying to leap out of a barrel, and stick them up on walls right under any sign that says "Gun-Free Zone" or "No Weapons Allowed".  Most people will get the hint.  Eventually, even politicians and media pundits will, too.


--Leslie <;)))>< (not in a barrel)   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Pagan, the Christian, and the Overworked Garage

This happened a few years back, while John and Mary Creasey's son Richard was staying with me in Phoenix.  We were trying to get him a job, and he'd applied to the Post Office.  The application involved taking a test at one of the PO's administrative offices, so I drove Richard there, left him off for what promised to be at least two hours, and went looking for someplace to have lunch.  As I started to roll out, I noticed that one of the rear tires was flat.  Not terribly confident about changing tires by myself, I went looking for the nearest garage instead.  I found one within a block, up at the corner, and pulled in.  I signed in at the office, where a harried mechanic sadly told me that there were four cars in line ahead of me, so I'd have to wait.  Ah well, at that rate, I'd still make it back to the office in time to pick up Richard, so I sat down on a bench to wait.

The nondescript man in the nondescript suit, on the bench beside me, noticed my pentacle pendant and grew increasingly nervous.  Finally he burst out: "Ma'am, do you realize you're wearing a Satanic symbol?"  Well, I thought I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and just assume he was innocently misinformed.  "Oh no," I said, smiling.  "That's a Wiccan symbol;  it's an upright five-pointed star, representing a human figure -- head, arms, legs and body -- inside and touching a circle, which represents wholeness, or the world, specifically the natural world.  The two together represent the unity of man and Nature, which is a big point of the Wiccan theology.  The Satanic symbol is a five-pointed star with the point down, representing a goat's head.  There's a big difference."

"Difference?" he asked cautiously.  "But aren't 'Wiccans' really witches, who worship Satan?"

"Certainly not," I snorted.  "Wiccans are commonly called witches, but they're purely Pagans, who worship Nature and the spirits of Nature.  Satanism is the worship of the Christian devil -- more specifically, the Catholic devil.  I mean, what would a 'Black Mass' mean to a Protestant?  Pagans, of all kinds, aren't Christians at all.  They don't worship the Christian god, so why on Earth should they worship the Christian devil, let alone the Catholic devil?"

He started to speak, then caught himself -- and I could see him thinking: "For revenge."  He didn't say it because he guessed that then he'd have to admit that Wiccans, witches, and Pagans in general had some good cause to want revenge for.  Instead, he tried a different tack.  "Don't, uh, Pagans consider their religion superior?"

"Well, superior for themselves, anyway."  I shrugged.  "Consider religion in general as a carved jewel with lots of different facets.  Each facet reflects light a little differently, but they're all part of the same gem -- the same desire and spiritual impulse."

"But doesn't one of those...facets reflect light best?"

"Should one facet of a diamond reflect light, and all the rest be dark?  Hardly -- especially when you consider that they all affect each other.  Paganism affected Judaism and Hinduism, Judaism directly influenced Christianity, Christianity and Judaism influenced Islam, Islam and Hinduism influenced Buddhism, and so on.  No man is an island, and no religion either."

He thought that over for a long moment, then tried something else.  "But do you, uh, Pagans believe that a spirit of evil exists?"

I shrugged again.  "Oh, it probably does by now -- if only because so many people have believed in it, so hard, for so long.  Faith itself has power, you know.  That's another reason why we Pagans don't give any attention to any spirit of evil;  we don't feed it any belief at all."  I couldn't help adding, "Faith is the real Food of the Gods."

Again he started to speak, and again he stopped himself.  I saw his eyes widening as he took in the implications of that.  If human faith can feed a god, any god, and lack of faith can starve and weaken one...

Right then the mechanic came up and told my unlikely companion that his car was ready.  He got up, looking downright grateful for the interruption, and hurried off.  A moment later another mechanic came up and told me he had a few minutes to help change my tire.  Between the two of us, we got the tires swapped off in ten minutes.  Buying another tire to put on the old one's rim took another twenty minutes.  After that I managed to get a quick lunch at MacDonald's, and got back to the administrative office in time to pick up Richard after the test.

I never saw the curious Christian again, but I sometimes wonder what effect my answers had on him.

And no, Richard didn't get the job.   



--Leslie <;)))><  )O(      

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Prophecy for Gaza



I hereby predict that before New Year's day, probably at the beginning of Hannukah, the Palestinians in Gaza will break the cease-fire, blame it on Israel, and start lobbing rockets again.  Anybody want to take my bet?

Why do I think so?  Well, for one thing, the Palestinians have broken every other treaty, cease-fire, agreement, etc. that they've ever had with Israel.  For another, if you Google-search a group called MEMRI, you'll find a remarkable number of videos showing various Palestinian pundits howling about how they love death the way Westerners love life, brainwashing little children to become suicide bombers, and promising each other that after they destroy Israel they'll kill all the Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Secularists, and Moslems who aren't as religiously pure as themselves, and they'll rule the world in the name of their vision of Allah.  These people love their hate, more than their children or life itself.  They're addicted to it, and won't be able to leave it alone for long.

The only reason they agreed to the cease-fire in the first place was to give them time to stock up on more ammunition to use against Israel, probably through all those smugglers' tunnels they've dug all around the Gaza border.  It doesn't help that Iran, which is supplying the weapons, is using Gaza for a stalking-horse and happily egging on the Palestinians, promising them that they can actually beat Israel.

Of course Israel is quite aware of this, and is making its own plans for what to do when the Palestinians break the cease-fire.  It would be sensible to legally declare war on Gaza -- which is, after all, supposed to be an independent Palestinian country -- then use the ground troops only to guard the border and stop anyone coming up out of those tunnels, and use their air force to carpet-bomb Gaza, moving from the east border westward, slowly enough that the population has time to run.

The Palestinian refugees will, of course, run west to Egypt, thinking they'll stir up the Egyptians to help them make war on Israel.  Now it's obvious that, despite the inflated standing of the Moslem Brotherhood there, Egypt is thoroughly mired in troubles of its own.  Egypt adamantly does not want a half-million Palestinians running around loose, howling jihad-jihad on every street-corner, demanding to be supported in the style they became accustomed to in Gaza, threatening to become a serious political faction.  Older and wiser heads in Egypt can remember the first wave of Palestinian Refugees, back in 1948, and what a pain in the butt they turned out to be.  Egypt's solution then was to cram the Palestinians into tightly walled-off refugee camps, and use them -- for generations after -- as cannon-fodder, every time Egypt decided to go to war with Israel.  Eventually, after several sharp defeats, Egypt wised up about attacking Israel -- and found ways to filter the Palestinians back into Israel, to make trouble there.  Egypt absolutely does not want the Palestinians back again;  having a bunch of them inside its borders will give it a serious headache.

As for Iran, if Israel's remarkable "Iron Dome" anti-missile system doesn't wise up Achmedinejihad's government, observing Israel turn Gaza into nothing but rubble and plowed ground should do it.  If Iran's government is crazy enough to make war on Israel, on the excuse, of course, of "avenging" the poor-poor Palestinians,  they'll get their @sses handed to them.

And if Iran actually has managed to produce -- or buy -- a working nuke, and tries to use it on Israel, they just might learn -- the hard way -- the best-kept secret in the middle-east.

Israel already has nukes.  Has had them for years, saving them for just such an occasion.

When it gets to that point, the Arab governments will divide up handily: the jihadist idiots will pull their heads in like turtles and console themselves with hopes of another chance someday.  The sensible governments -- like those of Jordan and Oman -- will actively denounce Iran, the Palestinians, and the jihadists in general.

If the US government has any sense, it will join them.  Our surest, solidest ally in the middle-east -- despite the shabby way we've treated it -- has always been Israel.


--Leslie <;)))><  )O(    

 


Friday, November 16, 2012

Frank Gasperik's Fable: The Magical $100 Bill


Before anything else, folks, go to http://revolutionpac.com/articles/ron-paul-on-fire#land to catch Ron Paul's farewell address to the House of Representatives.  Then consider the following story, told to me by the late Frank Gasperik.

Once upon a time in the old wild west, there was a rancher who had an old ranch-hand named Jack.  Jack worked hard and well, but he had a weakness for going into town afterwards and whooping it up in the local saloon.  The result was that Jack was always in debt.

One day the rancher sent Jack to deliver a large herd of steers to the stockyard and bring back the payment.  Jack faithfully delivered the steers and collected the pay in a sealed pouch, but then he just couldn't resist going to the saloon, where he added to his liquor bill and got into a poker game.  For once, luck was with Jack;  he won big -- and the loser paid him off with a new $100 bill. 

Jack studied the bill, thought a bit, and then went up to the saloonkeeper and said: "I know I've been owing you for a long time.  Take this to pay off what I owe ya, and keep the rest."  The saloonkeeper, delighted, thanked jack and took the bill, and hurried out.  Curious, Jack followed at a distance to see what happened to that bill.

The saloonkeeper went straight to the town storekeeper, handed him the bill, and said: "Here, this should catch me up for all the saloon supplies you've sold me on a promise.  If there's anything left over, keep it for the time it's taken me to pay you."  The storekeeper thanked him profusely, took the bill and hurried out, and the saloonkeeper went happily back to his place of business.  Jack now followed the storekeeper to see what he'd do.

The storekeeper promptly took the bill to the local drover, and paid off his debt for the transporting of the store's supplies -- and let him keep the change.  The drover went at once to the livery-stable owner, and gave him the bill to pay off overdue rent of his horses, and let him keep the change.  The livery-stable owner promptly saddled up and rode out to the farm that grew his horse-feed, and paid off the farmer what he owed for horse-feed -- with interest.  The farmer then saddled up and rode to the rancher -- Jack's employer -- and gave him that $100 bill to pay him for some cattle that the rancher had sold him, on credit, a few weeks before.

Jack waited, discreetly, until the farmer was out of sight, and then rode up to the ranch and gave his boss the sealed pouch with the pay and the bill of sale for the steers.  The rancher was pleased at the amount of money the steers had brought him, and he thought a bit, and then took Jack aside and said to him.  "Jack, you've worked hard and well for me for many years, and I've paid you well but never given you a bonus.  So here, take this as a token of my appreciation."  And he handed Jack that same $100 bill.  Then he added: "There've been some coyotes sneaking around the calf-pen, so if you wouldn't mind, would you take your rifle and go sit out with the calves tonight?"

"Sure thing," said Jack.  He tucked the $100 bill in his shirt pocket, took his rifle and gear, went out to the calf-pen, and set up camp on the far side of the pen to watch for coyotes.  He spotted a coyote sneaking around, out by the limits of the firelight, and shot at it.  The coyote yelped and ran away, and no other coyotes came near.

So Jack sat down by his campfire, cooked himself a pot of beans, ate supper, and then he pulled the $100 bill out of his pocket and looked at it.  He thought of all the places that bill had been that day, all the people it had made happy, all the debts it had paid off, and all the good it had done.  He considered how all the people in town could have swapped their debts directly to each other, but they hadn't known how to do it without that $100 bill.  Then Jack laughed softly, and threw the $100 bill into the fire, where it promptly burned to ashes.

...Because only Jack knew that that bill was counterfeit.

Think.


--Leslie <;)))><   )O(           


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Not Entirely Unexpected



The election's finally over, and Obama won by a respectable-enough lead that nobody but the conspiracy buffs are claiming it wasn't a valid win.  The GOP also took serious hits in the legislature and the local races, and a lot of them are stumbling around wondering what went wrong -- after all, they did outspend the competition, by a huge margin, on advertising.

Looking back, it's obvious by 20-20 hindsight that the Republicans' contempt for the intelligence of the average American voter did them in, but -- yes -- it was questionable for awhile.  None of the political pundits seemed to have any reliable data on the real attitude of the public, as viz. those numerous conflicting polls. This is remarkable given all the information available these days;  one can only assume that the "experts" didn't know where to look, or how to evaluate the data.

At least the reporters did their duty and announced all over the media every hypocrisy, every contradiction, every stupidity, every bigotry that the candidates displayed -- and the GOP's share of them outweighed the Dems', beyond denial or doubt.  There's never been a better example of the need for free and uncensored media.  The interesting part is that the viewers were quite able to absorb the broadcast facts while ignoring the surrounding flood of political ads.  Maybe decades of watching TV shows interrupted by commercial ads has immunized us against even the cleverest of propaganda.

Another interesting item -- overlooked unless you know what to look for -- was the increased percentage of independent, Libertarian and even Green party votes apparent in the federal votes: anything from 1% to 12%.  I'm currently trying to find the percentage in state and local votes, but the media are being a bit coy about that.  Hmmmm...   More later.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish   

Friday, October 26, 2012

GOP Betrayal and Self-Destruction

by Leslie Fish

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the GOP co-opted the Tea Party -- which began as a Libertarian grassroots movement -- and turned it into a cheering section for its own really reactionary NeoCons.  Worse, the GOP then assumed that all those people who had founded and supported the original Tea Party were now dutiful NeoCons too.  Bad mistake!  This is what made NeoCon GOP candidates assume that there was a huge public backing for their own incredibly reactionary social ideas.  This is probably the reason for the GOP's alienation of its own Libertarian wing, culminating in its visibly shabby treatment of Ron Paul and his supporters.  This is also why we've seen Ronney sounding off about saving tax money by not funding birth-control for the poor, Ryan touting bans on abortion, Akin's incredible statements about "legitimate rape", and Mourdock claiming that rapes are part of "God's plan".  This is what comes of believing your own propaganda and, worse, listening to none but your own supporters.

Dozens of polls have shown that the Republicans have lost 81% of the Hispanic vote, 47% of the women's vote, and 100% of the Black vote.  This is a prediction of disaster, and should have raised warning flags, but the GOP's response has been only to discount the polls.

Another unnoticed warning is the record number of voters registering Independent, or even third-party.  Here in Arizona, the number of registered Independents is greater than the number of registered Democrats and Republicans -- who are running about equal.  This could possibly be because, in this state, if you're registered Independent you can vote in the primary elections of every party on the ballot -- or it could be because a huge number of voters are disgusted with the Big Two parties and are willing to look elsewhere.  In any case, it means that Republicans are a minority here.  It's a mistake to assume that Arizona is still a reliable "red" state.  Nonetheless, the GOP has made that mistake.  The usual glossy political ads are specializing on state legislative races, hardly even mentioning the presidential race.  They think they've got it in the bag.

Well, they don't.  This state also has voluntary early voting, and a lot of citizens (including me) have taken advantage thereof.  The early returns on those early ballots show Obama leading with a score of 53%, Romney with 41%, and... nobody's talking about the other 12%.  This, in a state that everyone assumes is reliably Republican!  What do you think is happening in other states?

And the Republicans did it to themselves.  I predict that in betraying its own Libertarian wing, by believing its own NeoCon propaganda, by tricking itself into thinking that the majority of Americans really want to go back to the 1950s, the GOP has (unless it commits a really spectacular vote-fraud, probably with the vote-tabulating machines) cost itself the coming election -- and very possibly more.

A lot of Americans, given our current economic and political mess, are fed up with the two-party system.  They may be registering Independent, but they're looking elsewhere.  Here in Arizona, I noticed in the voters' information book, a good dozen Libertarian candidates for state offices, and another half-dozen Greens.  If the Rep./Dem. balance among the winners is close, it won't take a majority of Libertarians or Greens to swing a vote in the legislature.  And all political movements -- and parties -- start small.

It's not impossible that in another decade or two the largest of the third parties -- the Libertarians -- will draw enough votes to outnumber the Republicans.  That would be a fitting revenge for Ron Paul and the original Tea Party, both.

--Leslie  <;)))><   )O(         


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Review: "Atlas Shrugged II" -- Better Than The Original




            It''s rare that a movie sequel is better than the original, rarer still that a film made from a book is better than the book, rarest of all that the second movie in a trilogy is both a seamless part of the whole and still effective as a stand-alone film.  "Atlas Shrugged Part Two" succeeds on all three counts.
            First, with the benefit of a larger budget, the director could provide more special effects for the action sequences, of which there are several.  The film opens with a fast-paced airplane chase, ending just before an inevitable crash – and then cuts to nine months earlier for the lead-up story.  The destruction of the D'Anconia mines isn't just reported from offstage but, in good film fashion, shown – in a spectacular long-distance shot.  The crucible-spill in the steel mill, by contrast, is done in a series of really startling mid-shots that include the flood of glowing molten metal right next to the workers frantically shoveling sand to block it – and it's left to the viewer to consider (in later reflection?) how all that sand will make the metal useless even if it's recoverable.  The train-wreck in the tunnel is more spectacular yet, and all the more effective for the detailed build-up.
            Second, the need to cram a lot of background and thematic information into the time-limit of the film creates tight, fast pacing with immense detail in the setting of each shot.  The scenes of sign-waving protesters never exceed thirty seconds, not nearly enough time to read many of the intriguing slogans;  that will take repeated viewing on DVD, which slyly encourages sales thereof.  Hank Reardon's trial is compacted to half a dozen pithy exchanges, with audience reactions.  Jimmy Taggart's courtship and marriage to Cheryl, the innocent but adoring shop-girl, is done in just three scenes – one of which includes another Mysterious Disappearance of the Capable, which is a running theme of the plot.  The only instance of a Randian speech is D'Anconia's rant about money at Taggart's elaborate society wedding – where Cheryl gallantly tries to hold her own, and allows for one of Rand's best punchlines – and even that is mercifully brief.  The result is a fast-moving and densely layered film, inviting lots of re-viewing, that loses nothing of Rand's themes.           
            Third, framing the film with the swooping jet air-chase that starts with a question – "Who is John Galt?" Dagne growls as she flies into what looks like a mountain – and ends by answering it – "I'm John Galt," says the silhouette as he pulls her from the plane's wreckage – neatly shapes the plot into a coherent whole.  Part Two is a taut political thriller, about two capable people trying to shore up a staggering economy and fending off attacks by an increasingly Fascist government, while solving a mystery – the Disappearances.  As such, it's hauntingly reminiscent of the British political-mystery films of the early days of World War Two, intended to persuade the yet-uninvolved Americans that Fascism was a bad idea. 
            At the same time, since the film can't be separated from its prequel, the inevitable references to it are done smoothly and effectively.  TV news clips referring to a disastrous law, detailed in the first film, segue into references to Wyatt's Torch, one result of the first Disappearance.  The dismantling of the John Galt Line almost poetically parallels the scenes, in Part One, of its construction.  Dagne's sneaking the scientist into the underground locker where the mysterious invention is hidden neatly allows her to mention – briefly – where and how she found it, shown in the first film.
            The movie's chief weakness, the almost all-new cast, really couldn't be avoided, since the first film's cast was mostly TV actors who weren't available for Part Two thanks to their regular jobs.  The cast of Part Two is much the same;  look for familiar faces from CSI, Law and Order, Alphas, and others.  Makeup art makes the new cast look similar, up to a point, but the differences can't be completely concealed – either in appearance or performance.  Part Two's Hank Reardon isn't quite as good as Part One's, its Lilian Reardon is better, its Dagne is just as good and its John Galt is just as bad – and, fortunately, just as seldom seen.
            Given all it had to deal with, the script is subtly brilliant – deserving an Oscar nomination, which it probably won't get for political reasons.  It even manages a few flashes of sly humor, such as the one-minute scene from a TV political-talk show, featuring a Hannity character – played by the real Hannity – being downshouted by a Black commentator who bears a more-than-coincidental resemblance to Al Franken.  It carefully sidesteps any accusations of affecting the coming election by never mentioning the word "president", but only referring – even visually – to the "head of state".  It's unlikely that many people will notice that the "head of state" is played by the same actor who played the murderous father on Twin Peaks.
            The irony is that the politics surrounding AS II parallel the politics within it.  Having learned from experience with AS I, the producer took care to line up theaters to show it well before the release date.  Here in Arizona, that meant getting a contract with the second-largest theater chain in the state.  It also meant spending some of the film's tight budget on paid TV advertizing, and specifically paying for prime-time slots.  Nonetheless, no less than three of the top Internet sites that usually list movie locations and times managed to lose all references to AS II, and I've noticed that the local media have blacked out mention of the film as efficiently as they ignored the Ron Paul campaign. 
            Nonetheless, the word has gotten out.  When I saw the film there were perhaps 50 people in the audience – at the 10:30 AM showing, on Saturday morning, and it was on two screens of a 24-screen megaplex theater.  I'd love to know what the numbers were for the afternoon and evening shows.
            It's pretty clear that AS II will make its costs, and yes, there will be a final chapter.  The "Atlas Shrugged" movies, like the book they came from, will not quietly go away.

            --Leslie Fish 

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Book Review: "Our Lady of Kaifeng"

Historical Fantasy novels are thick on the shelves these days, but Historical Surrealism is amazingly rare.  In fact, Aya Katz's "Our Lady of Kaifeng", Part One (www.CreateSpace.com), may be the first in that category since "The Saragossa Manuscript", written nearly 200 years ago.

The tale begins, as illustrated by the neo-Fauve cover painting, with the heroine riding across 1941 Japanese-occupied China in a wheelbarrow, heading for a Catholic girls' school run by a group of nuns with male saints' names -- and it gets weirder from there.  One of the nuns is spying on the others, and all of them know it.  One of the priests is obsessed with finding revelations in an ancient Chinese translation of the Old Testament, as preserved by an old Chinese Jewish family.  One of the students is an erotomaniac who falls madly in love with any man -- including a teacher -- who shows her any kindness.  There's a covert war going on between the priests and nuns from Italy -- including the Vatican -- who might or might not be siding with the occupying Japanese army, and everyone else at the school.  The students make it clear that they don't want to learn how to think for themselves, but only to memorize data that they can dutifully repeat on government tests to win themselves approved government jobs.  The heroine turns out to be a 40-year-old virgin, and an atheist, who has a daughter gotten by artificial insemination.  The nuns are in the middle of arguing what to do about her when the Japanese army puts the whole school under arrest because America has just declared war on Japan.  That's where Part One ends, fittingly, on a cliff-hanger.

The weirdness is, if anything, emphasized by Katz's understated Hemingwayesque style that treats practical school problems, bizarre politics and paranoid diatribes with equal calm detachment.  It's furthered by the bizarre characters who stroll convincingly through the equally bizarre situations around them.  Since the story is told from the heroine's point of view, this gives the sense of her personality being the same, viewing the weird events around her with an innocent astonishment or an amused equanimity.  All things considered, those are probably the most sensible attitudes to take.

Knowing a bit about what happened after America entered World War Two, I can't wait to see Part Two of this series, if only to see how much more bizarre the story gets.      

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Racism Punks


During the last year that I was living in the old house on the west side of  Phoenix, soon after the housing collapse, a lot of my neighbors fell into serious poverty.  One of them, though I didn't know it until later, was a fellow whom I'll call Mike.  He'd had a small cabinet-making company which went broke, after which he lost his savings and his house, and took to sleeping in his truck, which he often parked in front of my house.

Another bunch of neighbors down the street hosted a gang of teenage punks.  I'd tangled with the punks a few times before -- when I chased them out of my yard for trying to shoot one of my cats, when I chased them out of my driveway after they threw rocks through the front window, and so on -- and there was no love lost between us.  The punks also made a big claim of "getting their own back" because, they claimed, they were "oppressed" because they were Mexican.  Uhuh.

One night as I was getting ready for bed, I heard a lot of thumping and shouting right outside my house, where Mike usually parked his truck.  Making a good guess, I grabbed up my pistol and went running out the front door.  Out by the curb I saw two of the punks with short clubs, near the open back of the truck, fighting with Mike, who was empty-handed but had big fists.  They stopped to gawk as I came marching toward them, which made me recall that I was wearing nothing but my underwear -- and, of course, the gun.

 It was the gun that decided them.  The punks turned and ran off down the sidewalk toward their lair.  One of them, once he was a safe (he thought) 20 yards away (I usually shoot within the 7-ring at 25 yards), he stopped to turn and yell defiantly: "You're a Racist!"

Rrrrright.  I snapped back: "You're not a race;  you're a punk" -- and I raised the pistol into aiming position.  The punk sensibly turned around and resumed running.  Afterward, of course, I realized that what I should have said was: "Gee, I didn't know that @sshole was a race."

Anyway, I went to see if Mike was all right -- which he was, except for bruised knuckles -- had a brief talk with him, and ended by inviting him to come move into my house.  He had no money, but he traded me a giant-sized television (which I still have, in storage) in exchange for three months' rent.  The punks didn't bother us again.

Eventually, after searching and failing to find work in Phoenix, he moved up to Flagstaff where he had family.  The landlord was obliged to sell the house, and I moved out to Mesa.  I have no idea what happened to the punks, but I suspect that they finally wound up in the Graybar Hotel.

What I particularly remember about the whole incident is the punks using "racism" as a handy excuse for being punks.  I can't help but wonder how many other young punks -- and older ones -- do the same.


--Leslie <;)))><   )O(    



Saturday, September 15, 2012

They Can Dish It Out, But They Can't Take It



So the fundamentalist Muslims are rioting in Egypt, and Syria, and all the other Muslim countries, attacking American embassies and killing people, because some fool posted a short, amateurish, poorly-made video poking fun at Mohammed.  And of course various US politicians made a big point of apologizing for the film, just as they've spent the last few decades bending over backward not to "offend" the terribly-sensitive Muslims.  Those apologies haven't done anything to discourage the pious rioters;  if anything, they've been encouraged to go attack German and Belgian embassies too.  It's interesting that they don't attack Israeli embassies.  Perhaps that's because they know that Israeli embassies are heavily armored, and their guards are quite willing to shoot. 

It's more interesting that nobody has bothered to mention the large number of Muslim-made movies, videos, TV shows, editorial cartoons and so on that are astoundingly insulting to Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and any other non-Muslim religion which catches the Muslims' notice.  Download the movie "Fitna" to see some examples.  There are others available on YouTube.  The victims of those disgustingly offensive visuals haven't formed any howling mobs to go attack Arab embassies. 

In fact, when "The Onion" online magazine published an amazingly salacious cartoon -- http://www.theonion.com/articles/no-one-murdered-because-of-this-image,29553/ -- showing a jolly orgy between Jesus, Jehovah, Buddha and a hermaphroditic Ganesha, the only responses it got were a few short grumbles in their letter column.  Contrast that with the international squall over a few fairly-mild cartoons in a Danish newspaper, or the holy death-threats aimed at Salmon Rushdie, or the actual murder of one of the directors of "Fitna". 

Clearly, the Muslim fundamentalists are making a profession out of being easily offended.  They're demanding to be treated better than members of all other religions, while having no such compunctions about how they treat those other religions. 

And by apologizing, censoring and tippy-toeing as we've done, we've only encouraged them.  What no public figure will admit is that indulging a spoiled brats tantrums only trains the brat to demand more.  We know -- because they've announced it, often enough -- what the Muslim fundamentalists want, which is nothing less than to rule the world.  We can't give them that, and the sooner we stop encouraging them to think they can get it, the better.

The best solution is to do what the Israelis do.  When howling mobs approach their embassies, they call out the guards.  The guards fire a first warning shot over the attackers' heads, a second warning shot at their feet, and -- if that doesn't stop the oncoming mob -- then the moment the crowd sets foot on embassy grounds, fire the third volley straight into them.  The latest bunch of rioters, who tried to pull off their outrage a couple days ago in Jerusalem, were handily subdued with stunners and rounded up by the local cops;  the Israeli courts are presently arguing over whether to keep them in jail or deport them -- to Gaza.  Others argue that the pious Muslim rioters should be deported to Mecca -- after all, good pious Muslims are supposed to want to visit Mecca once in their lives -- but in any case not allowed to come back.  If all the western countries would follow that example, there would be a lot fewer pious-Muslim riots.

Ah, if only the president of the US had stood up and said: "Given the offensive things you've filmed and said about other religions, you have no right to complain.  And if you attack our embassies, then the moment you set foot on embassy grounds, we'll shoot you."  That would have put an end to the whole mess.

Alas, our current president won't do it.  Worse, I don't see anyone on the political horizon who will.  This means that for the foreseeable future the fundamentalist Muslims will go right on behaving like spoiled brats, and dishing out what they won't take.       

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings..."

An interesting bit of news out of Boston:

'Boston, MA,September 5, 2012 -- Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) today released a video (www.nuextremism.com) showing Northeastern University's Muslim Chaplain, Imam Abdullah Faaruuq to be a supporter of convicted Islamist terrorists, and a religious leader who is inciting Boston Muslims against the U.S government.

'"Our video shows that there is a culture of extremism at the Islamic Society of Northeastern University (ISNU) - the Muslim student group on campus under the leadership of its spiritual advisor, Imam Faaruuq," said human rights activist Dr. Charles Jacobs, APT President.

'Just days after a description of the findings documented in the video were published in the Boston Jewish Advocate, and the video's imminent public release was announced, Imam Faaruuk's page on the Northeastern website was removed.

'Charles Jacobs, President of APT said, "His relationship with Northeastern University has been terminated." We commend Northeastern's President Joseph Aoun for this, but more needs to be done. We need to understand how this was allowed to persist for years, and we need to be sure there are processes in place to monitor and correct any teachings of hate at the University.

'APT's video, "Islamic Extremism @ Northeastern University," (www.nuextremism.com) describes Imam Faaruuq's history of extremism. In the early 1990s, Faaruuq developed an association with Aafia Siddiqui, Pakistani born, young MIT student and one of the most active members of an Al Qaeda cell of activists who were followers of the Egyptian Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Aafia attended Faaruuq's Boston mosque and worked with Faaruuq to distribute Jihadist literature to Massachussetts prisons, where he had also served as a Muslim chaplain.'


What I find intriguing here is not why Northeastern U. finally fired the blatant hatemonger, but why they kept him so long.  Didn't they do any review on the guy before they hired him?  And why did they turn a blind eye to his activities until that documentary shoved it under their noses?

There's no surprise about why the students believed him.  A lot of college-age kids these days, alas, are still childish enough to love anything that annoys Mumsy and Dadsy.  Worse, they're still childish enough to believe that passion is truer than facts, that anything somebody is really passionate about simply must be true -- no matter what objective reality shows.  In fact, a lot of kids are willing to say that objective reality doesn't really exist, rather than give up belief in the truth of their feelings.  This is a real indictment of the modern American way of child-raising, and education.

But worse is the way the education biz panders to this childishness.  It would explain why the NU staff happily accepted a terribly passionate defender of Islamofascism as a university professor, not bothering to check out the facts of his history.  Either they too believe in feelings rather than objective reality, or they simply believed that a teacher who does a lot of emoting will hold the students interest long enough that they might actually learn something.

They might have stopped to consider just what their students would really learn.
 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Special Agent Space-Freak

Neal Armstrong's passing reminded me of this.  It's is a true story, with only the names changed to protect the guilty.  Besides, it's been long enough since then that the participants are long scattered, long changed, and probably wouldn't remember their earlier selves anyway.  So...

Of course I've been a radical nearly all my life, but there really was one time when I did a job for the FBI.  No kidding.  No, I don't think my old radical buddies would hold it against me, either.  In fact, I gave everybody involved what they really wanted.

Understand, this was back when I was in college, just a few months after the last manned space-mission.  Apparently someone at NASA got the bright idea of raising public enthusiasm (and tax money) for the space program by sending the returned astronauts on goodwill tours all over the country.  One of the big stops was my dear old alma mater.

I often wondered, afterward, who made that decision and why.  After all, my jolly old midwestern big state university was a real hotbed of radical, reform and anti-war activity.  I mean, several thousand close friends of mine had shut down the whole campus for a day, and then held a week-long student-run seminar on the war and its antecedents, only eight months earlier.  There were protests popping up every other week, and I worked on most of them.  In short, the campus was chock-full of young radicals.

Now the university president had the good sense to keep the local police away from the university grounds, but outside that any kid with long hair and political buttons was fair game for a quick beating and a fake-charge arrest.  I had avoided that fate myself -- mostly because of my38-D bra-size and ID showing that I was well under 21 -- but several of my friends had been through it.  There were not only a lot of us, but we had serious grudges against the cops, the government, and anyone connected thereto.  Surely the federals must have known that.

What they didn't know was that, not being fools, we had planted spies of our own in the police department.  Those priceless moles gave us warning of when the local cops planned to raid particular addresses -- officially looking for drugs: unofficially, to break up "radical revolutionary cells".  Our buddies also gave us descriptions of police infiltrators trying to burrow into anti-war groups, of what particular roads the cops planned to blockade on any given night, and even where the local speed-traps were.  Occasionally they gave us bits of odd information that they simply thought we'd find interesting.

That was how I learned that the local FBI office was desperately looking for informants to tell them about any "radical activity" planned for the astronauts' visit.  Specifically, was anyone planning to harm the astronauts?

Actually, it was The Radical Redneck Escapee From Arkansas who first got the news.  He came running into our commune (actually, a rental house with half a dozen co-tenants chipping in on expenses) at about dinnertime, blatting the news all over.  Then he struck a pose and started an impromptu speech about how important this opportunity was, and how everybody had to get organized, and we'd need radical discipline, etc., etc. -- and on into his standard spiel for Marshalling the Troops.

I knew how long that would take, so I slipped out the side door and trotted over to the campus anti-war HQ in the Student Activities Building.

The first man I ran into was Eric the Red, current prez of the campus peacenik group.  Of course he knew about the astronauts' visit;  in fact, he was feverishly organizing a picket-line to stand along the parade route holding signs that complained about "Millions for Space, Nothing for the Poor", "Peace on Earth and in Space: Stop the War Now", and "No Militarization of Space".  The main hallway was littered with laths, poster-boards, felt-tip markers and busily-scribbling peaceniks.

When I managed to get close and get a word in edgewise, I asked Our Fearless Leader if he knew of any other, hmmm, "activity" planned around the astronauts' visit.

"Hell, no!" he gloated, practicing a photogenic pose.  "I heard about, and rallied the troops, first.  We're gonna do this demonstration my way.  Grab a marker and help make signs."

Having been through that experience a few times, I hastily excused myself to the bathroom and slipped quietly out of the building.

My next stop was the Black Students' Caucus in a nearby storefront that doubled as a Baptist church on weekends.  Though visibly not Black, I had no trouble getting in;  I knew Charlie 23X pretty well, since we'd once lived in the same ratty apartment building and had sued the landlord together.  Besides, Charlie never missed a chance to ogle my 38D chest.

I was lucky enough to catch Charlie between speeches, and I put the same question to him.

"No way," he insisted, striking his usual dramatic pose.  "We're putting out word to boycott the astronauts' visit altogether.  We're workin' up a press statement to all the media in town, sayin' that the space program's racist.  Did you ever see a Black astronaut?"

I confessed that I hadn't.  Before he could expand from that to an hour-long expose' of racism in the federal government, I asked if he knew of anybody else who was planning "activity" around the visit. 

"Well," Charlie glowered, "That *sshole Eric the Red's gonna have sign-waggers out.  In fact, he's got the whole damn parade-route sewn up.  But, hey, if you wanta see some real action, girl, help me type up my press statements."

Again, I pleaded the Little Girls' Room and made my escape.

Next stop was the Women's Lib office -- another storefront on another block.  Inside, I found more frantic activity: a discussion group, headed by the self-renamed president Diana Mothersdaughter (Ph.D. in Social Psychology, thank you), busily holding forth about the blatant phallicism of space-launch rockets.

I didn't want to wait until the discussion broke up under its own power -- I'd seen these yattering sessions go on for hours -- so I did a quick sabotage.  I stepped outside, went next door to the grocery and came back with three boxes of chocolate-covered jelly donuts.  As soon as I waked into the discussion circle with the open boxes of donuts, the discussion stopped dead and the chowing down began.  While everyone else was munching, I sidled up to Diana M. and put my question to her.

"Certainly," she beamed.  "You know, we've just won a major victory -- we got ourselves a two-hour discussion-slot on WUMC this week -- and we're going to discuss the sexism of the space program.  Have you ever seen a female astronaut?"

This being a few years before the ascension of Sally Ride, I had to admit that I hadn't.  Again, I stopped the incipient speech by asking if Diana knew of anyone else who might be planning "activity" at the visit.

"I've heard," she sniffed, "That Eric the Red and his -- hmpf! -- men will be out there along the route, waving their little signs, as if anyone but a few hundred gawkers will see them.  Typical male narcissism.  Electronic media are so much more efficient, really.  Would you like to help type up some reference cards, dear?"

I knew that the Little Girls' Room ploy wouldn't help here, so I claimed that I had to get to the library before it closed, and made my escape.

Back I went to the Student Activities Building, and up I went to the mercifully empty belltower.  There I sat down to do some thinking.

Obviously the major radical groups on campus weren't planning anything that might endanger the astronauts.  All they wanted was to springboard the event into publicity for themselves, and they absolutely didn't want to look bad on the news.

In fact, now that I thought about it, publicity was nearly all they cared about.  They seriously wanted to believe that The Word is equal to -- or even better than -- The Deed: that all they ever need do was get The Word out, preferably into the ears of the powerful, and the world would transform itself right there.

And why not believe it?  They all prided themselves on being real, cutting-edge, ahead-of-the-pack, best-minds-of-my-generation Intellectuals.  They were used to having people listen seriously to them, and even act on whatever they said.  I couldn't recall seeing calluses on any of their hands.  I couldn't imagine any of them building, or even using, any weapon but words.

No wonder, thought I, that the First Amendment is such a great insurance policy for public peace!  Given a chance to Speak, 99 out of 100 would never bother to Do.

Ergo, there was no danger to the astronauts from any of the campus radical groups.

That left only oddball individuals.

Those I could never ferret out.  The FBI in all its fabled might and sneakiness never could, either.

So I'd have to work the problem backwards, as my Math prof always suggested.  If I were a Lone Nut who wanted to harm the astronauts, for any reason, how would I do it?

I pulled the student newspaper out of my ever-present bookbag and read the article about the visit, particularly noting the parade-route.  Most of it, I saw, wound through streets full of two-storey buildings.  The guests of honor would be riding in a government-provided (therefore government-inspected and probably bulletproof) limo.  Since the FBI was interested in their welfare, the astronauts would have some plainclothes Federal bodyguards as well as the local police.  The astronauts would be preceded by several marching bands and the ROTC drill team.  Now, how could someone do harm to the astronauts under those conditions?

All I could think of was the JFK Classic: a rifle-shot from a tall building.

The only tall-enough-for-a-clear-shot building on the entire parade-route was right where I was sitting: the Student Activities Building, where the student government offices -- and all the assorted student group headquarters -- were.  Start there.

I pulled out a spiral notebook full of graph paper and began with a floor-plan of the belltower.  Then I spent the next few hours ducking the security guards, trotting from floor to floor, making complete maps of the interior of the building.  I added red-pencil markings and commentaries on likely lines-of-sight for every window that overlooked the street.

Just for the hell of it, I added a projected map of where Erik the Red and his sign-waving contingent were likely to stand along the route, and added comments about the nature of the slogans and the general theme of the protest.  Just to be fair, I added notes about the Black Students' Caucus' press statements and boycott, and the Women's Lib radio program.  That guaranteed that somebody, at least, would listen to them.

It was after midnight when I got back to the commune, and damned if the Arkansas Radical wasn't still Rallying the Troops.  I grabbed some leftovers out of the fridge, went to my typewriter (no PCs then) and started typing up a clean copy of my notes and observations.

What the hell, I added brief biographical sketches of the local radical honchos, making them seem more important than they really were, while being careful to make them look physically harmless -- which was easy.  If they wanted publicity and attention that much, I'd get it for them.  With any luck, the FBI would denounce them in public, and that would win them just oodles of fame and political clout.

I was in the middle of retyping the notes when Arkansas walked in and asked what I was wasting my time on while everybody else was getting organized.

Experienced at this game too, I gave him an innocent look, batted my eyes, swung my 38D chest a bit, and replied: "I've finished mapping the likeliest attack-points along the astronauts' route, and I'm writing up a comprehensive report.  Gee, Arky, do you have any idea how we can get this to the FBI in time?"

To his credit, he didn't stand there gawping for more than ten seconds before coming up with an answer.  "I'll call them myself," he said, and hurried out.

Through the window I watched him run to the pay-phone down the street, and I considered that it was just as well that our commune couldn't afford its own phone.  The FBI couldn't find us by tracing the call, and I trusted that even Arkansas would have better sense than to give them our address.  Of course he'd take the credit, and try to parley that into help the next time any of us got busted, but let him.  In case of trouble, he'd also be the one they'd come after;  that would be the price of his fame.

I finished typing up the thumbnail biographies and, just for fun, added a subtly unflattering description of Arkansas to the roster.  Let him look important and dangerous to the FBI;  it might draw their attention away from harmless people elsewhere.

By the time I was shoving the whole mess into a paper folder, Arkansas finished his call and came back.  Ignoring the rest of the troops, he came straight for me.

"Good news is, the meeting's set up for the corner of Campus Ave. and First Street," he announced.  "Bad news is, they can't send a man to get it until 5 o'clock this morning."

I guessed what that meant.  It was already past Arky's bedtime;  he'd never be awake that early.  I, however, was used to pulling graveyard shift.

"That's okay," I cooed, batting my eyes and swinging my chest again.  "We can stay up all night and make the meeting all right."

"Hmmm, well, I'm just gonna take a nap," he decided.  "Be sure to wake me up in time."

"If I can't, I'll have Lavern do it," I promised to his retreating back, wondering if he remembered that his girlfriend was as hard to rouse in the morning as he was.  Yes, I did tell her that he wanted to get up at 4:30 AM, but I didn't mention why.  'Need to know', after all.

Needless to add, neither of them got out of bed much before noon the next day.

However, dawn found me on the corner of Campus and First, holding a zippered bookbag, waiting to catch my first sight of a real, live, FBI man.  I was wearing a wig and sunglasses, and my running-shoes, just in case.  Yeah, I was ready to take on James Bond or somebody like him.  Now, where the hell was he?

It was at least half an hour after the appointed time when the staid-looking overaged sedan pulled up to the corner.

I'd wondered how I would recognize the contact, but he was woefully easy to spot.  Who else would be driving a working-class car while wearing and upper-middle-class business suit?  Who else would top all that off with a crew-cut, long after even the local cops had started letting their hair grow?  Who else would be peering so carefully at all four corners of the intersection.

He didn't look fiendishly clever or sneaky at all.

In fact, he looked like a cross between a cop and a pudgy government bureaucrat, like so many I'd run into all over campus and town.  How could anyone mistake him for anything but what he was?  And this was supposed to be the Scourge of Foreign Agents, the Inescapable Pursuer of Federal Criminals, the Dogged and Ferocious Enemy of the anti-war movement?

Well, so much for James Bond.

I stopped worrying about being identified and followed by FBI agents, and began worrying instead that some early-rising student might pass by and see my talking to an obvious undercover cop.  I mean, that would really ruin my reputation!

As he spotted me, I hurried up to the car and pulled the folder out of the bookbag.  "Here you are," I said, shoving it quickly through the partly-opened window.  "Sorry you couldn't come for it earlier;  we had it ready by three this morning."

"Uhh, thanks," was all he said as he grabbed for it.

I didn't wait to see him go, but skittered off in an irrelevant direction.  I spent another quarter hour ducking and dodging down back-alley routes just in case he wasn't the only one around, just in case there really was someone fiendishly clever and sneaky trying to follow me, but of course nobody was.  I went back to the house and piled into bed for a few hours of well-earned rest.

I was asleep when Arky finally woke up, realized he'd missed his big chance to be Important, and yelled at Lavern for not getting him up in time.  I did wake up when he went slamming out of the house and down the street to the phone.  I was eating breakfast when he plodded in through the back door, looking a bit sheepish and more than a little thoughtful.  His look turned surprised when he spotted me.  I usually didn't do breakfast at all, and he hadn't expected to find me there.

"Hi, Arky," I chirped innocently.  "Were the Feds happy with the report?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, eyeing me strangely.  "In fact, they said it was, uh, more thorough, detailed and organized than most of the field reports they get from their agents."

"Oh."  I thought about that as I crunched my Raisin Bran.  Right.  Me, an underaged peacenik, working on the spur of the moment, handing in a better report than regular FBI agents.  Ye gods!  "...I guess nothing's as good as it looks in the movies, is it?"

"Huh?  ...uh, no, I guess not."  He didn't get it.

"You know," I added, eyes fixed on an invisible point somewhere beyond the peeling kitchen wall, "For all their faults, the radicals really are going to win in the end."

"Of course!"  Arky struck a pose, on familiar ground now.  "We'll win because truth and justice are on our side."

"No," I murmured, "The other guy's failings are."

But Arky wasn't listening;  he'd pulled open the refrigerator door and was already yelling at Lavern to find him something decent for breakfast.

I finished my cereal, dunked the dish and spoon into the sink, and went out -- unnoticed, again.

This time I strolled up to University Avenue near the Sciences Building, two blocks up the parade-route from the Student Union.  The campus Science Fiction club was already there, spreading out a big banner that read: "Next Stop Mars!"  The club prez was handing out picket signs with slogans pushing for the space program, and I took a big one that simply read "More $$$ For NASA!"

We could hear the bands playing in the distance, and I started waving my sign enthusiastically, hoping to get a glimpse of the astronauts when they came by.  Out of good old radical habit, I started chanting, "Mars next!  Mars next!"

A pimply-faced techie in the classic nerd shirt gave a startled look at my tie-dyed shirt and peace-sign pendant, and asked: "Why on Earth are you pushing for the space program?"

"Easy," I said.  "The war will end soon, but space is our future forever.  Besides, imagine that half the war budget were spent on space exploration..."

He stopped and thought about that for a moment, then started chanting: "Space, not war!  Space, not war!"

I made a convert, as easy as that.

I didn't bother mentioning that I'd been a Science Fiction fan long before I ever became a radical.  


 


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Home Dental Cavity Treatment

by Leslie Fish

Being a dentist's daughter, I have some idea of little things like how fluorides work to protect teeth. Fluorine is a gas with an amazing greed for calcium. Stannous or sodium fluoride is a more manageable molecule, soluble in fluid or gel, but just as greedy for calcium. When the stuff touches the calcium in your teeth, it grabs on and holds like a bear-trap -- but it usually still has an open bond or two that's greedy for more calcium. If there are any ions of calcium in your saliva, the fluoride will grab a couple of them and likewise hold on -- thus bonding the calcium to your teeth. This is how it builds up the dentine and even enamel in your teeth. Keep that in mind.

So, a couple months ago, when I developed a rampaging toothache in one of my lower molars and couldn't get a dental appointment on my local poor-folks' health insurance in less than a week, I had a good idea of what to do. (Yes, clove oil will help kill the microbes that wreck teeth, but it doesn't do much to fill the cavity. I needed something better.) I already had some .05%-fluoride mouthwash, so I soaked the affected tooth with it several times a day. That made the pain -- therefore the infection -- back down. When I finally got to see the dentist, he noted that I had a cracked molar and needed to get the resulting cavity filled, and made another appointment for that -- another two weeks away. *Sigh*

I knew that it wasn't a good idea to leave that cavity just sitting there wide open, ready to get re-infected, so I tried something new. Instead of just waiting for calcium ions to show up in my saliva, I decided to damn-well put them there. I took some mineral-supplement pills (calcium, magnesium and zinc), ground them to powder in a mortar and pestle, then sprinkled a pinch of that powder directly on the affected tooth, and then took the fluoride mouthwash and held in in place for ten minutes at a time -- several times a day.

Well, when the two weeks rolled around and I went back to see the dentist, the first thing he did was peer into my mouth and poke at the tooth with his various tools. I knew something had changed when he yelped in surprise: "It's hard! It's hard!"

"???" I asked -- all I could say, with my mouth wide open and full of tools and fingers.

"It's hard," he explained. "There's nothing soft in there, no infection. It's solid dentine!"

I raised a hand -- the signal for him to pull his fingers out so that I could talk -- and explained about my "sedimentary calcium" treatment.

He was impressed enough that, after he finished applying the dental cement that filled what was left of the cavity and replaced the missing enamel, he offered to give me a prescription for really strong (1.1%) fluoride gel so I could continue the treatment on some of my other teeth. He also re-glued my supposedly-permanent bridge for free. I suspect that he'll be passing on my "sedimentary calcium" trick to his other patients, and maybe even other dentists.

In any case, I've had no further problems with my other teeth, and the new glue in the bridge is holding solid.

Therefore I'm passing this on to anybody else who has minimal or no dental insurance. To prevent or even cure a toothache: grind some calcium (or calcium-megnesium-zinc) pills to powder, sprinkle the powder on your teeth, then take a mouthful of high-fluoride mouthwash and hold it for a good ten minutes. Do this at least once a day to prevent cavities and toothaches, and as many times a day as needed to clean out and fill the cavities.

Whether or not this treatment will succeed in replacing the enamel, I don't know. My guess is that you'll probably need a dentist to do that. Good luck.


--Leslie <;)))><

Sunday, August 5, 2012

SUPER-SMART CAT WORKS COMPUTER

(I've also posted this on my Facebook page. I need all the help I can get!)

By now probably most of Fandom knows that for decades I've been breeding a particular bloodline of cats for intelligence. On average, they have at least the intelligence of six-year-old children, minus language capacity. They don't yet have a real sense of symbolism, and of course they don't have mouths shaped for speech, so they communicate by gesture, expression, and analog sounds. Within those limitations, they can be remarkably articulate. They still have the psychology of cats, and they use their intelligence for their own little furry purposes, which are not necessarily ours. They can be amazingly clever at getting what they want, whether it's toys, petting or people-food. I've been breeding the smartest to the smartest with the intention of getting their intelligence even higher.

Well, I've succeeded to a point that's downright scary.

I have a young tomcat – 22 months old – that I named Tuxedo, because he looks as if he's wearing one. He's very people-oriented, will downright demand to be petted, and loves to explore. He figured out how to get into kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and explored the contents – until he overturned a bottle of perfume, and decided he wasn't interested in that any more. He managed to find ways through the window-screens and got outside – until he ran into some bigger, older, tougher tomcats, and decided he preferred to be an indoor cat. He also likes to sit in front of the TV and watch the shifting images on the screen; sometimes he'll bat and pounce at them for fun.

Then he discovered my husband's laptop computer. The monitor-screen has nice sharp definition and lovely bright colors, and Tuxedo decided he liked that better than the TV screen. Of course he couldn't get very close while Rasty was working on the computer, and when not working, the computer was closed – and thereby turned off.

Well… Tuxedo, after observing carefully, figured out how to paw the computer open, which would turn it on and light up the screen. Then he found that by walking on the keyboard he could get the screen to change and make the images move, so he could play with them. This adds a whole new dimension to the concept of "Kitten on the Keys".

It also messed up the email program to no end.

When Rasty discovered just who had been turning on his computer in the middle of the night and doing weird things with the programs, he insisted that this was too much; that cat had to go, one way or another. It isn't just that he's upset about his computer; he's worried about what Tuxedo will think to get into next.

So I'm making an appeal to every SciFi fan, Pagan and cat-lover in the Phoenix valley; will somebody please give Tuxedo a new home? Anyone who values intelligence in any form, anyone who can safely armor their laptop, anyone who likes cats – please call me, at 602-373-0320 – or send me an email at lesliefish@cox.net.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Change of Heart?

by Leslie Fish

By now it should be obvious to every literate adult in America that nobody loves Mitt Romney – except maybe the notorious 1%. The media have gleefully exposed his thoughtless cruelty to his dog, his thoughtless cruelty to his employees, his "outsourcing" his businesses' jobs to Mexico and China, his overseas tax-shelters, and his stupid refusal to reveal his tax records. Even a brief perusal of pro-Republican internet forums shows that none of them are enthusiastic about him. Nobody is really going to vote for Romney; they're only voting against Obama.

If there were a third choice, a lot of voters would take it. Everyone is sick of voting for the lesser of two evils, and there are rumblings of revolt. People are noting, on the Internet, that nothing in the Constitution requires the existence of political parties -- at all. The Libertarian party has, after decades of being carefully ignored, gained enough clout that the media bothered to cover their national convention this year.

Even the GOP knows this by now. Note how the Republican National Committee is hedging its bets – by actively welcoming Ron Paul and his supporters to the national convention. According to USA Today:

"Ron Paul supporters have feuded with state Republican parties across the country, battling for delegate seats at the national convention, but the national party is welcoming Paul and his supporters to the event with open arms, even helping the Texas congressman organize his troops.

"The Paul campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) have been working closely over the past few months to work out logistics in order to include the Texas congressman and his supporters in the August convention in Tampa."

This is an interesting turnaround, after the way the GOP has done its best to ignore, blacklist, blackball and otherwise silence Ron Paul and his disturbingly popular libertarian policies. Could it be that the GOP is scared enough of the disgruntled voters to risk that there just might be enough Ron Paul delegates at the convention to actually let Ron Paul get the nomination?

That would really be an amazing upset, enough to shock the media – and the Democrats – speechless. The worst that the media/DNC have ever managed to dig up on Ron Paul is: a) that he once (30 years ago) co-edited a newsletter that sometimes published letters-to-the-editor from right-wing nuts, and b) he's personally opposed to abortion (understandable, since in private life he's an obstetrician: conflict of interest). In the short time left before the election, they'd have to really scramble to create a believable smear-campaign against Paul.

He just might beat Obama. He certainly has a better shot than Romney.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Value of Keeping Cool



This happened more than 15 years ago, back in California, so the kids involved have long since reached legal age and escaped into the world, and their families can't get at them anymore. Also, any police charges from then have long since passed their expiration date, so I'm safe in talking about it.

Anyway, never mind how I wound up harboring a bunch of runaway kids, or all the backbends I went through trying to get them legal protection and safe places to stay. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about how few rights and protections children really have. I did it because, dammitol, there had to be at least one adult in town that these mistreated kids could trust.

One of them was marvelously pretty blonde girl -- let's call her Alice -- just turned 15, who'd been sexually abused by her stepfather and got an obscure revenge by being the girl who'd put out for all the boys in her school. I'd told her, simply as one girl to another, that using sex as a weapon was a bad idea, but she wasn't entirely convinced. She decided to test me, and came up with an ingenious method.

One night after dinner, when all the dishes had been washed and the other kids were out in the livingroom watching TV, Alice caught me alone in the kitchen and said: "I know I've got to find a way to make a living of my own. I've been thinking about becoming a prostitute. What do you think?"

My first thought was that I must not -- absolutely must not lose my cool and yell about crime or morality or any of that other crap that she'd had yelled at her by other adults for so long. So I stayed calm and went after the purely practical points.

"Not in this state you don't," I said. "In California it's illegal, so you'll be prey to the cops as well as bad johns, creeps and bully-boys. Even if you can avoid those, if you're working independently, other whores will very likely slash up your face to cut down on the competition."

She gave me a double-take at that, so I added: "There was an article in the paper just last week. I think we've still got a copy..."

"That's all right," she said. "So how do I get protection?"

"You absolutely don't want a pimp," I want on. "A pimp will take all your money, dole out food and clothes and housing, and give you nothing. In fact, he'll beat you up if he finds you're keeping any cash for yourself. He'll also try to get you hooked on bad drugs, for which he'll be your only supplier, so as to keep you solidly chained to him. He won't help you if you get caught by the cops, either."

"Why not?" Alice asked. "You'd think they'd want to protect their...moneymakers."

"They can always pick up new girls, very often runaways. They hang around the Greyhound stations, watching for girls who get off carrying suitcases and looking lost. Any one girl in their stables is disposable."

"Oh." Alice thought about that. "What about getting into a...a house, with a madam?"

"Yes, you'd be a lot better off there -- provided the madam can keep the cops paid off. Problem is, there are very few secure houses in the whole Bay Area, and they're rarely looking for new recruits. Also, they don't like to take underagers."

Alice thought for a long moment, and then murmured: "...Nevada?"

Of course I knew what she meant. "Yes, it's legal in Nevada -- in certain counties. If you could get into one of those legal houses, that would be the best way to do it. They give good pay, very good protection, excellent health insurance, and regular medical check-ups -- every week, if not oftener. The problem there is, again, they won't take you until you're legal age. I'm afraid there's just no safe way to go into that business if you're under 18. Honestly, Alice, you're better off working for MacDonald's."

She wrinkled her nose and muttered something about "less than minimum wage," but then added: "I'll go get an app from the one down the street." She got up and went out, looking thoughtful.

Yes, she eventually did get a job in a fast-food restaurant, made an arrangement to stay with an aunt, finished her schooling and went on to a better job and a better future. So did the other kids.

None of them ever took up prostitution for a living. Neither, as far as I know, did any of their friends.


--Leslie <;)))><




Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dickens Was Right

Okay, so the Supreme Court has decided that the ObamaCare bill is constitutional, by some rather odd legal definitions.

The problem with healthcare before this was that a lot of people were too poor to buy health insurance, so when they had serious health problems they were either financially wiped out by medical costs or had to go on some form of Welfare. Obama's (wildly misnamed) "Affordable Health Care" bill attempted to solve this problem -- by forcing people, poor or not, to buy health insurance. Uhh, and where are they to get the money for this? Well, right where they did before: from some form of Welfare. The difference is that the Welfare money is sidetracked through a host of insurance companies. In brief, Obamacare is heaven for insurance companies. It won't be so jolly for the taxpayers, who will foot the bill for this.

The way the Supremes decided that it was constitutional to force citizens to buy a particular product was by re-defining the penalty (for not buying insurance) as a "tax". Never mind that Obama himself had insisted that the penalty wasn't a tax. Quite simply, the executive and judicial branches of the federal govt. want the Obamacare bill, under whatever excuse they can grab.

Never mind that about a million citizens, and a dozen states, have opted out of the bill and publicly sworn that they will neither obey nor enforce it. Never mind that assorted economists have predicted that this bill will drive the US even further into catastrophic debt. Never mind that insurance companies, hospitals and clinics are already "rationing" healthcare -- which means, yes, that a lot of old folks are already being denied medicines and treatments they need to survive. Never mind that a lot of Americans will just plain die because of medicine being practiced by insurance clerks. Never mind all that; the fed. govt. wants this law.

But why? The bill is a huge, sprawling, sloppy, bloated bureaucratic nightmare, 2900 pages long, which nobody in Congress bothered to read all the way through before voting it in. It contains lots of little amendments with curious purposes that have nothing to do with American healthcare -- such as the $100 million promised to rebuild the infrastructure in Gaza. It's designed to strip money out of Medicare, which -- despite its desperate need for overhauling -- really did provide reliable healthcare to the poor. It's a badly-written bill which will not help poor Americans with healthcare needs, but will pour lots of tax money into the pockets of the insurance companies and will create lots of jobs for govt. bureaucrats.

It has already done more than any other bad federal law to encourage the state govts. to pull away from the fed. govt., to the point just short of open rebellion.

Maybe that's the whole point.

--Leslie <;)))><

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Feds Versus Tombstone

This story is unbelievably like the plot of a classic Western movie, but it's all true.

New York Times

With Wild West Spirit, Tombstone Fights for Its Water

By FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: June 23, 2012

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. — The rules were clear: no vehicles and no heavy machinery on the mountainside spot ravaged by fire and rain. Fixing the PVC pipe that carries water from a spring in the Coronado National Forest to this old frontier boomtown, the United States Forest Service decreed, would have to be done by hand. The volunteer posse is known as the Tombstone Shovel Brigade.

The town was once the setting of legendary gunfights between ragged bands of outlaws and lawmen — sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, but that’s Tombstone for you. Now, this tourism outpost of dusty streets and restored saloons is waging a modern-day fight against an enemy its people say is just as threatening as the bad guys of the past: the federal government.

A colorful posse of volunteers from right here, and also from other places near and far, departed in a caravan one recent morning to make the repairs and prove a point. There were men with long beards and handlebar mustaches, men in cowboy boots and roughed-up hiking shoes. There was a city commissioner from Elko, Nev.; a state legislator from Utah; a rancher from Truth or Consequences, N.M.; and a Republican Congressional candidate from Arizona who is running to represent a district that is not Tombstone’s.

“Big government has underestimated this city,” said Mike Smith, president of the local Legion Riders, a motorcycle group, who took to the mountain in jeans and a leather vest. “They thought we might abandon the whole thing when they made it so difficult, but this is not the way Tombstone operates.”

Tombstone’s water system is as old as the city itself, and most of the parts that are functioning, which are few, were damaged last year by rocks and trees dragged downhill by runoff from the summer monsoons. The city set out to repair the system’s connections to three of the 25 springs to which it claims to have a right; connections to the other springs are inoperable or nonexistent.

Local officials were under the impression that a state of emergency declared because of a wildfire that came before the rains would make things easy. But after weighing the city’s predicament and the precarious state of the forest and its wildlife, Jim M. Upchurch, the forest supervisor at Coronado, issued a split decision: bulldozers and tractors would be allowed in the lowest of the damaged areas to move truck-size boulders that had crashed onto the pipe, but they could not be used elsewhere.

“We think there are other options to protecting your water source without being so disruptive on the environment,” Mr. Upchurch said as he hiked Miller Canyon, where the repairs were under way.

Near the work site, Grizz Mace, a volunteer who works as a blacksmith at the O.K. Corral, the site of the infamous 1881 gunfight and its daily re-enactment, put it bluntly. “Back when this was the land of the free, you could go down into the forest, cut it down and burn it for firewood,” he said. “Now you’ve got to ask the government.”

The underlying point of contention is an Old West conundrum: who has authority over water that flows from federal land?

Tombstone has roughly 1,500 residents, but up to 20,000 people could be walking its streets at any given moment, lured by its family-friendly Wild West feel, a sort of amusement park where characters carry guns (fake and otherwise). It gets its water from three wells, though two of them are not being used because arsenic has been found in their water, and the mountain springs.

For a “wooden town in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a drought,” access to water is a matter of survival, as Ken Ivory, the legislator from Utah, put it.

The city’s manager, George Barnes, said the springs that are now feeding the system do not supply enough water to safeguard the historic wooden structures that make up most of the homes, businesses and attractions here. He has asked fire departments in all surrounding towns to keep their tankers full and at the city’s disposal, just in case, and he has asked residents to give their plants just enough water to keep them alive.

“We did bite the bullet and filled the swimming pool because that’s about all the kids who live here have during the summer,” Mr. Barnes said.

The volunteer posse, known as the Tombstone Shovel Brigade, worked in teams, leaving from the base of Miller Canyon in half-hour intervals.

Dick Hengl, 74, from Green Valley, 94 miles west of here, lugged a cut saw on his shoulder, panting as he trudged through two miles of steep, rocky ground. The rancher from New Mexico, Mike Skidmore, 71, hauled a coupling to help seal a section of the pipe that had been leaking.

A packhorse carried bananas, water and nutrition bars, bought with donations mailed from all over — $5 and $10 mostly, but a $500 check came from Alabama. Supporters, alerted through social media and a Web site, also sent shovels, some of which still bore postage marks from their points of origin: Colville, Wash.; Camp Hill, Pa.; Tucson.

“If the government can do this to Tombstone, they can do it anyplace else in this country,” Mr. Skidmore said.

Kevin Rudd, project manager for the Tombstone pipeline, thanked “all Americans volunteering their time to do the right thing,” then issued marching orders. “Let’s move all the stuff from here,” he said, pointing at a gash in the earth filled by rocks, “and let’s use it to make a wall right along the pipe.”

The heavy rains will come, as they come every summer to the desert. The repairs, Mr. Rudd said, will bring temporary relief to Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

The ultimate goal is to get the connections to all 25 springs up and running, something that the Forest Service has opposed and that is the subject of litigation now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian research group in Phoenix, has taken on the case, arguing that keeping Tombstone from accessing the water is a violation of the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states powers not explicitly granted to the federal government.

“We’re not asking to build a superhighway, or to cut a path where there has never been a path,” Nick Dranias, the institute’s director of policy development and constitutional government, said in an interview. “We just want to be left alone to repair and restore fully the water system that Tombstone is entitled to maintain.”

We've known for some time that the federal govt. just plain doesn't like Arizona. Maybe our gun-control laws -- or lack thereof -- have something to do with it. Or maybe it's because our population just doesn't behave the way the official social scientists expect it to, and that worries the politicians.