Tuesday, December 23, 2014


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

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish   )O(

Friday, December 12, 2014

Solutions to the Cop Problem

Going into detail: yes, we have to make sure (even if it takes federal laws and funds) that every cop in the US -- federal, state, county, and municipal -- wears a bodycam when on duty.  The cameras must include good microphones and be designed so that the wearers can't turn them off or censor them.  They must have sturdy batteries that can run for 12 hours without a recharge, powerful enough to transmit constantly to local receiving stations that will store all the records on computers, regardless of structures in the way.  They must also be on a part of the uniform that's never covered up.  And yes, give the cops bullet-proof vests so they won't feel In Fear For My Life so readily. 

Second, likewise make certain that every cop in America is supplied with a taser, as well as a hand-stunner, and that the cops get extensive training in their use.  Tasers need redesigning for features like reloading quickly, longer and sharper prongs to get through layers of cloth, and multiple-shot capacity.  When stun-guns are as reliable as lethal guns, cops will be more likely to use them first.

Third, get the military, which has the records, to come take back all the tanks, rocket-launchers, armed helicopters, fighting vehicles, etc. that it handed out to various police departments, and give that hardware to the state National Guard chapters, where it belongs.  If the cops find themselves in a situation where they need military hardware, they can always summon the local National Guard -- which has specific training in the use of such.

Finally, yes, go after the cops who killed those unarmed civilians with Deprivation of Civil Rights charges, lawsuits, and anything else that will stick.  Nothing will change the thuggish attitudes of cops, but the certainty of getting legally stomped if they have too much fun at the citizens' expense will at least make them more circumspect.

To use an old phrase, cops who aren't thugs at heart will have nothing to worry about;  if they're innocent they have nothing to hide.  Right?

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(      

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beyond Ferguson: It's a Nationwide Problem

So now we've got the Garner case in New York City, where the video shows four cops jumping on one unarmed man -- whose main crime seems to be "resisting arrest" by hollering "Don't touch me!" and swatting a cop's hands away -- grabbing him in an outlawed choke-hold and pinning him down until he died, and getting acquitted by a local Grand Jury.  In Ferguson the chief problem was stupidity all around, but this is a clear case of cop bullying, blatantly excused by the court system.  In this case the protests have been very well organized and self-controlled -- but then again, NYC is used to hosting protest marches.

One thing that even the most ambitious Black politicians have admitted is that it's not just a Black/White problem.  We've all seen examples, several posted on YouTube, of cops attacking and killing unarmed Whites, Spanish, Asians, et al -- and not just White cops doing it.  All that the victims had in common is that none of them were visibly rich, powerful, armed, or had many friends around them.  In short, they looked like easy victims -- exactly the sort that robbers would normally pick on.  Now it's the cops doing it too. 

In fact, the problem is the corruption and militarization of our police forces over the past 20 years and more. It started with the "asset forfeiture" laws, under the excuse of the War on Drugs, which encouraged cops to steal (and discouraged the use of cash US currency).  It grew worse with the recent custom of the military handing off its used heavy hardware to police forces instead of the National Guard, which has encouraged a general War on the Poor.  What else can explain, for example, sending a whole SWAT team to arrest a small shop full of barbers for the crime of letting their barbers' licenses lapse?  Is it coincidental that such cases have increased as marijuana has gained in legality?

There's no excuse, really, for all these kill-the-unarmed cases.  It would be hard to find a cop in the US today who doesn't carry a taser and/or hand-stunner (along with tear-gas spray and club);  why haven't the cops bothered to use these weapons first?  Why go first for the gun or the gang-up choke-hold?  Where have cops gotten the idea that the unarmed are that dangerous?

Well, the first step toward reversing the trend is to insist that cops wear body-cams as well as carrying tamper-proof cameras mounted in their cars.  The next step, obviously, would be some thwacking great lawsuits aimed at those cops who used an outlawed choke-hold on Garner.  In fact a lot of deprivation-of-civil-rights cases would also tend to make the cops more circumspect.  And in any case, get those tanks and heavy artillery away from them, and send them to various National Guard armories, before the cops take it into their heads to go after civilians with those, too.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(               

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ferguson: Stupidity Cubed

(I was going to tell about our bizarre family adventures this past week, but the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, and its aftermath, have pushed that aside for the moment.  So here's my take.)

Yes, the Grand Jury in the Ferguson case decided not to indict the cop, and the inevitable protests followed.  Did any of this seem a little bit planned to you?  Did anybody notice that certain not-exactly-elected politicians seemed to expect -- and plan for, and (dare we say) hope for -- a string of nation-wide Black riots on the scale of the Rodney King explosions?  And didn't they seem the least bit disappointed when that didn't happen?  In fact, doesn't it seem as if those certain political pundits are still trying, despite the slacking energy of outrage with the passage of time, to please-please-please get those Blacks to riot everywhere?

Fat chance.  The continuing protests seem to be guided by a little more common sense than expected.  For example, the Brown family's own insistence that cops everywhere in the US have constantly-running body-worn videocams, as well as car-cams while on duty, would make a real difference.  At the very least, it would put an end to cops trying to stop civilians from filming them;  it's already getting hard for cops to persuade judges that being videotaped somehow "interferes" with their ability to do their jobs.  Already clips have shown up on the Internet refuting claims by crooked cops, and the presence of cameras that the cops cant control or censor would definitely rein in their thuggish tendencies.  This is a reform that would work.

And so far, this is one of the few rays of common sense in the entire miserable business.  Another was the the county prosecutor's televised speech describing, in as much detail as he legally could, the reasons for the Grand Jury's decision.  It's true that Grand Juries are usually little more than rubber-stamps for cops' arrests, but there are exceptions -- and everyone could see the reasons why this would be an exception.  The fact that the jurors were elected months before the Wilson/Brown incident happens means that they weren't chosen specifically for the task of getting the cop off.  Also, three of the jurors were Black, and -- as with any other jury -- it would have taken only one contrary vote to stop the decision.  Finally, the prosecutor made certain that the Grand Jury got to see/hear all the evidence, of which there was plenty, which is why the deliberations took so long.

What the details of the case, particularly the physical evidence, reveal is lying, incompetence and stupidity on all sides: the kid, the cop, the witnesses on both sides, and even the protesters.  From the top:

Brown and his buddy went into a store, and the fool kid swiped some cigars -- surely knowing that the store had security cameras that picked up the incident -- and ran out the door.  Stupid!  Then, instead of ducking into an alley, sticking to the shadows, running and staying out of sight for a few days until the heat died down, what did the punk do?  He swaggered down the middle of the street as if he hadn't a care in the world.  Stupid!

Meanwhile, the robbed store-clerk had called the cops and given them Brown's description.  Wilson was closest, and was driving toward the store when he saw a kid exactly fitting the robber's description strolling down the street toward him.  He could see that Brown wasn't carrying a weapon, so he stopped his patrol car, yelled at the kid to stop, and then started to open his car door.  Brown stopped, but he pushed back on the car door while calling the cop a 'pussy'.  Stupid!  Now Wilson could easily have pulled out his taser -- or even his hand-stunner -- and zapped Brown into safe unconsciousness, but instead he kept wrestling to open the door.  Stupid!   He pulled out his gun instead.  Stupid!  He yelled at Brown -- who had now retreated about 25 feet -- to stop and put his hands up.  Brown definitely did stop and turn around, and at least partially raised his hands, but from that point the witnesses' statements differ wildly.  He either stood still until he was shot down, partly lowered his hands and walked toward the cop, or lowered his hands and charged Wilson -- who shot him several times, missing vital targets, before finally landing a fatal shot.  All this at less than 25 feet.  Incompetent!  Brown then reeled away from the car and collapsed some 20 feet away.

Now the physical evidence includes blood-spray from Brown on the inside of Wilson's patrol car.  How did it get there if Brown was 25 feet away when he was shot?  One of the witnesses (who happened to be Black) claimed he saw Wilson standing over Brown and shooting him in the back;  two autopsies -- one by the county ME's office, one by a private lab at the Brown family's request -- confirm that Brown was never shot in the back, but only from the front.  Worse, a lot of the witnesses (who happened to be Black) made repeated statements that contradicted the physical evidence, other witnesses statements, and themselves.  Stupid!  This, obviously, did not sit well with the Grand Jury.

And then we get to the protests.  The Black Community Leaders of Ferguson should have noticed, at their very first march, that a lot of opportunistic punks used the cover of the march to smash windows and loot stores -- which was guaranteed to draw the attention, and action, of the cops.  Those protest leaders should have taken care to police their own ranks, appointed some sturdy local folk to watch for punks and stop them before they could smash, loot, and attract cops.  But they didn't.  Stupid!  In fact, a lot of the stores that those punks smashed, looted, and finally burned were Black-owned and Black-managed.  Not that the punks cared.  Stupid!  There are even scattered reports of Jihadist mullahs going around to local mosques and urging young Blacks there (whom the Jihadists have been targeting for some time) to go to Ferguson, join the protests, and "get your own back" from the "Great Satan" (who, of course, is White) -- and tales of gullible Black punks actually doing it.  Stupid!

Amid this thundering mess of bigotry, lying, incompetence and above all stupidity, it's hard to find anyone to cheer for.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish      

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Annual Shameless Plug



You can order my filkmusic albums from my music publisher, Random Factors, at www.random-factors.com, or get my books from www.amazon.com.   Or you can order them directly from me, at lesliefish@cox.net, or by mail at: Leslie Fish, 1300 S. Watson Road #114-288, Buckeye, AZ 85320, using this form.


_____  "Offensive As Hell: The Joys of Jesus-Freak Bagging", $10  (satire)
_____  "For Love of Glory", $20  (historical fiction)
_____ "Of Elven Blood", $20  (fantasy/scifi fiction)


_____  "Avalon Is Risen", $15 (pagan and fantasy songs)
_____  "Lock and Load",  $15 (1st and 2nd Amendment songs)
_____  "Cold Iron", $15 (Kipling's historical poems as songs)
_____  "Our Fathers of Old", $15 (Kiplng's philosophical poems as songs)
_____  "Skybound", $15 (scifi and Star Trek songs – includes "Hope Eyrie")
_____  "Smoked Fish and Friends", $15 (WorldCon filksing, with others)
_____  "Serious Steel", $15 (SCA songs, with Joe Bethancourt)
_____  "Folksongs for Solar Sailors", $15 (Star Trek songs, from original LPs)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Half-Lies and the Assumption of Stupidity

Pardon my language folks, but I just saw an ad on TV that has me really steamed.  It's a Public Service ad, the sort that's supposed to be For a Good Cause because it's meant to discourage cigarette smoking (ooooh, evil-evil!), but it pushes a common half-lie that I've seen used many times before -- and assumes that nobody will bother to check it out and learn the truth, and that, thank you, is a huge pubic disservice.

First off, I prefer the term "half-lie" to "half-truth", because it's closer to the actual effect.  It's using one sliver of truth and concealing all the rest for the express purpose of deception, which makes it a helluva lot closer to a lie than the truth.  But to continue...

The ad shows a pretty girl screwing a cigarette into her forehead while the narrator solemnly intones: "Every cigarette changes your brain -- permanently."  Then it switches to some computer animation of supposed neurons zapping, and claims that in a few years of smoking, your brain "isn't the same anymore".

Rrrrright.  Years ago, I heard this same argument used to claim that marijuana was a Dangerous Drug.  Before that it was claimed against video games.

The whole truth is that everything "changes your brain -- permanently".  Eating changes your brain, sleeping changes your brain, exercising changes your brain, memorizing anything changes your brain, and -- above all -- learning changes your brain, permanently, because it creates new neural connections.  What's more, it's not true that nerve cells don't regenerate or replace themselves;  all cells in your body replace themselves, so that every seven years you've completely regenerated yourself and have, in effect, a new body -- including brain.  This is because the body is a dynamic construction, and the brain is an especially dynamic organ.  It's supposed to change constantly.  When your brain stops changing, it dies.

What offends me most about this ad isn't just that it promulgates a half-lie in order to scare people For A Good Cause (remember what the road to Hell is paved with), but its arrogant assumption that everybody will automatically be scared so that nobody will bother to check out the story.  Pushers of ads like this seem to have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's warning about fooling all the people all the time, and prefer to live by Barnum's theory that there's a fool born every minute.  They're not in the least worried about the fact that the Internet puts most of the world's knowledge at everyone's fingertips, so scams can be easily uncovered;  they trust in the assumption that most people won't even bother to question what they're told, to see if a story is a scam or not.  That's what really tees me off.

Worse, this attitude seems to be common not just among ad-men, who can be expected to lie and scam as part of their business, but news-media pundits as well, who are supposed to supposed to give us the truth -- and the whole truth.  How else can you explain all the news-anchors chatting about how the election ten days ago was a "Republican sweep"?

Consider that 99% of those races were close, if not very close -- in fact, several of them are still being recounted.  Also consider that only 37% of the registered voters bothered to vote in that election, which means that 63% were too disgusted to cast a ballot.  Likewise consider the number of ballots that were cast for anything but Republican or Democrat candidates;  here in Arizona, Barry Hess -- the Libertarian candidate for governor, who got no media-advertising time at all -- got nearly 10% of the vote, which is more than any major Libertarian candidate has ever gotten before in this state.  The AmericaVotes candidate, whom likewise nobody had ever heard of, got 2%.  All of this strongly indicates a deep dissatisfaction with both of the Big Two parties, rather than any great support for the GOP.  Yet the media pundits mention only the Republican wins.  Half-lie!  Do they really think nobody will bother to hunt up the truth, or do they really believe the half-lies themselves?

What all this shows me is an arrogant assumption that the majority of the population is too stupid to look for the truth, ever.  History has proven that that assumption can prove disastrous to those who hold it.  Pride doth indeed go before a fall.  I just hope that, in falling, the Masters of Manipulation won't crush too many innocent people under them.

--Leslie <;)))><


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Changing Image of the Witch -- or What I Did for Halloween

It's interesting how common ideas of witches have changed over the years.  Until well into the late middle ages, most people -- and the church -- thought of witches as people, usually women, who looked just like everyone else.  In fact they were considered people like everyone else, except that they'd switched allegiances to Satan instead of Jesus and were therefore in the same category as heretics and secular traitors.  'Twas around the 1500s, when mere heresy was branching out into the Reformation, that witches were seen as something different; almost always women, either ugly hags or at least branded with some tell-tale mark -- likewise different from the "mark" of Jews and Moslems (the men, at least), who were circumcised.  Professional witch-hunters had great fun stripping women naked and poking them, looking for the marks.  Witch-hunting ebbed and flowed with the progress of the Reformation, reaching a high point in the Salem witch-trials of 1692, after which religious wars became unpopular and witch-hunting died away to an embarrassed memory, then a fairy-tale.  At least by 1939, and the movie "The Wizard of Oz", there was the image of Glinda the Good Witch as well as the green-skinned and eagle-nosed Wicked Witch of the West   By 1983, when Raould Dahl published his children's book "The Witches", the image of the witch was more of a joke than anything really scary.  Finally, the play "Wicked" even did a good job of rehabilitating the Wicked Witch of the West, green skin and all.

Real witches, of course, said nothing -- in public -- about any of this until the mid-1970s, and then told their tales only in books or magazines found in "occult" bookstores, or in scholarly papers seen only by university Anthropology departments.  Of course the occasional heavy-rock band would do an album or a whole shtick about "witchcraft" or "the devil" -- having no relation whatsoever to the real thing, but good for scaring the grown-ups.  It wasn't until the 1980s that the Neo-Pagan movement in general grew big enough to start going public: hosting Pagan Pride Day in various large cities, holding "open" rituals to which the public was invited, complaining about the portrayal of pagans in general and witches specifically in movies and TV shows.  Good witches started showing up in lighthearted TV shows and the occasional movie -- much to the annoyance of super-conservative fundamentalist Christians, who kept trying to whip up Satanism scares, which always fizzled out for lack of evidence.  Pagans finally gained legal respectability in 2007, when the pentagram was accepted as a symbol on tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery.

Nowadays witch costumes are usually seen around Halloween, either as cute little robes and hats on young children, or sexy outfits on teenaged-or-older girls.  The green skin, warts and eagle-beak noses have vanished with the last decade's fashions.  Nowadays witches are at least cute, if not glamorous.

So I've had no problem spending my last few Halloweens wearing a witch costume (long skirt, long-sleeved lace blouse, pointy hat -- all in black), sitting out by the front door flanked by jack-o-lanterns and a black cat or two, playing solemn pagan tunes on an eerie-sounding bowed psaltery, offering candy to any little kid (or enthusiastically costumed adult) who'd be brave enough to take it from the mouth of a scary-looking carved pumpkin.  Only a few kids came down my street this year (possibly because, Halloween being on Friday, it was overshadowed by the town high school's nighttime football game), but all of them liked the costume, and the idea of braving the "goblin" to get the candy.  It seems that witches are getting downright respectable these days.

Cotton Mather should be spinning in his grave, at several thousand RPMs.  No doubt the few religious bigots who are left (like those fools in La Mesa, California, who tried to get Raould Dahl's book banned from the public library because it stated that witches look just like other people) are squirming a good bit above the ground -- primarily because their political power has drained away so that they can't hang or burn witches any more.  Boo-hoo, and BOOOOOO!

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(              

Monday, October 27, 2014

A New Idea on Illegal Immigration

It's no great secret that the federal government doesn't like the state of Arizona, for a lot of historical reasons, which is why the Supreme Court stretched so hard to find something/anything wrong with our controversial SB 1070 anti-illegal-immigration bill.  It's also no great secret that the federal government has no intention of stiffening our cobweb border or stopping illegal immigration -- the Republicans because they want the cheap labor, and the Democrats because they want the cheap votes.  It's surprising but true that the Constitution does not say that anyone voting in an American election must be an American citizen.  States that try to fix that lapse get serious discouragement from the current -- Democrat -- federal administration, as we've seen.

So what's to do?  Arizona has been a major highway for illegals -- to the tune of 100,000 to 500,000 per year -- for the last decade, and the strain is beginning to tell.  The state clerks used to keep records of how many welfare recipients, inhabitants of our jails, and arrested criminals were illegal immigrants -- until the ACLU claimed this was "racist" and made them stop -- and the number was far greater than their percentage of the population.  Our physical and social resources are stretched to the limit, the state is seriously in debt, and no end in sight.  We simply can't take in any more illegals, and have to find an effective way to keep them out.

So here's my idea.  First, the state hire some surveyors to go to the national border and mark exactly where it is.  Second, they then measure ten yards in from that border, and draw another line there.  Third, the state government scrapes up the money to pay for a real, serious, impassible fence -- maybe one made of I-beams, such as a lot of ranchers and Navahos living on the border have already constructed for a good ten miles -- back it up with a solid earth berm and patrol it regularly, preferably with police hired from the Navaho tribes.  Between the two fences, pave a road running east and west across the state, from California to New Mexico and a few miles further if those states are willing;  in any case, where the Arizona border turns north, the wall should follow -- for much longer than the distance the road would take to reach the nearest California or New Mexico town.  Where there are roads through the federal border, the Arizona wall will have passageways also -- but with its own checkpoints, manned by state police for inspectors, who will have strict orders to turn back Human Traffic and to search very diligently for illegal drugs and explosive devices.  Since this wall will be very definitely on Arizona land it will have nothing to do with federal border regulations;  the Constitution does allow individual states to determine which people they will let into their own lands.  As for anyone else, they'll still be over the national border, on a road that will take them either way into more amenable states.  The federal government will have no legal reason to complain about the state wall.

As for the "federal strip", maybe it would be a good idea to post on the Arizona wall, every hundred yards or so, a large sign saying -- in Spanish: "Warning!  Illegal Immigrants, beyond this wall lies the state of Arizona.  Arizona is a poor state, and doesn't want you."  Then two arrows, one pointing east and one pointing west, then: "X miles east is the state of New Mexico.  New Mexico will welcome you with lots of jobs.  X miles west is the state of California.  California will welcome you with free food, free housing and free money.  Go east or west, but don't try to go further north.  Arizona will give you nothing but a quick return trip to Mexico."  If the states of California or New Mexico complain about this, tell them we'll take down the signs when they put up their own walls.

Before the automatic howls of "racism!" start, let's point out that "Mexican" is not a race.  Neither is "illegal immigrant".  Genetically, Mexicans are a varying mix of White and Indian;  so are a lot of perfectly good Americans -- including me.  "Race" isn't the problem between the United States and Mexico, and never was.

--Leslie <;)))><   


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Spank or Not To Spank

News about another case of child abuse has brought the Anti-Spanking crusaders out of the woodwork again.  Now they're quoting all sorts of studies which claim that spanking causes everything from poor impulse control to poor brain development, and of course leads to child abuse.  I notice that they carefully tiptoe around the fact that spanking is mostly practiced in working-class and poor families, while Other Methods are practiced by middle-class and rich families.  Nobody mentions that the supposed ill effects of spanking just might be the results of poverty itself.

And, of course, the people conducting the studies are middle-class or above themselves.  The few exceptions that I know of were writers.  G. B. Shaw once commented: "Never strike a child except in anger, even at the risk of maiming it.  A blow in cold blood must never be tolerated."  R. A. Heinlein spent half a chapter of his novel "Starship Troopers" explaining why spanking is healthy and realistic, and anti-spanking is subtly dangerous.  Interesting, considering that it's writers who usually turn a keen eye on class differences, class prejudices and class assumptions.

I've noticed myself that an awful lot of social science is affected by the class prejudices -- "ethnocentricities" is the official term -- of the social scientists themselves.  I don't think anybody needs to be reminded of the piously proper medical researchers of a century ago who claimed that the "Negro brain" was "less developed" than the proper Caucasian brain.  Looking back from today we can readily see the blatant errors in logic of those Terribly Proper studies, but nobody has noted the glaring logical errors of our modern social scientists whose findings support and agree with the prejudices of our current middle and upper classes.  Here's one: when people protest "Hey, I was spanked as a kid, and I did all right", the anti-spanking pundits reliably answer "If you think spanking is acceptable, then you're not all right".  That's a classic example of circular logic.  They might as well say outright "If you disagree with me you're insane."  Uhuh.

Well, I was not spanked as a child, and I was not all right until I got away from my parents.  The reason is that, as I've noticed elsewhere, parents who don't spank use nasty psychological torments instead to enforce their will.  My brother and I learned to be actually relieved on the rare occasions when we could provoke our parents to lose control and physically smack -- partly because, not having practiced spanking, they didn't know how to do it right and would miss as often as they hit, and partly because afterward they would feel attacks of Liberal Guilt and would refrain from the psychological punishments.  Honest spanking would have been kinder.  Pain is only pain, and the memory of it fades quickly, while psychological scars can take years to heal.  ...Needless to add, I grew up to be a rebel -- and learned martial arts.

Here's another case, which the anti-spanking crowd will no doubt call "merely anecdotal" (that's what bigots call evidence contrary to their prejudices, until the number of "anecdotes" drown them).  Back in post-revolutionary Russia there lived a middle-class Jewish family -- safe from Soviet government harassment because the father worked for a government bureaucracy -- who earnestly believed in all the "progressive" biases.  Among other children, they had two daughters: call the elder Katya and the younger Anya.  Katya was a practical cynic while Anya was an idealist.  Being middle-class Liberals, the parents did not spank;  instead, they used psychological punishments -- while telling the children they should be grateful for such treatment.  For example, whenever their cousins came to mooch a meal, the parents would hand over the babysitting of the cousins' retarded child to their daughters, telling them they should be grateful for a chance to display their virtue by "caring for the unfortunate".  As soon as the adults were out of sight, Katya would foist off the job on Anya.

One day the girls disobeyed an order -- making beds, IIRC -- and their mama decided this required severe punishment.  She ordered the girls to each bring her their favorite toy, and she said they wouldn't get the toys back for a full year.  Katya handed over her least-favorite toy, a worn-out doll, on the theory that she wasn't going to do without her favorite for a year, and mama wouldn't know the difference.  Anya handed over her favorite toy, a mechanical bird, on the theory that after anticipating it for a year, regaining the toy would be that much sweeter.  Well, the year passed and the day came.  Instead of giving back the toys, mama admitted that she'd given them, the very day she got them, to the local orphanage -- and the girls should be grateful that they were able to give joy to the "disadvantaged".  Katya gave a dutiful smile to her mother, and a knowing smirk to her sister, and went off to play with her favorite toys.  Anya decided that she hated her mother, and hypocrisy, and self-sacrifice, and the "disadvantaged".

Katya went on with her family-planned life, but Anya concentrated on her schoolwork.  She specialized in techniques of film, and eventually got herself a scholarship -- and government permission -- to leave Russia, go to America and go to Hollywood to study filmmaking.  As soon as she got there, she renounced her Russian citizenship, applied for American citizenship, got a job as a script-girl and worked up to script-writer.  She also changed her name -- to Ayn Rand.

Yes, that Ayn Rand.  She spent the rest of her life writing scripts and influential books in which she denounced progressivism, and self-sacrifice, and hypocrisy, and altruism.  We don't know what happened to her family back in Russia when World War Two broke out, or after, but none of them wound up with Ayn Rand in America.  She also took care never to have children of her own.

Sure, all this is "anecdotal", but the moral is clear: don't spank your kids, and you'll wind up with extremists and rebels.  Then again, seeing the "ethnocentricities" of the middle and upper classes, maybe this is a good thing.

--Leslie <;)))><         



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Killing Virus

Note: "virus" is the proper plural spelling of "virus".  It's a Latin word of the Third Declension, which is where the Romans stuffed all their "irregular" nouns -- which meant oddball spelling.  So what I'm talking about here is killing more than one virus.  Keep that in mind.

With my odd fandom connections, I'd heard about this long before Rasty told me the story of the zookeepers and the giraffes, but that tale confirmed what I'd heard.  It seems that Rasty was visiting the zoo with his kids one day, and he noticed a zookeeper feeding onions to the giraffes.  Being a curious sort, he bothered to ask why.  The zookeeper explained that when a creature has a neck over six feet long a sore throat is a serious health problem, so the zookeepers took special care to keep the giraffes from catching colds.  Onions?  Yes, onions.  They'd found that fresh, raw onions in the diet prevent colds.  There's something about onions that kills cold virus and keeps the giraffes healthy.

This is interesting, because I'd also heard of some folk remedies for colds that likewise include onions.  I'd heard of others that include fresh, raw garlic.  I'd also heard of a French doctor who cured gangrene by filling the wounds with shredded, lightly blanched cabbage.   On doing a bit of research on cabbage, I learned that fresh, raw cabbage is also good for curing colds.  It seems that there's an organic poison in cabbage, fierce enough to kill the mold that causes gangrene and quite capable of killing virus too.  The amount of poison in eight cabbages is enough to kill a human being -- if a human were capable of ingesting eight cabbages all at once.

Well, put 'em together and what have ya got?  A virus-killer, I do believe.  The last time I had a cold I tried chopping up equal amounts of fresh, raw garlic, onion, and cabbage in a blender, and swallowing the odorous throat-stinging mess.  It stung my belly for awhile, but when I woke up the next morning, the cold was gone.  Guessing I was onto something here, I made a point of eating garlic, onion and cabbage whenever I could.  I haven't had a cold since.

I've spread the word to friends, who report similar results.  Between me, them, and the giraffes, I think we've got some conclusive evidence that a mixture of (fresh, raw, chopped) onions, garlic, and cabbage creates an effective broad-spectrum virus-killer.

Given the current panic being spread about Ebola and the new virus that paralyzes children, I think we'd best spread this story too.

In fact, I have to wonder why this folk-remedy hasn't been talked about before.  I know that the big pharmaceutical industry -- and its lobbyists, and therefore its media-flaks -- hate the very idea of effective medicines found in cheap natural foods, but seriously, shouldn't the medical business be willing to give up a little money to save lives, and maybe stop a spreading panic?

...Unless fanning the panic is the point.  So long as the public's attention is absorbed by Ebola and the new entero-virus, it might not focus too closely on the war with ISIL.  Having worked in the media a bit, I know how easily their attention can be manipulated, and there are a lot of people who regularly do such manipulation -- usually big industries and governments.  Now the latest reports that we've heard about the ISIL problem are solemn pronouncements that the war can't be won without participation by other Arab countries, and lots of "boots on the ground" (i.e. infantry).  Just about every "expert" we've seen on the news has claimed that the war can't be won with air-strikes alone.

...But what if it can?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, thanks to the development of small disguised spy-drones, it now is possible to identify and locate individual enemy troops -- and then take them out with pin-point bombing by larger and more lethal drones.  Don't you think the military would want to keep that fact out of public -- and therefore enemy -- knowledge as long a possible?  Well, since the media are manipulable, get them to distract the public (and therefore the enemy) with passing tales of how inadequate air-strikes are and how important and dangerous the two viral plagues are. 

Well, goody for them.  Keep the foaming Jihadists in the dark until the drones can kill them all -- and for the sake of the public peace, do kill them all -- but there's no need to stampede the public with virus-panic.  Since the mainstream media can't be counted on, really, to serve the public good, let's spread this part of the story ourselves, folks.

Equal parts by volume of fresh, raw onion, garlic, and cabbage, eaten twice daily, is an effective broad-spectrum virus-killer.  Pass it on.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: "Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain", by Aya Katz

I promised to give a fair critique of this second book in the series, even though the author is a friend, so I'll start with technicalities.  First, the cover painting is disappointing;  Impressionism and Fauvism are all very well, but they do require that the artist draw well -- and I've seen talented 10-year-olds do better.  On the other hand, the book being a Trade-sized paperback like its predecessors, the Perfect (hot-glue) binding is both sturdy and flexible enough to last indefinitely. The printing, even the Antiqued chapter-heading fonts, is good-sized, very crisp and clear -- wonderfully easy on the eyes.

The story itself is a continuation of the fictionalized biography of Aaron Burr's daughter, and her theorized lifelong romance with Jean Lafitte the Privateer -- not pirate, as he insists.  This volume takes us through Lafitte's founding of Galveston, and the embarrassment this caused the fledgling American government.  Besides having to play a delicate balancing act between the empires of Britain, France, and Spain -- not to mention the new South and Central American republics that sprang up in the footsteps of Simon Bolivar-- the United States government still hadn't worked all the bugs out of the democratic-governing business. Despite the ideals of the founders, the people staffing the new government were still affected by the feudal and corrupt assumptions of the earlier British government, complete with its class arrogance.  They were acutely embarrassed by having had to rely on independent privateers for their early navy, and tried to blot out that shame by turning on their former allies -- including Lafitte -- as soon as they could build enough ships to do it.  The novel is an account of Lafitte's slow retreat, under pressure from the US government, from the city he saved, the settlements he founded, and the countries he helped liberate, until he's obliged to fake his death and forsake the sea altogether, to settle down as a respectable gunpowder-merchant in a suburb of St. Louis.

Of course there are plenty of lively and romantic details: Lafitte's daughter and her disastrous first marriage, the vengeance Lafitte takes on her brutal husband, the routing of the nasty Inquisitor by Theodosia and her children and neighbors, and the cunning escapes by the Lafitte brothers from the embarrassed governments that keep trying to hang them.  There are also surprising viewpoints and pithy comments on the politics of the early republic, and foreshadowings of their future course.  For instance, Lafitte's veneration of property rights offers an alternative to the slavery problem that could have avoided the Civil War -- if only the federal government and the Abolitionist movement had chosen to take it.  Revelations of Alexander Hamilton's shady character and practices, and the financial disaster of his national bank, prophesy the economic woes of the present day.  The barely-excused thievery of tax and customs officials foretells two centuries of scandals and petty -- or not so petty -- injustices.  And through all this Theodosia struggles to keep her family alive, keep her husband's love, and keep her philosophical integrity.

Despite all this intricacy and intrigue, "Theodosia and the Pirates" is a smooth, fast read.  The inclusions of actual letters and announcements from the period don't slow the action but illuminate it, and the brief but colorful physical descriptions likewise move the action along.  I particularly liked the historical question-and-answer session at the end of the book, just ahead of the respectable bibliography.

Altogether, "Theodosia and the Pirates" -- both volumes -- illustrate a little-known but fascinating and formative period in American history while telling a lively and original love story.  Look for it on Amazon soon.

--Leslie <;)))><              

Friday, September 19, 2014

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged, part 3

How do you make a movie with a cause, without being preachy?  There are ways.

First, you heat up the love-story angle.  In the first third of the film, where John Galt is showing off his little free-market haven hidden in the mountains and trying to persuade Dagny to stay there, it's obvious that he's madly in love with her and wants her to stay with him for more reasons than just philosophical ideals.  It's also clear that the feeling is reciprocated.  The sexual tension between them sizzles, all through the film, augmented by the really brilliant camera-work. 

It doesn't hurt that Galt is played by Kris Polaha, who comes across as a hunky, cheerful, Working Class Hero: a brilliant electrical engineer with solid ideals, but also playful enough to toss gold coins around to impress his girl, or sneak up on her in a crowd just so he can grin at the look on her face when she recognizes him.  It's a tribute to his acting – as well as the screenwriting and direction – that he projects an irrepressible sense of humor that Ayn Rand herself never possessed.  He's the kind of guy who can laugh at his captors when they offer to make him head of the government-controlled economy, or tell his torturers, when their torture-machine breaks down, that all they need to do is replace a fuse – and then laugh, either because they're too incompetent to repair their own invention or because he knows that their running it has overloaded the system and started a city-wide blackout. 

Indeed, there are sly little flashes of humor all through the film, nice contrasts to the grim subject and theme.  Ron Paul has a ten-second cameo, in which he stands alone and points out that compelled compliance is always less competent than willing compliance – but Sean Hannity's and Glenn Beck's ten-second cameos are together, and they argue with each other.  That's a neat little comparison of Libertarianism with Conservatism – in twenty seconds flat. 

Second, the film has a tight, fast-paced, dense and multi-layered script that does a fine job of showing, more than telling, its arguments – often with parallel scenes that evolve into their own symbolism.  For example, Dagny's reason for refusing to stay in Galt's Gulch is that she loves and means to save her railroad – built by her grandfather, who also built the great Taggart railroad bridge over the Mississippi.  On her return to New York, as she discovers just how much the corrupt government is ruining her railroad – along with the rest of the economy – her growing disillusionment is paired with shots reporting the steady deterioration of the Taggart Bridge.  As in the first two films, this speed and density is necessary in order to pack all the plot threads and information into less than two hours' running-time. 

As for the infamous John Galt's Speech – originally a 50-page white elephant that kept the film from being made while Rand was alive – it's been brilliantly boiled down to a clear and concise five-minute denunciation of the decayed-Socialist philosophy of dependence and sacrifice.  It's not played on an empty screen, either;  Galt boldly shows his face to the national audience, a tactic which pays off later when sympathizers recognize him.  In parallel shots, we see the reactions of citizens on the street and the dismayed politicians whose broadcast Galt hijacked – a three-layered approach that packs in a density of information and plot-development. 
This is especially needed to make AS3 an effective stand-alone film while relating it to the first two.  The only weakness in the script is a minor comment, that Reardon Steel was forced into compliance with government policies by attacks from "government unions";  anyone who's studied the history of labor unions, or observed the altercations in Wisconsin last year, knows that governments are not and never have been any friend to the unions, or vice-versa.

Third, the camera-work is totally brilliant – in composition, range, speed, color and texture.  The sex-scene where Galt and Dagny finally get it on – on the desk in a tunnel office of the railroad terminal – is actually brief and shows nothing to keep the film from a PG-13 rating, but is hotter than many an outright X-rater I've seen.  Not least of the technical brilliance is the seamless matting with stock footage, as likewise was done in the first two films.  Nearly all the establishing shots are stock footage, which is understandable given the tight budget of all three films, yet they're blended perfectly with the action shots.  The final shot, of a blackout spreading across all of New York City except for the Statue of Liberty – which in fact has its own generator – was done with minimal special effects, possibly no more than simple matting, but it's wonderfully effective.  Despite Hollywood's enmity to Rand and Libertarianism in general, the film deserves at least an Oscar nomination for cinematography – and editing.

Altogether, AS3 is a fitting companion and completion to the previous two films, despite its unavoidable changes of cast.  Its technical solutions to its restricted budget, as with the first two films, in themselves support Rand's theme of the value of the unrestricted mind.  In fact, I have to claim that the Atlas Shrugged movies are better than the book they sprang from.  Simply as film, they invite repeated viewing to appreciate their technical brilliance.  Whatever your politics, you really should see this film – and its predecessors.

--Leslie <;)))><         

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Breeding for Brains: the Latest Cat Report

Ever since Moondancer died, his son Furrocious has been the undisputed top tomcat of the family.  Since we got the fence completed, his tomcatly duties have been a lot easier: patrolling the 'territory', chasing small game (small lizards and the occasional pigeons), and driving off interlopers.  He's become a lot more tolerant of Roderick's big dog, Jake, since Jake chased off an invading tomcat whom Furrocious would otherwise have had to deal with personally (Jake has a very keen sense of who belongs on the 'territory' and who doesn't).  It's not surprising that he spends most of his time outdoors, even in this weather (there's good shade on the back porch and under the trailer), only coming in for dinner and during rain-storms or dust-storms.

When he does come in, of course, he has to make sure that there's at least a trace of his, ahem, scent-marks in the house, just to remind the indoor cats who's the top tom around here.  He keeps me busy cleaning up after him with Lysol and Urine-B-Gone. 

And then there's his young nephew, Silverfrost (because he got the rare silverdust-color coat), whom I've earmarked to be the next breeding tom.  Rasty's nicknamed him "Trouble" because he's so good at getting into it;  any closed door is a mystery he just has to explore, which is why we've had to put a hook-and-eye latch on the kitchen cabinet.  He's about eight months old, which makes him the equivalent of a young teenager, and he's beginning to feel his oats.  He has better sense than to challenge Furrocious to a duel;  Furrocious is so muscular that we've nicknamed him "Gladiator" or "Spartacus", and he's half again Silverfrost's size.  When Furrocious is out of the house, little Frosty does his best to mount the queen-cats, but they're lamentably uninterested -- because they're still nursing their new litters of kittens, but he doesn't know that.  He seems to assume that the problem is with his approach;  he just isn't  impressing the females enough.

It's what he decided to do about that that's interesting.  When I let Furrocious in last night, after he'd eaten his fill he strolled about the house, checking it out, and he found a good spot for leaving his "mark".  He let fly, and made a fine puddle on the carpet.  I saw, and yelled and grabbed for the water-spray bottle, and he took off for safety.  I stomped off to get the Lysol and Urine-B-Gone and paper towels, and barely noticed Frosty flitting past me.  'Twas when I got back with the supplies that I saw Frosty deliberately rolling in the puddle, rubbing his fur in it from head to tail.  I shooed him off and started pulling paper towels off the roll, but I wondered why on Earth little Frosty had done that, so I followed him and watched.

What Frosty did was to trot into the kitchen where the females were taking a break from kitten-tending and parade himself past them, head and tail high, ears and whiskers spread, rolling his shoulders like a lion, casting sidelong glances at the queens.  You could almost see him thinking: "Do you like me now that I smell like a real grown-up tomcat?"  He made three passes, just to make sure they didn't miss anything 

Well, the females noticed, all right, but they weren't impressed.  Comet got up and pointedly walked away.  Nascar visibly sneered, and hissed.  Dejected at his failure, Frosty ran off into the bedroom.

Well, I let Furrocious out the front door, finished cleaning up his "signature", then took up some baby-wipes and went after Frosty.  I found him hiding in the laundry-basket, looking miserable.  I petted him, picked him up (noticing that, yes, he smelled of adult tomcat pee), petted him much, cleaned him off with the baby-wipes, then petted him some more until he started purring.  He's a very people-oriented cat, and petting will usually cheer him up.

Later I caught him consoling himself by trying to hunch a kitten (no luck) and then a shaggy small pillow -- which at least didn't hiss and run away.  I can understand his frustration, but he'll just have to wait until one of the queens comes into heat again -- and then try his luck by himself.   


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Race, Shmace

I get extremely tired of professionally outraged "spokesmen" -- like Rev. Al "Mighty Mouth" Sharpton, for example -- reliably harping on any "racial" aspect of crime or political troubles.  Most people have recognized that the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri happened more because of the militarization of the cops than the usual racial troubles.  Indeed, there are several political movements afoot to stop the army's practice of dumping old tanks, rocket-launchers, grenades, etc. on local police departments, which should do a helluva lot more to prevent cop excesses than all the "racism" speeches that reliably get on the 6 o' clock news -- speeches that usually end on a theme of "you owe me, Whitey" (and imply "gimme the money").

Look, what we call "race" is 90% illusion and 10% culture.  Yes, different bloodlines of humans have slight physical differences -- skin and hair and eye color, height, allergies, details of bone structure, weaknesses or immunities to different diseases, etc. -- but in fact there are fewer differences between "races" of humans than between breeds of dogs, or cats, or horses.  There's less difference between an African Pygmy and an African Watusi than between a Shetland pony and a Clydesdale draft-horse, less difference between a "white" man and a "black" one than between a Persian cat and a Siamese, or between a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard.  Any geneticist or biologist could tell you as much.

Certainly minor physical differences -- skin color, eye shape, even length of ear-lobes -- have been used throughout history as excuses for one group of people to dominate and exploit others, but (as Aesop pointed out nearly 3000 years ago) evil will take any excuse: "race", religion, land of origin, language, last name, or any other human characteristic you can think of.  Why?  Because it's fun -- and profitable.  It's very flattering to believe that you're naturally and automatically superior to a whole slew of other people, without any effort on your part.  (If you've ever seen pictures of a modern neo-Nazi rally, you'd have noticed how stupid and ugly most of them look;  one has to be a pretty nowhere human being to have nothing to be proud of but the color of one's skin.)  It's also wonderfully useful to have an identifiable bunch of people whom one can order around at will, and use for cheap labor and unpopular jobs.  So long as humans indulge in arrogance and thoughtless greed, we'll continue to see eruptions of niggerization -- under any excuse.  We'll also see opportunists making political and financial hay out of the resistance -- likewise, under any excuse.

The real irony to this story is that the modern "races" are no more than 15,000 years old, and that the breeds of humans have diverged and converged once before this.  Thanks to DNA and archeology, we now know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, Java Man and Denisovan Man were not different species of human but different breeds -- races -- and Neanderthal was probably the oldest of the lot.  Just when they diverged is difficult to tell, but they eventually re-encountered each other -- and interbred -- somewhere around 30,000 years ago.  So, for at least 10,000 years there was just one "race" -- human -- wandering around the world, slowly improving their survival techniques, always looking for better hunting-grounds, until their wanderings took groups of them far enough apart that they began genetically diverging again.  In other words, we're all the result of "race mixing", "mongrelization", and all that.

Yes, different bloodlines can have various genetic strengths and weaknesses, culture exacerbates the differences, and politicking makes it worse, but "race" itself is a joke -- a joke that's outworn and overdue to be forgotten.

--Leslie <;)))><     


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Convention Report: CopperCon/Fantasm

Hi, friends and fellow-fen.  I haven't reported in for awhile because I was at, and then recovering from, CopperCon -- this year nicknamed FANtasm.  CopperCon was the original Arizona regional Science Fiction convention -- since joined by LepreCon, TusCon, and a couple of specialized gamer and costumer conventions.  It's currently suffering, like all of them since the present Depression hit, from a shrinkage of membership, but still carrying on faithfully.

CopperCon has always been a particularly imaginative and intelligent convention; where else would you find panels on Tax Planning for the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, or the science of sound, or leatherworking shortcuts for costumers (did you know that you can set snaps and grommets with a Phillips screwdriver?), as well as the standard ongoing filking, gaming, video/film rooms, and well-stocked convention-suite?  The dealers' room was small but intense, with plenty of hard-copy books,  magazines, CDs, DVDs, models, jewelry, gorgeous Steampunk and Fantasy weapons for sale.  Definitely, there are things you can find at a SciFi con that you'll find nowhere else on Earth!  And that's not even counting the ongoing autograph sessions and readings.

I confess that I didn't get to many of the panels, but then -- as the Music Guest of Honor -- I spent most of my time singing.  There were open-ended filksings on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, along with my hour-long concert on Saturday, right after Mark Horning's concert.  The audiences, as seemed to be the case with all the other events, were small but intense.  We never did manage to sing all night and end with opening the coffee-shop for breakfast, but the filks did last for hours and hours.  So I sang and played, and I sang and played, and wore out my old guitar strings to the point where they absolutely refused to stay tuned, and I'll have to buy new ones.  That'll mean finding a music store somewhere out here in the westernmost outpost of the Phoenix valley, or else ordering via the Internet.  *Sigh*

And of course, as usually happens at conventions, we all swapped viruses and I came home with a brief but annoying cold.  That, my fellow-fen, is why I haven't reported in since before Friday.   Nonetheless, it was a delightful convention, I hope to get there again next year, and I invite everyone in fandom to come as well.  CopperCon is a little gem of a SciFi convention.

--Leslie <;)))><  


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Send in the Drones

The situation is not hopeless;  the US has the means -- right now -- to smash ISIL all the way back to Syria, find and hunt down every last member of Boko Haram, destroy all the drug-gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and go after all the Jihadists in the world, regardless of how well they armor themselves in shields of  civilians or put on disguises of innocent civilians themselves.  All we lack is the will to use it, and that lack is the result of nearly 70 years of elaborate propaganda -- first by the USSR, and later by the better-educated Jihadists.

The means is a technological advance: so-called drones.  What we call drones are simply state-of-the-art, radio-controlled, model planes or model helicopters.  Most of the drones we've seen in the news have been sizable unmanned airplanes, capable of carrying a sizable load of (preferably smart) missiles.  The Jihaidists and their media-flacks have wailed about the "inhumanity" of using drones -- as if guided missiles, common aerial bombs or simple artillery were somehow more merciful -- precisely because drones are so effective, particularly against Jihadists, who have no effective means of counteracting them.

What nobody has mentioned in public -- outside of the Internet, anyway -- is the usefulness of small drones, very small drones.  Go up on the Internet and search the words "miniature aerial vehicles" -- or MAVs -- and you'll see some startling inventions.  The British military admits to having tiny solar-powered helicopters, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, which are quite capable of carrying miniature high-definition video-cameras, high-sensitivity microphones, radios capable of sending the audiovisual information back to one or more computers with audio and video pattern-recognition software, solar-charged batteries, tiny navigation computers with GPS locators, and radio-controlled motors.  There are other videos which show bird-shaped drones that fly exactly like birds, insect-sized drones that fly very much like insects, and even models of tiny drones that also look very much like insects.  Most of these are labeled openly as "spy drones".  I think we can safely claim that the US military already has these tiny robots in production, if not already in the field.

Now think about the applications.  A single small airplane could fly close to the front lines of ISIL, or over the jungles of Nigeria -- or Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador -- and drop a small fleet of MAVs, each one linked to a computer, each computer managed by a US "military adviser" watching the screen from miles away.  There are already super-thin solar-electric "panels" that have a conversion efficiency of 50%;  with the wings and skins of the MAVs clad in these, the tiny drones would have no trouble flitting about the countryside in daylight.  With some of the more efficient batteries available today, the MAVs could still hide, watch and listen and transmit, all through the night.  The tiny spies can watch and listen until the Bad Guys, within the MAVs' sight and hearing, by word or action reveal themselves.  Within a few weeks, or even days, or even hours, the MAVs could dutifully report to their handlers just who, and where, the Bad Guys are -- not to mention what they're planning and where they're going.  With that information safe in the computers, the "advisers" could send in the MAVs' bigger brothers -- armed with smart missiles set for precise targets.  This would make it quite possible to blow the head off, say, a Boko Haram goon without touching the teenaged girl held in front of him.  The advancing lines of ISIL would be even quicker and easier to identify and target.

Up until now, the major sin of war has been the ruining, wounding, and killing of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire -- or placed there deliberately.  Thanks to the drones, it's now possible to target the real enemy precisely, and spare the innocent.  This will make it hard for the Jihadists' apologists to complain effectively to World Opinion.  Spying on one's enemies, by personal means or through implements, is a time-honored and perfectly legitimate tool of war.  Killing one's enemies at a distance, by way of an implement, is as old as the thrown spear. There is no solid moral objection to the use of drones in combat.

The one objection to spy-drones that has any real weight is the possibility of a government tyrannically using them against its own people, probably on the usual excuse of "crime".  In fact, peace-demonstrators in more than one city have complained about the presence of odd insects buzzing over their marches, assuming that the strange bugs were in fact spy-or-worse drones.  Of course, as we've already seen (i.e. Ferguson, Missouri), police given any kind of combat-toys are eager to play Rambo on any civilians who give them an excuse.  How bad would they get given the use of drones?

There are two defenses against this, one political and one technological.  The political defense, which I hope the city governments of more militarized police forces adopt, is simply to cut off the money.  Army surplus machinery requires a lot of maintenance, and that costs money.  Let the city auditors do the calculations, and cut the town's police budget down to only what will cover salaries, fuel and basic maintenance for squad cars, paper and utilities for police stations, union dues, pension and insurance fees, and nothing more.  With no money to fuel and use the combat machinery, the police will be a lot less tempted to use them.  For state and federal police who get too rambunctious, there's the trick California used to rein in the NSA: passed a law requiring the state to cut off all utilities -- including electricity, sewage, garbage, and water -- to any government department caught performing unconstitutional activities.

The technological defense is to stand back and turn the hackers -- and Hams -- loose.  A drone is useless without its radio connection, and there are various ways to discover the frequency of that radio transmission -- and jam it.  Of course this can lead to ongoing duels between the drone designers setting new frequencies and the hackers determining what they are, but the very possibility of having any of their frequencies hacked -- and the hacks no doubt published on the Internet -- will give governments good reason not to use drones on their own annoyed and educated citizens.

Why won't this deter the use of drones on drug lords and Jihadists?  Ah, this is where the factor of cultural psychology comes in.  There's good reason why there are so very few Muslim Nobel prize winners, and that is the general attitude of Arab culture toward science itself.  That culture doesn't really believe that the basic laws of nature are immutable, therefore predictable;  it assumes that the laws of nature are only the will of Allah, and Allah can be bribed -- with enough prayers and human sacrifices -- to change his mind.  This is why Jihadists will often throw themselves into suicidal battles and doomed tactics, truly believing that they can win despite the facts, because Their Strength Is As The Strength Of Ten Because Their Hearts Are Pure.  They don't really understand, or believe in, science;  they're happy to use the toys of technology that others invent, and can learn by rote to operate them, but have no talent for inventing new ones.  The best they can do in that department is, like drug lords, use their money to hire people who do have that ability.  Since history has amply proved that nerds in the employ of drug lords and Jihadists have notoriously shortened lifespans, competent scientists -- including hackers -- rarely care to work for such.  When they do, they tend to spend more of their time and labor creating escape-hatches for themselves than doing very competent work. State-of-the-art drone handlers have the advantage here, and will for the foreseeable future.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Wagging the Dog

In my long and checkered career I've had occasion to work as an editor on two newspapers, by which I picked up a passing knowledge of how to recognize a faked news photo or film-clip.  For example, a picture shown on CNN purportedly showing three Palestinian schoolgirls weeping about their neighborhood being bombed by the wicked-wicked Israelis;  it showed all three girls with identically-patterned headcloths, identically draped, and their faces artfully painted with identically airbrushed make-up.  I also noted a Hamas film-clip that claimed to show artillery-fire from an Israeli battleship far out in the sea hitting a playground in Gaza City;  it didn't show any flash or trail of smoke from the ship, but only showed an explosion in the city -- and the smoke-trail pointed in the wrong direction.  I could also point out how you can tell that at least 99% of the famous Abu Ghraib photos are fakes, but that's a subject for a whole 'nother article.  The point is, the media even here in the US have been showing shamelessly faked videos -- not to mention shamelessly tailored facts -- for a very long time.   

It's been especially interesting watching the major news media of the western world, for the last couple weeks, try their best to raise sympathy for the Hamas jihadists in Gaza and do anything to make Israel -- and Jews in general -- look bad.

 This is from http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/181206/new-york-times-slams-its-own-pulitzer-prize-winning-photographer-in-gaza

"If you have ever wondered why the New York Times photo coverage from Gaza has almost exclusively consisted of dead and bleeding Palestinian children in Shifa Hospital, with nary a Hamas gunman or missile launch from a school or a mosque to fill out the narrative of events on the ground, the newspaper of record has an astonishing answer: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Tyler Hicks really sucks at his job.

"For anyone who knows anything about photojournalism, the Times’s answer raises some very serious questions about the sanity of the people who are running the newspaper, as well as the paper’s loyalty to one of the greatest photographers of his era who has put his life at risk for the newspaper time and time again in global hot spots and conflict zones.

"But according to Eileen Murphy, the Times Vice President for Corporate Communications, the paper’s photographers in Gaza, led by Hicks, are the sole reason for the radical imbalance in the Times photo coverage of the war. Or at least that’s what she told Uriel Heilman of JTA, when he asked the Times to explain why, out of the 37 images that made up the paper’s last 3 slideshows from Gaza, there wasn’t a single image of a Hamas fighter or rocket launch or anything else that might signal to readers that Israel hadn’t simply decided to maim and murder Palestinian children in the coastal enclave for sport.

"Incredibly, the first part of Murphy’s answer blamed Times photographers for apparently submitting only a handful of low-quality images:
Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground.  It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.
"Is this really how a legendary photojournalist like Tyler Hicks operates? Two very distant low-quality images, and nary a sight of a single person carrying a gun in all of Gaza during a three-week long conflict in which over 1500 people have died? If Hicks’ assignment took him anywhere else besides Gaza, one might suspect him of holding up the hotel bar.

"The rest of Murphy’s answer provides only a tiny bit of insight into why Hicks’ performance has been so poor:
I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants.  We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.
"The key word in the second part of Murphy’s response, of course, is “access.” Tyler Hicks is hardly lying down on the job: He’s doing incredibly hard and dangerous work in a combat zone where photographers are hardly free to take pictures of whatever they want. Which is the key point that Murphy and her bosses are determined to elide.

"What the Times and other mainstream news outlets seem determined to hide from their readers is that their photographers and reporters are hardly allowed to roam freely. In fact, they are working under terribly difficult conditions under the effective control of a terrorist organization which–as the war itself indicates–doesn’t hesitate to maim, kidnap, and kill people that it doesn’t like.

"How does being dependent on Hamas for your daily access–not to mention your life–potentially impact coverage? Well, the fact that the Times has only two distant, grainy, unusable images of Hamas gunmen from Tyler Hicks tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it.

"If your imagination needs more help, here’s Liel Liebovitz’s column in Tablet:
In recent days alone, we’ve heard the account of Gabriele Barbati, an Italian journalist who, once leaving Gaza, tweeted: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.” We’ve also heard from Radjaa Abou Dagga, a former correspondent for France’s Liberation whose attempts at practicing honest journalism got him summoned by Hamas thugs, accused of collaborating with Israel, and told to stop working as a reporter and leave the strip at once.
"By playing coy with readers about the reasons why coverage is so imbalanced, the Times may think that it’s defending the work of its reporters and photographers. In fact, it’s making them and the paper look foolish–while serving as the propaganda arm of a terrorist organization. Someone at the paper needs to devote some serious attention to the reasoning that has transformed difficult working conditions on the ground into a glaring editorial failure."

And obviously it isn't just the New York Times playing this game.

 Even when the TV news channels are handed clear videos showing Hamas jihadists launching rockets at Israel from the roofs of private houses, hospitals, schools, and even UN shelter buildings, they show as little of the footage (maybe 5 seconds) as possible -- and then it's back to long minutes of pix of wounded Palestinian children.  You have to go search on the Internet to find actual photos of those tunnels that the Hamas jihadists dug into Israel, and videos that identify the buildings from which Hamas keeps firing rockets.

As to why Hamas would draw fire onto UN shelters, why, it's a win-win situation for them.  Those UN missions included schools that dared to teach women and female children heresies like reading, writing, mathematics, science, real history, and critical thinking. Getting the Israelis to bomb those buildings -- by the usual tactic of climbing up on the roof and firing a few rockets toward Israel -- would get rid of that problem while making the wicked-wicked Jews look bad.

I leave to the readers' imaginations just why the western news media have tried so hard to spread anti-Israel pro-jihadist propaganda, but be it noted that this attempt is failing -- largely thanks to the Internet. When it's possible to see (and analyze) pictures, videos and witnesses' reports from humble on-the-spot citizens with no more than cell-phones and Internet accounts, it gets really hard to limit viewers' news to only what the government and its tame media-flaks want them to think  Thus it's growing harder for Hamas to convincingly howl "Foul!" when everyone with uncensored Internet access can see its sins: shelling its own people, preventing its own people from getting out of the danger zones, using women and children for human shields, breaking every cease-fire that Israel has agreed to, constantly firing rockets at Israel and then wailing when Israel hits back -- with pinpoint precision.  The evidence relentlessly exonerates Israel, and the best propaganda artists in the business can't hide it all.  

And the media flacks themselves have begun to see the tide of public opinion turning.  Note how TV news in the last few days has begun showing a bit more balanced coverage, as if worried about complaints from the audience.  The audience can no longer be lied to as completely as in Nazi Germany, or the old USSR, or even the US in the heyday of William Randolph Hearst.

This is why the Internet must remain free and uncensored.  We have to combat every attempt by every government we can reach to pass censorship laws.  We must also support the efforts of every hacker who can break any technology that threatens such censorship -- not just the Electronic Freedom Foundation and Anonymous.

And, of course, it helps to learn how to identify a media fake when you see it.     

--Leslie <;)))>< 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: "Theodosia and the Pirates", by Aya Katz

Here's another of Aya Katz's remarkable historical novels which use the point-of-view of offbeat characters, with their fitting contemporary quirks and biases, to illuminate odd corners of history.  In this case Katz's protagonist is Theodosia Burr Alston, the miserably neurotic daughter of Aaron Burr, who doesn't just disappear at sea after her son's death but takes up with the privateer ("I am not a pirate!") Jean Lafitte -- and from this viewpoint reveals odd and fascinating details of politics in the southern states during the War of 1812.  I'll bet your high-school history classes never mentioned that America's early navy owed more to pirates -- or privateers, depending on your viewpoint -- than to John Paul Jones. 

Equally fascinating are the political intrigues between the freewheeling settlers of the gulf coast and the woefully inept officials of the new American republic.  The story is studded with examples of actual letters from the historical characters, giving unique insights into the volatile society of early America with its shifting relationships between the sexes, the races, and the influences of the neighboring European empires.  And of course, this being a historical Romance, there's plenty of good rampant sex. 

One could make minor quibbles: there are occasional typographical errors, and the Impressionistic-painting cover would have done better within a solid frame, but none of these distract from the pace and flow of the story.  Altogether, this is a complex and fascinating novel from a unique perspective.  I, for one, can't wait for the sequel.

--Leslie <;)))><              

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Damn, I Won the Prometheus Award!

Wow!  Now all I need is somebody who's going to WorldCon in London to accept the award for me, and get it out to me here in Buckeye, afterwards.  I've had a couple of tentative offers, but I want to have a backup, just in case.

--Leslie <;)))>< 

"For IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 12, 2014
Vernor Vinge to receive Lifetime Achievement Award

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced its Prometheus Award winners for 2014 – including a tie for Best Novel, our annual Hall of Fame entry for Best Classic Fiction and a rare Special Award, the first by the LFS’ to a filksinger-storyteller.

Awards for Best Novel, Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) plus a Special Award will be presented at 8 p.m. Aug. 16 during the Special Awards ceremony at Loncon 3, the 72nd annual World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held August 14-18, 2014 in London.

In a separate awards ceremony, four-time-Prometheus-winning author Vernor Vinge will receive a Special Prometheus Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented during Conjecture/ConChord Oct. 10-12, 2014 in San Diego, California.

Doctorow, Naam tie for Best Novel
There was a tie for Best Novel: The winners are Homeland (TOR Books) by Cory Doctorow and Nexus (Angry Robot Books) by Ramez Naam.

Homeland, the sequel to Doctorow’s Prometheus winner Little Brother, follows the continuing adventures of a government-brutalized young leader of a movement of tech-savvy hackers who must decide whether to release an incendiary Wikileaks-style exposé of massive government abuse and corruption as part of a struggle against the invasive national-security state.

Nexus offers a gripping exploration of politics and new extremes of both freedom and tyranny in a near future where emerging technology opens up unprecedented possibilities for mind control or personal liberation and interpersonal connection.

The other Prometheus finalists for best pro-freedom novel of 2013 were Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men (Baen Books); Naam’s Crux, the sequel to Nexus (Angry Robot Books); and Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance (Thomas & Mercer).

Lois McMaster Bujold wins Hall of Fame for Falling Free
The Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) winner is Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold ‘s 1988 novel that explores free will and self-ownership by considering the legal and ethical implications of human genetic engineering.

The other 2014 Hall of Fame finalists: "As Easy as A.B.C.," a 1912 short story by Rudyard Kipling; "Sam Hall," a 1953 short story by Poul Anderson; “ 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," a 1965 short story by Harlan Ellison; and Courtship Rite, a 1982 novel by Donald M. Kingsbury.
The Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction honors novels, novellas, stories, graphic novels, anthologies, films, TV shows/series, plays, poems, music recordings and other works of fiction first published or broadcast more than five years ago.

Leslie Fish wins Special Award
Author-filksinger Leslie Fish, perhaps the most popular filk song writer of the past three decades and one who often includes pro-freedom themes in her songs, will receive a Special Prometheus Award in 2014 for the combination of her 2013 novella, “Tower of Horses” and her filk song, The Horsetamer’s Daughter.
Fish’s novella (published in the anthology Music of Darkover, edited by Elisabeth Waters) faithfully tells the same story as her Pegasus-winning filk song. The story’s characters (especially the 12-year-old title character of the song) resist control of a wizard-backed government that wants to regulate, tax, and conscript them.

This Darkover story thus sheds new light and fresh libertarian perspective on the world of Darkover by focusing on the peaceful voluntary cooperative lives of farmers and small-town traders struggling to preserve their freedom and independence – rather than the usual Darkover focus on the planet’s leaders or ruling elite, some well-intentioned but some abusing power.

About the awards
The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners.

For more than three decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that stress the importance of liberty as the foundation for civilization, peace, prosperity, progress and justice.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit www.lfs.org. Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

For more information, contact LFS Publicity Chair Chris Hibbert (publicity@lfs.org). To submit 2014 novels for consideration and possible nomination by LFS members, contact Best Novel awards coordinator Michael Grossberg (BestNovel@lfs.org or 614-236-5040). To propose works published more than five years ago for the Hall of Fame, contact William H. Stoddard, Hall of Fame finalist judging committee chair (HallOfFame@lfs.org).

More information is available at http://lfs.org."

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Suspicious Underpinnings of ISIS

You have to be pretty far out in the weeds for Al Qaeda to consider you too "extremist", but the so-called Iraqi Syrian Islamic State rebels have managed to gain that dubious title.  For that matter, Hezbollah doesn't like them either.  Neither does anybody else in the middle-east -- except the Syrian rebels and a lot of assorted Jihadist hotheads, many of whom are flocking into northern Iraq to join them.  They're polarizing the middle-east as fast and thoroughly as Boko Haram did northern Africa.  

In fact, ISIS -- which is now shifting its name to The New Caliphate -- has made so many enemies so quickly that one has to wonder if this was, dare I say, planned?  ISIS was obviously backed by a lot of money, which everyone assumes came from the rich fanatic sheiks of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but where did those rich Jihadist fanatics get the idea that now was the time to start the great war to establish Moslem rule over the world?  Well, certainly the inability of the angered governments of northern Africa to stamp out Boko Haram, and the departure of the American troops from Iraq, and the Palestinian kidnappings and murders in Israel, might have encouraged them, but wouldn't caution have warned them to wait and see if those Africans and Israelis eventually came up with effective reactions?  Wouldn't any sensible military adviser have told them not to assume that, just because Allah was on their side, that all the world would fall before them?  Where did they get the idea that everybody else in the world is a collection of cowards, weaklings and fools who are ripe for the conquering?

Is it possible that somebody who's not a Jihadist carefully sowed that idea in their heads?

Not everybody in the western state departments are fools, and -- much though it might surprise China -- western governments are capable of playing a long, slow game.  It was not by accident that the USSR was encouraged to spend itself into collapse, so that it crumbled without anyone in the west firing a shot.  Nobody who has carefully followed events since then could doubt that the next big threat to western civilization was going to be the Jihadist movement;  after all, the Muslim militants have been building toward this confrontation for the last century, at least.

So, how to deal with it?  How do you fight armies who boast that they love death as westerners love life, who are happy to die if they can just die killing a few more innocent people, who are quite happy to slaughter noncombatants -- including children -- and who boast that they have a potential recruiting pool as big as the population of China?  How do you make war on a political/religious movement which is not tied down to any one location or government, and armies that wear no uniform but hide among civilians?  Genghis Khan managed, centuries ago, by having no compunctions about slaughtering whole populations, but that sort of thing is frowned on these days;  anyone who tried it would find the rest of the world allied against him for pure self-preservation.  So how do you stop them?

Well -- and here's where my hard-learned practical political paranoia kicks in -- you make them fight each other, to the death.  This isn't as hard as it might appear.  Religious fanatics have a long track-record of turning on each other for being insufficiently holy, as various Muslim sects have done many times before.  In fact, the only thing that has ever managed to unite fanatic religious sects in the past has been a common enemy -- and even that is no guarantee.  Despite their handy unifying hatred of Israel, for the past 60 years Arabs have merrily fought each other over any good excuse.  The long-standing civil war in Syria has killed more fanatical Muslims than all the western troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Now considering how fast the Arab Spring came and went in other middle-eastern countries, why has the civil war in Syria dragged on so long?  You might consider the question of where both sides are getting the weapons to keep fighting it.  No country has visibly or officially sold or given weapons to either side in a very long time, yet both sides manage to keep getting them -- always small arms and small artillery: not serious enough to invade any neighboring countries, but enough to keep killing each other (at least 100,000 at last estimate) for year after year.  For all the UN's whaffling about "international arms smugglers", it's clear that a volume of weapons like this could only be supplied by the government of an industrialized country -- or several countries.  And how many governments in the world have good reason to want as many Jihadists as possible dead?  How many countries -- from Britain to Burma -- have had problems with demanding Muslim fanatics inside their own borders?  The not-so-subtle attempts by Jihadists to spread their power in other countries has raised a quiet but sizable backlash all over the world, and I strongly suspect that civil resistance is the least of it.

So why did the Syrian rebels, who haven't even conquered their own country after all this time, suddenly decide to run next door and conquer Iraq?  Did they -- and their Saudi/Qatar backers -- really think they could get away with it, just because the American troops were leaving?  Or were they subtly encouraged -- by people who had observed the effects of the Syrian civil war -- to make their move toward worldwide Jihad too soon?  After all, it should be obvious by now that the one sure effect of the ISIS invasion will be the slaughter of an awful lot of fanatical Muslims.

Here's my prediction about what those "300 military advisers" Obama is sending to Iraq will do.  They'll mainly concern themselves with operating fleets of drones -- some of them these days are small enough to be disguised as small birds or insects -- to spy out exactly who and where the Jihadists are, and provide pinpoint navigation for American smart missiles, and airstrikes by other countries' bombers.  The earlier campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on so long, and at such expense, because the American troops (and their civilian "reconstruction" teams) bent over backwards to be nice to the natives: being painfully careful not to harm innocent civilians, not to knock down mosques(no matter how often Jihadists fired from them), to provide supplies and medical treatment, to rebuild the infrastructure and economy and government, and generally leave the population a lot better off where they'd passed.  Of course the Jihadists sneered at this behavior as "weakness" (or "cultural warfare" once they realized how effective it was), but the 85% of the natives who aren't fanatics and just want to get on with their lives certainly noticed.  Once the pinpoint bombing begins, the natives will also see just how murderously effective the non-Jihadist troops can be.  That should encourage them, in good historical everybody-love-a-winner fashion, to fall upon the Jihadists -- and their whole New Caliphate movement -- with great enthusiasm.

If the US will also lend a few drone-operating "advisers" to the various angered/embarrassed governments in Africa, Boko Haram will soon be obliterated also -- and so will the other Jihadist organizations in the region.  If Israel chooses to bomb Gaza flat, not much stink will be raised in the UN, either.  In all the noise and flurry, not many people will notice if Burma expels its entire Muslim population.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the Jihadist groups in Indonesia, too.

In brief, the noisy excesses of ISIS actually spell the turning of the tide against the Jihadists, everywhere in the world.  Thus World War Three -- between the Jihadists and everybody else -- may yet be avoided, or at least nipped in the bud, simply by the trick of encouraging the Jihadists to show their hand too soon.  And yes, I suspect the wiser heads of the various state departments of the western governments of having given the Jihadists enough rope to hang themselves.  Well done, boys.  Well done.

--Leslie <;)))><