Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Heinlein Experiment

This happened around 20 years ago, at a SciFi convention in California, but I'd like to know if there are any fans out there who remember seeing it.

Back then, in California at least, a lot of conventions were pushing a strict "weapons policy" that limited or outright forbade any "real" or even "realistic looking" weapons.  Given the imaginations of SciFi fans, "realistic looking" covered a lot of ground, even more than Democrats give to "assault weapons".  Remember, this was at the height of the popularity of gun control.

This led to an amazing number of stupid actions.  I met a ten-year-old boy in a Ninja costume who complained that his plastic "throwing stars" had been stolen by an officious gopher.  I met a fantasy fan dressed as a wizard who'd had to have a plastic "peace-tie" attached to his wizard's staff.  I met an asthmatic fan who'd had to fight to keep his asthma-inhaler from being confiscated because it looked like a ray-gun.  Needless to add, I'd made my opinion known -- loudly and often.

In the midst of all this, some fans at a northern convention went out and bought me a present: an electric guitar with the body shaped like an AK-47, and a form-fitting guitar-case to match.  I had a good laugh over it, dubbed the instrument "Hambo", promised I'd learn to play it and would bring it back and perform with it at the same convention next year.  Well, I kept my promise -- though it involved buying some heavy-duty cables and an amplifier, and experimenting with different kinds of strings and slide techniques.

The year rolled around and I came to the convention, as promised -- but I came prepared.  I'd hunted up the convention's archivist-videotaper and let him know when I'd be arriving.  I also took care to have my and my colleagues' luggage collected at the front door curbside and sent up to our room, so that I walked into the hotel carrying nothing but my gun-shaped guitar case, with the gun-shaped guitar inside.  Yep, the videotaper met me at the door and dutifully followed me around inside, recording my adventures.  First, trusting my roommates to handle the hotel registration and pick up the keys, I went straight to the convention registration table to pick up my membership.  The Con-Reg clerks spotted my guitar-case, and the videotaper, giggled like mad and handed over my badge and convention books.  We all carefully ignored the prominently-posted flyers displaying the Weapons Policy.  One of the clerks deliberately asked: "Is that the guitar you were awarded here last year?"  I happily agreed, and added: "I promised then that I'd bring it back and play it for the filk-track, so here it is."  The videotaper caught it all.

Next I went to the dealers' room, where I made my usual first circuit, greeting friends -- who likewise spotted the guitar-case and snickered -- while the videotaper dutifully followed.  I'd reached the far end of the room when one of the dealers, a bookseller as I recall, looked over my shoulder and then quickly asked: "Oh, is that the guitar I head about?  Can I see it?"  Guessing that something was up, I cheerfully agreed.  I laid out the case on the table and flipped the lid open, revealing the gun-shaped guitar -- which the dealers admired and cooed over while the videotaper recorded.

Just then, up came huffing a member of the ConCom, glowering furiously.  She glared at the exposed guitar, glared at me, opened her mouth -- and then saw the videotaper, with his camera aimed straight at her.  She shut her mouth quickly, opened and shut it a couple more times, then asked sulkily: "Did you bring that here just to defy our weapons policy?"

Carefully not breaking character, I looked innocent and replied: "Nonsense.  I was awarded this guitar by the Filk fans at this convention last year, and I promised I'd play it here this year, so here it is."

The petty enforcer glowered at me, glowered at the videotaper, then turned her back and walked away quickly.  Dealers all over the room, who had seen the whole thing, exploded into a storm of giggles.  One of them came up to me and announced: "You know, there's space on the schedule for a write-in panel, and I really think that convention weapons-policies deserve a panel of their own.  Would you like to serve on it?"

Well, of course I would -- just so long as it wasn't before noon.  He promised to write it in for after lunch, and trotted off to gather more panelists.  And the videotaper recorded it all.  Seeing that the stage was set, I didn't bother heading off to Convention Security -- which otherwise would have been my next stop -- but commented that I had to go up to my room and get unpacked.  Scene end: fadeout.

Fade in: a large discussion room filled with at least a hundred fans, five people (including me) seated at the table in the front, with hastily-printed name-cards before us.  The same videotaper is standing in the back of the room, camera now mounted on a tripod, recording everything.  The panel moderator announces the title of the subject and opens the panel for discussion.

Now I'll name no names, except to mention that I recognized three of the other four as published authors -- including a distinguished older gentleman with snowy hair and moustache, and a dark-complected middle-aged athlete.  I was seated at (wouldn't you guess!) the far left end of the table.  The fourth panelist (seated at the far right end of the table) was a fiercely passionate-looking young man in a slightly-rumpled sports shirt whom I'd never seen before.  The topic fell like a stone into a pool, and away we went.         

The topic of SciFi convention policies soon slid into the concept of gun control and weapons control in general, and patterns soon emerged.  The white-haired gentleman quoted facts and statistics and their verifications, the athlete described his own experiences, the other panelist and I varied between the two, and we politely waited until each of us was done speaking before cutting in with a relevant fact, figure or anecdote.  It was the Terribly Passionate Young Man who cut in without warning, shouted refutations without basis, argued purely from emotion, insisted that no really moral person could possibly disagree with him, and quoted slogans.  Four of us argued patiently that "hoplophobia" -- fear of weapons and armed citizens -- was irrational as well as unconstitutional.  The fifth (guess who!) insisted that weapons are always evil because "they kill people!", and that any connection with them -- even in harmless imitation -- was evil by similarity, if not contagion (which is classic Magical Thinking).

After more than half an hour of this, I was fed up and looking for an opportunity to break the pattern.  I found it when one of the other reasonable panelists rather pointedly brought up Heinlein's famous quote -- "An armed society is a polite society" -- and the Terribly Passionate Young Man promptly down-shouted him with an unsupported slogan: "How can you say that, when more guns in a society mean more gun-crimes?!"

At that point I stood up and said: "I propose an experiment."

That, of course, caught the attention of the audience -- they being Science-Fiction fans.

"An experiment to test Heinlein's Hypothesis, right here and right now.  Will someone please close the doors so we won't be interrupted?"

Two or three fans hastily stood up to close the doors, and then stand beside them to make sure they wouldn't be easily opened.

To the audience I went on: "In the last 40 minutes you've all had ample opportunity to see for yourselves just which of us up here on the panel have been reasonable and polite, and which have been... not so much." Then I turned to my fellow panelists and said: "Members of the panel, will each of you take out and display here on the table all the weapons that your have on you right now?"  While everyone else absorbed that idea, I promised: "I'll go first."

I knew, of course, which weapons I always carry with me, and I'd made a pretty good guess about the others.  So, while everybody else was still reeling, I pulled up my sword-cane and drew it, and laid both blade and sheath down on the table.  When I drew and set out my little-bitty North American Arms .22 revolver it was almost anti-climactic.  By the time I'd pulled the folding-knife off my belt, the next panelist was reaching back between his shoulder-blades -- from which he drew a very respectable Bowie knife;  by the time I'd gotten into my belt-purse and took out my plastic airport-knife (disguised as a thick comb), he'd also laid out a small semi-auto pistol.  The white-moustached gentleman laid out a classic Colt .45 semi-auto and a couple of folding knives.  I didn't see where he drew it from, but the athlete laid down a small wakazashi short sword -- followed by a cluster of throwing-stars.  The audience was dead silent, watching.

Finally, all the panelists finished displaying their weaponry -- except for the Terribly Passionate Young Man at the end.  Everybody looked at him expectantly.  At last he pulled out his key-chain -- on which was a tiny (one-and-a-half inch) folding knife, and threw it down on the table -- and then started laughing hysterically.

I turned to the audience, poker-faced, and said: "I believe you have enough evidence to draw a conclusion."

The whole audience broke into uproarious laughter, which continued until the end of the assigned hour, while we panelists calmly packed up our assorted weapons and put them back where they'd been.

The Terribly Passionate Young Man was the last to put away his key-chain knife, and all that time he only sat there thoughtfully, not saying a word.

And the videotaper recorded the whole thing.

I never got that videotaper's name, but I hope he kept an edited copy of all that footage.  I'd really love to see it, after all this time.

--Leslie <;)))><     


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Almost Desperate Drooling

As I've mentioned before, Rasty likes to sit down in front of the TV in the late afternoon and watch MSNBC for hours, laughing uproariously at all the Trump jokes.  So of course we both got to see a good three hours worth of MSNBC's pundits practically drooling as they repeated -- and analyzed to death -- the FBI raiding Trump's lawyer Cohen's office and hotel room and storage unit and grabbing everything they could find, supposedly in relation to the Stormy Daniels case.  Of course the FBI didn't say if they'd found anything juicy, but the media pundits hoped out loud for anything from more tidbits about Daniels' performances to revelations of the Russian Caper.

They did mention how unusual it was for the FBI to go after a sitting President's lawyer, and they speculated endlessly on how getting a federal judge's okay for the raid must have meant showing him oodles of Probable Cause -- specifically concern that vital evidence might disappear if the suspect's door didn't get kicked down this very night.  Oooh, with all that smoke, there just has to be a flame!

It doesn't seem to have occurred to the newsies that this was a simple case of vengeance, the FBI getting back at Trump for his shucking of Comey... and Comey's cronies.  And yes, the FBI is quite capable of such nasty vengeances, as Rasty could tell you.  ...And there are dark rumors about the "accidental overdose" death of Abbie Hoffman...

The "Deep State" -- i.e. the federal bureaucracy and its corporate friends -- as I've noted before, has its own politics, with different departments often at loggerheads.  Usually -- though not always -- the departments stay loyal to the political party that first established them, which explains why the FBI remains fiercely supportive and protective of Democrat administrations. Obama was a master at manipulating the federal bureaucracy, and he installed a lot of adoring followers in the FBI who happily accepted his own political bent.  Particularly, Comey was an Islamophiliac who invited CAIR agents into the FBI as "advisers", and wouldn't let the FBI even use the words "Islamic terrorist".  Considering where we're fighting wars right now, Comey's passion verged close to treason.  That's the real reason Trump fired Comey, and it's understandable why he didn't say so outright.  He's been busy since then throwing more of Comey's cronies out of the FBI, and the remaining cronies resent it.  That's why they raided his lawyer's office: intimidation, throwing their weight around, and hopefully grabbing something they can use against him.  I hope Cohen had the sense to keep all his important papers somewhere other than his office, or storage unit.  I suspect that, as Trump's legal fixer, he did.

And then there's the enigmatic Stormy Daniels herself, who is clearly no fool;  she wouldn't  have lasted so long and so well in the porn-film business if she were.  Certainly she has the sense not to try blackmailing a sitting POTUS, so just what game is she playing?  I suspect that the infamous $130,000 that Cohen paid her was not just for her "entertainment services", nor just for her "non-disclosure" during the campaign;  what if it was specifically to come forward and create a distraction when Trump needed one?  Heaven knows, she's provided one spectacular distraction!  She's managed to make the media almost forget about the Mueller investigation and the supposed Russian Caper --and the interesting fact that Trump has not made any effort to fire Mueller, much as the media are expecting he will. 

My take on it is that Trump has no intention of firing Mueller.  He's got Mueller right where he wants him: in the spotlight, the darling of the Democrats, watched intently to see what he'll do next.  I daresay Mueller can't scratch his butt without a dozen upper-class paparazzi counting the strokes.  Mueller absolutely can't make a legally shady move, but has to go strictly by the book.   And therefore, when Trump finally goes to talk to Mueller -- and drops the other shoe he's been holding so long about the real Russia story -- Mueller will have no choice but to clear him, and all the anti-Trump media will go into a screeching meltdown.

During the frenzy Trump will go on quietly draining the bureaucratic swamp, letting the military actually win the long war against the Jihadis, and dealing decisively with North Korea.  He'll be able to do it because he has the help, and advice, of both the military and the CIA -- two departments of the Deep State that are GOP-supportive for a change. 

Trump has always been good at playing off recalcitrant underlings against each other, and that's what I think is going on here. 

--Leslie <;)))><           


Monday, April 2, 2018

Bully in the Alley: Another Chicago Tale

This was back when I and my roommate Mary were living in a rental coach-house behind a rental residential house, in a working-class neighborhood off Halsted Avenue.  Our house was backed up right on the alley, where we could see and hear everything that happened there. 

One night while we were channel-surfing (remember, this was before cable TV), looking for something halfway decent on local TV, when we heard shouting coming from the alley.  Naturally, we went to the alley-facing window and sneaked a peak through the curtains.  There we saw a young couple dressed in Yuppie clothes, consisting of a tall medium-build man and a small willowy woman, halted under the alley's lone streetlamp, arguing...sort of.  We couldn't work out what they were saying, but the man was doing all the outraged-tone shouting -- and waving his fists around in the air -- while the young woman looked and sounded apologetic, mollifying, taking the classic Submission Posture of the Chacma Baboon.  Since the young man showed no sign of being mollified, but was clearly stoking his outrage -- working himself up to... something, we decided to stroll outside and provide witnesses. 

Just as a precaution, I took along my sturdy 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. 

So out the front door we went, over to the passageway between our house and the neighbor's garage, through the alley gate and out to the edge of the alley, where we stopped to watch.  I held the shotgun by the grip, with the barrel hanging down along my leg where it wouldn't readily be seen.  Bellowing Boy had gotten to the "She said you said I said" stage of the argument, and didn't notice.  No sooner had we taken out position than a couple more neighbors quietly came out and joined us.  I saw some neighbors come out of the houses on the opposite side of the alley and do the same.  As we watched, still more neighbors came out and added to the lines, bending them into a circle that crossed the alley.  None of them said or did anything;  we just encircled the couple at a respectful -- 20 foot -- distance, and watched.

Eventually, even Bellowing Boy noticed the crowd.  He stopped intimidating and yelling at his girlfriend, and looked around, going "Whuh...?"

Nobody said anything.  We just looked at him. 

He looked around the circle again, this time clearly calculating, looking for a weak spot.  I could see as well as he could that all the other neighbors were men, of moderate to respectable size, with the usual working-class muscle.  The only women in the circle were me and Mary, and Mary was maybe an inch taller than I was and easily 50 pounds heavier.  In short, the smallest person in the circle was me.

Therefore it didn't surprise me at all that Bellowing Boy came stomping toward me, yelling curses and shaking his fists.  Seeing what he'd displayed of his personality, I was the obvious choice.

I didn't flinch nor say a word.  I only flipped up the muzzle of the shotgun, clamped my other hand firmly on the fore-stock, and pointed the muzzle toward his midsection.

Oboy, you never saw a bully screech to a halt and back-scramble so fast!  He retreated to the center of the circle beside his girlfriend, who had gone silent and was looking around the circle too. 

Finally she took a step toward the far end of the alley, intending to walk away.  The neighbors at that end of the circle, seeing what she wanted, obligingly got out of the way.  Seeing a clear path, Bellowing Boy reasserted his Mastery by saying, "C'mon, let's get out of here," and hurrying ahead of her so he could play the Leader.   

As they walked past me, I couldn't help calling out: "Leave him, girl.  You can do better." 

The rest of the crowd chuckled quietly, and then took up the chant: "Leave him, girl.  Leave him, girl."  And repeated that chant after them all the way through their walk to the end of the alley and out to the street.  Once they were gone, the neighbors dispersed and went back to their own houses and business.  Nobody, as far as I know, even called the cops.  And why should we?  The crisis was past, none of us even knew the participants, and if the girl chose to continue mollifying Bellowing Boy, that was her choice.

No, we never saw Bellowing Bully-Boy again -- nor his mollifying girlfriend, as far as I know.

What I particularly remember about that incident was how effective simply displaying the shotgun was.  Hoo-hah, did that ever deflate that bully fast!  I was under the impression that bullies take a little more than that to make them back off.  The second memorable thing about that incident was how obvious Bellowing Bully-Boy's personality was.  How could anybody watch him for more than a few minutes and not know him for what he was?  Why did that masochistic girl bother to stay with him that long?  How naive could she have been? 

But the third memorable thing was how the neighbors all responded to the noise, and the situation.  They all showed up, did nothing to interfere but only watched, providing witnesses.  The fact that nobody seemed surprised, or upset, when I flipped up my shotgun shows that they were quite willing to use vi-o-lence if Bellowing Bully-Boy had actually taken a real swing at his girlfriend with those wagging fists.  The way they parted the line to let the girl through showed a wonderfully keen observation, and the way they took up my commentary as a chant shows a nice practical morality.

Now this was just a random collection of working-class Chicagoans, united by nothing more than geography and situation.  I've seen similar remarkable performances in a Michigan winter, in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake in California, and minor crises here in Arizona.  What they all show me is that the American masses are remarkably smart, level-headed and practical -- and share a common practical morality. 

This shows why democracy works as well as it does -- which is way ahead of whatever is in second place.

--Leslie <;)))><