Legalized Highway Robbery: Civil Asset Forfeiture

When a person holds office in the United States Government, they swear (or affirm) that they will uphold the Constitution.  The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, from which all other laws derive their validity.

So consider this language:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That’s the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Everybody knows the portion of it that forbids “self-incrimination” (actually, the language is broader than that “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”)  But there’s also this part:

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law

In order by law to justly take someone’s life, deprive them of their liberty, or take their property, it must be with due process of law.

So why the bloody hell does “Civil Asset Forfeiture” even exist?  This amounts to taking someone’s property simply because some individual in some position in government–whether a law enforcement officer or some bureaucrat–simply claims that they think the property might be used for, or come as a result of, criminal action.

“But!” say proponents, “we need this to hamstring criminals and deny them the benefits of their criminal activities.”

Oh?  You’re taking criminals money?  You can prove that, right?  In a court of law?  You know, with due process.  So they can challenge your accusations with evidence and witnesses of their own.

Only they don’t.  Indeed, if they could do that, they’d have no need for Civil Asset Forfeiture.  Instead, we get:

Police seize $125,000 from a man “believing it to be drug money” without any actual evidence of drug crime (no drugs found, for instance).  Oh, a drug dog found the scent of narcotics on the money–which is the case with much of the money in general circulation in the US.  The police kept the money even though the person they stole it from (yes, I say stole it from) was not charged with any crime.

Another young man, after saving up money to pursue a music career is stopped and his money confiscated, even though he was not charged with any crime.

The list goes on.  A man who makes a respectable win at a legal Nevada Casino is driving home with his cash and has it confiscated.  No charges.  No evidence of any crime.  Just his money taken because he was carrying it as cash.  He was luckier than some.  He managed to get his money back–less the legal fees the lawsuit to get his own money back cost him.

Civil Asset Forfeiture is an abomination.  It’s a direct and obvious violation of the Constitution.

Look, I can accept that sometimes temporarily denying someone’s liberty, or holding/denying access to their property as part of an ongoing investigation can be a part of due process itself.  A suspect can be arrested and held.  Evidence of a crime can be held pending trial.  And so on.  But you can’t just take it and keep it.  The Sixth Amendment?  The one right after the Fifth?  It grants the accused the right to a speedy trial so as to prevent just that kind of “punishment through process” (throwing someone in jail, denying their liberty, or taking their property as “evidence”, for an “investigation” that never ends).

It is wrong.  That the police do it is wrong.  That the courts have allowed it is an abomination.

This thing needs to be stopped.  It’s gone on far too long already.  Write your Representative, Write your Senators.  Write the President.  If you’re looking for something you can do easily that might not accomplish much by itself but might at least provide a little nudge.  Here’s a petition you can sign.

Remove Civil Forfeiture

Let’s put this back in the dust heap of history where it belongs so that future generations can look back and say “man, those people back then were dumb!

Immigration Policy Redux

This started as a “blast from the past” but I ended up expanding it quite a bit.

Immigration policy is a perennial subject on social media and in politics.  I, of course, have my own views.  Specifically, I support legal immigration while not supporting illegal immigration.  The question often arises of what to do about the children of illegal aliens, brought here through no fault of their own.

In the case of these kids there are two options as I see it. First, either they are still kids in which case the only realistic thing to do with them is send them back with their parent(s). Second, if they are not still kids, then as an adult they chose to stay here illegally and that’s on them.

The above options are for children brought here from out of country. In the case of children born here to illegal alien parents, there are two different options because of “birth citizenship.” The first is that the parents may choose to retain their parental rights, in which case the child goes back with them (As far as I’m concerned amnesty followed by promises of future border enforcement* is a non-starter.  “Fool me once….”) but, as a citizen, they may return on reaching adulthood. The second is that the parents may, at their option, give up their parental rights and allow the child to be taken into foster care and possibly adopted by an American family. In neither case do the illegal aliens remain in the US.

“But!” someone will say. “It’s not the child’s fault!”

No.  It’s not.  But the child does not get to benefit from the illegal actions of the parent any more than a child who, innocent of theft, would be allowed to keep stolen property given to them by a thief parent.  The child being deprived of that is on the parents who provided it illegally in the first place.

“But you’re breaking up families!” Someone else says. “You can’t do that.”

It could be if the parents choose that option.  But how is that different from any other crime?  Entering the US illegally is a crime. (Kind of implicit in that word “illegally”.) Overstaying a VISA is a crime.  Working in the US without being here legally with proper authorization to work is a crime.  Collecting government benefits without being here legally is a crime.  Those latter two illustrate that it’s not just the illegal entry that’s at issue, but that unless they’re independently wealthy and therefore self-supporting (in which case, they should have no problem entering legally) they continue to break the law as they continue to remain here illegally.

So, no, if I had my way, illegal immigrants would not get to stay.

Now, while that would be the base policy I would also agitate for a bit of flexibility to deal with innocent mistakes, paperwork errors, or being misled in procedures that lead to someone through no intent of their own being here illegally. I’ve known people who’ve had that happen, My wife had that happen. (We filled out my wife’s paperwork after our marriage. I sent it off. Only between the time the paperwork sent to us was printed and the time we sent it back, the location to which it was supposed to go changed. After a period of no response, no response, no response, we ended up hiring an attorney who helped us resolve things.  And I checked.  Our copy of the forms said “send here”.  Lawyer said, “No, send there”. And the “there” is what finally got things straightened out.)

Some people do make a good faith effort but, through no fault of their own, things go bad.  Judicious people with the ability to make exceptions can handle that when it happens.

Oh, and I would bend. over. backward. to encourage people I think of as “Americans who just happen to be born elsewhere” to come here, people who could read the Constitution (the Bill of Rights in particular) and the Declaration of Independence, and basically say “Duh” (Or call it, oh, say, 85% or more agreement), people like Darryl Hadfield and Sarah A. Hoyt. I don’t much care how they get here, so long as they do get here to counteract the “we’re going to come to America and turn it into a replica of the place we just came from” folk.

That’s the thing.  I want people to come to the US.  While the lines on the Statue of Liberty are a poem and not US policy (and never have been) the line is “yearning to breath free” not “yearning to bring our tyranny here”.

Which brings up another issue.  We could handle quite a few of the latter, immigrants who don’t believe in the American Ideal as laid out in our founding documents.  They might not, but their children would–or their children would if we didn’t have educational and media establishments that are actively hostile to those ideals and deliberately work to turn people against them.  Instead of focusing on the ideals, on the value of freedom, self-reliance, and the dignity of the individual they focus on the flaws of those individuals and use their shortcomings to denigrate the very ideals themselves.  No, we are not, and haven’t been, perfect.  But they use that imperfection to tear down the very core ideals of the nation.

And they teach that to the young.

Without that deliberate effort, I would have little concern over immigration even by people who despise everything America stands for.  They might hate us, but their children wouldn’t.

And with that, I leave you with this musical interlude:

*There is one form of “amnesty” that I might be willing to buy into.  Not a “you get to stay” amnesty but an “if you leave now, without a fuss, we won’t hold your former illegal status here as a mark against you should you apply to enter the US legally in the future.” “You have to go, but you can get in line to come in legally if you wish.”  There isn’t any logical reason to allow that.  Basically, I’m just soft hearted.

Snippet from a work in progress

This is a piece from a forthcoming sequel to my novel “The Hordes of Chanakra”.  Kreg, the main character in the first novel, has been lost at sea and his companions are holding a “Hastening and Gifting” ceremony, a ritual to ease the travels of the departed to the afterlife.

In the bow of the ship, Keven looked back at Kaila’s approach.  In addition to the ill-fitting clothes taken from the late purser she wore a mantled hood pulled low over her head.  The skirts of the hood, normally worn over a separate cloak, just covered her shoulders.  In her right hand she held a roll of cloth.

One of the large iron brazier’s for cooking the crew’s meals stood in the bow of the ship, a fire kindled in its center.  Shillond stood watch over the brazier, ensuring that no sparks escaped to catch in the rigging or the pitch-soaked planking of the ship.

Kaila knelt by the brazier, her head low, her face shadowed by the hood.

Shillond, on the far side of the brazier, sat.  Keven dropped to the deck as well, sitting crosslegged.

“Kaila?” He reached out a hand to her.

Kaila held up a hand, forestalling him.

Keven looked up Shillond.  Shillond met his eyes and shrugged.

Shillond cleared his throat. “Since we’re all here.”

“Marek?” Kaila asked.

“Father tends the tiller,” Keven said. “He has given me his proxy for the ceremony.”

Kaila nodded, the hood bobbing.

“Kaila,” Shillond said, “since you were closest to Kreg, would you like to…”

“Father, it would please me much if you or Keven would begin.  I would save my words, and my gift, for the end.”

“Of course.  Keven?”

Keven nodded and stood.

“I speak for Marek, King of Aerioch.  Kreg came to us from a distant land, from another world so Shillond tells it.  From his arrival he has given whole heartedly to the Kingdom, sparing not even his own body in his efforts to defend it.” Keven took a folded piece of parchment from under his tunic. “I give him this writ, making him a Duke, he and his heirs forever.”

Keven smiled. “This seems an odd gift.  Kreg has no use of a Duchy in the Halls.  And he has no heirs unless…” Keven looked at Kaila.

Without raising her head she shook it. “There can be no children of Kreg’s body.”

“It is symbolic,” Shillond said. “The highest honor the King can bestow upon a man raising him to the highest rank of the nobility.”

Keven nodded and laid the parchment on the fire.  It curled and blackened as the flames took hold.  In moments it was consumed.

“Speaking for myself,” Keven continued, “I cannot say more than my father did.  Kreg was a good friend to Aerioch and I wish I had known him better.”

Keven opened a large pouch at his belt.  From it he drew a large round fruit.

“The cook on this ship possessed some few fresh fruits along with the dried.” Keven broke open the fruit, revealing its seed-filled interior, each seed covered in a juice-filled pulp. “This was my favorite when I visited Chanakra.  I hope Kreg relishes it as much as did I.”

Keven placed the fruit on the fire.  Steamy smoke rose as the fruit hissed in the flames.  Keven bowed to Shillond and sat.

Shillond rose.

“I, too, have little to offer.  I do not think Kreg ever realized how much he gave to us.  And now that he is gone, what can I give to him?  So, like with our King, I must give a symbolic gift.”

Shillond flicked his hand and a ball of blue light appeared in it. “Let this, small portion of my power, stand for all I would have done had Kreg remained with us.”

Shillond turned his hand and the ball of light darted to the flames to burst and vanish.

Shillond nodded to Kaila and sat.

Kaila rose.  She folded back the hood.

Keven’s eyes widened.  Bare stubble remained of Kaila’s hair.

“You shame me, Father,” Kaila said. “I had thought merely to offer Kreg a memory, and perhaps a promise of meeting again once I too take the journey with Pireth.” A gaunt smile tugged at her lips. “But it is not too late to amend.”

She licked her lips, then bowed her head a moment, then stared into the flame.

“When you came, Kreg, you seemed like little more than a babe, unversed in the ways of the world.  I took you in hand, taught you to fight with sword, with lance, on foot and on horseback.  But you, in your turn, taught me how to live.  You thought me more than I ever dared imagine.  And I did not dare to fall short in your eyes.  We fought together many times, saved each others lives again and again.  Would that I could have saved yours one more time.  But it was not to be.”

Kaila unrolled the cloth she had brought with it.  Within lay bundled her hair, hacked from her head with a knife.

“Let this, my hair, stand for the joy we would have shared together.  Let it stand for the sons I would gladly have born him, that now will never be.  Let it stand for the life we two would have lived.  And let it carry my love to him and remind him that no day shall pass that I do not remember him however long, or short, my life shall be.”

Using her right hand, Kaila gently laid the hair in the fire, heedless of the way the flames caressed and reddened her own skin.

Finally, she stepped back and raised her hands to either side above the flame.

“May Pireth guide you swiftly, Love.  May your tread be light.  May you find rest and comfort in the Halls.  Take my love with you and let it warm you until the time when I join you there.  So let it be.”

She took another step back and turned a half smile on Shillond. “Did I get the words right, father?”

Shillond waved a hand. “It is not the words that matter, but the heart behind them.”  He reached out for her. “Your hand will need tending to.”

Kaila took yet another step back holding her burned hand behind her.

“Nay, father.  That, too was my gift.  I will not snatch it back.”

Keven stood up and stepped toward her.

“Your Grace, if we have to fight…”

Kaila laid her left hand on her sword, as though to draw it. “My sword hand is ever yours, after only the King.” He raised her right hand. “My other hand is my own.”

Keven looked at Shillond and shrugged.

“Very well, Kaila,” Shillond said. “But if the pain becomes too great…”

Kaila let her arms fall to the side. “Then I will bear it, as I have born others.”

She turned and strode toward the stern of the ship.

Keven watched her go then turned to Shillond.

“I worry for her.”

“As do I,” Shillond said.

If you liked this, you might like my novel The Hordes of Chanakra:

$4.99 in Kindle Store, Free to read in Kindle Unlimited, $14.99 in Paperback

Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!


On this date: 1969

At Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral (then named Cape Kennedy), Florida a giant Saturn V rocket sat on the launch pad.  Inside waited three men:  Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.  At 9:32 AM the rocket left the pad and began the journey that would lead to the most momentous event in human history:  the first time, ever, that humans from Planet Earth set foot on another world.

I grew up with the space program.  While early flights weren’t something I was consciously aware of at the time.  After all, if it wasn’t discussed at school or at home, how would I know about it?  But in First Grade, one of the books that my mother got for me was “You Will Go to the Moon” by Mae and Ira Freeman.  The first edition with illustrations based on von Braun’s Colliers series, rather than the later (of course, the later wasn’t out yet) based on drawings of Apollo hardware.  The book captivated me.  I was still reading it well into 2nd grade (book was lost in a move, sadly).  For a long time my favorite color was black because that was the color of the rocket in the book.  Who knows, maybe my current tastes still derive from that starting point.

But then, early in 1969 I happened to catch on TV the splashdown of the Apollo 9 mission.  Somewhere in the same period the school I attended had it’s science lesson presented on television.  In the segment on the planets, the conceit that they used was the presenter was in a “flying saucer” and traveling among the planets, talking about what we knew about each of them.

Then Apollo 10 flew almost but not quite to a lunar landing.  I was hooked.  From that day forward I went after anything in the least space related. (Goodbye dinosaurs.  My new best friend is space.) I wore out the section of our encyclopedia (1964 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia and Book of Facts) on space.  And as each new mission went up, I followed it avidly, even if the press didn’t. (Oh, how I would have loved to have had the Internet back then.)

And the one thing I wanted more than anything was to go.  “You will go to the moon” after all.

Sadly, that was not to be.  At the time, the only way to go was to be a world class scientist in some field of interest to NASA and to be a test pilot of high performance aircraft.  And the only way to do that was to become a military pilot.

The problem was, that required perfect, uncorrected vision.  And along about the time I was in 5th or 6th grade my vision changed.  Earlier I had 20:20 vision but not any more.  I became very nearsighted–blind as a bat (a metaphorical bat because, unlike Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I know that real bats aren’t blind) without my glasses.

I hated those glasses with a passion because they meant that my dreams of becoming an astronaut were gone.  Oh, since then we got “scientist astronauts”, “mission specialists” and “payload specialists” on the Shuttle, which relaxed the pilot requirement and with it the vision requirements were also relaxed.  But by that time it was too late for me in other ways.  Kind of like D. D. Harriman, by the time he was free to go he was no longer physically up to the journey.

And Apollo ended.  No one has been back to the moon since.  People have occasionally floated an idea for a return but nothing ever comes of it.  More than that, for decades there was no serious effort to open up space to people.  Skylab came and went.  Various Salyut stations, and then Mir.  And finally the ISS.  But the underlying assumption of all of them was that space would remain the purview of a handful of people, agents of their government.

There was no room for me.

And so it has remained until recent years.  And Ansari X Prize seems to have triggered a Renaissance of private spaceflight.  There’s Virgin Galactic.  They’ve had some teething problems, including the tragic lost of a test spacecraft, but they continue to move forward.  There’s SpaceX and their work on reusable space launch vehicles.  There are others.  The chances are that I’ll probably never have a chance to go.  It will be too rare, and too expensive for the remainder of my life expectancy.

But perhaps things will be different for my daughter, should she ever desire to see the world from space or to walk upon another world.

I can hope anyway.


Some good reading matter

I’m going to promote a few of my friends work here today.  Style and genre are all over the place.  And while I’m not doing reviews here, these are all things I’ve read and enjoyed and that I wholeheartedly recommend.  For series, I’m listing the first book in the series.  Click on the Cover images to be taken to Amazon to buy the books.  Enjoy.

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive. . . .

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

 Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…
 “They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

Sergeant Kendra Pacelli is innocent, but that doesn’t matter to the repressive government pursuing her. Mistakes might be made, but they are never acknowledged, especially when billions of embezzled dollars earned from illegal weapons sales are at stake. But where does one run when all Earth and the planets are under the aegis of one government?

The first five books in the Saga of Dray Prescot of Earth and of Kregen are brought together in this omnibus edition. Together, they make up the Delian Cycle, in which Dray Prescot comes to terms with the alien world of Kregen. Here he tries to make sense of his situation: the Star Lords, the Savanti, the marvelous places, strange beasts and stranger people. And here he pursues his greatest love of two worlds, Delia of the Blue Mountains.

Dray Prescot’s saga has been aclaimed as the best planetary adventure series since Burroughs stopped writing about Barsoom.

Transit to Scorpio:
On the planet Kregen that circles Antares, the brightest star of the Constellation of the Scorpion, two forces contend for the world’s destiny. One of them, the Savanti, called in a human pawn from far-away Earth. His name is Dray Prescot, and only the Savanti know his role. But it soon turns out that Dray Prescot himself has to make a decision that will change him from a mere pawn to a bolder piece on the planetary chessboard…

The Suns of Scorpio:
Slave of the colossus builders or scourge of the Inland Sea? Both roles await Dray Prescot on his return to Kregen. Torn between two contending forces, the Star Lords and the Savanti, Prescot himself wants only to find his beloved Delia of the Blue Mountains. But the powers that had drawn him across interstellar space to the world that orbit the red and green suns have set him a task, the nature of which even he cannot fully comprehend…

Warrior of Scorpio:
Dray Prescot finds himself torn from the battles of the Inner Sea for a mission in the air. For it is now his mission to carry his beloved Delia by airboat to that far kingdom, Vallia, from whence she had come. But the route lies across the gaunt mountains and the shadowy jungles of the Hostile Territories, and there Dray will be plunged among stranger peoples and more fantastic challenges than even his Kregen princess has known.

Swordships of Scorpio:
What does a man do when fate makes him the protector of the royal head of the land of his enemies? If he is Dray Prescot he sets aside his quest to reach Vallia and his princess Delia and help her claim her throne. But his duty is to defend Vallia’s ancient foe and place its rightful heir on its throne. So when the pirate fleets known as the swordships come between the two contending demands, Dray sees that only by following his own personal star could the contradiction be resolved.

Prince of Scorpio:
Dray Prescot has fought long and hard through perilous lands to claim the hand of the heiress to the mighty Vallia. Yet, when finally he sets foot in that long-sought empire, it is not as hero or noble. It is as an unknown, a mendicant, and finally as a condemned slave…

Five days after Owen Zastava Pitt pushed his insufferable boss out of a fourteenth story window, he woke up in the hospital with a scarred face, an unbelievable memory, and a job offer.

It turns out that monsters are real. All the things from myth, legend, and B-movies are out there, waiting in the shadows. Officially secret, some of them are evil, and some are just hungry. On the other side are the people who kill monsters for a living. Monster Hunter International is the premier eradication company in the business. And now Owen is their newest recruit.

It’s actually a pretty sweet gig, except for one little problem. An ancient entity known as the Cursed One has returned to settle a centuries old vendetta. Should the Cursed One succeed, it means the end of the world, and MHI is the only thing standing in his way. With the clock ticking towards Armageddon, Owen finds himself trapped between legions of undead minions, belligerent federal agents, a cryptic ghost who has taken up residence inside his head, and the cursed family of the woman he loves.

Business is good . . .

Welcome to Monster Hunter International.

Wrongfans having Wrongfun

So, on Twitter an individual of the name of Tabebuia rosea‏ said:

The best place to start is to admit that some fans’ attachment to styles of early SFF writers is deliberately hurting the genre’s growth.

What?  What that boils down to is “How dare you like something I don’t think you should like.”

What some people like, what they’re “attached” to, hurts the genre’s growth?

I suggest that if the “growth” is in direction that people don’t like maybe it shouldn’t be “growing” in that direction.

Look, I’m the last person to suggest someone not write what they want, but here’s the thing:  if you are going to disparage the reader’s taste–call it a “lack of sophistication” if you wish, or a lack of growth, or whatever the current “ist” is to disparage something, if you wish–then that’s fine.  Write what you want.  But then you’ve got no one but yourself to blame if readers choose not to part with their hard earned cash to buy the stuff you do write.

Nor do you have any legitimate complaint if someone does write what the reader wants to read.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have “message”, just that the message has to be wrapped in a story that people will want to read.  Complaining about the readers is a fool’s game.  You won’t convince the readers that “Oh, I was wrong.  This boring, depressing tripe is actually great and I have to spend money on it.  Just have to.” All the complaints in the world that the problem is them, that they’re “attached” to something else, will not sway them to your side.   You’ll just convince them that you’re a pretentious douche that they want nothing to do with.

If you’re happy with that, then roll with it.  I really don’t care.

But if you want to actually reach a readership, and get your message (if you have one) in front of people who might be swayed by it–which means people who don’t already agree with you–then you might consider seeing not what’s wrong with them but with what you’re doing “wrong.”

It might be worth taking a good hard look at people who consistently sell a lot of books to a lot of people.  What are they doing differently from you?  Try to figure out why their stories capture audiences and yours don’t.  And avoid traps like just saying “they appeal to the least common denominator” or, as one wag crudely put it, “shit floats.”

I wouldn’t presume to tell you what those things might be.  I’m still looking for them myself and looking for how to integrate them into the stories I want to tell.

But I can tell you that blaming the audience for having wrong taste is the wrong way to go about it.

No, not everybody is going to like your work.  They don’t have to.  Even wild best sellers only sell to a small fraction of the people out there.  A large majority never buy them.  So the fact that some people don’t like your books isn’t, generally, a problem.  If, however, so many people don’t like your books that you feel the need to blame that on your lack of sales the the problem isn’t theirs, it’s yours.

There are two main aspects to selling your books.  The first, hardest, and most important, is writing a book that enough people want to read to give you a sales base.  The second is to make those people who are likely to like your book enough to want to pay you for it aware of it so they can pay you for it.  But the first is most important and the better you do the first part, the easier will be the second.

Don’t ask me how.  I’m still trying to figure that out.

Here’s one thing though.  As a reader, I like to have heroes I can cheer for, and villains that I can boo and throw popcorn at (metaphorically speaking, of course.  It’s been a long time since I threw actual popcorn at a screen villain).  Take, for example, this example from one of my favorite televised Science Fiction series:

“By G’Quan I can’t recall the last time I was in a fight like that.  No moral ambiguity.  No hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces.  They were the bad guys, as you say.  We were the good guys.  And they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor.”

No, I’m not saying everything, even most things, have to have that kind of clear cut good vs. bad.  In fact, a lot of Babylon 5 was about the moral ambiguity and the major story arc was all about the (seemingly) hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces.  But they took the time to give us these moments, where we could smile at something the vast majority of viewers would see as good triumphing over evil.  We had something to cheer.  And that leavening of moments of cheer is what kept B5 from becoming a murky pit of gloom and “Gray goo”.

There are lots of such moments I could have used. “If you value your lives, be somewhere else”, “I am death incarnate, and the last living thing you are ever going to see”, “Can your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?” And on, and on, and on.

I have come to the conclusion that most people want hope.  You can drag your characters through darkness and trial, but there needs to be hope.  Not always of course (it’s never that simple) as the horror genre appears to function by stripping away hope, but in most instances you need hope and the idea that the character, through his or her own actions, creates their ending.  You can certainly build powerful stories by playing against that–1984, for instance, is largely a story about the crushing of hope–but such things are generally best in small doses.

And well, at this point I’m rambling.  So let me leave this reminder that if you want to get your story in front of people, and if you have a message before people who might be influence by it, you can’t spend your time complaining about the readers.

You need to figure out what you need to do differently to appeal to those readers.

Because the reader is what it’s all about.

Blast from the Past: When the Teacher is Wrong

I have a daughter.  She’s bright (in her school’s “high ability” program”.  She’s an excellent shot.  And she’s utterly adorable. (Don’t challenge me on that.  Just…don’t.)

Unfortunately, she’s in public school and there’s not a lot I can do about that.  As much as I’d love to homeschool, I’ve got to keep working to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.  And my wife can’t do it because while I bring home the bigger paycheck, it’s at a very small company and my wife’s job does things like provide health insurance. (And with my various problems–I’d say it’s a shame we’ve got to get old, but when you consider the alternative…–we really need that insurance.)

So, she’s in public school.

A few years ago she brought back a school report which had an item “The purpose of government is to provide services that individuals can’t pay for.”


So I ask her about it.  She tells me that the example they gave was street cleaning.  Someone has to clean the streets and that’s the purpose of government. (I’ll have a bit to say on this subject somewhat later.)

Again, what?  Yes, to a certain extent that may be a role of government but the role?  Don’t think so.

Obviously, the school and I disagreed on this subject.  This wasn’t a matter of there being an objectively “right” answer but rather presenting something that’s a matter of philosophy and values as though it did have an objective correct answer.

Now, I could have gone into the school and raised a fuss, insist that they teach my philosophy and values on the rest of the class.  Instead, I took the time, generally when driving my daughter to school in the morning, to discuss the issue with her.  I started with the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

And, so that the purpose of government is to secure our rights and that the basic rights include Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.

Once she had that, we went on to the Constitution, the three branches of government: Legislature which makes the law, Executive which carries out (executes) the law, and Judicial which tries cases under the law.  We went over the Bill of Rights.

And, so, I made sure that my daughter understood my philosophy of government because that’s my responsibility.

And it’s not just matters of value and philosophy.  The schools, or at least the teachers, have been known to be wrong on matters of fact.  And this is nothing new.  Sometimes it’s outdated information.  For instance, when I was in grade school mountain building was described as being caused as follows:

When it was formed the Earth was much hotter than it is now.  As it cooled it contracted, as cooling things are wont to do.  This caused the crust, the “skin” to wrinkle like a withered apple.  These wrinkles are mountains.

This was at least a decade after plate tectonics had become widely accepted as the cause of such things as mountain building.

Other examples include a fourth grade teacher telling me that all radioactive rocks contain Uranium. (I could see in the book that Uranium was given as an example of something in radioactive rocks, not an exhaustive listing.) And a Sixth grade teacher telling me that the Curies discovered radioactive elements (as in discovering radioactive elements existed rather than the accurate statement that they discovered particular radioactive elements).  And so on.

And sometimes it’s not the teacher.  Sometimes it’s the book.  The encyclopedia I grew up with described stellar evolution thusly:

Stars start as large gas clouds.  They start to contract.  As they contract, they heat. (So far, so good, in an oversimplified way.  But now it goes off the rails) At a certain point they are hot enough to glow as Red Giant stars.  They continue to contract, getting hotter, and proceed through “yellow giant” “white giant” and “blue giant” Eventually contracting to a “blue dwarf”.  Once they reach blue dwarf stage, they gradually start to cool, going back through the spectrum until they reach red dwarf and finally extinguish.

That theory was superseded in the 1920’s.  Yet there it was, presented as Gospel Truth in a respected encyclopedia forty years later and being taught in our schools.

More recently I came across another particularly egregious example where a child got in trouble for correcting a teacher who said that a kilometer was longer than a mile. In the note sent back to the parents, it admitted that the child was right about the kilometer but was wrong for challenging the teacher’s authority.  In this case it wasn’t about right or wrong but about enforcing the hierarchy.  Now, I’m not going to say that this is deliberate, but if you really wanted to enforce a hierarchy, insisting that people claim that something demonstrably and provably wrong is right and to do so from a young age would be the way to do it. (There!  Are!  Four!  Lights!) No, I don’t think they put errors in deliberately.  Everybody makes mistakes, even teachers and textbook writers.  But by insisting that these errors be accepted as “right” substitutes submission to authority for reason and learning.

Sometimes the teacher is wrong.  Sometimes the book is wrong.  You, as an individual, have to be ready to question the book, question the teacher, and make sure your children do so as well. (And make sure you question yourself as well–yes, sometimes you are the one who is wrong.)

And, now, I’m going to digress a bit on something brought up above simply because I think it’s interesting. I mentioned street cleaning and that I’d have a bit to say on that somewhat later.  Well, it’s somewhat later.

Folk have argued, with some justice, that public good activities such as street cleaning are among the legitimate functions of government.  And, in at least some instances, they make a compelling case.  Michael Z. Williamson in his Libertarian paean Freehold goes into this a bit.  There is a scene involving heavy, road blocking snow.  The libertarian government of Grainne (the eponymous freehold) has no services for things like snow removal.  Thus, it is up to each individual business or property owner to clear the road in front of his own business/property.  And if the guy next door doesn’t do it, well, then it doesn’t get done unless you do it yourself.  The residents of Grainne, almost rabid on the subject of individual liberty, are willing to accept that.  Other folk may not find that an acceptable trade.  One, however, has to be careful with that because Government is Force, including deadly force.  Matters of public sanitation, with the spread of disease and encouragement of vermin, may justify that force.  Other things do not.

Math: It’s not just for breakfast any more.

A little bit late today compared to when I usually post–not that there’s a set schedule.  Had to pick up my wife and daughter from the airport.

On another Social Media platform (I saw it on FaceBook, but it was copied from elsewhere) the claim was made:

The F-35 fighter jet budget is set to exceed a total of $406 billion.  Remember that when they say single-payer is too expensive.

Let’s run with that, shall we?  First off, that budget is over ten years.  So that would be $40.6 billion a year on average.  Population of the US, as of this writing is estimated (US Census Bureau) at 325,428,250 (it will be higher by the time you look at it, if you do).  Let’s just say 325 million.  That means the F-35 budget, if the project were completely abandoned and all the money shifted to health care, would be worth $125/year per person.  How much health care do you think that would buy?  One, two office visits?

Just because something sounds like a lot of money does not mean it is a lot of money when it’s applied to every man, woman, and child in the US.

Let’s work that from the other end.  The average health care spending, per person, in the US is $10,345.  That’s the total of government, insurance, and individual expenditures.  All of it.  So, the total expenditure over the entire US is just under $3.4 trillion.

The 2016 Federal Budget, the whole thing, was $3.85 trillion

Having the government pay for health care would be almost as big as the entire rest of the government combined.

This, of course, is the part where someone claims that it will be so much more efficient and cheaper to have the government do it.

Don’t make me laugh.  The government is never more efficient than the private sector and it’s never cheaper.  Yes, you can point to foreign nations that get their drugs cheaper but they can only do that because, frankly we subsidize them.  The cost of getting new drugs and treatments approved and brought to market is enormous.  Then there are the ones that never do make it to market, where some problem is found along the way and the drug/treatment is never approved.  Those costs have to be recouped as well.  On balance, pharmaceutical companies make a gross profit in line with the risks.  The total revenue is high, yes, but the total cost is high as well.  Nobody’s going to invest a billion dollars in new medicines unless they’re going to make a reasonable margin on it.

As it stands now, the US is paying those costs.  Am I happy with subsidizing the rest of the world this way?  No.  I’m not.  But if that’s the cost of continued medical progress, I’ll pay it.

One might propose instead of businesses investing and developing medicines for profit and let government handle it.  Well, that would mean that you’d need to fund that cost publicly as well, and that’s hardly an argument that government will reduce cost of healthcare.  And if they did that, well, I’ve discussed the issue of profit motive vs. socialized medicine before.  As things stand now the US is #1 in things like Nobel Prizes in medicine, in new treatments and medicines, #1 in cancer survival rates.  There is a reason for that.  And even medical countries based in countries with various forms of socialized medicine can still make profits so long as there’s someplace (like, say, here) they can sell to make that profit.  If you want to see what will likely happen if that profit motive is taken away and it’s all government controlled, look at the rate of medical developments coming from places where that is the case.  The old Soviet Union would be a good example.

So, no, going to “single payer” would not reduce the cost of health care except at a very high price indeed.  No, the only way they would reduce cost is by reducing care.

And if we stop paying for the new develoments, who’s left who will?  Progress slows to a near standstill.

That’s what “government reducing costs” would mean.

But to get back to the original point, people like to try to compare a single number that seems large with a much smaller number that applies to lots and lots and lots of people.  Another example is CEO compensation.

Let’s take a popular case.  The CEO of Walmart has a total annual compensation of $22.4 million.  That sounds like an enormous amount.  Why, if he took less, he could give all those employees a big raise, right?  Wrong.  Walmart employs 2.3 million people worldwide.  So if the CEO took nothing as pay and bonuses, worked purely out of the goodness of his heart because, I don’t know, he found it fun or something, the money saved would allow him to pay those people a raise.  Of just under $10.  A year.

But wait.  That’s worldwide.  Suppose we say just forget those damn foreigners and only use that money for Americans!  Why that would mean they’d only have to split that raise among 1.4 million people.  That CEO compensation divided among them would give them a raise of…$16.  Per year.

This is just simple math.  People compare some “big ticket” item with “small ticket” items and don’t mention how the very large numbers of those small ticket items add up, or how very little the large ticket item would really stretch among the many to whom those small ticket items apply.

So when someone says “if we can afford X, then surely Y isn’t too expensive” take a closer look.  Just how much of those “Y” do we have to buy and how much is the total cost?

Math.  It’s not just for breakfast any more.


Some musings from when I was stationed in Maryland

Back when I was assigned to Fort Meade I had a motorcycle, a little Suzuki GS400 that was about 10 years old then. Great bike until a Yugo pulled out in front of me without looking and…well, you should have seen the other guy, but the bike was totaled.   And me, I was on crutches (right knee between my fuel tank and his fender) and dizzy for days (impact head first with the pavement but…helmets save lives).

But that’s not the story I’m talking about today.

Fairly early in my ownership of that bike I ran down to one of the local malls. Now, the bike has this lock on the side of the seat where you can hang your helmet. The “D” rings that are used to secure the strap when you’re wearing it hang on a latch and the lock secures it in place.

I come out of the mall sometime later and…no helmet. I see the D rings hanging from the latch but the helmet is gone. Apparently someone cut the strap and absconded with the helmet. Of course, by cutting the strap they rendered the helmet useless since it would come right off in an accident. They just basically stole themselves an oversize and cumbersome paperweight. So they weren’t even getting any benefit from the theft, ending up with a worthless piece of plastic.

Why do people do things like that?

I had recently gotten contacts and couldn’t drive back without something to shield my eyes from the wind. I ended up buying a cheap pair of sunglasses. And once I got back to the dorm I had a spare helmet so I was good to go for the future.

Of course, I do know why people do things like that. Some people are just…broken. They’ll steal something just because they can, whether or not they actually get any return from it or not. Probably stuck on a shelf somewhere as some kind of “coup marker” until later forgotten about and thrown out.  The other possibility is that someone thought he could pawn the helmet for the price of his next fix and didn’t realize by cutting that strap he was rendering the helmet worthless.  But that’s just a different form of broken.

Another incident, later (after the motorcycle was totaled) I was doing my shopping trip by bicycle.  On the way back to post I was hit by a car.  I have no memory of the incident.  I remember waking up first in the hospital at Fort Meade–Kimborough Army Hospital.  Then, later, I woke up again at Walter Reed.  Broken collarbone, concussion (duh, I was rendered unconscious).  Some cuts on my face.  And something happened to my other knee this time.  My clothes had been cut off so when I was returned to post it was wearing hospital scrubs.  Well, since my clothes at the time consisted of a bicycling jersey and shorts and I wasn’t going to be riding for some time (never did learn what happened to my bike–or what was left of it) it wasn’t a great loss.

From the injuries, it looks as though I was struck from the left, probably by an overtaking car, and then knocked to the right where I hit the pavement.

Okay, it was an accident.  These things happen except I’ve managed to avoid them happening every other place I’ve ever been. (If I have to offer any driving advice it’s “Stay away from Laurel, MD.”) The weird part was when I tried to track down what happened.  My first stop was the NCOOD–that’s the NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) Of the Day.  That’s a slot that has someone all duty on all times to, well, among the duties is to field calls like the one from the police about my being in an accident and transported to the hospital.

The NCOOD report was very brief.  It said I’d been in an accident and transported by ambulance to Kimborough.  That’s it.  It didn’t name any officers, refer to any actual police reports, or even name which police department made the call.

So, I start calling the various police departments.  There was the Laurel police, since I was going to Laurel to pick up things.  Some of what I was going to pick up was my “pick list” of comics from a comic store.  I was able to confirm that I had picked them up and, therefore, had been on my way back to post when I was in the accident.

Laurel police had no record of the incident.

So next I try the Prince Georges County police.  Laurel is in Prince Georges County.  No report.

Anne Arundel County police.  Fort Meade is in Anne Arundel County.  No report.

State Police.  No report.

That covered every department whose jurisdiction I could have gone through.

Nobody had any report that a serviceman had been hit by a car and taken to the hospital.

I was never able to find out what happened.  I didn’t remember the incident.  I was never able to learn who hit me because I was clearly hit by a car.  There’s no way a “single vehicle accident” could have led to the injuries I had, not on that route.  And there really was only one route as well.

So I was always left to wonder:  was the car in the incident owned or driven by somebody with the clout to squash the report.  This was in the Baltimore/Washington corridor after all?  Or was this simply incompetence/laziness on the part of the civilian police, not bothering to do paperwork once they passed me back to the Army, figuring I was their problem then.  I don’t know.  Never will know.

Maybe if I’d been able to find out who hit me I could have won a substantial settlement which would have…dramatically changed how my life went after leaving the military a month later.  Again, that’s in the “we’ll never know” category.

One thing I have learned from these incidents, however:  Stay away from that part of Maryland.