Chains

I’m seeing people marching, begging the government to strip them of basic human rights.  It brought to mind this poem I jotted down some years back in another incident where those in power chose to strip us of the right of individual choice offering the illusory promise of security.  It’s something I knocked off rather quickly, without worrying too much about tight scansion and rhyme, but it does express my feelings on the matter.

Chains
By
David L. Burkhead

©2010 David L. Burkhead, all rights reserved.

Wear your chains lightly, about neck and legs and wrists.
They are not so heavy these chains, not now anyway.
But chains they remain.

Dress up your chains in fine designs and smith-wrought filigree
Paint them gold and call them gorgeous jewelry.
But chains they remain.

Exhort others to share your chains, every man and woman and child.
For how could they be chains, if shared all equally?
But chains they remain.

Raise your voice in anger, at those who deplore your chains.
Say they are not chains you’ve taken on willingly.
But chains they remain.

Take pride in your chains.  Stud them with rhinestones.  Polish them with care.
Rejoice in your chains, in raucous revelry.
But chains are not for me.

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Model tryouts

No, not for me.  I know what I look like.  For my daughter.

A couple of months ago, we were in one of the local malls and saw a stand advertising tryouts for modeling.  Well, okay.  I was immediately suspicious–the way to bet on such things is that they’re scams.  My daughter wanted to do it, though and I decided that we’d give it a try and I’d keep a close eye out for the “hook”.  Filled out the form and dropped it in the box.

A week ago, we got a text back.  We’d been selected for the tryouts.  My daughter was ecstatic and then bounced down to panicky.  It’s okay, I reminded her.  The worst that happens is they say “no” (because I was going to keep a close eye out for the trap).  I do remind her that it’s still most likely some form of scam but we can at least go along far enough to see.

So, we make the appointment.  Saturday at 1:00.

We get down there and we see that they’ve set up a short runway and a little audience area out in front of it.  And my daughter panics.  Oh, no!  She can’t get out there in front of all those people. (I’m silently like “Hello.  Modeling.”) I tell her that I won’t force her, but I would encourage her (wanting to teach her to overcome her fears).  I see that the forms for applying say there are three things–runway, photo shoots, and “talent” and the applicant can choose one or more of them to participate in–and I suggest she ask and see if she can just do the part she is comfortable with.

We talk to the person in charge, no, my daughter has to do the “runway” and “talent” portion (which can be singing, acting, or reciting a bit of “ad copy” as though doing an advertisement) and if chosen will then go on to do a photo shoot.  Athena at this point chooses the ad copy one and so we wait for her turn.

Before that there’s a big rah-rah meeting of the person running this with the hopefuls.  Among other things they show select pictures of people who’ve been successful before. (My daughter’sthinking this is a good sign as in “see they’ve had successes before”. I’m thinking more “trying to get people emotional and willing to take the bait”–chumming the water as it were.)

When she has her turn, it doesn’t go well.  She forgets her line and…well, it doesn’t go will.  She is, however, offered a chance to come back for a re-try.

And the re-try was tonight.  Athena nailed her lines and did quite well on the runway portion (compared to her previous and to the other “contestants”).  And yes, she “passed.”

So we go to see what the next step was.

And there it was, the hook.

In order to proceed we had to agree to a photo session with their photographer.  I had a CD with me with photos from the last set done with Oleg Volk–a professional photographer whose work has appeared in a number of places. “Oh, no, that isn’t good enough.  We need paper.” (You don’t have access to a printer?) “We need…”

You know, if I were in a better place, I might have gone ahead and done the photo shoot just for the hellofit.  Yeah, the price was high, but for my daughter’s sake she’d at least have the photos and the memory.

But there would be no “modeling.” The fact that they were requiring we use, and pay, their photographer, and pay their rates ($300 for a “three outfit” session, in which we provide the outfits) told me that’s where they’re making their money, not commissions on getting gigs for models/talent.

So…pass.

In any case, here she is:

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Freedom or Safety.

This march of the children (yes, let’s let those that the law does not recognize as maturely responsible enough to drink alcohol, and who are trying to claim they are not maturely responsible enough to purchase even a .22 rifle for target shooting, make public policy) had a bunch of kids carrying signs.  One of those signs asked the question (at least I think it was a question–apparently “punctuation” had to make way for political indoctrination in the school this child attended) “Is freedom more important than safety”?

Yes.  Next question?

Okay, here’s a bit longer answer.  There are threats in the world.  Some of them are unintended and impersonal:  accidents happen, illnesses, things that don’t involve any malice directed toward you.  And some of them are very personal–people who mean you harm whether it’s directed at you specifically or if you just happen to be there and anyone would do.

The world can be a scary place.  We all want to be safe.

But couching the question in terms of Freedom vs. Safety they actually are choosing between two approaches toward achieving ones safety.  The first, is the “Freedom” approach.  Take personal responsibility for ones safety.  Take the personal actions that one believes necessary to achieve an acceptable level of safety.

The other approach is to eschew personal freedom and turn over the task of keeping one safe to someone else.  That person or persons will take authority over your safety and give you instruction on what you’re permitted and/or required to do toward that end.

Some folk reading this are already seeing the problem.  And that problem is a big one:  How do you ensure that the “someone else” given authority over your safety will actually make your safety his, her, or their primary priority?  How do you prevent them from dismissing, or even sacrificing, your safety for some other end?

And that’s not even addressing the question of what to do when the supposed guardians of your safety themselves become a threat.

It’s part of a larger question:  how can you guarantee that another person will place your interests first and not their own?

The answer people who clamor for safety over freedom don’t want to hear is:  you can’t.  The ones trusted with your safety, unless it is in their own interest otherwise, can decide to leave you to your fate at any time.  History has shown that while some few will put the safety of those in their care even against their own self interest (parents looking out for their children might be an exception to “few” and even that is questionable in the larger scope of history) that’s a pretty long-shot bet.  In the end, those you would entrust with your safety look out for themselves long before they look after you.

Look around.  Can the police (or fire departments, or other emergency services) save you?  They police have won court cases saying that they have no responsibility to protect you the individual, just “society” (which looks very much like “society” is just another word for “those in power”).  Most of the time, the police officer is not going to be on the scene when you face a threat.  Until the police arrive you are very much on your own.  And even if they are present, that is no guarantee they will be willing or able to help you.  The deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department were not the first to refuse to put themselves at risk to protect others.  They will not be the last.

You must take responsibility for your own safety.  You need to have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors to help you stay safe in the event of a fire.  You need to have first aid supplies and knowledge in case of accidents or injuries.  And you need to be prepared to defend yourself against those who mean you harm.

No one else will do it for you.  No one else can do it for you.  No one can be as well positioned to take action to keep you safe as you are.  Even when they do come to your aid, you have only yourself to keep yourself safe until they do arrive.  And you need the freedom to do what is necessary both to protect yourself in the event, but to prepare in advance against the event.

Benjamin Franklin said famously:  “Those who give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” He said that because it’s a fool’s trade.  To give up liberty, to put ones safety in the hands of someone who almost invariably will put his own hide before yours, is to give up the very safety you seek.  It’s paying a con man for sweet sounding words that in the end evaporate to nothing.

If I may paraphrase Economist Milton Friedman, “The society that puts safety before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before safety will end up with a great measure of both.” (The original contrasted Freedom with Equality rather than Safety, but the phrasing works here too.)

It isn’t perfect safety.  There is no perfect safety.  But it’s the only safety you’ve got and you get to make the choice of how much is enough, how far you’re willing to go to secure your own safety and the safety of those you care about.

Freedom vs. Safety?  Freedom is safety, the only safety you can trust, where the authority, and the responsibility, is in your own hands.

Feeding the Active Writer. Inside Out Bacon Cheeseburger

This is basically a deep-fried, bacon wrapped, cheese-stuffed meatloaf but that’s a pretty big mouthful for the title.  It’s thoroughly decadent.

This makes a rather small amount compared to most of my “Feeding the Active Writer” recipes, but it’s fairly easy to do as an “assembly line” process.  You can be preparing the next roll while the first one is cooking.  That way you can make 3-4 in a batch if you need a bunch for a week’s worth or for entertaining.  Or just do one for a meal or two.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground chuck
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 slices bacon

Heat your deep fryer to 325

In a small bowl, mix everything through the eggs thoroughly.

Spread some waxed paper or foil to work on and weave the bacon into a mat:

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Spread the ground chuck mixture on the bacon mat, leaving a bit of bacon hanging free on three of the edges.

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Place cheese in a strip on the ground chuck

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Roll up the meat and cheese (the foil or waxed paper makes this easier) and pin down the free ends of the bacon with toothpicks.

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Put it into the basket of your deep fryer and lower the basket into the hot oil.  Let it cook until the bacon is crisp.

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Remove the toothpicks, cut into slices, and enjoy.  3-4 servings.

The Scientific Underpinnings of Norse Myth

Note how the world, according to Norse belief,  began–sparks from Muspelheim, the land of fire, met ice from Niffelheim, the land of cold frost, and there the world was created.

Heat on one side, cold on the other.

A heat source and a heat sink and everything we know in between.

That’s the basis of thermodynamics right there and thermodynamics is at the heart of every dynamic process in the universe.

Now consider the Norse end of the world–burned by the fire giant Surtr? A “heat death” to the universe?

Okay, they got a little confused about what is meant by a “heat death” but “heat death” is still a term that could be applied.

Clearly modern physics confirms Norse theology.

Now, the above is meant as humor but there is a bit of bite to it.  If I took the time, I could probably find quite a bit, or more than a bit, more from Norse belief that can be tied to modern science.  All it takes is a little creativity, a modest knowledge of modern science, and the willingness to ignore or wave away anything that doesn’t fit.

Think about that before you put forward your own belief as being “scientific” or “confirmed by science” or anything of the sort.  And that’s not just religious beliefs but political, social, economic, or any other sort of belief.

At it’s core, science is less about asking “how do I show that I am right” so much as asking “how do I know if I am wrong” and meaning it.  Ask “what must never happen if my idea is wrong” and check to see if it ever happens.  Ask “what must never happen if my idea is right” and check to see if ever doesn’t happen.

If you can’t come up with something that, if it happened, or if it failed to happen, or if it happened at the wrong time or in the wrong amount, would not lead to the conclusion that the idea is wrong then the idea is not science.

This is called falsifiability and any idea that cannot be falsified were the right circumstances to occur–where there’s no place where we can say “if we see this, or don’t see that then our theory is wrong”–is not science.

Unenumerated Rights

Many people claim many things as rights. The Constitution lists certain things as rights but, via the Ninth, expressly states that just because it’s not listed doesn’t mean it is a right. Thus, something can be a right without being listed in the Constitution. Or, “in the Constitution” is a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for something to be a right.

Specifically the Ninth Amendment reads:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Remember, in the philosophy behind which the USA was founded, basic human rights came first.  They are inherent in being human.  Governments neither grant nor remove them (only secure or infringe).  The Constitution does not grant rights.  It merely spells out some particular rights that the government is forbidden from infringing.

If one wants to say that something is or isn’t a right then “it’s in the Constitution” ends it. If it’s listed as a right in the Constitution it is. Period. The folk who wrote the Constitution said, in effect, “this is a right that the people have”.

If it’s not so listed, however, we’ve only begun. We haven’t established one way or another. “Not in the Constitution” is the beginning, not the end.

But, given some thought, we can generally work it out.

The key thing to remember is there is no right to violate someone else’s rights. (Note, this is a little different from what I discuss elsewhere, where someone, through their own actions can put at hazard their own right–for instance, if someone presents a credible immediate threat to your life and you kill them in self-defense, you don’t violate their right to life or due process.  They set their own right aside in threatening yours.)

So how does this work? Let’s take one example.  Many folk claim they have the “right” to the product of other people’s labor. (Don’t think so? What is health care but the product of the labor of researchers, doctors, educators, and a great many others?) Yet, 1) no such right is listed in the Constitution (important–if it _were_ listed, then it would, ipso facto, be a right), but we have to go beyond that because of the Ninth. Now, note what a right to the product of someone else’s labor _means_. One thing it means is that you deprive that someone else of the product of that labor. i.e. you deprive somebody of liberty or property. _But_ not being deprived of liberty or property without due process of law _is_ a right–explicitly stated in the Fifth. Therefore, there cannot be an “unenumerated right”, under the Ninth, to the product of other people’s labor because that would violate the rights those other people do have and that are explicitly listed.

So, what can we conclude?  Well, one of the “unalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence is Liberty.  This is reiterated in the Fifth Amendment as something of which we are not to be deprived without due process of law.  So Liberty, then is simply the right to do as you see fit, provided it does not forcibly infringe on the same right in someone else.

That’s the touchstone.  If a claimed “right” violates someone else’s liberty, or their property, or definitely their life, then it’s not a right.   Only their actions can lead to the loss of those rights.  If someone causes you damage and the courts strip them of property to reimburse you for the loss, it’s their action that causes the loss of their property, not yours.  If someone causes you harm and the courts fine or imprison them as punishment for the harm, it’s their action that causes the loss of their liberty or property again, not yours.  And if someone in the commission of a heinous crime is killed in self-defense, or the courts decide their life is forfeit because of the particularly egregious nature of the offense, once again it is their actions that cause the loss of their right to life. (No, I am not opposed to capital punishment in principle.  However, because of the very permanent nature of it I think the standard of proof needs to be overwhelming, quite a bit more than even “beyond a reasonable doubt” before it is imposed.)

 

Pantsing vs. Plotting, a Blast from the Past

One of the great questions of the writing world:  Pantser or Plotter.

Um, yes?

When I first got started writing, I’d have an “idea”.  Since I write mostly SF and Fantasy the idea was usually in the form of some story gimmick:  what would it be like to play tennis on the moon?  How would an EMT service on the moon work?  Suppose psychic powers existed but were really, really limited?  Suppose “her world exploded” wasn’t a metaphor but literal truth?

And then I’d sit down and start writing, making things up as I went along.

Most of the time the story would fall apart and I’d have nothing.  I’d have an opening and either be going in circles or just get stuck and have no idea what to write next.

So I started plotting in advance, outlining the things that happen in the story.  I’d still have the stories fall apart in my hands but at least I wouldn’t have written a bunch of finished text before reaching that point.  And I learned that I can work from an outline.  If I ever do collaborative work, that can be important.

So, for a long time then I was a “plotter”.  But I often didn’t adhere closely to the outline.  Instead, I’d find the story going in different directions.  That was okay.  I could just pause, redo the outline to reflect the new direction, and proceed from there.  Sometimes it might take several iterations through that before I was done.

But here’s the thing.  The final stories weren’t any more likely to sell when I plotted than when I’d pantsed.

Enter Dwight Swain and his book “Techniques of the Selling Writer”.

One of the things Mr. Swain had in his book, on preparing for writing a story, was having a “starting line up.” This meant defining five elements of the story:  situation, character, goal, opposition, and “disaster”.  Your character exists in an initial situation.  He has a goal he’d like to achieve (which could simply be avoiding some bad thing happening).  There’s opposition to the character’s goal (usually a “villain” of the piece, but not necessarily).  And some bad outcome from failure to accomplish the goal, the “disaster”.

The stories of mine that failed to get off the ground in the past were usually over the lack of some element in this starting line up.  So, lately, I started to spell them out explicitly before starting writing a story.  Oh, if I have an idea for a story opening or something I might write that to get a feel for things and then pause to create the starting line up.  But I do it, every time.

And the result is that I’ve found myself going back to pantsing.  I can just write the story because the elements I need are there.  I can wonder a bit in subplots, explore character a bit, take some time letting minor characters strut their stuff, but with the starting line up to give direction I can keep the story moving in the way it needs to move.

So now my outlines, if used at all, tend to be smaller bits meant to work out particular story problems, a kind of guided free association to figure out how to resolve challenges. (Character is here.  I need him there.  How do I get him there?)

But that’s how I work today.  Tomorrow?  Who knows.  I’ve changed my working method before and there’s no reason to suppose I won’t do it again.