Why Write? A Blast from the Past.

One of the first questions about writing is “why write?”  There are many reasons to write, of course.  You have to write that thesis if you want that degree.  That piece of equipment needs a manual so people will know how to use it so someone is given the task of creating one if they want to be paid.  And those texts, emails, and, yes, blog posts won’t write themselves.

Here, however, I’m going to focus on fiction writing.  Why take the time and effort to sit down (or pace up and down the hall, or however one does it) and craft a story?

So what are the reasons for writing?  Fame? (Twenty years writing fiction with a handful of professional sales so far and I’m still pretty much unknown.  There are easier ways to fame.) Fortune? (The most I, personally, have made in a year from writing is about $1000.) Attracting members of the appropriate sex? (Have I got some disappointing news for you….)  You get a few, a very few, who are successful by those metrics, sure, but mostly you get folk who labor away for a little bit of extra pocket money (or a modest living if they’re lucky) or the occasional fan letter. (Science fiction and Fantasy have an advantage over many writing genres in that there are frequent conventions where fans of their style of writing get together and authors and fans can meet each other.)

So why do it?  It’s a lot of work for very little of the typical rewards.

One thing to remember is that the storyteller is as old as humanity itself.  Telling–and with the invention of writing, writing them–is just something people do.  Even traits that are ubiquitous across the human species are expressed more strongly in some than in others.  Some have a stronger drive to tell stories in much the same way that some people have a stronger competitive drive.

In the end, I think that you aren’t a writer because you write.  You write because you are a writer.  Making money, winning fame, making friends and influencing people are often rationalization more than reasons, a justification for the mental and emotional effort that goes into writing.

That said, writing, storytelling, isn’t the only drive and, as drives go, it’s fairly far down on the totem pole.  Yes, I have a drive to write, to put stories down for other people to read, but I also have a drive to eat, to live in reasonably comfortable surroundings, to procreate (and the things that go with that), and so forth and if writing gets in the way of that, so much the worse for writing.  Other people might have the drive more strongly and are willing to live a hermit’s life in a drafty attic somewhere while scribbling away the story they have to get out of their system only, once finished, to have it replaced with another story that they simply have to get out of their system.

And so, while I think to a great extent writing and storytelling is what you are more than what you do that it’s not also a craft and a skill to be learned.  There’s a big difference between a group of friends telling “no fooling, there I was…” stories at the local watering hole and someone writing a novel that sells hundreds of thousands of copies. Some of that difference is just plain luck.  Some of it is inborn talent.  And some of it–I’d like to say most of it although that luck aspect can loom pretty large, the one where you hit with the right story at the right time in front of the right people–is learned craft.

Are you a writer?  How can you tell?  The answer is simple:

If you’re a writer, then you write.


Keeping the Ability to Stop

In preparation for LibertyCon, I had to do some work on the Explorer.  It’s a seven hour drive to Chattanooga from Indianapolis and in the middle of it would be a bad time for something to break down.  Earlier this month I did the oil change and checked coolant and other fluid levels.  Today I did some desperately needed work on the brakes.

Just before the Eclipse this past August I replaced the front rotors and pads.  I didn’t even bother seeing about having the rotors turned–the amount of wear and rust on the rotors suggested they weren’t a good candidate for that.  But more than that, with some shopping around I found that it’s frankly, cheaper to get new rotors than it is to have a machine shop turn them.

Since the front brakes do the lion’s share of the work in stopping the car, I was able to put off doing the rear brakes for a while.    I decided, however, that we had reached the point where it was no longer viable to wait.  I did some shopping again and bought a kit with both rear brake pads and new rotors.  They arrived a few days ago and today I got the rear end of the Explorer up on jackstands (if you’re ever going to work under a car use jackstands–the ribcage or skull that doesn’t get crushed if the jack fails will thank you).  I get the wheels off easy peasy (Helps if you loosen the lugnuts before you jack up the car).

First problem.  You know that cliche about never being able to find the 10 mm socket?  Well guess what?  The bolts that hold the calipers are 10 mm.  And what can’t I find?  Neither a 10 mm socket nor a 10 mm combination wrench.  I have to use an adjustable crescent wrench.  I hate using the adjustable crescent wrench.  Too easy to have it not quite snug enough and round off the bolt head.  However, loosening about half a turn each with the wrench gets it loose enough to spin the bolts out by hand.  From that point a little bit of prying gets the caliper free.

Next comes the rotor.  A few taps with the mallet “breaks” it loose and so I start to pull it off.  It moves a few millimeters and won’t come off any more.

So, problem number two.  Rust on the inner drum of the rotor has created a “lip” which catches on the shoes for the emergency brake.  To get it off requires a combination of a lot of pounding, prying, and application of muscle.

Eventually the rotor comes off.  I spray down the new rotor with brake cleaner then slip it on over the studs figuring given the years of wear and how tight the e-brake shoes were the probably won’t quite fit over the  shoes and I’ll have to look up how to loosen them but to my surprise it slides right on.

I start to put the new pads into the caliper and… problem number three.  I forgot to compress the piston back into the cylinder before removing the old pads.  So I put the old pads back on place as a spacer and cranked it down with a c-clamp.  After that, installation went smoothly.  The hardest part is getting the caliper aligned with the mounting holes so the bolts go in smoothly.  Then back to that damn adjustable crescent wrench to tighten the bolts down and on to the other side.

The other (driver’s) side proved to be a bit easier.  The odd part was that the rotor was significantly thinner than the one on the passenger side.  In any case, it came off easier.  This time I remembered to compress the piston back into place before removing the old pads.

After that it’s a matter of putting the wheels back on, getting the car off the jackstands and onto its wheels, and a short test drive to make sure everything was working smoothly.

Oh, and a nice long shower because all that working on the car and crawling on the ground had me quite filthy.

All was well and it cost me a small fraction of what a shop would have charged.

I just need to replace my missing 10 mm socket and combination wrenches.

When the State Corrupts Rule of Law: A Blast from the Past

Recent revelations show widespread corruption in the FBI.  This underscores the problems that I wrote about in a blog post a couple of years ago:

The Washington Post recently had an article about a State drug chemist (responsible for various drug tests) was not only a user of the drugs but had been falsifying drug test results which were instrumental in many peoples convictions and incarceration.

The article asks the question about whether the cases for which she provided evidence should be thrown out.

This shouldn’t even be a question.

(Bear with me for a minute, I’m going somewhere with this.) Some years back there was a column in one of the magazines for fans of comics “The Law is a Ass” by Bob Ingersoll, an attorney and public defender. In that column he dissected use of law in comics and along the way gave introductions to the history and reasons behind many of the things we take for granted in law now.
One of those things was exclusionary rules for evidence. This is actually of far more recent vintage than many people realize. As Bob Ingersoll wrote:

For well over one hundred years, the Fourth Amendment existed without the Exclusionary Rule, the rule which makes evidence taken during an unreasonable search and seizure inadmissible at trial. Basically, the amendment depended on the good faith of the government not to violate it for its enforcement. In much the same way–and with much of the same success–that Blanche DuBois depended on the kindness of strangers. Then, in 1914, the Supreme Court of the United States realized that not everyone scrupulously adhered to the Fourth Amendment. Abuses actually occurred. So did sunsets, but not as often.

The Supreme Court ruled that a right without a means to enforce it is no right at all. To remedy this, it enacted by judicial fiat the Exclusionary Rule, as a means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment.

The Exclusionary Rule says the government cannot be allowed to profit, when it breaks the rules with an unreasonable search, so any evidence seized can not be admitted. To use a somewhat simplistic analogy (I like simplistic analogies. If more law school professors used simplistic analogies, I might have passed a few more courses.), the Exclusionary Rule is like calling back a touchdown pass for a holding penalty. The scoring team would not have achieved its goal, but for the fact that it broke the rules. So, rather than allow it to prosper from cheating, the team is penalized by having the play nullified. The Exclusionary Rule was established to enforce compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

In 1961 the Supreme Court ruled that the Exclusionary Rule was applicable on the states through the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Now, when state or local police conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, the evidence is not admissible at trial.

And that’s where we are here. These cases need to be thrown out to send a loud and clear message of “don’t do that” to prosecutors. And, yes, prohibition against double jeopardy should fully apply.  they cannot be allowed to succeed, to “benefit” from using such poisonous tactics.
The thing many people forget is that the most important aspect of “rule of law” is not punishing the guilty, but protecting the innocent. When people stop believing that their innocence will protect them from the law, that’s when rule of law collapses. That’s why “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. That’s why prohibition against double jeopardy. That’s why we have trial by jury in the first place, why we have rules on discovery (where the defense gets to see the prosecution’s evidence), why we have all the procedures in place to protect the accused against the vastly greater might of the State.
And that’s why things like this are so very troubling. What it does to society dwarfs even the horrible injustice to the individual falsely convicted on falsified evidence.  It undermines the very concept of rule of law.


My LibertyCon Schedule

Libertycon in Chattanooga, TN, this year is from June 29 to July 1. This year it will be held at the Chattanooga Mariot Downton.  I will be arriving sometime in the afternoon or evening of the 28th and leaving the afternoon of the 1st.  I look forward to seeing my fans there (all three of you).

Here’s my schedule.

Indianapolis writer David L. Burkhead is a physicist working in Atomic

Force Microscopy. In addition he is an author of science fiction and

fantasy with books such as Survival Test, The Hordes of Chanakra, and

his latest release Alchemy of Shadows.

Scheduled Programming Events Featuring David L. Burkhead

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies
Fri 07:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, Del Arroz, Hoch, Monroe, Montgomery )
Sat 10:00AM Autograph Session (Brooks, Burkhead, Frost, Lamplighter, Wright)
Sat 01:00PM Author’s Alley (Barrett/Murphy, Lewis, Burkhead, G. Martin, Witzke)
Sat 04:00PM Fantastic Schools of Magic and Where to Find Them
Sat 05:00PM Worlds of Epic Fantasy
Sat 09:00PM Reading: Steve Antczak & David Burkhead
Sat 11:00PM Mad Scientist Roundtable
Sun 10:00AM Kaffeeklatsch
Sun 01:00PM Author’s Alley (Antczak, Burkhead, K. Ezell / Chris Smith, Gibbons, Leacock)


“Not Today”

Many years ago, in an online discussion, the late Dr. Jerry Pournelle said that the purpose of the military presence in Europe was to get the Warsaw pact leaders (which, in truth meant the Soviet Union leaders) to look across the field at the forces arrayed against them, to look at their own forces, at their maps, then again at the forces on the other side and say “not today.”

That also describes the purpose of an armed citizenry.

Some people are dismissive of the idea of an armed citizenry as a weapon against tyranny because “the government has drones, and tanks, and bombers, and nukes, and… You rednecks and your assault rifles can’t possibly stand against that.”

The problem is, as we learned in Vietnam, and seem to keep having to relearn in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, all that military hardware and technology is great when it comes to defeating armies in set-piece battles, even battles of maneuver.  It’s far less useful against an insurgency.  When you have insurgents hiding among the civilian population you need boots on the ground able to go door to door and sort out the insurgents from the civilians.  You need those civilians, at least a significant portion of them, to be willing to point out the actual insurgents to you (and not just use you to take down someone they don’t like, who may or may not be an actual insurgent–“Insurgents?  Yes, my business rival provides support to the rebels.  If you shut him down it will cripple the rebels.”)

What are you going to do with that heavy weaponry?  Roll tanks through Boise because someone’s holding secret meetings plotting the overthrow of the government?  Make an Arclight strike (carpet bombing) against Des Moines because there are weapons caches somewhere in the city? Nuke Indianapolis because insurgents are hiding among the population?

Those kinds of things can’t be solved with the heavy hardware, or not easily (and I’ll get to that in a minute).  They require boots on the ground, investigations and intel, and generally a cooperative population.  The “hearts and minds” component of counter-insurgency operations.  I would recommend Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by General Peter J. Shoomaker for how that worked, or failed to work, in they Malaya and Vietnam. (I will note that I believe General Shoomaker gives insufficient weight to Vietnam being both an insurgency and a “conventional” war being fought in parallel and many of the things he dismissed as being “the wrong approach” were correct for the conventional part of the war.  The problem wasn’t that things appropriate to conventional war were advocated.  The problem was that solutions appropriate to an insurgency were not.  This is a case where we needed to embrace the power of “and”.)

While you can possibly beat even an insurgency with the “heavy hardware” it usually involves a price that most Western nations simply are unwilling to pay.  It requires utter callousness to collateral damage and positively rejoicing in poor “international opinion”.  It requires viciousness on a level that makes the Mongol hordes look like nice guys.  And in the end, you still have to send troops in on the ground.

Try that on your own people without years, possibly decades, of careful preparation, building a military force that’s both amoral and personally loyal to you.  That means getting rid of all the people who hold to ideals like honor, loyalty, and defending the nation rather than the ruler at its head–and, of course, all those people you’ve gotten rid of, presuming you haven’t tipped your hand with Stalinesque purges and show trials–with all their training and experince will now be in the civilian sector and arrayed against you.

No, the vast power of military hardware would be of little use in an actual insurgency.  And if you get to the point you can use it?  You’ve got a military that will actually obey orders to wage Total War on the American people?

That battle tank?  Where is its fuel coming from?  How is it getting from it’s start as an infusion in rocks deep underground through wells, refineries, pipes, trucks, and storage tanks until if finally ends up in the tank itself?  How many men does it take to guard every step of the way because anything you leave unguarded is an opportunity for insurgents to interrupt the supply–blow up a pipeline, ambush tank trucks, demolish a railroad bridge, and on and on.

Now apply it not just to the tank, but to everything else that goes into the care and feeding of a modern military force.

And those guards?  Spread out.  Distributed.  Vulnerable to being picked off.  So you need more men.  But where are you going to get them except from the American people you’ve just declared total war on?  Much of that and your guards are as likely to be saboteurs as not.

Now, this is not to say that the insurgents would have it all their own way.  A sufficiently ruthless government, with a sufficiently loyal Praetorian Guard of a military, could end up killing enough to cow enough of the rest to “win” such a war.  And it’s possible with a sufficiently complicit media that such a government might even keep general support away from the insurgents despite bombing your own cities.

But even if you win, the likelihood is that all you’ll rule is a burnt-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and pluck it away from you.

And if the insurgents win, the same thing applies–they only win a burned-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and establish their own overlordship.  (This, incidentally, is why I so strongly argue against armed rebellion against the abuses to the Constitution that are daily occurrences now:  even if successful, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.  Armed rebellion really is an absolute last-ditch recourse.)

That’s with an armed citizenry, a large pool of armed people who could be insurgents, even if most of them are not.  Eliminate that, and it becomes much easier.  If all the insurgents can do is throw rocks at you, it’s much easier to cow them.  Even if they’ve got improvised weapons, the issue is dramatically simplified for the would be tyrant.

So, the purpose of an armed citizenry is less to win a conflict against the United States military.  It’s to make the would-be tyrants in power look at the citizenry, look at the forces they have, look at the vulnerability of their supply lines where everything is “enemy territory”–and if they don’t understand or believe the situation themselves, those would have to carry out orders to establish their tyrannical rule will–and size up the chances and what they’d likely “win” even if successful…

…and say “Not today.”

A Snippet

From a WIP I’m getting ready to release.

Study in Black and Red

Leslie slid the key into the lock of his apartment door.  Karen, his girlfriend, not content to wait until they were within, tickled the back of his neck.

Leslie pushed the door open and turned.  Karen melted into his arms and tilted her face up for Leslie’s kiss.

“It’s been a long day,” Leslie said as he broke the kiss. “Make yourself comfortable while I grab a quick shower.”

“Don’t take too long.”

While the apartment was in one of the less affluent districts of town, it did have plenty of hot water.  A few minutes later Leslie stepped out of the shower and wrapped a robe around himself.

A cloud of vapor billowed out of the bathroom when he opened the door.  He did not see Karen but did see the open door to his studio.

Despite the warmth of the humid air, he felt a shiver run up his spine.

“Not again.”

He crossed the hallway to the studio, his feet leaving wet footprints on the fake wood floor.  In the studio he saw Karen looking up at a painting, a big twenty-four by thirty-six piece.  Acrylic on canvas.

“Leslie, this is your best one yet,” Karen stood admiring the painting. “If a bit dark.”

The painting showed Philadelphia burning.  Thick black smoke blotted out the sky.  Tiny people ran, clearly screaming, in the streets beneath buildings engulfed in flame.

His work.  His painting.  Any inspection would show that.  From his signature in the lower right corner to the style.  Right down to the brush strokes.

The only problem was Leslie did not know where the painting had come from.  It had not been there when he had left for his date with Karen.  More than a dozen times he had found paintings in his studio, his paintings, but with no memory of having painted them.  He thought he had been sleep-painting or having some kind of fugue state.  But this one?  He had not even been home and here the painting was, a painting showing a terrible scene of fire and death.  But a painting that was clearly his work.

Where had it come from?

“What’s Your Plan When the Government Comes for Your Guns?

That question was asked of me on FaceBook.

As somebody who has served in the military, I understand a little concept called “opsec”. The things I have been talking about (how an actual insurgency would go in the US; hint:  it wouldn’t be like Gettysberg with the government on one side, the “rebels” on the other and they shoot at each other until all the rebels are dead or fled) have stemmed from fairly orthodox Co-In strategy and tactics. (If you haven’t read “Eating Soup with a Knife” I highly recommend it–I think the author does not give sufficient consideration in his discussion of the Co-In failures of Vietnam to the fact that we had both an insurgency and a conventional war running in parallel, but when you compare the lessons he points to from Malaysia and Vietnam to what people are advocating in disarming the American people, you see why the “the military has fighters and drones and tanks and…” is such a ludicrous argument).

But that’s not the question one should be asking. The correct question is what the government is going to do when faced with massive non-compliance to bans? We’re already seeing that. Connecticut’s “assault weapon ban”, New York’s “Safe Act”. The weapons turned in, surrendered, or disposed of were orders of magnitude fewer than those believed to have been present in those States. The FFL background checks that would be required for any transfer out of State, any legal tranfer out of State. So either people kept their now-banned guns or they transferred them illegally–either way, non-compliance with the law. Some States’ bump-stock ban? Same thing. Zero surrenders.

So what is the government supposed to do in the face of massive non-compliance? Door to door warrantless searches? After all, the vast majority of guns aren’t on any kind of registration (and that’s why we oppose registration so strongly). You might be able to get probable cause for some searches but not for anywhere near all. And when you start making those warrantless, house-to-house searches?  We’re already getting grumbles about innocent people hurt and killed in “no-knock” and other searches where there is a warrant.  How many people will be killed by trigger-happy jackboots from those warrantless ones?

What do we call nations that do that kind of thing? (Hint:  it’s not “bastions of liberty”.)

There is simply no way the government could even begin to take even a large percentage of the guns from the American people without becoming the very tyranny that justifies armed revolt against it–not just justify it to gun owners but justify it to a lot of the police and military who would need to carry out those orders.

And that’s leaving aside how truly ugly the insurgency that would result of that would be.

Good luck with that.