A snippet

From a work in progress


Ed Cartwright, Tyrian representative to the Terran Confederation Assembly, nodded at the security guard at the entrance to his apartment building.

“Welcome back, Assemblyman.”

“Glad to be back, Andre.  How are the kids?” Cartwright handed his ID to the guard and placed his hand on the scanner.

“Getting bigger every day.  You know how it is.” Andre ran the scanner through a reader and glanced at the telltale which confirmed that ID and hand both belonged to the same individual who was a resident of the building.

“I do indeed.  Any messages?” Cartwright took his hand off the scanner and placed it on the door, waiting for Andre to unlatch it.

“Usual junk, Assemblyman.  Usual junk.”

“Thank you.  If anyone calls I’m out.”

Andre chuckled. “Bad day?”

“Very.  So if you don’t mind.”

“Oh.  Yes sir.”

The traditional buzz and click indicated the unlatching of the door and Cartwright pushed himself through.  As the door locked shut behind him, he sighed. Andre was one of the more pleasant guards Cartwright had dealt with, a retired Marine double dipping in the Confederation Civil Service.

The lift deposited Cartwright on his apartment’s floor.  While he could, with his position, have a luxury suite at the Tyrian Residence in the capital city, or even a private mansion, he preferred an apartment close to the Assembly Hall.  A comfortable apartment, to be sure, and providing privacy in a way that the ever present staff at fancier accommodations could never afford.

Cartwright slid his keycard into the slot in the door and typed a short code into the pad.  The door opened and the lights in the apartment blinked to life. He hung his jacket in the autocloset which would clean and press it before he needed it again then removed his dress sidearm and placed it in the rack next to the door.

The processor in the kitchen already had a mug of cocoa waiting for him, lightly seasoned with cinnamon and just the right temperature.  He took it with him to the nook that held his private comm console.

Cartwright slurped down a big swallow of chocolate then set the cup down.  He tapped a code into the console. A moment later, the machine confirmed a C plus route available to his destination.

A face appeared in the screen.“Lieutenant Winthrup, Tyrian Militia Cruiser Göll.  How may I–” Winthrup’s eyes widened. “Admiral. How may I be of assistance.”

Cartwright chuckled. “It’s just ‘Assemblyman’ now.  I need to speak to your captain. Speare, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir.  One moment, sir.”

The screen went blank for a few seconds then Speare’s face appeared within it. “Admiral Cartwright.  How may I help you.”

“Stand by to take a data transfer from this terminal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cartwright slid a data chip into the reader on his terminal.

In the screen, Speare looked away, waited a few seconds, then turned back to Cartwright. “Transfer received.”

“Those files include a new set of orders issued under my reserve rank.  You’re in kind of a limbo right now. You haven’t, officially, been handed off to Confederation Navy so we can do this without breaking chain of command.”

Speare’s brows knit in puzzlement. “Yes, sir?”

“The Eres are leading those…Yabanjin, Ybanji, whatever they’re calling them…forces to an ambush at Chakentak.  If all goes well, the Eres will decisively crush the Yabanjin and buy plenty of time for us to plan for the future.”

“Nobody ever said the Eres couldn’t fight, sir.”

“Tell me about it.” Cartwright shook his head.

“And if all doesn’t go well, sir?”

“That’s what your orders are about.  And remember, Captain, the Yabanjin got where they are by copying somewhat outdated Eres tech.  We can’t afford to have them copy ours.”

Speare’s grin went feral. “You can trust us, Admiral. ‘Till Valhalla.”

“‘Till Odin’s Table.” Cartwright cut the connection.  A moment later he let his head fall into his hands. He hated giving orders like those.  He belonged out there, with the men on the lines, riding with them to victory or Valhalla, not here in perfect safety, hundreds of light years from the fray.

But Roberts had asked him to take this damn position and the people of Tyr had agreed.  And so he was stuck until a new Assemblyman could be chosen, perhaps someone who liked working behind the scenes.

Cartwright snorted.  One thing the Tyrian people would not accept was a person who liked the kind of political maneuvering required in the Capitol.  Just his luck to both hate it, and be good at it.

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Are you sure?

Recently we have had the following:

“What we’ve got to do is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box, and now there’s the momentum to be able to do this. And we’re not afraid of the popular outcry, we’re energized by it and that’s going to help us do our job and do it better.” former VP Candidate Tim Kaine on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”

Fight in the streets?  Really.  Can Mr. Kaine explain how that doesn’t mean exactly what it sounds like?

On Facebook we had:

“White women should be hunted and killed.  That way we won’t get white babies who think they own the world!” Laura M. Zanders

Now, ordinarily this would be just an idiot venting except the post was reported to FaceBook which came back that nope, this recommendation to hunt and kill white women did not violate “community standards.” Perfectly fine.

Then there’s this gem from Former Presidential Candidate, Senator, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton:

“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

She’s saying that they can only be civil once they are in power?  Would she be bothered if I pointed out that since she personally as well as her party wants to destroy what I stand for and what I care about (individual liberty, limited government, and rule of law–what were classically considered liberal values before big government, central planning, micromanagement of the individual, and out and out socialism appropriated the term “liberal”) there’s no expectation for me to be civil to them.

She reminds me of another quote: “We shall only talk of peace once we have won the war.”

The writer for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” tweeted:

Whatever happens, I’m just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh’s life.

This is justified because we’re supposed to “believe” a woman who changed her story repeatedly, whose every word that could be and was verified proved to be false, and whose own named witnesses denied her claims (and she was the most credible of the various accusers; the whole thing was a sham).  But people with actual evidence, police reports, and bona fide witnesses who supported their story are to be dismissed.  “Believe all women” apparently means “believe women when it is politically convenient for Democrats”, no more, and no less.

Or how about this Ole Miss professor, JT Thomas (who, admittedly, appears to be a little incoherent):

Don’t just interrupt their meals, y’all.  Put your whole damn fingers in their salads.  Take their apps and distribute them to other diners.  Bring boxes and take their food home with you on the way out.

They don’t deserve civility.

A university professor, tasked with educating the next generation of society.  Is that what he’s “teaching”?

We also have Antifa taking over the streets in very liberal Portland, OR and the police just letting them.

And on and on and on.  Ever since November 6, 2016, leftist groups have been engaging in increasing levels of violence and intimidation.  And we’ve had people in power and influence cheering and encouraging the harassment of others because they believe differently.

Well, have these people ever given a moment’s consideration to just how dangerous those of us of a conservative or libertarian bent will be once we are convinced to play by their rules?  Yes, there are leftists with guns.  But most of the gun owners are in those conservative or libertarian groups.  More than twenty million military veterans in the civilian population.  That’s ten times more than the combined manning of both the miltiary and all federal, state, and local police in the nation.  Sure, some of them will support the neo-socialists but most won’t.

I have argued in the past that a civil war in the US would be ugly, with no winners. (Examples here and here, And there’s this to show why it wouldn’t be as one sided as you might think; and that’s assuming you actually get the military on your side.)

So, I ask again, have you really thought how dangerous the other sides (there are, after all, more than one) will be once you push them to the point where they start playing by your rules?

And are you really ready for that?

The Education-Industrial Complex Again

One of the arguments made for public schooling is that the proper functioning of a Republic such as the United States requires an educated and informed electorate.  And to that end, hundreds of billions of dollars per year at Federal, State, and Local levels are shelled out.  Education is also one of those things that has what Milton Friedman called a strong “neighborhood effect”–people obtain benefits from other people being educated whether they pay for it or not.

But is that really the best way, or even a good way, to go about it?

In the early days of the colonies that would become the United States, one of the first things small settlements would do, after their immediate survival needs were mostly taken care of, was build a school and hire a schoolteacher.  This was all done with local resources, people pitching in what they had including the actual physical labor of building the schoolhouse.

The upkeep of the school, and the teacher’s pay, was funded by fees paid for the children to attend.

This was all strictly voluntary.  It was also nearly universal.  Everywhere you went, there was a school.  And children, despite their being no laws mandating attendance, went.  Some folk might have been dismissive of the idea of formal schooling, but that was the exception.  A strong majority sent their children to school.  Even the poor would usually scrimp and save, take extra work, trade labor for tuition–whatever they had to do to see that their children attended school.  These local communities could also control what was taught and how so that it suited what they saw as best for their own children.  If they didn’t like the way the school was operating, they could change it.  And any group that could get together enough resources for a small building–which could even be a room in their own home which did double duty when school was not in session–and hire a teacher could do so if they did not like the way the rest of the community ran the school.

It wasn’t until 1852 that Massachusetts became the first State to pass a compulsory school attendance law.  It was not until 1918 Mississippi became the last of the then 48 States to pass a compulsory attendance law.  Even without the compulsion a strong majority did.

This was all done locally.  Over time, however, the State and later the Federal government took more of an interest.  This wasn’t driven by parents saying that they needed government intervention to make the schools better for the children’s sake.  It was driven by educators who, I am quite certain, believed that they could do a better job with better funding and a more secure livelihood (with pay not entirely dependent on what the local community can scrape up).

Let me reiterate, the motive for making the schools publicly funded was not any dissatisfaction with schooling but by a relatively small group of teachers and administrators believing they can do better.  And, as I said, I am quite certain they were entirely sincere in their belief.   They might be excused for the paternalism inherent in the belief that the instructors knew better than the parents and that the State, and later Federal, officials knew better than the locals but it was there.

As time went on and more and more State and Federal funding, and with it control (Federal money always comes with Federal strings) increased, the power of the local parents say over their children’s education decreased.  The problems were the same ones that came from any central planning scheme–bureaucracies tend to evolve according to their own inherent logic and larger organizations tend to involve more of a standardization a “one size fits all” approach.

One size, however, does not fit all.

Nevertheless, the arguments were made that public education would give us better schools, would make us more competitive in the world, and also provide the educated electorate that would make our Republic work right.  Arguments were that it would be more efficient, that it would help “level” the difference in education between rich and poor, and would create a common heritage to help foster national unity.  Those arguments, however, fail on examination.

First there’s the efficiency argument.  That can be dismissed almost immediately.  What public funding amounts to is taking money away from people, passing it through a government bureaucracy, then using that money–less what was spent to pay for the bureaucracy–to fund schooling.  More efficient than letting people who choose to do so pay for the schooling that seems appropriate to them.  While there might be an argument for funding the education of a small part of the population–say as an aid to the destitute (and even there I am skeptical that government solutions are better than private)–basically taking from everybody to give back to the bulk of the population is not economically defensible.  It’s having people pay for their own and their children’s education with extra steps.  As I point out in a previous post, we spend more and more money on education without producing better results.

The economic efficiency aspect is also where the “neighborhood effect” would come into play.  However, in many ways the neighborhood effect is of a lesser role when it comes to education.  Yes, it’s good to live in a society with well educated doctors and engineers so long as somebody pays for them.  But the doctors and engineers themselves benefit enough from their education (and while there are some exceptions parents are generally willing to count benefits to their children as though they were their own benefit–I know I’m willing to go to a lot of trouble for my daughter’s welfare) to justify the expenditure without the need to “bill” for the neighborhood effect.

Second, there is “leveling,” the “equality” argument.  A simple examination of public schools in well-to-do neighborhoods compared to poor and inner city neighborhoods should quickly disabuse anyone of that notion.  When you also include that the very well-to-do are much more capable of affording the “double payment” (the taxes paying for public school plus tuition for a private school) to send their children to expensive and “elite” private schools, you can see that this argument breaks down entirely.

Then there’s the common heritage for national unity.  While once that was a stated purpose of schools that has largely been abandoned.  In the age of “multiculturalism” schools often don’t even require a common language, let alone teach a common heritage and culture.  Add to that the constant experiments in changing teaching methods to “solve” what are essentially solved problems in teaching basic skills with a “one size (at the moment anyway–tomorrow we may try a different size) approach” and you have a recipe for disaster. (Yes, some few might not respond well to the traditional methods of teaching arithmetic but most do–and if the new techniques might work better for those few, then use them on those few, don’t inflict them on the majority who respond well to the traditional methods).

There’s a fourth argument:  if we don’t force people to pay through taxes they won’t bother to provide for schools, spending all their money on profligate living.  History, however, tends to suggest otherwise.  This is just another bit of “daddy knows best” paternalism.  Perhaps it is too late to turn back that clock, at least quickly, because people are so dependent on tax-funded schools that they’d be lost if that were suddenly taken away.  I have discussed that particular problem–sudden reversals of long established policies causing more problems before.

And for this fourth reason I do not think that just dropping public education is an achievable goal.  However, it would still be beneficial to return power to the parents.  One way to do that is with a voucher system.  They get brought up from time to time and usually the ones leading the argument are, like in the case of bringing in government funding, not the parents but the educators and government officials.  I’m not going to go into great detail on the arguments against vouchers.  Most of those arguments bespeak, on examination, a lack of faith in the public schools.  If vouchers would lead to a stampede away from public education that would “destroy public schools” perhaps they should look at why they are failing their students so badly that their parents would want to take them out?  If that is a legitimate fear, then maybe they need the competition to motivate them to clean house themselves.  The kids will be better off for it.

One argument I do want to address.   The “First Amendment argument”.  I. e. vouchers would allow parents to send their children to religious schools violating “separation of Church and State” (actually “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion” since “Separation of Church and State” is nowhere in the Consitution–it’s from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote assuring a church that the Federal government would not interfere with them).  This is a baseless argument.  Consider various government college student aid packages.  Those packages tie to the the student, not the school itself.  The student can, if he or she chooses, use them at a religious school just as much as at a non-religious institution.  All that is required is that the school be properly accredited.  Likewise, with the old GI Bill grants.  The First Amendment has never been considered an issue with any of these things any more than it has been if someone drawing government assistance should put some of that money in his or her’s church collection plate.  The voucher funds the student.  If the student (or the student’s parents) choose to use that money in a religious institution, that’s their choice, not the government’s.

A related argument to that, one that has explicitly been made to me, amounts to “But I don’t want my tax dollars to be used to teach values I disagree with.” As it happens, I’m already in that position.  Schools, funded by my tax dollars (among others’) is being used to teach values with which I disagree.

If we could get a voucher program in place, I’d put some very basic limitations on how a voucher could be used.  It could only be used in an institution that met certain minimum educational standards.  It could offer anything beyond those standards that it thought might attract students, or more accurately their parents, to it.

The standards I would call for are very basic indeed:  English and math, what used to be called “the three ‘r’s'” (Ironic since two of those, to be “r’s” would have to be misspelled), a basic knowledge of the Constitution–what it actually says; if it wants to go beyond that to interpretation and meaning, that’s at its own choice, but they have to cover what it says–and some basic natural sciences.  Now, I’d never want to send my daughter to a school that taught only that minimum but I’m content to let competition and the market deal with the rest.  If some schools want to teach communist agitprop as part of their curriculum, in competition with schools teaching “Rah!  Rah!  America is the best!”, then more power to them.

Because I believe in competition in the “marketplace of ideas” every bit as much as in the marketplace of goods and services.

A snippet

From a work in progress.


Sheshak sat in his quarters on the Jin Long, sipping at the human beverage known as tea.  Biochemists had pronounced tea safe to drink. And while the tea did nothing, not even provide taste, to Eres, the lemon that humans sometimes added acted as a mild stimulant to Eres physiology.

On his screen he read from the book of Jekat.

“The Art of Politics is the art of the hunt,” Shekha had written. “It is a hunt played out with words and ideas rather than fang and claw.  When Eres play the game of politics, their drive to hunt is satisfied. It is hunt, but it is also challenge. And so, in its form of challenge, it is the only hunt where it is lawful for Eres to hunt Eres.  As hunt and as challenge, it is no less deadly for no blood being spilled.”

Sheshak closed the file and leaned back in his seat.  In his position as Lesser Stalker, he read much human writing, not just their news and histories but their stories and legends.  Humans responded to politics with all the savagery of their response to the Great Hunts. But better to stalk them, to pounce and be pounced upon, in that field, than among the stars in ships of blood.

Humans did not hunt Eres.  They simply killed. Shekha understood.  So many others had not, still did not.

Even without those others, to continue the Great Hunts would,at the last, have meant the end of the Eres.

Sheshek placed his claw on the computer, contemplating the Book of Jekat held within.  The Way of Jekat was right. He knew that now. He would bind his pack to that sect and to alliance with the humans and their other allies.

As he was making his silent vow the door to his compartment opened.

Surprised, but not startled, Sheshek looked toward the door.  The small human female, Coll was her name, stood in the doorway.  Her right hand tucked behind her back.

“I thought I secured that door.”

Coll simply looked at him.  Of course, Sheshak thought, she was their chief engineer.  The whole ship would be open to her. “Is there a problem, Ms. Coll?” He asked.

“Oh,yes,” Coll said.  Her voice carried agitation and excitement, fear and…was that mania? “A big problem.  But that’s okay.” She removed her right hand from behind her back. In it she held a large pulse pistol.  She pointed it at him. “It won’t be a problem much longer.”

Sheshak studied Coll.  He could cross the room before she could fire.  Probably. Maybe. He had just sworn Jekat so humans were not lawful to hunt.  Did her pointing the gun constitute challenge? Sheshak did not believe the humans would think so.  What did his inner being, the Heart of Eres, tell him?

Yes, Challenge, but, was it a lawful challenge?  He was a Great Pack Leader, one who bested the Greater Thisok Hunt.  And she? She was not. He clung to that thought and let it guide him.  Challenge was not lawful, but she did not know.

“May I know the reason you threaten me?” He modulated his vocoder to produce soft, calming tones.

“Reason?  You’re a monster.  That’s reason enough.”

“I have done you no harm.”

The gun shook. “No?  In the war my ship…my ship was captured.  I was taken to one of your prison camps, your…hunting preserves.  Every day I waited, waited for my turn, my turn to be dragged out and made to run.  Would I take a spear through my guts? Would I be driven over a cliff? Would I feel your fangs on my throat before you ripped it out?  I waited. Eventually I started praying you would take me just so it would be over. And still I waited. I almost went mad.”

“We did no honor hunts.” Again, Sheshak kept the sounds from his vocoder soft. “Our hunt was in the stars, ship to ship.  Taking your people was the coup, not hunting them after. Honor was in the number we held, not the number we killed.”

“You lie!  Tell me you do not.  Are you going to tell me your honor forbids you to lie.”

“No,” Sheshak said. “I am a thinking being.  All thinking beings lie when it suits them. But there is no need now.  We knew. Two other Great Hunts had taught us. If we continued the honor hunts, your people would extract a price too terrible to contemplate.  We…dared…not.”

“Then what happened to those they took out of my pen?  They’d take people out and I’d never see them again.”

Good, Sheshak thought.  She was arguing, thinking.  He opened his mouth to respond.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I can kill you.” She raised the gun and pointed it at the base of his throat, where the control center for his autonomous functions resided in its armored box. “I can kill you.”

Her finger tightened on the trigger.

The Battle of Tours: A Blast from the Past

Yes, I did this last year.  Doing it again this year because this is an important date for Western Civilization:

On this date, in AD732, Charles Martel led the Franks against Muslim invaders near the city of Tours and turned back the tide of Islamic advance at the Battle of Tours (sometimes called the Battle of Poitiers).

In the preceding 110 years, Islam, thanks to the diligent efforts of polite young men in white shirts and neckties on bicycles going out two-by-two, had spread from its origins in the Arabian peninsula through south-central Asia and across the north of Africa, and up into the Iberian peninsula.

Did I say polite young men in white shirts and ties on bicycles going out two-by-two?  Just kidding.  That’s Mormons.  The Muslims did it by going out conquering and to conquer, slaughtering everyone who would not submit, in a tide of blood across all their conquered lands.

It seemed that Muhammed and his successors did not understand that “Jihad” meant internal struggle over oneself and that “Islam” meant “peace” and the meaning of “submission” was ones own submission to Allah.  They apparently thought “Jihad” meant real war against unbelievers, using real swords and spears, leaving real dead and mutilated bodies in its wake and the “submission” was forcing those not in Islam to submit to it.  But what did they know?  They only founded the religion or followed in the footsteps of the founder.

Muslims of the Umayyad dynasty, chiefly Berbers, invaded the Iberian peninsula (really, it was a military invasion, not a lot of missionaries on bicycles.  Besides, the bicycle hadn’t been invented yet).  With an decade they had essentially conquered the Iberian peninsula and were expanding across the Pyrenees into what would eventually be part of southern France.

In the spring of 732, these Umayyad Muslims defeated Duke Odo at the Battle of the River Garonne, thus setting the stage for what was to come.

Odo, surviving the battle, asked the Franks for help.  Charles Martel, “Mayor of the Palace” (Ruler in all but name but it would wait for his son, Pepin the Short, for his line to officially claim the throne) would only promise aid in return for Odo submitting to Frankish authority.

While this was going on, the Umayyads, in apparent unconcern about possible Frankish might, advanced toward the Loire river.  Lax in scouting and unconcerned, they did not note the power massing to oppose them.

The Umayyads were mostly cavalry.  Charles, according to accounts, was mostly infantry, but heavily armed and armored infantry.  One of the Frank’s main weapons was the Francisca, a heavy-headed, short-handled throwing axe.  The Byzantine historian Procopius (c. 500–565) described the axes and their use thus:

…each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men.

And at the time of Charles Martel, the axes were still in common use.  It would be some time yet before the Frankish forces converted to being primarily cavalry under the successors to Charles Martel.

When the Umayyad’s reached the Franks and their allies, they faced off with skirmishes while waiting for their full force to arrive.

Finally, the forces were all ready and the day of battle arrived.  Abd-al-Raḥmân, the leader of the Umayyad forces, trusted to the strength of his cavalry and had them charge repeatedly at the Frankish infantry lines.  The incredibly disciplined infantry stood its ground staunchly despite (according to Arab sources) Umayyad cavalry breaking into their formation several times.

A charge of Umayyad broke through, attempting to reach Charles reasoning, probably correctly, that if they could kill Charles the Frankish army would break.  However Charles’ liege men surrounded him and held off the attack.

While the battle still raged, rumors went through the Umayyad forces that Frankish scouts were threatening the Umayyad baggage train and threatening to carry off the loot they’d already gathered in their march northward.  Arab reports indeed claim that this was the case (in a second day of battle where Frankish reports say it only lasted one day).

This, apparently was too much for many of the Umayyads.  Fight them on the field of battle.  Throw axes at them.  Stab at them with spears and slash at them with swords.  All good.  But threaten their loot?  No way.

However, they didn’t appear to make clear to their compatriots what exactly they were doing and why.  The others saw them heading back the way they’d come and thought they were in retreat.  And “if he’s retreating, maybe I should be too” is a thought soldiers have shared many a time throughout history.  The result was the Umayyad’s went into full-fledged retreat.  Abd-al-Raḥmân tried to stop the retreat and, as a result, was surrounded and killed.

The next day, Charles, fearing the possibility of an ambush, kept his troops in formation in their relatively secure position.  He did, however, send out extensive reconnaissance which discovered that the Umayyad’s had abandoned not only the field of battle but their own camp so fast that they’d left their tents behind, heading back to Iberia as fast as their horses and wagons could carry them taking what loot they could carry with them.

Had to protect that loot.

The Umayyad’s retreated south back over the Pyrenees and that remained the end of Muslim advance into Europe.  Further attempts into the European heartland were made but they came to naught in the end.  Charles Martel and his forces had broken the back of the Muslim conquest of Europe for many centuries to come.

How Charles Martel would weep to see Europe inviting in a new generation of invaders with open arms.

My Military Service.

Sometimes I’ll mention that I’m a veteran and someone will say “Thank you for your service.” I always feel inclined to look over my shoulder to see who they’re talking to because it can’t possibly be me.

I joined the Air Force in the spring of 1981.  My original plan was to go in with a “guaranteed career field” in electronics, take the specific job that has the longest school (translating into the most electronics training), and parley that into a good job after my tour in the Air Force.

For various reasons stemming from my childhood, I have always had self-confidence issues.  Because of that, when I got to the facility in Columbus where they did the physical and whatnot to get me signed up the recruiter there was all, “Hey, I know you asked about electronics, but here’s this field, would you consider…” “And if you sign up for six years rather than four, it comes with a promotion to E-3 on graduation from Basic and a $2500 bonus on completion of technical training.” (That sounded like a lot back then.) And I let myself get talked into a different field.  At the time it was called “Voice Processing Specialist.” Later the name was changed to “Cryptologic Linguist.”

Worst.  Mistake.  I.  Ever.  Made.  And that’s saying something.

I completed basic training OK.  I was a bit annoyed at “wet fire” that I came four point, just four points, shy of shooting “expert” and earning my Expert Marksman ribbon. (I was supposed to have a second chance at the end of technical training, but the range was down at the requisite time so I never got the chance.) And it wasn’t until well after I graduated that the coin dropped and I realized why I’d failed the “red line” inspection which prevented me from earning “Honors Graduate.” (I smoked the academic portion, can say with all due humility.)

“Voice Processing Specialist” called for training in a foreign language.  I ended up with Russian.  At that time, the Air Force preceded its foreign language training with a 6 week intensive English Grammar class.  It wasn’t intended to teach “how to speak gud” or the like, but rather to learn the language of describing grammar so that when I went to foreign language training no one would have to explain what a dative case or a subjunctive mood were.  This class was taught at Lackland AFB, the same base where I went to Basic.  I did well in that course.  Then we went to the Russian language course.  This was during a short period where the Air Force wasn’t doing it’s Russian Language at Monterey, CA, but instead…at Lackland Air Force Base.  47 weeks of Russian Language.  I started off really well, tapered off a bit, but still remained strong through the end.

And then…and then, technical training at Goodfellow AFB in…at least I got out of San Antonio…San Angelo, TX.

Another six…or was it eight…weeks then I finally get my first duty assignment.  RAF Chicksands between Bedford and Hitchin in England.  It is here that I start learning what a horrible mistake I made, not in joining the Air Force, but in getting involved in that particular career field.  It wasn’t so bad here.  This is where I first learned that I had a “perceptual problem.” Never mind the details but one of my tasks was to set two pieces of equipment to the same settings.  I’d call my superior to report that one of the pieces of equipment was not working and he’d point out that I’d transposed two digits on a setting.

About the third time this happened I realized that there was something wrong and a lot of the difficulties I’d had with math when younger suddenly made sense (note:  I overcame them and in college later accumulated enough credits for a math minor, then continued in graduate school–you don’t get a degree in physics being weak on math).

In retrospect, and looking back I think I had poor leadership at that station.  Had I had some good NCO leadership to get on my ass and kick me in the right direction things might… well, no use worrying about it now.

Two years in England and I rotated stateside.  There was where the full weight of my mistake came to roost.  In England, I was able to banter back and forth with some of the other operators and…it helped get the work done.  In the stateside assignment there was none of that.  Just sit and wait and… Did you know if you report suicidal thoughts they strip you of your security access?

For someone prone to depression that was a bad combo.  Poor APR’s (“Airman Performance Reports”) leading to a designation of “not eligible to reinlist” (don’t threaten me with a good time).  In the end I accumulated the “We don’t have any reason to court martial you” awards:  AF Training Ribbon, Longevity Service Award, Overseas Ribbon Long Tour, and Good Conduct Medal.  A truly undistinguished “career.”

my fruit salad

And, as it happened, the military specialty proved to be of no particular value in the civilian sector.  My clearance might have been but see above about losing security access.

I look back at my military service and what I feel is largely regret and guilt.  Yes guilt.  Other folk who’ve served went in harms way.  I was always nicely safe.  Friends, other vets (only ones whose opinion really matters in this case.  That’s just the way it is and I’m not going to apologize) tell me that I signed on the dotted line, went where I was told, and was ready to go into danger if so ordered.  Maybe.  Doesn’t really change the way I feel.

I have been asked from time to time if I’d go back.  Well, first they wouldn’t have me.  Second, there’s my daughter which has to weigh pretty heavily in any considerations.  But if those two were resolved, I think I would.  I sometimes feel as if I have unfinished business there.  As it is, that will have to wait for another life if there is such a thing.  I would hope so, anyway.  If things have gotten to the point where putting me back into harness is a serious consideration then things have gotten very bad indeed.

But if it comes to that. “Here am I.”

Asimov’s Three Laws and Paternalism

Isaac Asimov had a great many short stories and a number of novels that involved humanoid robots.  A common feature of most of these (there were a few exceptions) involved his “Three Laws of Robotics.”

  1. A robot may not harm, nor through inaction allow to come to harm, a human.
  2. A robot must obey the orders of a human so long as those orders do not violate the first law.
  3. A robot must act to preserve its own existence provided that action does not violate either of the first two laws.

Most of the stories involved unexpected consequences of those laws or, in some cases, what happens if the laws are modified a bit.  One story involved strengthening the third law a bit and weakening the second causing the robot to get caught in a loop requiring setting up a situation invoking the first to break it free.

The stories were basically upbeat.  The robots, limited by their laws, a net positive to humanity.

And most of this relies on the robots being, on the whole, rather dim and not carrying those three laws to their ultimate nature.  Yes, some robots were presented as quite intelligent–R. Daneel Olivaw of the original “Robot Novels” was a police detective fully equal to his human compatriots–they still were “dim” when it came to carrying out the laws to their fullest.

To show where those laws could lead consider Jack Williamson’s Humanoids as presented in the story “With Folded Hands.” The Humanoids’ Prime Directive was simple: “To serve and obey and guard men from harm.” Parse that and it’s basically the first two of Asimov’s laws of robotics.  And while “To serve and obey” is placed before “guard men from harm” it becomes rapidly clear that the latter takes priority over the former.

The Humanoids offer their services for free.  And they soon become very popular.  And because they are interested in guarding men from harm they get jobs directing traffic and many other ways.  But soon a darker side becomes apparent.  Oh, they’re not trying to take over humanity to enslave or exterminate us or anything like that.  No.  They want to “protect” us.

Drive?  Oh, no, it’s much too dangerous for a human to drive.  Let me do it for you.  No.  I insist.  I really insist.

The tools in your workshop?  Too dangerous.  You could lose a finger or put out an eye.  No, these are much safer.  You can play with this foam board.  If you need any real furniture or anything like that, we’ll make it for you.  That’s much safer.

Exploring?  Oh, good heavens no.  People get hurt, even killed exploring the unknown.  Just stay here where it’s safe.  I insist.

And so on, anything with the least component of risk, they are oh so sorry but you simply cannot be allowed to do that.  They need to protect you don’t you know.  The Humanoids didn’t want to enslave or exterminate humanity.  They wanted to turn us into pampered pets, not allowed the least little bit of challenge or risk.  And so the protagonist accepts his ride home “with folded hands” for there is nothing left to do.

Jack Williamson wrote this story in the aftermath of World War II.  In interviews he said that it was with atomic weapons in mind, showing how some inventions turn out to be far more dangerous than ever imagined.

Personally, I think it speaks poignantly to the danger of government paternalism.   Rules and restrictions designed to keep people “safe” not just advice where reasoning adults can make an informed decision for themselves but a governmental pat on the head saying “now, now.  Daddy knows best.”  Daddy knows best what you should drive.  Daddy knows best what you should eat.  Daddy knows best what you should drink.  Daddy knows best what activities you can engage in.  Oh, it starts “reasonably” enough.  There are some things that are recklessly dangerous not just to the person doing them but to everyone around them.  But it never stops there.  There’s always some new “too dangerous to allow” activity.  And one after that and another after that.  And there’s no definitive stopping point, particularly once you go past “people will have to use resources to care for you” to “people will be sad” (had that one used against me about why drugs should remain illegal–people will be unhappy if you get harmed by drugs) as an excuse for further restrictions.

Jack Williamson gave us the Humanoids, insinuating themselves into society taking away all choice in the name of “safety.”

I give you the governments of the world.