Visit with Oleg Volk

In the days immediately after Christmas, my daughter Athena and I made a short visit down to the redoubtable Oleg Volk’s place in Nashville.  Oleg is a truly exceptional photographer and very much a “gun rights” person (makes me look like a gun grabber). I’ve heard him self-describe as an “escaped Russian Jew” who, like many of our best immigrants tends to out-American Americans.

While we were there, some top level competitors also visited, including Kaitlin Benthin who, at 12, is the 2018 Rimfire Youth World Champion. She and Athena took some pictures together which included Kaitlin giving Athena some coaching on improving her shooting:

Yep.  That’s a lot of pictures.

I also did a few for new candidate “author photos” for me:

And that’s all for today.


Feeding the Active Writer: Standing Rib Roast

I do standing rib roast every Christmas.  This time I made it a bit differently from previous efforts.  This one worked out really well.


  • 1 2 rib Standing Rib Roast (about 4.5-5.5 lbs)
  • 1 lb butter
  • 1/4 cup finely minced garlic
  • 5 tbsp dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1/2 tbsp pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp “liquid smoke”

About 1 week in advance:

Rinse off the rib roast and pat dry.  Set it aside.

Soften the butter, very soft but not completely melted.  It should be easy to stir but not liquid.  Mix in the seasonings.  Those are just suggestions.  Adjust as desired for your own particular tastes.  Mix well.

Using a rubber spatula, spread the butter over the rib roast.  Completely cover it so that none of the meat shows through.

Place the meat, bone side down, on a rack in a baking pan.  Refrigerate for about a week.

When ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 225 F. Place the backing pan with the butter-covered roast into the oven.  Roast for 2-3 hours or until the internal temperature indicates desired doneness.  I went with an internal temperature of 130, giving a doneness between medium rare and medium.  Even with that low cooking temperature the outer surface browns nicely so I don’t consider there to be any need to sear it.  Let rest 15-20 minutes before carving.

The result is remarkably tender and juicy slices of roast that are practically bursting with flavor.

If I were to do anything different in the future, it would be to cook longer at a lower temperature to get a more even internal doneness.


Restitution, Instruction, and Retribution

First off, my apologies for missing the past few days.  I was out of town and didn’t have posts lined up in advance.  Today’s post expands a bit on a conversation I had with someone while I was away.

This post is about the concept of punishment whether legal, familial or otherwise.

Generally speaking, punishment serves some combination of three functions.  It can offer restitution to one person or group for harm done to them by another person or group.  It can be used as instruction for desirable behavior by coupling undesirable behavior with undesirable results. It can also be simple retribution–a person did something bad so they are “deserving” of having something bad done to them in return.

Note that there’s quite a bit of overlap in the three functions.  And any given punishment situation usually involves elements of all three.  For purposes here, I’m going to use “instruction” to specifically mean where the goal is for the person or group involved to learn not to engage in a particular behavior because they experience unpleasant consequences from doing so.  “Pour encourager les autres” is somewhat different.

Restitution is a fairly simple concept and to a large extent that’s what civil suits in law consist of.  One person’s actions impose an unjust cost on someone else–it can be a financial cost, physical injury, or simple inconvenience.  The court then decides if the cost was unjustly imposed, how much cost was, and orders the injurer to pay those costs to the injured party.  Note, that the “cost” isn’t just the dollar value of whatever the injured had taken but also the time, trouble, and aggravation of the whole thing.  “Pain and suffering” is also a cost (and generally the largest part of suits in which pain and suffering are factors).  But while it’s often not easy to determine what the cost actually is, the concept itself is straightforward.  You inflict a cost on someone; you reimburse them for that cost.

Instruction is also relatively simple in concept but a bit more complex in application.  Anyone who’s ever tried to raise children is familiar with the idea.  The children behave in undesirable ways, you inflict a punishment on them to discourage them from continuing that behavior.  Now, I’m not saying you have to beat your kids–punishments can take many forms and what works well for one child may be excessive for another and insufficient for a third.  But, particularly with younger children, simply explaining using logic and reason (never mind the dreaded “because I say so”) isn’t sufficient to change the behavior of most children.  Yes, Timmy knows that pain hurts and other people don’t like to be hit, but punching cousin Billy is so fun… But if Timmy learns that punching cousin Billy leads to consequences that Timmy doesn’t like (which could be that Billy punches back, or it could involve adult intervention) then there’s a reasonable chance that Timmy learns not to punch Billy.  Later, we can work on concepts like empathy and the moral issues involved once the immediate problem of Billy’s black eyes is resolved.

Then there’s retribution.  Consider, one person, call him George, kills another, call him Ed, and that this killing was what we, as a society, would call unjust (so not, a valid case of self-defense, for example).  The reasons George had to kill Ed were very specific.  They applied only to Ed and would not apply to anyone else such that George is no more likely to kill anyone else than a random person on the street would be.  What punishment, if any would be appropriate for George and why.  We can eliminate restitution as a justification (mostly; I’ll get to that in a moment).  There is no way to “pay back” the life that’s gone.  Taking George’s life doesn’t give Ed’s back (note:  I’m not arguing against capital punishment here, but against restitution as punishment in this case.) Likewise, “instruction” is not at play.  We’ve stipulated that George is no more likely to kill anyone else than some random person on the street and, so, we have no more reason to “teach” better future behavior to George via punishment than we would any random person on the street.

Does this mean that George should walk away unpunished?  We can’t “teach him a lesson” since there’s no lesson to be taught to him.  He can’t “pay” because there’s no way to give back what was taken.

(NB:  An interesting concept I have seen from time to time is indenturing or enslaving a killer to make up at least the financial loss that the killed individual represents.  So there can be a small element of restitution but it’s such a small part of the total loss involved that I’ll still proceed with the idea that restitution is not possible in such a case.)

Nearly, if not every, society throughout history would say “no” to that.  George should be punished simply for committing the crime, whether he can make restitution or whether he can or will learn a “lesson” from it or not.  The crime itself calls for penalty.

Now part of that is that the lesson can be taken by other people.  George’s punishment may discourage Frank from going down the same road. “Pour encourager les autres.”

The concept can be fine (and, indeed, its very universality or near universality suggests that alternatives simply do not work well enough to have made much impact on history) but, like anything it can be overdone.  Extreme punishments for the most minor infractions at least in Western society are considered barbaric.  This is the reason for the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution–a quick look at actual punishments considered acceptable at the time should make it clear that it did not bar severe punishments.  It bared disproportionately severe punishments:  death by slow torture for the 8 year old orphan who stole a loaf of bread.

So, restitution, instruction, and even retribution are all valid components of the concept of punishment.  Which take precedence will depend on the details and circumstances of the behavior being punished.

And this is the main problem I have with most concepts of “divine punishment.” Restitution is not usually a factor.  There’s nothing being “paid back”, returned to someone else.  Instruction?  “Divine punishment” is usually applied after any opportunities for learning better and changing behavior going forward (particularly in cases where the punishment is forever where there is no “afterward” in which to behave better).  So we’re left with retribution.  And that’s where “disproportionate” comes in.  Humans are finite creatures, with finite lifespans and finite ability to do harm to others.  We as a society have decided that for most “bad things” people do there is a point where the punishment is enough.  Sometimes that “enough” is ending the malefactor’s life, but still, at some point the punishment for the given crime is enough and going beyond that stops being justice and becomes sadism.

And that, right there, is the problem.  In most concepts of “divine punishment” it never stops.  Ever.  Let’s go back to George.  Suppose we could inflict on George all the pain and suffering that Ed experienced, plus that of everyone who knew Ed and now are deprived of that, plus generations down deprived of the memory of Ed or the benefits of things Ed would have done, or descendants that Ed will never have now (being dead) might do.  Eventually, There will be a sum total of all that.  It may have to wait for the sun going off the main sequence and rendering Earth uninhabitable or even the heat death of the Universe (if we manage to get off this rock in a big way) to get a final tally but there will be some amount that aggregates the total harm George has done.  Would inflicting that amount of pain and suffering on George (or his shade) be sufficient?  If not, how about a hundred times that?  A thousand times?  A million times?  A trillion? Whatever value you come up with, sooner or later it must be “enough” and, sooner or later when “forever” is the scale, you’ll reach that amount.

And if “forever” is the time frame than “sooner or later it’s enough” is the same whether we’re talking about one “Ed” killed or a hundred million Chinese dissidents “persecuted to death.” At some point any retribution must be enough or it stops being justice and turns into torture for its own sake.

And so, if there is some form of deity out there, and if that deity is in any way just (let alone “loving” and “merciful”) than any place of divine punishment must eventually be empty.

The Two Girls in Morocco


This story has been circulating for a bit.  Two Scandinavian girls, vacationing in Morocco–a majority Muslim country that has generally been considered relatively safe for visitors–were attacked and murdered, beheaded.  The story came out in bits and pieces.  Killed.  “Severe neck wounds.” And finally “beheaded.”

The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway were discovered at their camp site on Monday near Imlal, a small village on a hiking route to Mount Toubkal — the highest peak in North Africa.

The bastards who did it recorded it and released video of the murder of one of those girls. (No, I haven’t seen the video.  I’m not looking for it.  I already have enough rage which I cannot act already.) In this video, according to reports the killings were in revenge for “their brothers in Hajin” (an ISIS stronghold in Syria).

Suspects are in custody, and that’s the good news.  The bad news is that this behavior goes on.

The world is probably well off that I am not in charge: “You will deal with this and make it stop or we will, and if we do it, we won’t care shit about collateral damage.  I am declaring ‘terrorism’ as a weapon of mass destruction and reserving the right to respond in kind.  Chemicals are on the table.  Germs are on the table.  Nukes are on the table.  You will stop this or we will stop it for you.”

I am beyond pissed.

The Problem of Spree Killers.

As long as people continue to argue for creating victim-disarmament zones, free-fire zones for criminals, then criminals will continue to take advantage of them to kill people in job lots and mass murders will continue.  Banning particular weapons will not stop that.

The first high-profile “school shooting” was the Texas Tower Sniper. He didn’t use any “high-power assault weapons” (the .223 used in AR and similar rifles is actually fairly weak as rifle rounds go–don’t believe what the media tells you; check the ballistics for yourself), “high capacity”, rapid fire” (one round per trigger pull is not any more “rapid fire” than a Smith & Wesson revolver and 30 rounds has been standard capacity for more than 50 years in AR pattern rifles) weapons that scares the pants of media and anti-gun pundits. He used ordinary hunting rifles. (Mind you, when the hoplophobes get around to going after them, they call them “high-power sniper guns”.)

The highest death toll school massacre in US history didn’t use guns at all. It used explosives.

The Happy Land Fire, which killed 90 people, as the name would suggest didn’t use guns at all. It used fire.

The largest mass murder in US history didn’t use guns. It used fertilizer and fuel oil.  Yes, they now include “tracer” chemicals in ammonium nitrate fertilizer so that they can track the source of the material if it’s used as an explosive.  How effective that would be to stop a “blaze of glory” type common in spree killings is left as an exercise for the student.

And even if guns somehow were the magic “death wands” that anti-gun folk think, you really think you can keep them away from someone determined to cause harm? The US Army has a training manual on improvised weapons that includes firearms and explosives  Yes, how to make both using “ordinary” materials one might obtain at the local hardware store is described, in detail, in the manual.

It’s available online.

For free.

I have it in PDF as do a lot of other people.

The simplest repeating firearm to make (given current knowledge) is an open-block, auto-only (no select fire, no semi-auto mode) submachine gun. Some springs, some rod, some pipe in a couple of different sizes, and some sheet metal and scrap to make odds and ends, and an evening or two’s work. I haven’t done it, but I know how. (I am stopped by its being illegal.  Someone willing to commit mass murder would already have proven they are not stopped by something being illegal.) I’m nowhere near unique in that.

And even if you went all the way back to cap and ball revolvers.  These are not Federally regulated at all BTW, being considered “antiques”.   Replicas are also not regulated.  Well, there’s nothing to keep from stuffing a half dozen to a dozen such revolvers in ones belt or hanging off bandoleers (covered by a jacket, perhaps, until one is ready to shoot. (I am a writer and thinking through scenarios like this is part of what I do: “how could my character…”). “The Outlaw Josey Wales” has an awesome bit near the end where Josey (played by Clint Eastwood) draws revolver out of revolver (most “cap and ball”) from his clothing. The revolvers are empty and the “click, click, click…” change revolver “click, click, click…” change is very dramatic. (Note: I present this as an illustration, not “evidence.” There’s nothing stopping someone from carrying a bunch of “low capacity” firearms and using them one after the other.)

Or consider someone with a satchel full of single-shot zip guns–cheap and easy to make.  Fire, drop, grab the next.  Repeat.

Thus, no amount of disarming of innocent people will stop “bad guys” from getting the means to perform mass murder if that is their goal. The solution must lie elsewhere.  But so long as people keep focusing on the specific tools used by the spree killer, we’re distracted from even looking for the real causes of the problem.

“First They Came” a slightly updated blast from the past.

It’s been less than a year since I originally posted this on this blog, but it seems the idea is coming around again.

It’s always frustrating to me when I see a “gun rights supporter” buy into the “we just want reasonable gun control” lie.  I’ve dealt with part of that, the “nobody wants to take your guns” claim elsewhere.  The questions you need to ask somebody who claims that is “how much is reasonable?  Where is the line?  At what point do you turn around and say ‘no more’? How far does it have to go before you’d agree we need to roll back the restrictions?” And then, take any answer they give you with a grain of salt because, frankly, whenever they’ve gotten a “we just want this” restriction they merely used that as a springboard for more.

One of the tactics the anti-gun folk use to great effect against us is “divide and conquer.” By going after one small segment of the gun community while assuring others that their guns are safe (at least for now), they get a large number of gun owners to sit back and essentially let them chip away at the 2nd Amendment. So we have the following:

First they came for the bump stocks
but I didn’t speak up because they are silly pieces of crap just useful for wasting ammunition.

Then they came for the “assault weapons” (again)
but I didn’t speak up because who needs an assault weapon?

Then they came for the open carriers
but I didn’t speak up because those people frighten the anti-gunners.

Then they came for the Saturday Night Specials,
but I didn’t speak up because they’re just junk guns.

Then they came for the high capacity magazines,
but I didn’t speak up because I only need a few rounds in the tube

Then they came for all the handguns,
but I didn’t speak up because I don’t use a handgun to hunt

Then they came for the High Powered Sniper Rifles,
but I didn’t speak up because I don’t use one of those.

When they came for the shotguns and muzzleloaders,
there was no one left to speak up.

Folks, the anti-gun crowd are not going to leave you alone. Just because they aren’t going after you today, just because they claim that they support your “right to hunt,” don’t be fooled. They say we need to “compromise” but we’ve been compromising since 1934. The ink isn’t even dry on each new “agreement” before they are talking about the “next step.” Each time you fail to support some portion of the community of law-abiding gun owners, you weaken yourself against the time they eventually come after you.

It’s time to stop compromising. Compromise is a strategy of weakness, of minimizing the effect of a losing position.  We haven’t been on the losing side since the mid 90’s.

It’s time to get back our rights.

“But He’s Playing 4D Chess”

So the ATF under the Trump Administration has unilaterally changed the definition of “machine gun” to include a firearms accessory, specifically bump stocks, making the possession of them illegal.  There is no “grandfather clause”, there is no way to render them legal by registering them and getting the $200 NFA Tax stamp (no new machine guns could be registered after the 1986 Hughes Amendment).  That makes this not only a violation of the 2nd Amendment but also of the “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” provision of the 5th.

But the die-hard “Trump can do no wrong” crowd are claiming once again that Trump is “playing 4d Chess” and this is all part of some plan to accomplish… something. What exactly it’s supposed to accomplish, and how, is left unclear.

Look, there is no “4-D chess” here. There is no “deal.” I, for one, do not think Trump is stupid enough to buy the “give up something now in return for the promise of something in return later” so beloved of the Republican party (that the “something in return later” never materializes never seems to faze them). One does not develop a business empire of that size by being stupid and certainly not from repeatedly falling for “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.” If he’s giving up bump stocks now it’s not in the expectation of getting something else (like, say, national reciprocity which claim I’ve heard from the “4-D chess crowd) later. No, he’s giving it up for nothing.

Doesn’t matter how much you say “Bump stocks are no big deal” or “nobody really needs a bump stock” (we back to “bill of needs” again?) or “they’re just a way to waste money while losing accuracy and actual utility.” None of that matters.  All that matters is that people are being deprived of property, and the right to own said property if they want (all the justification anyone ever needs, at least if you want a free society) for nothing, giving up liberty not even for “a little temporary safety” just for…nothing.

When Trump does things of which I approve, I’ll say so.  And when he does things of which I disapprove, I’ll say that too.  This falls squarely in the “disapprove” side.

The thing is, despite what the “Trump can do no wrong” crowd would like to believe, he has never been a fan of the 2nd Amendment (or the 4th, or the 5th, or the 1st, or…) As just one example, while he was campaigning he was more than willing to throw semi-automatic rifles under the bus after the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

He’s not a fan of the 2nd. Never was. Pretending otherwise is naive in the extreme. Now, it’s possible that the Supreme Court Justices he’s appointed–Goresuch and Kavenaugh–might be, but that’s purely incidental. If they are (I don’t know enough about their history to say for certain.  And even if they were before it’s not unheard of for a Justice to change once ascending to the Supreme Court) he appointed them despite that, not because of that.

So buckle up and hold your hats, folk who actually care about liberty. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Change-Up: A Blast from the Past

In baseball, the change-up is a pitch a bit slower than the fastball.  The batter, expecting the fastball, swings early and WHOOSH.  Strike-three.  You’re out.

In writing, however, I use the term “change up” to mean a significant shift in mood.  TV tropes calls it “Mood Whiplash” and “Mood Dissonance”.

Joss Whedon is a master of it. (See Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog as a good example.)

The Change Up is an important tool in fiction.  Let me give you an example, not from fiction writing itself but one that illustrates the point.

When I first got an MP3 player, I loaded it up with my absolute favorite songs.  Now, at the time, my tastes ran to rather sentimental love songs and ballads.  Soon I had a playlist consisting of all my very favorite songs.

Only one problem.  The playlist was boring.  There wasn’t anything wrong (for my tastes at the time) with any of the songs on It–remember, they were all among my top favorites–but the same basic themes and styles over and over again became monotonous.  The fix, in that case was simple, to go further down my list of favorites and find some music with different styles and different themes to add to the mix.  The result was a far more interesting, and less boring, play list.

I find the same thing happening in fiction.  I like gritty, realistic military SF.  Such fiction often tends to be grim.  But the fiction I’ll come back to, the series I’ll stick with, and the writers I will continue to follow, are those who add a bit of lightness to the mix–humor, perhaps, or maybe some romance.  Likewise with the lighthearted comedic stuff.  The occasional more “serious” subplot or set of episodes can help keep interest high.

So don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit.  Add some levity to your dark and gritty story.   Get serious occasionally in your lighthearted comedy.  You may find your story all the better for it.

“It’s just a phase.”

Young people hear this all the time, particularly when they’re adopting something–some style, some hobby, or other interest of which older folk disapprove.  And they hate it.  They know, absolutely know deep down in their heart of hearts, that far from being a “phase” their passion is a reflection of who they truly are.

And their elders, roll their eyes at the young person’s conviction remembering the many “passions” that have come and gone over the years, indeed that they themselves have experienced.  And they are certain that this strangeness is just a passing fancy that will vanish and be forgotten a year, a month, even a week hence.

Both of them need to step back and consider the other view.

Young people do go through phases.  In our complicated world it’s a natural response to the many choices available to the individual.  We no longer live in a world where if daddy was a chicken plucker, your choices are be a chicken plucker or join the clergy.  As someone for whom freedom is near and dear to my heart, I cannot help but consider the vast array of choices available to the individual a good thing.  But, to a young person growing up all of that freedom presents a bewildering array of choices.

A part, a small part, of that endless variety is reflected in fashion, in music, and in the various entertainments available to each individual.  So there is a tendency for young people to latch onto something, try it out, see if it “fits” their own makeup.  If it doesn’t, they generally soon move on to something else, their next “phase.” But sometimes it does.  And when it does, and they recognize that it does (more on that in a moment), it’s not a phase any more, but an expression of their individual self as they understand it.

Of course, the young person in the midst of their latest “phase” is absolutely certain that it’s not a phase, that it’s who they’re really are.  And the parents?  They’re absolutely certain when the young person finds “who they are” that this one, too, is “just a phase.”  But, neither one can really tell until after the dust settles and everyone realizes this “phase” has lasted a long time indeed.

Just a Phase

(And you parents who are worried that your child will be “led astray” by this fashion and music and what have you?  If you’ve done your job of instilling values from an early age and you continue to provide a nurturing environment with reasonable limits and not drive them away by automatic rejection of their attempts to grow into their own persons, I think you’ll find those early lessons paying off.  And if you didn’t?  Then it’s probably far too late to do it now and most ham-handed attempts will only make the matter worse.)

Now sometimes, a young person will find that “fit” but, lacking experience, not recognize it and get drawn away into something else, another “phase.”  But in some cases they can simply be talked out of it by others.  Take my own example where I was convinced to abandon my own early flirtation with Goth(ish) style because “if you want to be attractive to the ladies, you need to start wearing bright colors.” The end result can be living your entire life vaguely dissatisfied and not sure why.  To some that may seem a little thing and, in the grand scheme of things perhaps it is.  But there’s more than enough misery and dissatisfaction in the world.  Why add to it?

And note, this is not to say that one can or even should spend ones whole life chasing that perfect “fit” which may never come.  And yes, you do have to take into account practical matters, matters like keeping a roof over ones head and food on ones table. (I am lucky to work at a place where my “style” is accepted.  If I did not, well, I’d have to dress and groom to “fit” at work and save my personal style for my personal time.)

But if you have that vague dissatisfaction that you can’t identify, maybe look back at your own “phases” and see if you gave up something that perhaps you should not have.  And if you have found that good fit, music that “speaks” to you, a style that you love, grab onto it.  There may be times when you have to dress and style for others, or even for your own safety (dangly earrings and necklaces and machine tools do not go together) and that’s part of life.  But when your time is your own?  Indulge.

We can’t always follow our dreams.  My dream growing up was to be an astronaut and walk on other worlds.  Well, even if my eyesight hadn’t eliminated the chance of being an astronaut at the time (since then possibilities have opened, but they weren’t available then) the fact of the matter was that no “walk on other worlds” opportunities were available.

We can’t always follow our dreams.  Okay, fair enough.

Just don’t forget to bring them along.