Blast from the past: Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, part 1, Life

The United States was founded not only as a geographic entity, but as a set of principles.  Indeed, the set of principles takes precedence of the geography.  As G. K. Chesterton said, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed”.

Those principles were originally set out in the Declaration of Independence, to wit:

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

The above was written from memory.  Some of the punctuation and exact wording might not match exactly, and I may not have matched Jefferson’s rather idiosyncratic sentence breaks, but it should be fairly close.

It should be noted that much discussion was had over whether “property” should be included in the unalienable rights.  In the end it was not included in this document but the discussion itself shows that it was considered of fairly close par.

Now, while “unalienable” does not mean that the exercise of the rights cannot be taken away, when written into the Constitution, the standards for two of them (life and liberty also with property in that case) of which a person may be deprived is given:  due process of law, which is after one has been tried in a proper court of law with opportunity to answer accusations and summon witnesses for ones own defense.

So, short of that, one may not be deprived of the right to life*.  But how can one have a right to life if one does not have the means to effectively defend that life against persons or things that threaten it?  Note, this is not a right to require others to defend ones life.  Doing so would be an infringement on their own Liberty. (Likewise, to digress a moment, requiring others to provide “health care” for one is an infringement on their own right to Liberty. To the very extent that you are requiring them to provide for you, you are enslaving them.) But that you cannot require others to provide for the defense of your life only underscores the importance of your own right to defend it.  One may enter into agreements with others for mutual defense, mutual assistance in the defense of each individual’s life, liberty, and property, but entering into such agreements is merely the exercise of the individual right combined with “peaceable assembly.”

So, right to life and right to defend that life.  But can such a right exist when means to defense are denied?  Could a peasant in Feudal Europe be said to have a right to self defense if he is limited to bare hands and farming implements against a mounted and armored knight?  Oh, he might have the “right” to try, given the proper legal code, but it would be meaningless without the means.  Give that peasant a firearm and suddenly that armored knight finds that he cannot with impunity take that peasant’s right to life.

And, so, a right to life, and its implicit right to defend that life, must come with the right to effective means for defense. And, so, if there is a right to life, then there must be a right to defend that life, and there must be a right to effective means to that defense.  To deny the latter, to deny the right to effective arms for self defense, is to deny the very right to life.

And to deny the right to life is to deny all other rights which a person might hold.  For how can one have liberty without life?  How can one have property without life?  How can one pursue happiness without life?

*Note here that I am not speaking to the abortion debate on the subject of “right to life.” Much debate could be had on when life begins and, thus, when “right to life” comes into play.  That is not my purpose here.  Similarly, there is lesser but still some debate on when life, and therefore the right to same, ends.  Again, not my purpose here.  So please don’t get sidetracked into those debates.

More to come.  And in the meantime, something to read:

War!

A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.

The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.

The ultimate survival test.

(Click on the cover image to get the book)

Metaphors be with you

Given where I fall in the writing game, I always feel rather pretentious when I blog on the art and craft of writing, but here goes.

Polonius, in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes”.  Some people, invoking that, suggest that writing should be as brief as possible, trimmed to the bare bones, told in the fewest words that gets the idea across.

Polonius, however, was a stupid old bore.

The true goal in writing is not brevity, but vividness. How clearly, how vividly one paints the picture in the readers mind.  This is how you get immersion and reader involvement in the story.

And one of the great tools to achieve that is the well-crafted metaphor (and I’ll include simile here as well).  Note what I did above.  I used several standard metaphors as a form of emphasis:  “bare bones”, “paint the picture,” even “immersion”.  And in the Shakespeare quote as well. “soul, “limbs and outward flourishes.”

Or consider another use by Shakespeare in The Scottish Play.  After Macbeth murders the king and then frames and murders the two guards he could have said:

“I feel very guilty about these murders”.

Brief and says what he feels, but not vivid.  Consider instead:

“What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

More wordy certainly, but far far more vivid.  We aren’t just told that MacBeth feels guilt for his actions, we see it.  We feel it.  And when Shakespeare wants to echo it again with Lady MacBeth’s own guilt, why it is simplicity itself with:

“Yet here’s a spot.”
and
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

We don’t have to wait until she references blood a few lines later to know that the spot on her hand is blood.  We’re already primed by the previous metaphor.

Of course in the modern age we are so used to the idea of “bloody hands” is such a common metaphor that we don’t need to be primed for its use.  But even so, the echoing of themes and ideas, including the use of metaphor, through the play strengthens the vividness of the story.

When you write, the challenge is to put the picture that you have in your head in all its glory down onto the page using words.  And that can be a monumental challenge.  To use another metaphor by another poet “All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind” (Khalil Gibran).  But with good use of metaphor, as well as other tools one can help other people’s minds experience that “feast.”

One place I often go for inspiration when it comes to metaphor is music.  Music is very much about feelings and, so often makes intensive use of metaphor.  One of my favorites is Feint, by Epica:

The whole song is practically one metaphor after another building on an emotional theme to the climax:

“This black page in history
is not colorfast will stain the next
all that remains is just a feint of what was meant to be.
This black page in history
is not colorfast will stain the next
and nothing seems, in life and dreams like what is meant to be”

And so we poignantly are shown that the events referenced in the song don’t just affect now, but echo into the future, turning the world upside down.  Now, I don’t know anything about the person this song is in homage to.  I don’t know if I’d agree with the positions expressed or not.  I’ve never really bothered to look into that.  It’s the emotional content of the song to which I’m referring here, and its very vivid use of metaphor to create that emotional content.

Of course, there can be bad metaphors too that kill the imagery and throw one out of the story.  Some examples from student papers:

  • His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  • She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just
    before it throws up.
  • The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry
    them in hot grease. (I don’t want to know how the author knows that.)
  • He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East
    River.

Well, you get the idea.  A bad metaphor can destroy a piece of writing even more easily than a good metaphor can beautify it.  Either way, the metaphor is a powerful tool.

So go, use metaphor, paint your world in vivid colors, light and dark.

And in the meantime, you might enjoy this story:

A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her and steals away her children. Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr’s clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.

Click on the cover image to get the book

Feeding the Active Writer: Low Carb Skillet Pizza

First one of these since moving from my old blog.

When I went low-carb a lot of my old favorite foods went off the table.  One of them was Pizza.  The issue ha always been what to use as the crust?  Well, here’s one.

First, preheat a skillet or griddle over medium high heat.  I love well-seasoned cast iron for this.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups grated white/Italian cheeses.  I use the bagged shredded stuff, usually the “5 cheese Italian” but feel free to grate your own if you want.  Just make sure you have some softer cheese that melts well in there.  Straight Parmesan probably would not work
  • 2 Tbsp or so of low-carb marinara (recipe below)
  • A bit more of the grated cheese
  • Your choice of toppings.  I like a virtual solid layer of sliced pepperoni.

Spread the 1 1/2 cups of cheese in a thick disk on the skillet/griddle

Let the cheese cook.  It will first melt, then toast.  As it starts to toast, the disk will start to look less melty and more solid.

Check it from time to time, attempting to slide a thin, flexible spatula under the disk of toasting cheese.  When you can completely slide the spatula under the cheese all the way around and to the center without causing the cheese to crumple up (if it starts to while you’re testing stop and use the edge of the spatula on the top to try to stretch it back out.  Come back a bit later to try again) it’s ready to top.

Spread the marinara over the top of the disk of toasted cheese.  There may be pinholes through the cheese caused by bubbling during the cooking process.  Some of the marinara will drip through these holes and sizzle against the pan.  This is fine and won’t harm anything.

Spread a little bit of the extra cheese over the marinara.  You don’t need much, not with a crust of toasted cheese.  This cheese is basically used as a glue to hold the top of the pizza together and keep the toppings in place.  Of course if you like a lot of cheese then knock yourself out.  It’s your pizza.  Make it like you want it.

Add your other toppings, whatever you  like on pizza, as much as you like.

It can help to sprinkle a bit more cheese over the top, again as a glue to hold things together.

Let it continue to cook a few more minutes, until the cheese you’ve just added is at least mostly melted.

Now comes the tricky part, transfering the pizza out of the pan to a cutting board or plate.  I have a frying pan and not a griddle so the raised rim makes it difficult.  What I usually do is use a large, thin, flexible spatula to lift one edge, slide a plate under that edge, and then work my way across lifting with the spatula and edging the plate under it.  Sometimes this doesn’t work and the pizza crumples together.  In that case I just flip the ends into the middle and call it a calzone.  Still tastes as good.

The end result should look something like this:

20170409_203859 web

Serves…Aw, who am I kidding.  You’re going to eat the whole thing, aren’t you?

Enjoy.

 

Edit:  Ack!  I’d forgotten the Marinara recipe.  Oh well, it’s easy enough:

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (shop around to find the ones with the lowest sugar content–this will be the big problem for us low-carb types)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder (what can I say?  I like garlic)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or red wine if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

Add all the ingredients into a blender.

Mix on low until smooth

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight jar until use.

Really.  That’s it.

Enjoy.

 

Today should be a national holiday, a big one.

I’m not kidding.

Back in the 1770’s unrest was growing in the American colonies, at least those along the Atlantic Seaboard from New Hampshire down through Georgia.  Protests over taxes imposed without the taxed having any voice in the matter, complaints about a distant monarch and legislative body making rules and laws over people to whom they are not beholden.

There had been clashes which fed that unrest, including the famous “Boston Massacre” where British troops fired into a rioting mob resulting in several deaths.  Think of it as the Kent State of the 18th century.

In an effort to quell the unrest, or at least have it be less of a threat to British officials, General Thomas Gage, Military governor of Massachusetts, under orders to take decisive action against the colonists, decided to confiscate firearms and ammunition from certain groups in the colony.  His forces marched on the night of April 18, 1775.

The colonists, forewarned of the action (the Longfellow poem, which children learn in school–or they did when I was in school–is historically inaccurate, but it sure is stirring, isn’t it?), first met the British troops at Lexington Massachusetts where John Parker, in command of the local Colonial Militia said, according to the recollection of one of the participants, “Stand your ground.  Don’t fire unless fired upon.  But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Whether Parker actually said those words, the first shot was fired.  No one knew who fired it, whether British or Colonial.  In the ensuing, brief battle the British regulars put the Colonial militia to flight.

The British then turned toward Concord.

A small unit of militia, hearing reports of firing at Lexington marched out but on spotting a British unit of about 700 while themselves only numbering about 250 they returned to Concord.  The Colonial militia departed the town across the North Bridge to a hill about a mile north of town where additional militia reinforcements continued to gather.

The British reached the town and began searching for the weapons they came to confiscate.  They found several cannon, too large to be moved quickly, and disabled them.  Other weapons and supplies had been either removed or hidden.

On seeing the smoke of the burning carriages from the cannon, the Militia began to move.  It is not my purpose here to go into detailed description of their movements but in the end the British regulars found themselves both outnumbered and outmaneuvered.  They fled, a rout that surprised the Colonial Militia as much as the British regulars.  Again, I simplify but in the end they marched back to Boston continuing to suffer casualties from what amounted to 18th century sniper fire from the surrounding brush.  The frustration of the British soldiers led them to atrocities, killing everyone they found in buildings whether they were involved in the fighting or not.

Eventually the British forces fought their way back to Boston where they were besieged by Militia forces numbering over 15000 men.

And the Revolutionary War had begun.

And so, on this day in 1775, the nascent United States took the course that would lead eventually to Independence.

And that’s why April 19 deserves to be a National Holiday on a par at least with Independence Day.  The latter was recognition of what became fact on the former.

“Rainy Days and Moon Days” available for sale.

It was a bad day on the moon:

“Sea of Rains, huh,” Jeff Brannock said as the outer airlock door opened. “Maybe if it’s raining dust.”

“Crewman Brannock, what was that?”

Jeff winced. “Sorry.  Personal comment, not intended for broadcast.”

“Sure, kid,” the voice from EVA Ops said. “Please maintain comm discipline.”

Jeff tilted his head forward and thrust his chin out to work the transmitter switch in his helmet.  Once he heard it click into the “off” position he said, “Sure, whatever.”

A rack outside the lock held the discharge brushes he used for cleaning dust from the solar panels, Jeff’s after-school job.  Another held handle extensions.  Jeff grabbed three extensions and shoved them into the thigh pocket of his suit.  He took one of the brushes and set off in the direction of his assignment.

His long, loping strides, a technique called a “moon trot” carried him around a stack of air return pipes, big half-meter diameter ferrocement tubes, for the next stage of expansion of the construction station.  He rounded it and paused while he looked ahead to spot the section of solar panel that was his goal.

In the vacuum of the moon he did not hear the strap break.  His first warning was the stack of pipes shifting a moment before it began to collapse.  For a moment, Jeff froze, then he turned and ran.

At least, that was his intention.  He pushed a little too hard and his foot slid out from under him.  He landed on one knee, preparing to spring to his feet and continue but the lowest of the pipes, squirted out by the weight of those on top of it, caught him in the small of the back and knocked him to the ground.  His head snapped forward as he hit the ground, pain bursting through his nose as it struck the faceplate of his helmet.  For an instant, he saw red spattered on that faceplate before the falling weight pinned him face-down into the regolith, leaving him in blackness.  The pipes slammed repeatedly into his back as the stack continued its slow collapse.


Click on the cover image to get the book.

In the Spirit of the Season (an annual post)

An annual tradition:

If you’re an Atheist or Agnostic who doesn’t like “Merry Christmas.”
If you’re a Christian who doesn’t like “Happy Holidays.”
If you’re a Jew who doesn’t like “Blessed be.”
If you’re a Wiccan who doesn’t like “God Be with you.”
If you’re a Muslim who doesn’t like “May Thor hold his hammer between you and harm.”

I have one thing to say to you: Grow. Up. Take these things in the spirit they are offered, one of well wishing, and leave it at that. And on that note, may I wish you a very merry Christmas and may Thor hold his hammer between you and harm.

Gud Yule, everyone.

The Teacher is Wrong. The book is wrong.

I have a daughter.  She’s bright (in her school’s “high ability” program”.  She’s athletic (swim team for a couple of years now).  And she’s utterly adorable. (Don’t challenge me on that.  Just…don’t.)

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

So, she’s in public school.

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the teacher is wrong.  Sometimes the book is wrong.  You, as an individual, have to be ready to question the book, question the teacher, and make sure your children do so as well.

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

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

And, with all that said, perhaps you will like my story EMT where one of the problems they faced was someone using the excuse of sticking to “the book” when, for the conditions they faced, the book was, indeed, wrong:


Click on the cover to get the book.