A Snippet

From a WIP I’m getting ready to release.


Study in Black and Red

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

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

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

“Don’t take too long.”

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

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

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

“Not again.”

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

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

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

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

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

Where had it come from?

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

That question was asked of me on FaceBook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with that.

On This Day: Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech

1858, then Senatorial Candidate Abraham Lincoln gave the following address at the Republican National Convention in Springfield, IL:


Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidence of design and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.

But, so far, Congress only, had acted; and an indorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained, and give chance for more.

The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition.

Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition.

This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.

This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of “squatter sovereignty,” otherwise called “sacred right of self government,” which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any one man, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.

That argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: “It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or state, not to exclude it therefrom; but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”

Then opened the roar of loose declamation in favor of “Squatter Sovereignty,” and “Sacred right of self-government.”

“But,” said opposition members, “let us be more specific — let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the territory may exclude slavery.” “Not we,” said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.

While the Nebraska Bill was passing through congress, a law case involving the question of a negroe’s freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him first into a free state and then a territory covered by the congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave, for a long time in each, was passing through the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Missouri; and both Nebraska bill and law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The negroe’s name was “Dred Scott,” which name now designates the decision finally made in the case.

Before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in, the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requests the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the people of a territory can constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers: “That is a question for the Supreme Court.”

The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the indorsement, such as it was, secured. That was the second point gained. The indorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by nearly four hundred thousand votes, and so, perhaps, was not overwhelmingly reliable and satisfactory.

The outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible, echoed back upon the people the weight and authority of the indorsement.

The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a re-argument.

The Presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming President, in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever might be.

Then, in a few days, came the decision.

The reputed author of the Nebraska Bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capital indorsing the Dred Scott Decision, and vehemently denouncing all opposition to it.

The new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman letter to indorse and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment that any different view had ever been entertained.

At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska Bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that squabble the latter declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up. I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, to be intended by him other than as an apt definition of the policy he would impress upon the public mind — the principle for which he declares he has suffered much, and is ready to suffer to the end.

And well may he cling to that principle. If he has any parental feeling, well may he cling to it. That principle, is the only shred left of his original Nebraska doctrine. Under the Dred Scott decision, “squatter sovereignty” squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding — like the mould at the foundry served through one blast and fell back into loose sand — helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds. His late joint struggle with the Republicans, against the Lecompton Constitution, involves nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. That struggle was made on a point, the right of a people to make their own constitution, upon which he and the Republicans have never differed.

The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care-not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained.

\ The working points of that machinery are:

First, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.

This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of this provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that–

“The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.”

Secondly, that “subject to the Constitution of the United States,” neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory.

This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.

This point is made, not to be pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for a while, and apparently indorsed by the people at an election, then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott’s master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.

Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mould public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, to not care whether slavery is voted down or voted up.

This shows exactly where we now are; and partially, also, whither we are tending.

It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.” What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come in, and declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.

Why was the amendment, expressly declaring the right of the people to exclude slavery, voted down? Plainly enough now, the adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.

Why was the court decision held up? Why even a Senator’s individual opinion withheld, till after the presidential election? Plainly enough now, the speaking out then would have damaged the “perfectly free” argument upon which the election was to be carried.

Why the outgoing President’s felicitation on the indorsement? Why the delay of a reargument? Why the incoming President’s advance exhortation in favor of the decision?

These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a spirited horse, preparatory to mounting him, when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall.

And why the hasty after indorsements of the decision by the President and others?

We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen — Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance — and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few — not omitting even scaffolding — or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.

It should not be overlooked that, by the Nebraska Bill, the people of a State, as well as Territory, were to be left “perfectly free” “subject only to the Constitution.”

Why mention a State? They were legislating for territories, and not for or about States. Certainly the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitution of the United States; but why is mention of this lugged into this merely territorial law? Why are the people of a territory and the people of a state therein lumped together, and their relation to the Constitution therein treated as being precisely the same?

While the opinion of the Court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case, and the separate opinions of all the concurring Judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States territory, they all omit to declare whether or not the same Constitution permits a state, or the people of a State, to exclude it.

Possibly, this is a mere omission; but who can be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis had sought to get into the opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the people of a state to exclude slavery from their limits, just as Chase and Macy sought to get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a territory, into the Nebraska bill — I ask, who can be quite sure that it would not have been voted down, in the one case, as it had been in the other.

The nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a State over slavery, is made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than once, using the precise idea, and almost the language too, of the Nebraska act. On one occasion his exact language is, “except in cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of slavery within its jurisdiction.”

In what cases the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S. Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the territories was left open in the Nebraska act. Put that and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a stateto exclude slavery from its limits.

And this may especially be expected if the doctrine of “care not whether slavery be voted down or voted up, shall gain upon the public mind sufficiently to give promise that such a decision an be maintained when made.

Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.

Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown.

We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation.

This is what we have to do.

But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a cagedand toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.

A leading Douglas Democratic newspaper thinks Douglas’ superior talent will be needed to resist the revival of the African slave trade.

Does Douglas believe an effort to revive that trade is approaching? He has not said so. Does he really think so? But if it is, how can he resist it? For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of white men to take negro slaves into the new territories. Can he possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And, unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia.

He has done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade — how can he refuse that trade in that “property” shall be “perfectly free” — unless he does it as a protection to the home production? And as the home producers will probably not ask the protection, he will be wholly without a ground of opposition.

Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser to-day than he was yesterday — that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong.

But can we, for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish not to misrepresent Judge Douglas’ position, question his motives, or do ought that can be personally offensive to him.

Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle.

But clearly, he is not now with us — he does not pretend to be — he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.

Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong.

We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us.

Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.

Did we brave all then to falter now? — now — when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent?

The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.

Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.

More “Refugees” and separating families.

One can argue that our immigration and naturalization laws need reform. I can even agree with that. But until and unless they are changed, they are the law and if you don’t want to face the penalty then don’t. break. the. law.  Seriously.  Nobody says “you can’t break up families” when we arrest a thief and send him to prison.  If you don’t want your family separated as a result of breaking the law, then don’t break the law.

Now, this is usually where somebody starts citing “unjust laws” and “civil disobedience” but the whole point of civil disobedience is to evoke the penalty for the “unjust law” in order to sway opinion so as to get the law changed.

There’s an exchange attributed to Gandhi where one of his followers comes in all excited that they’d done a protest and the British didn’t do anything. Gandhi purportedly told him, basically that they were doing it wrong. The whole point was to have the British respond, showing the British people and the world the injustice of British rule.

If you’re engaging in civil disobedience, you not only expect, but welcome the imposition of the penalties.  If you’re not, then it’s not civil disobedience and you’re not the heirs of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. You’re an overgrown toddler having a temper tantrum, kicking and screaming until you get your way.

That’s if you’re an adult able to make such decisions for yourself in full understanding of the consequences. If you’re bringing children into it. If you are dragging children along, evoking the penalties not just for yourself but for them, then you’re not protesting. You’re not engaging in civil disobedience. You’re scum abusing children and engaging in the reckless endangerment thereof.

And if you’re actually seeking asylum and have good cause for it, then the last thing you want is a bunch of other people swarming the border confusing the issue making it that much harder for folk to determine that your need is valid and your situation actually justifies asylum. But since they are, if you really have a case, you’ll understand that it might take some time to sort things out and that might involve some temporary discomfort, even some separation since our laws put different requirements on dealing with adults and dealing with children (thank previous administrations for that), while things are sorted out. And you’ll realize the temporary hassle is a small price to pay for end result.

Goth Rules for Dating my Daughter: A Blast from the Past

I originally wrote this when my daughter was starting middle school.  She has just graduated from middle school and is already “attending” high school (online course) even before the official year begins.  So, time for a reprise:

  1.  Goths embrace pain and suffering.  Hurt my daughter and I will embrace yours.
  2.  Tears are nothing to be ashamed of.  Make my daughter cry and I will demonstrate this by making you cry.
  3.  While black is always in fashion, pants hanging around your knees are not.  If you insist on this fashion faux-pas I will use my staple gun to give you a nice set of piercings to hold up your trousers.
  4.  I hang out in graveyards for fun.  Think about it.
  5.  Goths flirt with death all the time.  Touch my daughter inappropriately and I will flirt with yours.
  6.  I know every dark, secluded spot in the city where no one could hear someone scream in agony until their voice is gone.
  7.  Black doesn’t show bloodstains.
  8.  I have a fascination with psychopaths.  Some of my best friends are psychopaths.
  9.  Most of my best friends are psychopaths.
  10.  Aw, hell, all of my best friends are psychopaths.

The Deceptive Lure of Grimdark.

I look around at fiction and so much of it seems be be trapped in unrelenting darkness, the crushing distopia, heroes you can’t tell from villains (except by whose name is on the title page maybe).  Some folk have told me that this is a reaction, an introduction of “realism” to other fiction that is more Pollyannaish.  More real?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  As I have quoted elsewhere “the passionflower is as real as the potato.”

Stories of unrelenting darkness has a long history to it:  The Volsung Saga begins with the tale of how Andvaari’s Ring becomes cursed, and the rest is the horrible working out of that curse on the various possessors of the ring over time (and unlike another cursed ring, there’s no Mount Doom to see to the destruction of this one).  The various tales of the Greek Heroes are mostly tragedies, where despite initial successes the Heroes almost inevitably come to bad ends.

More recently, Le Morte de Arthur, the collection of tales of the legendary King Arthur and his knights, is well named: “The Death of Arthur” for it all builds to the destruction of the Round Table, the fall of Camelot, and the death of Arthur.

And so on.

In all these cases, overwhelming forces beyond the power of mortal men to overcome end up crushing the aspirations of mere mortals.

However, to a certain extent from that, but also in parallel to it we’ve also seen the rise from this, a different literary tradition, tales of folk who rise above the forces opposing them and opposing, overcome.

I think part of that, not all certainly, but a large part, comes from the ideals of the Enlightenment.  New understanding of the natural world, new technologies that new knowledge.   This period saw the Age of Exploration and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, bringing with it the idea that we were not helpless before incomprehensible forces but that we would instead overcome them.

Even then, much literature was, like the tales listed above, about the inevitable fall of its heroes.  The D’Artangnan Romances (“The Three Musketeers”, “Twenty Years After”, and “The Viscount of Bragalonne:  Ten Years Later”–this final one often split into three or four parts of which the last is titles “The Man in the Iron Mask) is very much in that mold.  Don’t rely on movie versions for these.  They often–particularly in the case of “The Man in the Iron Mask”–retain nothing but titles and character names.

And don’t get me started on “Frankenstein.”

But there were other tales as well.  Any of Shakespeare’s comedies (with The Tempest being my favorite) generally have the main characters emerging happily however daunting their trials before might have seemed.  Jane Austen is reputed to have things work out well for her characters in the end.  And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre even pulls in a bit of a miracle to allow Rochester to witness the birth of his son.

However, I’ve never been much for 19th century and earlier literature.  I’ll read it from time to time, but generally prefer more recent items.  Indeed, we’re well into the 20th century to get to the stuff that I read, and re-read, for enjoyment.  And in particular, early in life I discovered Science Fiction.

And here, I think is where things went off the rails.  While Science Fiction has always had its cautionary tales (going all the way back to Frankenstein), a lot of it made certain assumptions, particularly about the supremacy of, well, not always human life but intelligent mortal life in the Universe.  We had writers who based their stories on the presumption that if we encountered alien life they would be so beyond us that we would be nothing but gnats to them and any attempt by a human to comprehend them would drive one mad (H. P. Lovecraft).  But we also had others who presumed that even if the aliens were more technologically advanced than we were, we could learn what they had and, eventually stand up to them as equals if not superiors.

As an example of this, the late Isaac Asimov in his autobiography told of the also late John W. Campbell had a policy that for a story to be acceptable to Astounding Science Fiction humans had to be superior to any other life forms.  This was why the Foundation stories were set in a humans only universe so as to avoid the need to have any aliens be somehow inferior to humans.

Along about the time I was getting into science fiction, reading old books mostly (it’s what the libraries had), certain writers and editors decided that science fiction was too “stodgy” and “adolescent” and started a “New Wave”.  And part of that was stories that were decidedly dark in tone.

Now, in addition to the science fiction I was reading (old stuff that was “juvenile” and “adolescent”?  Well, I was juvenile and adolescent so…) I was also into comic books.  I started reading them sometime in the mid to late sixties–basically as I learned to read–and that carried on into around 1987 or so (more on that in a bit).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get into this “new wave” at the time.  As I said, most of what I said was old stuff and newer stuff that I read?  Well, it was far and away outside the “New Wave”. (Drat Prescott–probably the last great “Sword and Planet” series, was certainly not “New Wave”.)

However, as it happened, comics, which I was reading as new stuff.  Getting old stuff back then was expensive!  This was before digital editions, graphic novel collections and so forth.  If you wanted an old story you had to go browse specialty stores and dig through their boxes of back issues and pay a small fortune (or a large fortune for particularly rare and popular issues) to get a copy which you hardly dared to read for fear of damaging it.

Fortunately, for me, the same forces that created the New Wave in science fiction waited a while before hitting comic books.

Let me give you an example:  Batman.  Most people these days have a view of Batman that’s either a cowled psycho, monomaniacally obsessed, with plans for everything so that he could apparently single-handedly take down all the other superheroes in that universe, who drives sidekicks like some martinet and will “fire” them for the least mistake, barely if at all better than the criminals he fights–a character so dark he makes pitch black look white.  Or they think the campy 60’s TV Batman (which is a tribute to that series’ popularity as people still recognize it today).  But the Batman I grew up with, the one I came of age with, was neither of those things.  Driven, yes.  But not to the extent of that psycho I just described.  His parents’ death got him on the road he was on but he continued because he was good at it and, indeed, had mostly come to terms with their deaths…mostly.  See “Night of the Stalker” for a very good example of that “mostly”.  He was clearly a “good guy” even though he would bend/break the rules as needed.  You could tell him from the bad guys.

Let me offer a slight digression here.  In art there’s a concept called “chiaroscuro”.  This is basically the interplay of light and dark. It’s in this interplay that you make interesting things happen. “If you want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.” (A great line from an otherwise “meh” movie.)

This is what “grimdark” misses.  It’s not dark alone that makes for exciting, compelling stories with depth and richness, no more than it is light alone.  It’s the interplay between the two.  An unrelenting grim story, a hopeless dystopia, inevitable doom which cannot be stopped, simply does not compel.  Even those mythic tales of the past had the doomed hero rise above their troubles for a time.  Bellerophon did defeat the Chimera before attempting to ascend to Olympus and fall.  Sigurd did defeat the dragon and win its horde before the curse (from the ring that was among the horde) brought him down.  Roland was a mighty and successful knight before the battle of Roncevaux Pass and his defeat and death.

I suspect back then most people stopped the stories on the success rather than carrying through to the end, much like the movie “Jason and the Argonauts” stops with Jason and Medea sailing away from Colchis (and thus avoiding the really grim follow on to that story).

You can’t have just the dark.  You must have light in it.  Now, going back to Batman, back in the days I read, the villains, particularly Joker and Two-Face, were incredibly dark.  Gotham was a pit of darkness with corruption and rampant and only Commissioner Gordon on the side of law trying to stem that black tide.  Yet despite the dark-colored costume, despite his back story, despite his use of fear as a weapon, Batman was a beacon of light in that darkness.  He’d long since grown passed displaced revenge for his parents death to protecting the people of Gotham for their own sakes.  And while some have pointed out that Bruce Wayne could do more good with his wealth than Batman could ever do with his fists and gadgets, the Batman/Wayne of that era did both.  The Wayne Foundation on one side, and Batman on the other.  The serial format meant that he could never completely clean up Gotham, and the popularity of certain villains meant that they could never be permanently taken out of action. (“Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” “How many times has the Joker ‘Died’?”) But in the individual stories he wins.  People saved (not everyone, every time, but enough to create some hope).  Bad guys put away or “dead” through misadventure (for now, anyway; the future will take care of itself).  The stories were about hope and victory–traveling through the dark to reach the light.

And that is why I can still go back and read some of these old stories with pleasure today.  The dark that I travel through in the reading lets me worry to be relieved by the light at the end.

So remember, you need the dark to make good stories.  But you also need the light, if only a single candle, working against that dark, to make them great.

 

A Gun in the Home is more Likely…: A Blast from the Past

People keep making the claim that a gun in the home is more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than it is to be used in self defense.

This all derives by a “study” by Arthur Kellerman which has long since been debunked but its fake statistics nevertheless continue to be cited by anti-gun propagandists.

Here are a few of the debunkings:
http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/01/william-c-montgomery/editorial-deconstructing-kellermann/
http://www.guns.com/2015/08/24/kellermanns-gun-ownership-studies-after-two-decades/
http://guncite.com/gun-control-kellermann-3times.html
http://jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/doctors-epidemic.htm
http://www.thegunzone.com/rkba/rkba-43.html

Some of its flaws:
On the one side: He only counts as “defenses” dead criminals when in truth in most cases where a gun is used in self defense merely presenting a gun is sufficient to end the threat. When the gun is fired, most of the times the person shot survives. This is even more the case in defensive shootings because when a person means harm, they are more likely to keep shooting until the target is dead whereas in a defensive shooting a person generally stops when they believe the threat is ended (and, in fact, is legally required to do so). So, the number of uses of a gun in self defense in the Kellerman study is low by orders of magnitude.

On the flip side: The original study spoke of victims known to the attacker. People citing the statistic morphed that into “friends and acquaintances” and then later to “friends and family”. But the statistic being cited as “friends and family” is actually “person shot by person known to them”. In a drug deal gone bad, the persons are known to each other. In a gang war, the members of the gang are often known to each other. An abusive ex shot in self defense is known to the person doing the shooting. And so on. So a lot of the things being included in that statistic are things that simply are not relevant to a law abiding citizen owning a gun.

The other thing that gets added in is suicide.  However possession of a firearm only really affects choice of method rather than suicide itself.  Japan, for instance, with its essentially gun-free society has a suicide rate higher than our suicide and homicide rates combined.

Looked at dispassionately we find that studies of gun use in self defense produce a low value of about 800,000 per year. The high value is 2.5 million. It’s hard to get a definitive answer to the question because see above: most times in a defensive use the gun is never fired. As a result, this means that most gun defenses are never reported to the police. In any case, most studies of the issue return results of 1 to 1.5 million gun defenses per year. However, even using the lowball estimate of 800,000 that’s quite comparable to the number of times guns are used criminally in the US. So, far from having a gun in the household making one at increased risk, one is instead about as likely (again, using that lowball result) to use a gun in self defense as to be threatened by a gun. More, actually since “gun owners” (the only population where one is able to use a gun in self defense) < “total population” (the population at risk for criminal use). Being criminally threatened with a gun has a risk of about 800,000 out of 321 (or so) million. Using a gun to defend oneself has a risk of about 800,000 (lowball again) out of 70-100 million. The latter is at worst three times the odds of the former.

Or look at it more simply. Gun ownership in the US has grown by leaps and bounds. The spread of “shall issue” and more recently “constitutional carry” means more people are carrying more guns in more places than ever before. If the “gun ownership increases risk” had any merit then we would be seeing homicide and violent crime going up. But that’s not what’s happening. It’s been going down since the 90’s and is currently at a 100 year low. [Ed. Since that chart was created, violent crime and homicide rates have mostly leveled out with small variations from year to year, still far, far below 1992 levels.]

 

The simple truth is, the violent have been with us since the beginning of humanity. The violent have several inherent advantages. They get to choose time and place. They get to choose victims (generally choosing those smaller and weaker than themselves). What firearms do is level the playing field. With a gun, aged Aunt Millie is the equal of 6′ 4″ 300 lb, Joe Thug on Steroids. Guns are, therefore, a net good to society.

“God made man short and tall. Samuel Colt made them equal.”

“Be not afraid of any man, No matter what his size; When danger threatens, call on me — And I will equalize!